CATHERINE'S THE GREAT ROAD TO THE CRIMEA
The above words wore inscribed in gold on the Triumphal Gate at the entrance to the Porekop (Or-Kapi) fortress in honour of the arrival of Catherine II at the Crimea. The empress wished to personally get a view of «the conquered territories and visit the Crimea».
Initially, the trip was scheduled to take place in 1785, the itinerary and timing for each point on the route being identified and twice updated. The final schedule of «Her Empress's Majesty procession» was as follows: «Stone Bridge — dinner, Perekop — Pyat' Kolodez (Five Wells) — overnight stop, Bakhchisarai — overnight stop, Sevastopol — overnight stop and dinner, Simferopol — dinner, Karasu-Bazar — overnight stop, Sudak — dinner, Stary Krym — overnight stop, Feodosiya — din- ner and overnight stop». The first travel book, or, putting it in modern language, a guide book for the route «Tsarskoye Selo — Crimea» was pub- lished on the eve of Catherine's trip in 1786 in Saint-Petersburg and its title was «Her Empress's Majesty's Trip to Russia's Southern Region To Be Undertaken in 1787». The book set forth short but sufficient information on the history of the Crimea, its inhabitants, geography of the peninsula, identified economic prospects of its development, described its sights.
The book foreword pointed out that the empress decided «to survey the southern provinces of her vast empire to be able to ensure the good for the state and improve her subjects' well-being». All in all, the trip from Saint-Petersburg to the Crimea was to cover 5657 verst (an old Russian unit equal to approx. 1 km). It took two and a half years to make all the arrangements for the trip. General-field marshal and Catherine's favourite Grigory Potemkin was its organizer and his main concerns were: establishment of the Black Sea Fleet, strengthening of the Army, foundation of new cities and outposts, develop- ment of the newly won lands economy.
Building and improving roads along the trip's chosen itinerary was the first priority of Grigory Potemkin. On receiving a direction with a detaUed schedule of meetings and escorts, General Mikhail Kakhovsky, commander of the corps, ordered to commence building palaces, improving roads, erecting bridges, digging wells in the steppes. An order was issued «to supply for the ceremonial procession from all the provinces and cities, except the most remote ones, 550 horses for each of 76 sta- tions and, as to the province of Taurida, 420 horses for each station». Instead of horses, the remote provinces, were to pay a special travel levy. In his order Potemkin pre- scribed colonel-engineer Nikolai Korsakov the following: «The road from Kyzy-Kermen to Pereckop ouGht not to bi inferior to those in Rome; I will call it «the Catherine's Road». Vasiliy Kakhovskiy, the Taurida Province ruler, suggested establishing «ten-verst miles» which shortly Potemkin called Catherine's miles» and sent over the relevant drawings.
The contemporaries were struck by the pomp and luxury of the trip which had used about 10,000 horses (simultaneously up to 500), over 10,000 saddles and more than 5,000 coachmen. The empress's retinue included the hetman of Poland general-in-chief count Ksavery Petrovich Branitsky, plenipotentiary ambassador at the Polish king Pavel Martynovitch Skavronsky, who was the descendant of Catherine I, their wives and nieces, the court's ladies in waiting, foreign diplomats — French envoy Luis Philip de Segure, British envoy Fits Gerberg, Spanish princes Karl Josef and Karl-Henri Nassau-Zingen, Josef II, Austrian and Roman emperor, Francisco de Miranda from Venezuela, as well as numerous empress's close associates. A total of thirty-two higher officials participated in the procession.
On January 17 (New Style) 1787 all those invited for the trip convened in Tsarskoye Selo. On January 18 at 9 a.m. the empress, in the company of her maid of honor Anna Protasova and new favorite aide-de-camp Vasiliy Dmitriyev-Mamonov, took her seat in a carriage. It was minus 18 degrees Centigrade. The carriages and sleighs set off on a trip. They rode at a leisurely pace: from 9 a.m. till 12 a.m. and from 3 p.m. till 7 p.m. Travel palaces, built within a short period of time on Potemkin's order and glittering with abundant gilding of their inner furnishings, with cascades of crystal and silverware, accommodated travelers for dinners. Enormous cellars with ice-boxes were over- filled with varied food. Each time all the tableware was brand-new and after the dinner was given as a keepsake to the hosts. Towns, villages, country estates and sometimes even houses of ordinary peasants were adorned with flowers, murals and scenery sets made by the best Russian artists. At every province's border the procession was welcomed by the relevant province's governor and officials who accompanied it to the border of the next province on the route.
