Balaklava: Between Past and Future – Balaklava, Ukraine

Balaklava: Between Past and Future

Balaklava, the Crimea, Ukraine

Balaklava's Bay from top of a rock
Balaklava’s Bay from top of a rock
“When we reached the glorious harbor we found it land-locked under steep cliffs, with a narrow entrance between two headlands,” – so was Homer, the ancient Greek poet, singing about Balaklava. Recently this city celebrated its anniversary – 2,500 years since the date of its foundation. According to the legend, right here, at the Southern Coast of Black sea, in a silent bay surrounded with impassable rocks from all the directions, was a port of Lamus Laestrygonians. Here they lived, these ogres whom Odysseus and his fellow travelers faced.

Those lands more than once became the arena of severe fights where destinies of people and nations were solved. Militant tribes of Tauris are considered to be the first who settled down there. The barbarians liked the place and soon they turned Balaklava into a piratical base. Careless seafarers were floating to the flame of fires, which Tauris kindled all over the seashore, and moored to the coast. They were robbed and sacrificed to the virgin goddess. Probably, just because of those fires traps, the Hellenes who lived in the neighborhood, called that bay ‘Symbolon-Limne’ – ‘Harbor of Symbols’.

Later Roman legions were ruling those lands and hordes of nomads grasped them. In the Middle Ages, the enterprising Genoeses founded their colony there and named it Chembalo. Colossal fortifications which still dominate on the hill above the town, keep memory of this proud and temperamental people which lived in Balaklava in the old days.

At the entrance of the town, there is a high obelisk at the 10th kilometer of the Balaklava highway. A brief inscription is at the bottom: Balaklava. 25 October 1854. Every British schoolboy knows, what had happened on this mournful day. “Death Valley” is what the cavalrymen of the Light Brigade who survived the 25th October of 1854, call the Balaklava Valley. They were approximately 200 of the 700 horsemen of this Brigade who returned from the battlefield. By Lord of Raglan’s order, the cavalrymen rushed into fight and got under an aimed squall of fire of Russian riflemen.

Standing on the command top where Lord of Raglan gave his orders, it is difficult to imagine the clattering of hoofs, the thunder of cannon shots, groans of wounded people. Today ‘Death Valley’ is covered with vineyards and dazzles with wildflowers. Serenity and peace have settled on these hills, only a lonely wind walks on a valley, shaking green bunches of grapes.

Meanwhile, in the height of the ‘Cold War’, Balaklava again got into the epicenter of hostilities. The Soviet military command not only placed its submarines in the harbor of Laestrygonians, but also started constructing a top secret underground object. This strategic complex – factory – was meant for maintenance and covering submarines with nuclear warheads onboard.

Genoese fortress under restoration
Genoese fortress under restoration
The town disappeared: in 1957, Balaklava was blacked out; its name vanished from all the geographical maps. Every entrance and exit was ‘hermetically’ closed and was carefully protected by KGB officers. The underground compound was forged directly in the rock. Gradually, man-made caves began to take shape amid the granite, housing underground shops, offices, arsenals and roads. Through a deep-water channel, a submarine could easily come into a dry dock. According to designer’s intention, 3,000 people could find shelter in labyrinths of this underground dungeon in case of a nuclear threat. Having waited through a danger, nine submarines could put to sea and strike back on the adversary.

After the collapse of Soviet Union, the underground polis has turned out to be nobody’s and needless. It was removed from a secret list, guards were dismissed and hunters for color and black metals rushed into dark galleries. The factory was completely deprived of its “filling”. The giant fell under blows of crowbars and sledge hammers.

Today the underground complex is converted into a museum of the Navies of Ukraine. Everyone can visit it as a participant of a conducted excursion. They show you everything what still remains, but even bare walls with pieces of iron sticking out impress.

Long gray corridors of the dungeon are rather poorly lighted. It seems as if it was made intentionally to intimidate curious visitors. The excursion begins from watching the channel. Its length is over 500 meters, width – 24 meters, depth – 9 meters. Once, ‘a tired submarine’ was sailing under these high vaults at late night. Powerful pumps dewatered, the dock was dried up, and the submarine was driven inside like a shell into a bore of the gun. In the vast spaces of the factory winding in a womb of the rock, the work was boiling – cars and trolleys were scurrying about, shipbuilders hurried, circuits of vertical conveyor clanked, drills of engineering tools whined…… Alas, there are no machine tools and pumps anymore, the dry dock is filled with water, and instead of warships there are crowds of jellyfishes which find shelter here when a storm arrives.

Of course, it is impossible to visit the entire construction during a short period of the excursion and one could not be able to tell about everything it. Usually visitors punch-drunk by the scene, still linger at the exit of the factory – the place from where a submarine was putting into sea, and they literally bombard their guide with questions.

‘And would it be possible to build a casino here, in this vault?’, ‘And whether had submarines to use their nuclear weapon in a fight?’, ‘And what would be, if…?’ – many questions lead the guide into a dead end. But the museum assistant has already got accustomed to the fact the object causes a huge interest among visitors, particularly veterans of every possible military departments and former secret service men. In their time they weren’t capable to solve the secret of the Soviet submariners.

Odyssey's ship at berth in Balaklava
Odyssey’s ship at berth in Balaklava
Quite recently they were two jubilees celebrated in Balaklava at the same time – 2,500th jubilee of the city and 150 years of the end of the Crimean war. The peaceful ‘Harbor of Symbols’ reincarnates. Having got rid from the bondage of ‘secrecy’, it has turned into an international tourist center. Foreign visitors come to Balaklava more and more frequently. Already for some years, the yacht regattas have been carried out here regularly, and this year there was held a festival of the modern art, ‘The Balaklava’s Odyssey’, which was presented at the expense of Ukrainian and German organizers. Remarkable, that the main action of this performance with participation of dancers, musicians, painters of any other countries of the world took place in walls of the declassified underground complex.

Wherever would you go, wherever would you turn your legs would lead you to the quay of the bay. In summer it is especially crowded. Idle and placid holiday-makers sit in small comfortable coffee houses and bars scattered on along the whole quay. Others walk slowly along the bay, looking with delight at the yachts glaring the whiteness under the burning summer sun. Local fishermen, descendants of the brave Laestrygonians go boating with tourists along the bay in their small skiffs, telling them legends of Balaklava.

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