The Tauric Chersonesos preserve located in Crimea at the city of Sevastopol was initially set up to be an academic site in 1827, since it was “preserved in almost pristine condition,” as Vasily Novikov, a history PhD who regularly participates in archaeological digs around Russia, said. “You can see streets and buildings of antiquity, you can go through and touch them with your hands and see them with your eyes. Other finds in Russia and Europe can only be reconstructed, you can’t see and touch them.”
Nevertheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it so the site will be placed under federal control at the beginning of September, as it was officially put on a list as part of the cultural heritage of the Russian people. Furthermore, an Orthodox priest by the name of Sergy Khalyuta was appointed to run it, which has frustrated national and international academics.
Before it was captured by various tribes and finally destroyed by Mongol hordes in 1399, Chersonesos had a long and rich history as a Greek settlement, a Byzantine outpost where prominent people were sent into exile and an early center of Christianity. Because of the high level of preservation, archaeological digs have offered a unique insight into the economy, government and way of life of its inhabitants. It has served as a training ground for thousands of archaeology students.
Experts from across Russia said the priest’s appointment could disrupt the balance between church and museum interests. Academics believe only a specialist with knowledge of archaeology and history could run such an important and complex site, stating that the focus of the monument could shift toward that of a religious center and not a scientific one. The scandal is made all the worse since the monument contains the history of ancient civilizations and not just Russia, making it an international issue as well.
Vladimir Aristarkhov, the first deputy culture minister has tried to calm tensions by stating that no one would “turn the museum into a monastery,” and that a supervisory committee including archaeologists, representatives of the Russian Museums Union, Sevastopol government, and the regional culture council would be created. However, experts from across Russia still believe the priest’s appointment could disrupt the balance between church and museum interests.
The site is often called the Russian Troy or the Ukrainian Pompeii, and consists of the ruins of Chersonesos, a city founded by Greek colonists more than 2,500 years ago. It is already a Unesco World Heritage site. However, it is also where Prince Vladimir, leader of the medieval state of Kievan Rus, is believed to have been baptized in 988 and introduced Christianity to what is now Russia and Ukraine. A cathedral named after Vladimir was built in 1861 on the site where Vladimir was believed to have been baptized.