They rode to Kiev, according to the contemporaries' evidence, «by 14 carriages, 124 sleighs, with 40 spare coaches available. From Kanev down the Dnieper they sailed in 50-80 splendidly-appointed galleys, with musicians and singers aboard. All throughout their way, the common people were herded, dressed up to greet the procession, thrown over with gold coins...»
On May 18 the procession reached the border of the Taurida Province where it was welcomed by the Province ruler Vasiliy Kakhovskiy, lieutenant Karl Gablits, the estate director, and Mamut-bei «with the horse-mounted Trukhments, Kirghizs and Nogais inhabiting in the Dneprovsky and Melitopolsky uyezds (districts)», was writ- ten by count de Segure in his memoirs.
On her way to Perekop Fortress (Or- Kapi), on May 19 the empress was welcomed by the local marshal of nobility premiere-major Osman-Aga, accompanied by the noblemen... On entering Perekop the tsarina's cortege passed under the Triumphal Gate which carried an inscrip- tion in golden letters : «(You) Have aroused fear and established peace». The commandant immediately presented the keys to the former Or Fortress.
From Perekop the empress was escorted by the marshal and gentry. The empress's carriage was escorted by young murzas in national attire and the rest of carriages - by a cavalry detachment. The travelers enjoyed «beautiful» views: salt lakes glittering under the southern sun, Tatar hamlets with minarets, wind mills, deep wells; fields filled with clear air fragrant of the orchards' falling blossoms; undisturbed bustards, cranes and quails; grazing camels «which, on observing the unseen before carriages, raised their heads in the same lazy and proud way as their owners did. All around there rose mounds, silent witnesses of numerous peoples who once inhabited this marvelous corner of the Earth and often laid down their heads to be able to possess it.»
Before reaching Bakhchisarai Catherine II was met by Vasily Kakhovsky with the generals, Karl Gablits and second-major engineer de Ribas. The empress was escorted by the cavalry of one to two thousands of murzas of noble birth. In Bakhchisarai, the best regiments of Grigory Potemkin — Troitsky and Staroselsky of musketeers, as well as Ekaterinoslavsky of Grenadiers which were camped on a hill greeted the travelers with drum-beat and standards lowered.
Catherine II reached Bakhchisarai on May 20,1787 at 6 p.m. and was put up at the palace of the Crimean Girays. In the grand hall of the Khan's Palace there was an inscription in Arabic: «Whatever liars and envious people could say, neither in Spain, nor in Damask, nor in Istanbul you can find anything alike». Potemkin said to the empress: «In these chambers a few years ago the worst enemies of Your Empress's Majesty chained their subjects, and you, the most merciful, in the same chambers shower them with good graces and awards. None on the mortals can be com pared to you, the only tsarina in the world.»
The next day Catherine II visited the Assumption Monastery and Chufut-Kale, examined the monuments, and attended the Synagogue as well as the house of the Karaite headman. «In the former Crimea's capital we had dinner in the Khan's Palace, were served coffee and delighted our ear with music and our eye with the movements of the girls performing Turkish dances», recalled Francisco de Miranda.
At 9 a.m. on May 2, the travelers started off for Inkerman. Catherine's state-secretary Alexander Khrapovitsky who was to keep the trip's journal read to the empress: «Inkerman, a former rich and populous city which inherited from the Greeks the name of Feodori, then Eupatoria, Dori, Doros and Doras, was founded by Diofant and became an apple of discord. In 679 it was seized by Khazars from Goths, and in 1475 by Turks, currently it is empty, having retained intact only some of its walls and towers». During the dinner, which took place in a specially-built palace in Inkerman, the curtain all of a sudden slid apart, offering a view of the Sevastopol bay with 3 ships, 12 frigates, 20 small boats, 3 bombardier boats and 2 fire ships. The sight was very spectacular, pro- ducing a striking effect on all those present.
After dinner the empress and her rev- enue sailed all through the bay on boats under sails and on oars and pulled up to the Grafskaya (Count) Pier which was founded by Count Voinovich on June 3, 1783. «The pier had a splendid stairway made of hewn stone; a sumptuous terrace was leading from it to the house of the empress where we arrived together. She kept on saying that she owed all this to Prince Potemkin,» wrote Nassau-Zingen in his letter to his wife.
