Sudak - the Genoese fortress

Sudak bay snoozes in the heat haze of a July day (opposite). The view is from the castle above the town, built by the Genoese after their troops seized the town in 1365. The Genoese and the Venetians competed for a lucrative trade in slaves and spices, taking slaves from eastern europe via Crimea to Egypt and buying spices, silk, linen and aromatic woods there brought in by traders from India and Ceylon.

At this time Sudak had a population of over 10,000, consisting of Turks, Russians, Greeks, Armenians, Tatars, Italians and others. The town was under control of the Tatar Khans, who extracted often severe taxes from the town when they were not occupied fighting eachother. The Genoese and Venetians had for some time been supplanting the Greeks in Theodosia (named Kaffa by the Genoese - now Feodosia) further down the coast, where their presence was at best tolerated and often resented by the Tatars to the point where the town was sacked several times. After developing trading links with Sudak, the Genoese decided to take it over. From here they expanded westwards, taking Chembalo (now Balaklava) some years later. By 1380 the Genoese effectively controlled the whole Crimean Black Sea coast, from Kaffa in the east to Chembalo in the west , and consolidated their position through a series of treaties with various Tatar Khans. Such was the importance of Sudak that the Black Sea was referred to as the `Sudak Sea' on contemporary maps of the area.

The town was governed by a Genoese Consul appointed by the government in Genoa but subordinate to the Consul in Kaffa, for a term of one year at a time. He in turn was assisted by a local committee that was responsible for the weapons and supplies at the fortress. The size, position and strength of the fortress is an indication of the degree of insecurity felt by the Genoese. From the south and east the only approach is by sea and the approach from the west is difficult. Built on a hill 150m above sea level it was easy to keep a check on the surrounding area. Within the town there was a curfew at night and patrols arrested anyone caught breaking it.

Photograph used by kind permission of Xenophon Group. Click the name to visit their historical website.

Money was raised for the town's administration through customs duties on wine and from the fines levied on people caught breaking the curfew, and on March 1st each year the Consul, together with 8 leading citizens, appointed `two honest men', one Latin and one Greek, to assist the Consul with financial matters and to represent the interests of Sudak's multi-ethnic population. Apart from international trade, the town had a thriving community of artisans working in pottery and metalwork.

Sudak remained in Genoese hands for just over 100 years, but in 1475 their fortress was not strong enough to withstand the onslaught of the Ottoman Turkish invasion of Crimea. The Genoese lost control of all their towns in the region and never regained them. The focus of trade shifted to Kaffa, Sudak went into decline and the fortress fell into disuse until the mid-eighteenth century, when imperial Russia invaded to take Crimea from the Turks. In 1771 Russian forces took over the fortress, and a garrison was stationed there until 1816.

During the Soviet era the fortress was restored and is open to the public. Of particular interest is the mosque within the battlements - you can just see its dome above the tower on the left in the photo (above). When the Genoese seized the town in 1365, it was under construction as a mosque, and the Genoese completed it, but turned it into a Catholic church. A century later the invading Turks turned it back into a mosque. During the time of the Russian garrison it was used as an Orthodox church, and from 1883 it became a chapel of the Armenian Catholic church. After the revolution it was turned into a museum by the Soviet government, which is what it is today.

There are other, smaller Genoese fortresses at Feodosia (Kaffa) and Balaklava (Chembalo).

Back to top Back to Places