The Khan's Palace at Bakhchisarai
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The `Fountain of Tears' is still there in one of the palace's inner courtyards. Pushkin's 1820 poem tells the story of one of the last Tatar Khans, Krim Girei, who is said to have fallen in love with a Polish girl in his harem. Girei was famous for his heartless cruelty, but when she died, he was grief-stricken and wept, astounding all those who knew him. He ordered a marble fountain to be made, so that the rock would weep, like him, for ever.
The Tatars
The fountain was built in 1756, but the foundations of the palace were laid by Khan Abdul Sahel Girei in 1503, and the mausoleum contains the tombs of Tatar Khans and their wives from 1592 onwards.

The Tatars were originally a clan confederation of nomadic pastoralists living in the land still called Mongolia. In 1206, Chingis Khan gathered together the people in a great Kuriltay (popular assembly) and succeeded in uniting the clans under his leadership. Chingis Khan centralised the Tatar army and administration, re-organised the clan system, established stringent discipline and embarked on world conquest. Peking fell in 1215, and by 1237 the Golden Horde, as they came to be known, were attacking Moscow.

The Tatars had rapidly assimilated the Turkic people of Central Asia as they swept westwards, with the result that many of those who reached Crimea were Turkic soldiers under Tatar leadership, as were the bulk of those who settled in the region. The Tatar empire was vast, with leaders having to travel thousands of miles back to Karakorum in Mongolia when death occasioned the election of a new Great Khan. The result was that gradually the more far-flung regions of the Tatar realm became more or less autonomous. For most of its Tatar period, Russia was ruled not from Mongolia, but from Saray, the new city established by the Tatars on the banks of the Volga.

The Crimean Khanate was one of the westernmost outposts of Tatar control, and the most long-lasting. It was threatened in1475 when the Ottoman Turks invaded Crimea, but the Turks allowed local rule under the Crimean Khans to continue, provided they accepted a degree of Turkish interference in their affairs. The Khanate survived until 1783, when the Russian Empress Catherine the Great annexed the region from the Ottoman Empire.

The Palace
"Sarai" means palace, and "Bakhchi-sarai" means garden palace. Khan Mengli-Girei began building it in the early 15 hundreds, and it was gradually added to over the centuries. The Divan Hall, where the State Council met, has stained glass windows dating from the 16th century, and the Great Mosque, designed by the Persian master Omer (who also made the `fountain of tears') was built in 1763.

The palace is not only a unique example of Crimean Tatar architecture but a testament to a strong and enduring community . Some of the rooms have been made to look `lived-in' in Tatar style.

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