Tomb for Mithridates
The same lion on the first tier of the stairs.

Tomb for Mithridates


Kerch is the oldest city in Ukraine. It is more than two thousand six hundred years old, and therefore we can rightly speak of the status of an eternal city. However, there are some myths that dominate, creating certain contexts.

For Kerch, these are three epochs: the antiquity of the Bosporus period, the “accession” of Kerch to the Russian Empire (the city became part of Russia in 1774), World War II and the status of the hero city – the USSR.

The Middle Ages are shrouded in mystery. The Byzantine period, for example, does not evoke as many vivid images as Ancient Greece (although in the very heart of the city stands the Church of St. John the Baptist of the VIII century). The kaleidoscope of cultures and peoples, which existed in Kerch before the first annexation of Crimea in the XVIII century, also prefer not to mention once again. But this is a topic for a separate conversation.


Tomb for Mithridates
Top view of the Mithridates stairs after the so-called “restoration”.

For now, we will talk about Mount Mithridates, which in a sense is the center of the city: cultural, tourist, even spiritual. Living in Kerch and never climbing to the top of a mountain named after the famous Mithridates of Euphrates is the same as living in Kyiv and never walking on Khreshchatyk. In principle, the same can be said about tourists. In both cases.

Mount Mithridates as the highest point of the city combines these three myth-making epochs. Here is the Obelisk of Glory, which was built in 1944 from the walls of Trinity Cathedral. Here stood the acropolis of ancient Pantikapaion, which Pushkin so relentlessly wanted to see in 1920. And in order to see all this, you need to climb the Mithridates stairs – big or small.

*** The
Mithridates stairs appeared not so long ago: the large ones were built in 1840, the small ones in 1860. However, this is enough to be an architectural monument and a business card of the city.

Their significance should not be overestimated, because the stairs to Mount Mithridates are important both utilitarian and deeply symbolic. One of the most famous mayors of the city, Ivan Stempkovsky, dreamed that the big stairs would unite the modern city and the ancient city. Unfortunately, he did not see the realization of his dream, because he died in 1832, a year before the foundation stone.

Tomb for Mithridates
Kerch center. Small Constantine stairs.

During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the large Mithridates stairs were damaged by shelling from ships. A major restoration has taken place over 130 years. It was then that the griffins, destroyed in the 50s of the XIX century, were re-created (the engravings of that time served as a model). The project was led by the famous Kerch sculptor Roman Serdyuk. And it was he who created the bowls, which were copies of antique – found during archaeological excavations.

Small Mithridates stairs (or Konstantinovsky), built with the assistance of merchant Alexei Konstantinov, are less noticeable, because they are located a little deeper. Perhaps the townspeople do not even understand that these stairs were also built in the last century (although a plaque hangs in the very center).

However, both large and small Mithridates stairs are in a terrible state.

It started in May 2014. It was then that Kerch journalists and residents of the city noticed a huge crack on one of the walls. And within a year, in June 2015, part of the large Mithridates stairs fell, inadvertently hinting that the future will only be better, more fun and more energetic. At that time, no one could have imagined the consequences of this collapse.

Tomb for Mithridates
The same lion on the first tier of the stairs.

Time passed, but nothing happened. In the end, a miracle happened that no one could have hoped for: on September 15, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kerch and promised fantastic money – 1.5 billion Russian rubles (at the time of the promise, this amount was 23,087,579 US dollars). repair of stairs.
For the first time, the people of Kerch learned about the strength of the top leadership of the occupying country. And for the first time we learned about his empty promises.


The large Mithridates stairs caused a huge resonance in the city. This is evidenced not only by the huge amount of material on local news portals, but also by conversations among citizens. Only a blind man could not notice that Kerch was collapsing before his eyes. But even a person who is deprived of the opportunity to see would still learn about the sad state of affairs, because everyone around was talking about it.

Yes, they spoke cautiously, because they felt that it could turn into something bad. Only those who were too brave could take risks and quarrel with the authorities in a public place. For example, once I had to hear an elderly woman complaining while sitting in a trolleybus about design work that cost 100 million rubles. “What did these funds go to? She asked the retirees sitting around. “Is it possible to spend so much on paper?” But no one answered her. It was 2018. The automobile part of the bridge across the Kerch Strait has already been opened. But the stairs, which began to decline earlier than the project of “building the century” was ready, still stood. Silent, ragged, crippled.


Tomb for Mithridates
Here once was the entrance to the “Crypt of Demeter”.

More than three years passed when the tender was finally held and the winner was selected – the St. Petersburg company “Meander”. We find the announcement on July 7, 2017. Work on projects and soil research continues for several more months. Griffins will be dismantled in another month. The same ones that were installed in 1987 by Roman Serdyuk’s team. At the same time it became known that other sculptures would take the place of griffins created by Kerch masters.

It seems that “Meander” wants to completely change the face of the city, because how to explain such a radical desire to rebuild everything in their own way? And can it be called a reconstruction? The question, of course, is rhetorical. (Fortunately, the “old” griffins were restored and transported to the Kerch Lapidarium).