Potemkin also showed the empress around his estate in the Baidar valley. This area was considered to be the best in the Crimen, the Baidar valley boasting moat fertile lands irrigated by the rivers. The beauty of the area is beyond any words, one should see it! The travelers were greatly impressed by the surrounding scenery: precipices covered with the green carpet of woods, wild goats galloping the cliffs, murmuring of a creek in the depth of the woods, and farther on — heaps of Foros cliffs towering over Ayazma, Batiliman and Laspi, places of stunning beauty...
Later the travelers crossed the Mekenziyevy Mountains and Duvankoy (now the village of Verkhnyesadovoye) and returned to Bakhchisarai where they stayed for a day to have a rest.
On May 26 they left for Simferopol to be met by Vasiliy Kakhovsky, the marshal of the nobility Alexander Taranov-Beloserov and other officials.
In Simferopol the empress visited the first Christian church (8 Oktyabrskaya str.), then the cortege went to the travel palace (now 15 R. Luxemburg str.), whose foundation was laid on October 21, 1784, and which was completed in 1787 to accommodate Her Majesty. The palace hosted the dinner attended by Catherine II and Josef II and 46 persons more. In the orchard around the palace Catherine planted three mulberries and the procession set out to Karasubazar (now Belogorsk).
A new broad road built by soldiers was leading to Karasubazar, on the bank of the Karasu river a huge garden a la Anglais was laid out, and amid the garden a palace stood out in all its splendor.
In the evening the empress awarded orders to a group of Taurida Province's dignitaries and Prince Potemkin prepared a gift for the mufti (Moslem jurist) «varied watches skillfully crafted by local master craftspeople, several rings including an order of the Golden Fleece featuring an aquamarine of extraordinary size and purity".
Then the trawlers visited Sudak which was "very much resembling in its relief the outskirts of Malaga 01 Grenada in Spain.»
Alter the meal they reached the ruins of the Genoese fortress, looked all the local sights around, continued their way and before the night came to Stary Krym — «a big city in the ancient times of which only some ruins have survived". Its new name Levkopol did not become assimilated. Here the enterprising Potemkin excelled in making things up: he built a palace amidst an orchard and on the way of the tsarina's procession «rose» a sham «Potemkin's village". Survived of those times, there remains a silent fountain and a stone post, representing Catherine's mile», located at 7 kilometres off the town in the direction of Feodosia. Such posts, built after the talented architect Ivan Starov's design in the style of Russian classicism and adorned with a twoheaded eagle, were installed all through the empress's way from sea to sea — from Saint- Petersburg to Feodosia — and symbolized the Russia's access to the Black Sea shores. On the following day the travelers arrived at Feodosia and «immediately went to the main mosque which was a far from being perfect replica of Constantinople's (Istanbul) biggest mosques... in its altar there is a deep niche containing in its middle a roughly one-foot stone which has been brought, according to mullah, from the Paradise's garden».
In Feodosia Potemkin met with local people and was «showered with petitions». The prince was patient to hear everybody out and almost every petitioner got the answer. De Miranda with a group of guests visited the khan's mint which was also used by Russians to coin money. In his diary De Miranda wrote: «This building is better than the Sultan's in Constantinople's seraglio. On visiting it we made sure that the Tatars who worked there before also willingly coin money for the new masters, as they treat them in a human and benevolent way.» On that day two gold medals with the indication of a year, month and visit day were stamped.
The empress did not go to the Sea of Azov coast as had been scheduled before, due to 1 the internal problems which required her presence in the capital. That is why some of the travelers went around the Kerch peninsula, and the rest headed by Catherine II set off on their way back via Perekop to the empire's capital. On the way they stopped in Poltava where Prince Potemkin had one more event arranged: «there 70 squadrons, 4 battalions of grenadier infantrymen and 4 battalions of chasseurs with 40 camions of field artillery re-enacted the Poltava battle in detail». According to French envoy de Segure, «Catherine looked pleased and proud, she seemed to have Peter the Great's blood How ing in her veins. Our romantic and at the same lime historic trip was worthily crowned with this magnificent show». The trip of the empress to the Crimea cost the State 15 million rubles plus roughly 4 million rubles (his annual income) spent by Prince Potemkin. But the trip's significance for the Russia's economy, politics and diplomatic relations can hardly be overestimated.
The expenditures involved in the trip have been more than rewarded. The territory's natural resources attracted manufacturers and traders to the new cities. The sea jet- ties and harbors were duty-exempted for 5 years making them inviting for foreign commercial vessels. Its steppe part was settled with farmers who were also given big privileges. All this provided huge leverage for ensuring the area's growth and prosperity.