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Current Name
Ancient Name
Medieval Name
Bospor, Karcha, Korchev, Cerkio, Kerç
History of the name

The amcient Greek Pantikapaion (Παντικάπαιον ) is arguably a derivative from Persian Panti-Kapa meaning ‘fish way’. Under the Khazar Khanate in the 8th c it had name Karcha from Turkic "karşı" meaning 'opposite, facing.'

Place :

Geopolitical Unit
Autonomous Republic of Crimea
Administrative subdivision
Located in eastern Crimea on the shore of the Strait of Kerch joining the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, at a distance of 215 km from Simferopol and nearly 960 km from the capital city of Kyiv (45°20'19'' N 36°28'05'' E).
Foudation Date
7th c BC
Current condition
The present-day Kerch is a large Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea with a population of 145,000 residents (as of November 1st, 2012). Rich archaeological and historic heritage attracts thousands of tourists to Kerch every year. In addition to antiquities and the port, the city is know for its shipyards, metallurgical and fishing and fish-processing industries.

History of Kerch starts in 7th century BC when Greeks from Milethus founded here their colony named Pantikapaion. Eventually Pantikapaion subdued smaller nearby cities and by 480 BC became a capital of the Bosporan Kingdom. Later, under Mithridates VI Eupator, the city for a short period of time became the capital of a more powerful and extensive Pontic Kingdom. The power of the ancient city is also indicated by mintage of its own coins from the middle of the 6th c BC.
The ancient city was devastated by Huns in 375 AD.  From the 6th century the city was under control of Byzantine Empire and under Emperor Justinian I there was built a citadel named Bospor. The city became the center of a diocese and developed under the influence of Greek Christianity.
In the 7th century, the Khazars took control of Bospor and the city was named Karcha. However, Christianity remaned a major religion in Kerch during the period of Khazar rule. Following the fall of Khazaria to Kievan Rus, from the 10th century the city was a Slavic settlement named Korchev. In the early 14th century the city became the Genoese colony of Cherkio also known as Vosporo. For the Genoese it served as a sea port, while inhabitants of the city worked at salt-works and fishery.
In 1475 the city was passed to the Ottoman Empire where it became known as Kerç. During the Turkish rule Kerch fell into decay and served as mainly as a slave market. In 1706 Turks built near Kerch a fortress named Eni Kale. In 1774, Kerch and Yenikale were ceded to Russia. Because of its location, from 1821 Kerch developed into an important trade and fishing port.


During the period of flourishing ancient Pantikapaion occupied an area of some 100 ha. Its acropolis was located on a mount called Mitridat nowadays. In the late 6th c BC there was erected the grandest on the entire northern coast of the Black Sea temple of Apollo Ietros, the divine patron of the city. Later there were also built temples dedicated to Aphrodite and Dionysos. Regular grid of quarters and streets appeared in the city only starting from the second half of the 5th c BC. Eventually, in the 4th c BC a mighty defensive wall with fortification structures was built around the city. From ancient texts and archaeological excavations we also know that there was a theater in ancient Pantikapaion. Near the ancient city there was the necropolis of Pantikapaion as well as burial mounds of local Scythian rulers. Of the latter the most famous today is the so-called Tsarsky Kurgan (King’s Mound).
In the Early Middle Ages, after devastation of the city by Huns, territory of the now Bospor shrank in size being restricted to only the coastal area while into area of the ancient city and its acropolis there spread a cemetery. We know that in the 6th c Emperor Justinian I built defensive walls around the city thought archaeological excavations have not revealed their remains. Much later, in 1318 Genoese built there a small castle with four round towers in the corners. The castle was seized by Ottomans in 1477 and Kerch turned into a typical Moslem city. Christian churches were turned into mosques. The old castle now functioned as a citadel of the new fortress built by Ottomans. By the City Gates there was a marketplace with a mosque and a fountain. Unfortunately, after the city was annexed to Russian Empire the Turkish heritage has been almost completely wiped out. Of it only the fortress of Yeni Kale has survived intact.
In the second half 19th c, after the Crimean War, Russians built a new fortress intended to defend the passage into the Sea of Azov.


Located at the intersection of trade routes between East and West, Panticapaion rapidly grew into an important sea port. In antiquity the city's main exports included grain and salted fish. No description of the ancient port is available though.