Meander did not work long on the “restoration”. Already in September of the same 2018 it became known about the complete failure of the repair of stairs. The “head” of the Crimea, Sergei Aksonov, said that the State Committee for the Protection of Cultural Heritage could not properly monitor the work.
The fact is that almost a year after receiving the tender, Meander, in addition to dismantling griffins, bowls, beating tiles and partial concreting, began to “strengthen” the slope of Mount Mithridates.

“Deputy Prime Minister” of Crimea Vitaly Nakhlupin said: “The situation was much more complicated and worse than we assumed in our most unfavorable forecasts. We may have inefficient use of more than 167 million rubles. Because the works carried out as part of emergency repairs did not have any impact on the stairs. ”

Moreover, the works were carried out outside the cadastral location of the stairs, and the examination of the estimated cost of the object took place without the approval of the customer (customer of design and research works – city administration, customer of construction works – state enterprise “Cultural Heritage”, ie the same state commission).

What does all this mean? “Meander” only created the appearance of work, the result of which is extremely disappointing: the stairs, which have been without tiles for more than a year, are collapsing even more actively than before. Fantastic projects that have been submitted to the court of citizens are unlikely to be implemented.


Tomb for Mithridates
Allegedly, these plaques will help preserve the cultural heritage…

But the biggest tragedy is the so-called “slope strengthening”. A fence was erected near the fourth tier of stairs (the area was built specifically to reach the obelisk). A car with workers was also located nearby. This is probably the only front of work on which something happened.

Anchor fields began to be built on the slope. And now I will tell you how it happened. Three drilling rigs and 1,134 piles (each 30 meters long) were brought to Mithridates. Each pile (30 meters long!) Is deep in the ground, cement is poured into it. And so 1134 times.
Meander analyzed the soil. However, for some reason no archeological excavations were carried out, although the acropolis was located on this slope.

Now the administration and the state committee are waving their hands, trying to blame each other and pretend they were unaware that state funds were being stolen. And no one mentions the barbaric actions on the slope of Mount Mithridates, where at every step – a reminder of antiquity in the form of ceramic fragments.

Against the background of the events associated with the large Mithridates stairs, almost nothing is heard about the small, Constantine stairs. They are also of great importance, first of all, for the people of Kerch themselves, and in fact are not in much better condition. I would even note that in some respects the Konstantinovsky stairs are more neglected: it is almost impossible to go down them, because the steps are more like broken teeth, piles of rubbish and dry grass everywhere. As I walked up, a piece of hay that reminded me of a rolling field blocked my path.

It is sad that the small stairs lack the banal cleaning. Although the Konstantinovsky steps indicate that they also need repairs. Immediate repair. Otherwise, they will simply fall apart. Or they will be dismantled for the construction of some new vital federal facility.

Instead of conclusions

Tomb for Mithridates
Remains of tiles lie nearby.

Of all the cities of the Crimea, Kerch was the first to become part of the Russian Empire in 1774. And, probably, that is why she suffered losses from new owners as soon as possible. The level of finds and the attitude of the city authorities and the Russian population of Kerch to them shocked travelers at the time.

For example, in 1795, the Englishwoman M. Guthrie, impressed by her visit to Kerch, wrote that ancient monuments survived the barbaric Middle Ages and the Tatar invasion, but Christians use them to build their houses and other needs. “Like this: items that are worthy of being exhibited in the best museums in the world are not used for their intended purpose.”

Also for a long time in Kerch and its environs chaotic excavations were carried out, which can be called robbery, as a result of which valuables were sold or completely destroyed due to the banal ignorance of their cultural and historical value.

Tomb for Mithridates
And here was a bowl by Roman Serdyuk.

Therefore, the question of preserving monuments became acute, so in 1820 a museum of antiquity was established. The main one was located in Odessa, in Kerch – a branch. But the creation of the museum also did little to help in the struggle for the preservation of ancient monuments. Very often the most valuable things just “disappeared”. This was mentioned by the famous traveler F. Dubois de Montpellier in the 30s of the XIX century. He noted that the museum lacks an experienced scientist who can bring order, make a classification of unique antiques, which are fundamentally different from the usual ancient Greek finds.

Tomb for Mithridates
Top view of the Mithridates stairs after the so-called “restoration”.

At least somehow the situation was corrected only after 1850 (!), When a commission was set up to study antiquity. That is, for more than eighty years, Kerch was literally dragged away on “souvenirs”.

The annexation of the peninsula in 2014 demonstrated a certain longevity of the tradition, as the city also conducts illegal archaeological excavations (or simply destroys historical layers). Of course: it is impossible to compare Kerch at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 21st century, because during all this time not only ancient monuments but also houses of the Russian Empire period have disappeared in the city. And now everything that reminded of the city’s centuries-old history is under threat of extinction.

Ivan KLEPYK, Sights of Ukraine magazine, 2019

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The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Ivan Klepyk

Journalist of the newspaper "Crimean chamber"

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