Генуезька фортеця Чембало у Балаклаві
Генуезька фортеця Чембало у Балаклаві. Фото з архіву "Голос Криму. Культура"

The Chembalo fortress. Consequences of the occupation for cultural heritage


Chembalo (Italian: Cembalo, Russian: Чембало, Crimean Tatar: Çembalo) is a Genoese, later Ottoman fortress in Crimea, built in the 14th century on the site of a Greek settlement and a Byzantine fort. It is an architectural monument currently located within the Balaklava district of the city of Sevastopol. The name Chembalo was adapted by the Genoese from the Greek Simbolon (“Bay of Symbols”, or “Simbolon Limen”). This name of Balaklava Bay and the settlement on its shores is known since Roman times. The ensemble of fortress buildings is located on the top and slopes of Fortress Mountain (Castron), which rises above the entrance to the long and convenient for ships Balaklava Bay. Today it is half-destroyed. The remains of defensive and retaining walls, four towers, a dungeon and the remains of a Christian church at the entrance to the bay have been preserved. Chembalo Fortress is the main historical monument of Balaklava, one of the most interesting monuments of history and archeology of Crimea[1].

In 2010, Ukraine added to the UNESCO World Heritage List the site “Trading Posts and Fortifications on Genoese Trade Routes. From the Mediterranean to the Black Sea”[2], the part of which is Chembalo/Balaklava. Since 2011, Ukraine has been developing this nomination together with Italy; they were later joined by Turkey and Greece. Due to the temporary occupation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, this work was suspended.

In the period 2014-2021, specialists of the State Hermitage (a group of individuals led by Deputy Director General of the State Hermitage, chief curator of the museum collection of the State Hermitage Svetlana Adaksina) under the guise of “archaeological research” unlawfully excavated the cultural heritage of Ukraine in Crimea, i.e. Genoese fortress “Chembalo”. During these excavations archaeological artifacts were unlawfully seized from this monument.[3] Ancient specimens of Hellenistic, Genoese, Armenian, Turkish and other cultures were damaged.

The so-called “archaeological research” was carried out with the participation of the State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve “Tauric Chersonesos” created by the occupation authorities. In July 2017, licences for archaeological excavations (the so called “open letters”) were issued for the aforementioned Svetlana Adaksina (for the period from July 6 to September 15, 2017)[4] and “junior researcher of the “Fortress Chembalo” branch of the Federal State Budgetary Institution of Culture “State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Reserve “Tauric Chersonesos” Mikhail Stupko (for the period from July 21, 2017 to March 1, 2018).[5] On October 16, 2017, Mikhail Stupko received another “open letter” until December 28, 2017.[6]


Unlawful activities were carried out to the west of the Gate Tower, in the direction of the Fortress of St. Nicholas, on the plot of 160 square meters at an altitude of about 46-53 m above sea level. The ruins of a medieval temple, two residential or economic or service buildings, and the remains of an ancient crepidoma were excavated on three artificial terraces. On the second terrace, the ruins of a temple with an area of 5.1 × 8.4 m were discovered. Fifteen Armenian tombstones from the late Middle Ages (16th – 17th centuries) were found in the rests of destructions. One of them was made of white marble with gray streaks, and the rest were made of dense numulite limestone. The fragments contain relief images of crosses (some painted red), in some places, there are epitaphs in Armenian. Remains of about 40 buried adults and children were found under the temple. Traces of the road of the 14th – 15th centuries (the width of the road surface being 2.2 – 2.3 m), as well as the base of the retaining wall made of rubble with lime mortar were found to the north-west of the church. In the ruins of the crepidoma, there were found fragments of red clay glazed pottery of the 14th – 15th centuries and fragments of white limestone plaster with traces of frescoes, which may be identical to the fresco of Our Lady of Hodegetria (1330 – 1340) discovered in 2004 in the barbican of the Gate Tower. A trench with fragments of ceramic water supply was dug in the roadbed which could be laid to the consular tower of St. Nicholas. Another temple complex was excavated on this site the construction of which could be carried out in the 14th – 18th centuries.[7]


To the west of the previously discovered temple, a lane 0.8 – 1.3 m wide and a small utility room were dug. A monumental building of the 15th century about 10 × 12 m in size was partially opened in the north-east. A whole marble rectangular slab measuring 0.40 × 0.20 × 0.05 m was found near the vestibule, on the front side of which a cross and a three-line inscription in Armenian had been preserved. Also, 16 burials were also found, an image of “Babylon” being scratched on one of the tombstones. 48 coins were also unlawfully seized from the archeological monument, the earliest denomination being the “denga” of the Russian Empire dated 1761.[8]