The modern port of Kerch was founded in 1821 by the Decree of Emperor Alexander I and reconstructed in 1903. Today the commercial port of Kerch contains to cargo zones with piers that permit servicing ships of up to 220 m in length and a draft of 2 m. In total, there are 9 cargo terminals with the overall length of 1,900 m. Storage facilities in the port reach over 150,000 sq.m in area.


Of all fortifications that ever existed in Panticapaion - Kerch only two fortresses have survived until present.
The Ottoman fortress of Yeni Kale (‘New Fortress’) was built in the early 18th c to block the Strait of Kerch for Russian Fleet. The fortress occupied an area of 2.5 ha. In plan view it represented an irregular pentagon with five half-bastions in the corners. Inside the fortress there were two gun-powder magazines, an arsenal, residential houses, a water reservoir, the baths and a mosque. In order to supply the garrison with fresh water there was established an underground ceramic water-pipe connecting the fortress with a water source located several kilometers away.
The Russian fortress of Kerch was built in 1857-1865 to defend southern borders of the Empire. Casemates of the fortress were capable of accommodating up to 2,500 people. There was a network of underground passages on the fortress, the larges tunnel being nearly 600 m in length. Inside the fortress there also were five gun-powder magazines, water wells, and two artificial ponds with a system of water filtration.

Medieval Sites


• Site of ancient Pantikapaion, 5th c BC – 3rd c AD (Mount Mitridat)

The area of archaeological excavations with ruins of the ancient Greek city including those of the prytaneion from the 2nd c BC.

•  Crypt of Demeter, first half of the 1st c AD

The best known example of the Bosporan wall painting in the crypt excavated into the ground. It represents a burial chamber from the necropolis of ancient Pantikapaion.

•  Tsarsky Kurgan, 4th  c BC

Located in a suburb of modern Feodosia, this ancient structure represents a tomb of one of the members of the dynasty of Spartakides who ruled the Bosporan Kingdom in 438-109 BC. The crypt is a 17 m high mound with a 36 m long corridor and a pyramid-shaped burial chamber. Unfortunately, the chamber was looted in antiquity and only remains of a wooden sarcophagus have survived until present day.

•  Church of St. John the Baptist, 717 AD or late 9th c

The church is today perhaps the oldest Christian church in Ukraine. The older part of the church represents a domed cross-shaped structure with apses resting against marble pillars with capitols of Corinthian order. Later, in the 11th – 13th cc there was added another basilica on the west side. The church witnessed significant reconstructions in the 19th c. Restored in the 1980s.

•  The Great Staircase of Mithridates, 1833-1840

This gigantic stairway containing 432 steps leads to the top of Mount Mitridat.


• Kerch Historical and Cultural Preserve (22 Sverdlova Street)

The state research institution studying and administrating all archaeological sites and monuments in the area of Kerch.

• Museum of Antiquities (22 Sverdlova Street)

One of the oldest in Ukraine museums containing over 130,000 ancient and medieval artifacts (terracotta figurines, pottery, glassware, coins etc.) and a large collection of lapidary monuments that includes ancient and  Christian tombstones, sculptures and architectural details from the 4th c BC till the 14th c AD.

Textual Sources

Information referring to existence of a Christian church in the city in the late 8th – early 9th c is found in Life of the Apostle Andrew by Epiphanus.


• Ancient Greek Cities in Crimea. Kiev, 2004.
• Gaydukevich V.F. Bosporskoe tsarstvo [The Bosporan Kingdom] (in Russian). Moscow, 1949.
• I genovesi in  Crimea: Guida storica [Genoese in Crimea: Historic Guide] (in Italian and Ukrainian). Kiev, 2009.
• Noonan T. The Origins of the Greek Colony at Panticapaeum. In: American Journal of Archaeology, 1973, No.77 (1), pp. 77–81.

Links (Municipal Council of Kerch) (Committee for Preservation of Cultural Heritage in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) (Kerch Historical and Cultural Preserve) (Kerch Information Portal) (Commercial Sea Port of Kerch)

Visual Material
Writer / Date
Sofronios Paradeisopoulos, Brach of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture Valeriy Suntsov 30/05/2013
This website has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of European Centre for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine monuments and can in no way reflect the views of the European Union