Excavations of Chersones on the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine

The ancient Greek city of Khersones in the west of the Crimean peninsula near today's Sevastopol is one of the most important archaeological sites in Ukraine. The famous ruins of the former port city can be explored as an open-air museum

The excavations of Khersones are among the most important sights of the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. They are located on the Black Sea in the very west of the peninsula in the south of the largest bay of Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea. Since 2013, the ancient city of Chersones of Tauria has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Sights of the ancient city of Khersones

The excavations of Chersones are now known as "Chersones of Tauria" and can be visited as a Greek-Byzantine-Roman open-air museum. Houses, streets, gravestones, squares and walls of the former port city slowly came to light again. Also called "Ukrainian Pompeii" or "Russian Troy", Chersones has been one of the Seven Wonders of the World of Ukraine since 2007. The Chersones Museum exhibits finds from the excavations, including writings, coins, ceramics and architectural fragments.

Bell of Chersones

Not to be overlooked is the famous bell of Khersones. Suspended between two stone columns, the "fog bell" is considered the symbol of the excavation site and is one of the most famous sights around Sevastopol.

The Chersones bell was cast in 1778 from Turkish cannons captured in the Russo-Turkish War and once hung in St. Nicholas Church in the Russian port city of Taganrog on the Sea of Azov. When the naval base of the Russians, including the Black Sea Fleet, was moved to Sevastopol, the bell also went to a newly built St. Nicholas Church in Sevastopol. During the Crimean War, the Chersones bell was kidnapped by the French and briefly chimed in the famous Nôtre Dame in Paris. In 1913 it was returned to the Chersones monastery, which was closed in 1925, and has hung in its place ever since, warning arriving ships in foggy weather until the 1960s.


The most striking remains of Chersones are the walls and columns of the 1935 Basilica, the most famous structure of Chersones next to the Bell. It was so named because it was discovered in 1935 and is believed to date from the 6th century.


In the excavated Roman amphitheatre of Chersones, performances take place every summer in the course of the "Games of Chersones".

St. Vladimir Cathedral

The Byzantine St. Vladimir's Cathedral is not actually part of the ancient city of Khersones, nor is it in ruins. It was completed in 1892 and commemorates the site where Saint Vladimir was baptised. Vladimir I was then Grand Duke of Kiev and besieged the city in 985 because he wanted to marry Anna, the daughter of the Byzantine king. Since Byzantine princesses were not normally married to non-Greeks, Byzantium agreed in order to free Chersones, but Vladimir's baptism and the Christianisation of Kievan Rus were further conditions for the marriage.

St. Vlaidimir's Cathedral at the Khersones excavation site on the Crimean peninsula dates from the 19th century, Ukraine - © Andrew Butko CC BY-SA3.0/Wiki
© Andrew Butko CC BY-SA3.0/Wiki

History of Chersones

The area of the ancient city of Khersones was supposedly inhabited in prehistoric times. As early as 3,000 years ago, our ancestors lived in caves and grottos in the west of today's Crimean peninsula.


The first permanent settlement was established in 422 BC under the Greeks. At that time, Crimea was firmly in the hands of the predatory Taurians, who were, however, defeated by the Greeks. Crimea was divided among the Greek colonists at that time. The Ionians from Miletus settled in today's Kerch in the east of Crimea and the Dorian colonists from Herakleia Pontike remained in the southwest and founded, in addition to Chersones ("chersonesos" means "peninsula"), the precursor cities of today's Sevastopol and Yevpatoriya.

Chersones was always struggling with the barbarians from the east and asked the Roman Empire for protection in the first century AD. The Romans promised Chersones help and included the city in their empire - suddenly, without much ado, they had an outpost on the Black Sea from which Roman trade routes and campaigns could be extended to the east. Rome also used far-flung Chersones as a destination for its exiles, who included Pope Clement I, Pope Martin I and Emperor Justinian II. In the 8th and 9th centuries during the Byzantine iconoclastic controversy, more and more Byzantines fled to Chersones, leaving their influence in the architecture. In 838, the city passed to the Byzantines in return for their support in the construction of the Sarkel fortress.

The end of Khersones came around 1400, when it was destroyed by the White Horde, a warlike nomadic Mongol people. The ancient city was not rebuilt, but apart from a few military buildings, it was not built over either, and so Russian archaeologists began excavations in 1820.