Although constructed originally in first centuries of the Christian era, this fortress, excavated first by V. I. Sizov in 1886, returned to prominence under the Ottoman Empire. The ruins left behind pull together the many cultures and confessions of eastern Black Sea littoral. Rebuilt by Genoese traders circa the turn of the 14th century, kale is the Turkish word for fortress, and Mamai refers to the stone babas, or steppe idols associated with the Cumans, or Polovtsi, nomadic tribes who traded with the Italians and others.
The combination of her deep religiosity and keen eye to the aesthetics of ruins account for Praskovia Uvarova’s utter fascination with the Caucasus. She traveled there regularly, worked with the curator of the Caucasus Museum Gustav Radde, and edited multiple volumes dedicated to Christian archeological finds.
Known today as two sites, distinguished by “right-bank” and “left-bank” of the Don River, near the Tsimlyanskoe settlement excavated in the 1880s was a right-bank Khazar fortress, built in the 840s, a line of defense along the Silk Road by the Khazar Khaganate. The left-bank fortification is referred to as Sarkel, also the name of a nearby village. Inside the walls were found Khazar dwellings, rich and poor alike. The dry sandy soil permitted the preservation of numerous iron objects as well as ceramics formed on a potter’s wheel, including amphoras. The fortress was attacked in the 9th century, attested to by the skeletal remains of women and children; where were the men? Religious identity is also problematic, as Khazaria had adopted Judaism. The fortress was built with technical assistance from the Byzantines, who had left behind sufficient remnants that V. B. Antonovich characterized it as “Christian” in 1884. Grand Prince of Rus’ Sviatoslav Igorevich conquered it in 965, and the white stones inspired the renaming it “White Vezha.” Prince Vladimir Monomakh used it as a garrison, but the Polovtsy ravaged it in 1117. The white-stone blocks of the fortress stood until 1744, after which the walls were dismantled and used in the construction of the Starocherkasskaya fortress.
The Chora Church was part of a monastery complex in Constantinople, an exemplar of the 14th-century Palaeologian Renaissance. After the Ottoman conquest, it was transformed into the Kakhrie-dzhami mosque.