The walls of another large room were excavated. Fragments of ceramics and coins of the second half of the 14th – 15th centuries were found on the open section of the road. The foundations of three rooms of the 15th – 17th centuries, of Genoese and Ottoman times, were excavated.[9]


The cultural layer inside Tower 5 was extracted. A large number of iron products were unlawfully seized, 8360 fragments and whole plates from Latin armor of the “brigade” type, including 1655 fragments and whole crossbow bolts, 507 Turkish arrowheads, 49 iron forged cannon balls from the 15th-century hand cannons.[10]


Unlawful works were held on several sites of the monument. The area of work in excavation 1 was 150 square meters at a depth of 0.15 – 1.20 m. On the outer south-eastern side of the apse of the temple, a previously unexplored area was opened. Below, in excavation 2 with an area of 150 square meters, buildings of the Genoese (1345-1475) and Ottoman (1475-1771) periods of existence of Chembalo were excavated. Also, at the same place, the ruins of the walls of a large house built not earlier than the 1380s, were revealed.[11]


A large building of the Genoese period (2nd half of the 14th – 15th centuries) and a building of the late Ottoman times (17th – 18th centuries), as well as the ruins of three rooms, were excavated. A fragment of a bronze Byzantine censer of the 11th – 12th centuries was unlawfully seized from the archeological monument: an openwork fragment (partially broken) with cavities imitating animals, a small round medallion in the center of the composition depicting a holy warrior with a shield and a spear (probably image of St. George).[12]

National institutions of science and culture of the Russian Federation, in particular, the federal budgetary institution of culture “The State Hermitage”, as well as institutions established by the occupation authorities, are involved in unlawful activities at the Chembalo site (Sevastopol, Ukraine). The State Hermitage is included in the list of entities to which sanctions are applied according to the Decree of the President of Ukraine of May 14, 2020, №184 “On the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine of May 14, 2020 “On the application, abolition and amendment of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)”.

The actions of the occupation authorities, which resulted in unlawful appropriation, unlawful archeological excavations, during which archeological artifacts were seized are a violation of international humanitarian law.

These actions of the Russian Federation, together with other actions of the Occupying Power in their entirety may constitute a war crime in the form of extensive destruction and appropriation of cultural property, not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.


The group of monitoring experts of the Regional Center for Human Rights,

the working group of the expert network “Crimean Platform – Humanitarian Policy”


[1] Chembalo (fortress ). Wikipedia. Last edited at 23:18, 13 January 2021. Access mode: https://archive.is/7d5v7

[2] https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5575/

[3] South Crimean expedition. The State Hermitage. Access mode: https://archive.is/3ko4B

[4] Order of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation No. 1137 dated July 6, 2017 “On the issuance of permits (open letters) to carry out work to identify and study objects of archaeological heritage”. Access mode: https://archive.is/u9bHs

[5] Order of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation No. 1238 dated July 21, 2017 “On the issuance of permits (open letters) to carry out work to identify and study objects of archaeological heritage”. Access mode: https://archive.is/LejJQ

[6] Order of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation No. 1743 dated October 16, 2017 “On the issuance of permits (open letters) to carry out work to identify and study objects of archaeological heritage”. Access mode:  https://archive.is/jtTP0

[7] The State Hermitage report. 2014 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2015 .– 244 p. : ill. – S. 164-165. – Access mode:  https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/0868d170-3ae8-4699-8e41-9f644a0a0f73/%D0%9E%D1%82%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82+%D0%93%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE+%D0%AD%D1%80%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B6%D0%B0+2014.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-0868d170-3ae8-4699-8e41-9f644a0a0f73-l4fSHkd

[8] The State Hermitage report. 2015 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2016 .– 200 p. : ill. – P. 130. – Access mode: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/c6c40776-75e6-449e-843c-47a7fed28774/otchet_2015.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&amp%3BCONVERT_TO=url&amp%3BCACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-c6c40776-75e6-449e-843c-47a7fed28774-m1kGC20

[9] The State Hermitage report. 2016 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2017 .– 204 p. : ill. – S. 137-138. – Access mode:      https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/f93842af-ecd8-4446-a954-3d66054e15c4/report2016r.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-f93842af-ecd8-4446-a954-3d66054e15c4-lZjycIk

[10] The State Hermitage report. 2017 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2018 .– 216 p. : ill. – S. 154. – Access mode:


[11] The State Hermitage report. 2018 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2019 .– 228 p. : ill. – S. 154. – Access mode:


[12] The State Hermitage report. 2019 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2021 .– 244 p. : ill. – S. 179. – Access mode: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/4d36cdb4-263a-47fe-b419-cfd9d4b00347/otchet19.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-4d36cdb4-263a-47fe-b419-cfd9d4b00347-nz6QdmO


Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.

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