The Bakhchysarai valley has been inhabited by different nationalities and tribes since the ancient times. The oldest cave sites of the Mousterian epoch (50-40 thousand years ago) were located in the territory of Staroselye-Salachik. There are several monuments of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in the valley. A large Taurian settlement dated by the 7th-6th centuries BC and situated in the bottom part of the Maryam-Dere ravine has been the subject of the research. Historically the most dynamic process of the Bakhchysarai valley development is associated with the medieval period. In the 6th century, there appeared a fortress on the Chufut-Kale plateau. It was built by the Byzantine engineers for the Empire’s allies that represented Sarmatian and Germanic (Alani and Goths) tribes. The plateau site that keeps the traces of that period is the Middle defensive wall. Among other ancient period monuments are the guards’ cave rooms, the fragments of architectural details of the Early Christian basilica, huge cemetery of the Early Middle Ages (6th – 9th centuries A.D.) on the Maryam-Dere valley’s north-west slope and the Tik-kuyu well.
The Alani tribes, that lived around the Chufut-Kale, are mentioned in the chronicles until the 15th century. The Kyrk-Yer (Chufut-Kale) fortress was both military and administrative center for the so-called “Minor Alani” tribes. Hence, the fortress and its surroundings keep the memory of the monuments belonging to the “Minor Alani” culture that disappeared. “Minor Alani” tribes as well as the tribes of Goths, composed one of the components of the Crimean peninsula population that had been inhabiting this area in the Middle Ages.
Chufut-Kale also keeps the testimony of the Crimean Tatars at the time of this nationality statehood appearance – in fact, it was the first capital of the Crimean Khanate, a political entity independent from the Golden Horde. The testimonies of that time are the mausoleum of Djanyke-Hanim, mosque remains (founded in the middle of the 14th century and renewed by Khan Hadji-Girey a hundred years later, in1455. InSalachik, the mouth of the Maryam-Dere ravine, there is a mausoleum, the shrine of the first rulers of the state – Khan Hadji-Girey and his successor Khan Mengli-Girey. There is also the Zindjirli Medrese, one of the most famous Muslim seminaries, that is situated on the Crimean peninsula. Later the capital of the Crimean Khans – Bakhchysarai appeared here with the city first settlements located in Chufut-Kale valley.
During the period between the 17th – 19th centuries the Karaites became the dominating ethnic and confessional group among the population of Chufut-Kale. The modern view of the city has been formed due to their active building activity. The earliest sacral buildings – kenassas, residential quarters, manor houses and caves, located in this area have been preserved in their initial condition. The urban architectural complex of Bakhchysarai, which started to be formed in the 1st half of the 16th century from the Khan-Saray, the city’s historical core, naturally contained Salachik as the City of Bakhchysarai suburb, and Chufut-Kale, as the town of the Karaites.
The Bakhchysarai Palaceof the Crimean Khans is a compact architectural ensemble, which consists of 17 buildings and 9 inner closed courtyards. The ensemble was not built in one day that is why the plan of the palace has complex configuration and contains components of different styles. The total area of the ensemble is about500000 square meters(including7190 mof the built-up area).
The initial complex of palace premises was built in the first third of the 16th century. The oldest authentic construction of the initial ensemble dates back to 1532, the first known written reference dates back to 1539. The complex was built as the main residence of the monarchs of the Crimean Khanate – the state of the Crimean Tatar people. In its original status the complex has been used for about 250 years, till the collapse of the Crimean Tatar statehood in 1783.
The architectural ensemble includes two religious buildings (Big and Small Palace Mosques), official halls (Hall of the Divan or State Council, Embassy Hall), living premises of the Khans, their retinue and families (Living and Retinue Blocks, Harem), recreational premises (Summer Arbor, Falcon Tower), subsidiary buildings (chambers for guards, bathes, stables, kitchen yard etc.), small architectural forms (fountains and basins) and closed inner courtyards with gardens and parks.
The architecture of the Palace reflects general cultural traditions common in the Middle East. They are in harmony with original local traditions of the Crimean Tatars. Decoration of the palace buildings and interiors represents various architectural and artistic styles which dominated in the Crimean Khanate art in 16th – 18th centuries. The Palace is the sole example of Crimean Tatar palace architecture, which has preserved.
Bakhchysarai palace of the Crimean Khans, which was the main residence of the state power at that time, together with the surroundings of the medieval town of the Karaits, was the political, religious and cultural center of the Crimean Tatar community in the times of the Crimean Khanate.
The valley of Churuk-Su river has become the organizing natural and historical factor of the architectural complex of Bakhchysarai. It included such components as the palace, mosques, mausoleums, fountains, Salachik building complex, Uspenskiy monastery and Chufut-Kale. All monuments make one organic and harmonious look with the landscape which still preserves its main initial features.
In general, it is a unique natural and cultural complex, the formation of which has taken a long period of time. It still preserves the traits of lost and disappearing cultures – Taurian, Gotho-Alanic, Golden Horde, Karaite, Crimean Tatar, but needs a new push of research and preservation activities to be kept alive for the generations to come.