Chersonesos Receives Its Due

Ancient Greek settlement in Ukraine declared UNESCO World Heritage Site

The “1935 basilica” at Tauric Chersonesos. This Byzantine basilica received its name from the year it was excavated. Courtesy Dmitry A. Mottl.

Chersonesos, a fifth-century B.C.E. Greek settlement on the northern shores of the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, was granted World Heritage status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The celebration for its official World Heritage Site designation took place on September 20, 2013. In attendance was Joseph Carter, professor of classical archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the university’s Institute of Classical Archaeology, who has led research and excavation at Chersonesos since 1994. The work done by Carter and the group from UT Austin was instrumental in the excavation, preservation, conservation and, finally, interpretation of this important site.

The Greeks and Romans referred to this area—the territory of the Crimean Peninsula—as Tauric Chersonese, Taurica or Taurida. Founded by the Dorian Greeks in the fifth century as a port city on the Black Sea, Tauric Chersonesos prospered for two millennia, which is evidenced by the sites’ remains dating from the Classical Greek through Medieval periods.

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Having become the seventh site in Ukraine to be granted World Heritage status, Chersonesos boasts monumental public buildings and fortifications as well as residential neighborhoods. One of the most unique aspects of the site is its well-preserved vineyards. The agricultural land surrounding the site was divided into hundreds of chora—rectangular plots of land. The vineyards provide insight into ancient agriculture and give us more information about the lives of ordinary people in the Crimean Peninsula and the link that existed between agricultural areas and the urban city. Throughout its long history, the city remained a center of exchange between the populations north of the Black Sea and the Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires. Chersonesos introduced democracy as well as Christianity to the Slavic world, both of which were instrumental in shaping the region’s future.

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