[kerch; Russ. kyerch]
Kerch, city (1989 pop. 174,000), in Ukraine, in the Crimea. It lies on the Kerch Strait of the Black Sea and at the eastern end of the Kerch Peninsula, a strip of land between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. A seaport and major industrial center, it has iron and steel mills, shipyards, fisheries, and canneries. Iron ore and vanadium are extracted nearby.

The city was founded as Panticapaeum (6th cent. B.C.) by Greek colonists from Miletus and was the forerunner of all Milesian cities in the area. It was a large trade center and a terraced mountain city with self-government. It became (5th cent. B.C. to 4th cent. A.D.) the capital of the European part of the Kingdom of Bosporus (see Crimea). It was conquered (c.110 B.C.) by Mithradates VI of Pontus, then passed under Roman and Byzantine rule, and was taken by Novogorod in the 9th cent. and called Korchev. Later (13th cent.) it became a Genoese trade center called Cherkio and was conquered (1475) by the Crimean Tatars, who called it Cherzeti. It was captured (1771) by the Russians in the first Russo-Turkish War (1768-74), and the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji (1774) formally gave it to Russia. Under Russia, Kerch was a military port and then became (1820) a commercial port.

There are ruins of the ancient acropolis on top of the steep hill of Mithradates. Archaeological remains, discovered in catacombs and burial mounds near the city, are in the archaeological museum (founded 1826), which is famous for its Greco-Scythian antiquities. The Church of St. John the Baptist dates from the 8th cent. The city has a marine fishery and oceanographic research institute.

Kerch (Керч, Керчь, , Old East Slavic: Кърчевъ, Ancient Greek: Παντικάπαιον Pantikapaion) is a city (2001 pop 157,000) on the Kerch Peninsula of eastern Crimea, is an important industrial, transport and tourist centre of Ukraine. The name comes from Old East Slavic ’къркъ’ which means throat, alluding to a narrow strait in front of the town (see Vasmer here).


Ancient times

Kerch is one of the most ancient cities of Ukraine. The city spread around the ancient ridge of Mitridates. Archeological digs at Mayak village near the city ascertained that the area had already been inhabited in 17th15th centuries BC.

Kerch as a city starts its history in 7th century BC, when Greek colonists from Miletus founded a city-state named Panticapaeum (which means fish road) on the shore of Kerch Strait. The city was built on the top of the Mount Mitridates. Panticapaeum was a predecessor of present-day Kerch city, it subdued nearby cities and by 480 BC became a capital of the Kingdom of Bosporus. Later, during the rule of King Mithradates the 6-th Eupator, Panticapaeum for a short period of time became the capital of much more powerful and extensive Kingdom of Pontus

The city located at the intersection of trade roads between Asia and Europe grew rapidly. The city's main exports were grain and salted fish, wine-making was also common. Panticapaeum minted its own coins. A large portion of the population was ethnically Scythian, later Sarmatian, as the large royal barrow at Kul-Oba testifies.

In 1st century AD Panticapaeum and the Kingdom of Bosporus suffered from Ostrogoth raids, then the city was devastated by the Huns in AD 375.

Middle ages

From the 6th century AD the city was under Byzantine Empire control. By order of Emperor Justinian I a citadel named Bospor was built there. Bospor was the center of a diocese and developed under the influence of Greek Christianity. In 576, it withstood a siege by the Göktürks under Bokhan, aided by Anagai, the last khan of the Uturgur Huns.

In the 7th century the Turkic Khazars took control of Bospor, and the city was named Karcha or Charsha. The main local government official during Khazar times was the tudun. Christianity was a major religion in Kerch during the period of Khazar rule. Kerch's Church of St. John the Baptist was founded in 717, thus, it is the oldest church in Ukraine. The "Church of the Apostles" existed during the late 8th century and early 9th century, according to the "Life of the Apostle Andrew" by Epiphanus.

Following the fall of Khazaria to Kievan Rus' in the late 900s, Kerch became the center of a Khazar successor-state. Its ruler, Georgius Tzul, was deposed by a Byzantine-Rus expedition in 1016.

From the 10th century the city was a Slavic settlement named Korchev, which belonged to the Tmutarakan principality. Korchev was a center of trade between Rus', Crimea, Caucasus, and the Orient.

In the 13th century Crimea including Korchev was invaded by Mongols. After Mongols, the city became the Genoese colony of Cerco (Cherkio) in 1318 and served as a sea harbour, townspeople worked at salt-works and fishery.

In 1475 city was passed to the Ottoman Empire. During the Turkish rule Kerch fell into decay and served as a slave-market. It repeatedly suffered from raids of Zaporizhian Cossacks.

Modern times

In response to strengthening of Russian military forces in Azov area, Turks built a fortress of Yenikale in 1706 near the city on the shore of Kerch Strait. In 1771 Russian Army invaded Crimea and by the Peace Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji in 1774, Kerch and Yenikale were ceded to Russia. As a result, the Turkish heritage has been almost completely wiped out. In 1790 Russian naval forces under the command of admiral Fyodor Ushakov defeated the Turkish fleet at the Battle of Kerch Strait.

Because of its location, from 1821 Kerch developed into an important trade and fishing port. The state museum of ancient times and a number of educational institutions were opened in the city. The ironwork factory was built in 1846 based on a huge iron ore deposit found on Kerch Peninsula.

During the Crimean War the city was devastated by British forces in 1855.

In the late 19th century, mechanical and cement factories were built, and tinned food and tobacco factories were established. By 1900, Kerch was connected to a railroad system, and the fairway of Kerch Strait was deepened and widened. At this time, the population had reached 33,000.

After suffering a decline during the First World War and the Russian Civil War, the city resumed its growth in the late 1920s, with the expansion of various industries, iron ore and metallurgy in particular, and by 1939 its population had reached 104,500.

Kerch in World War II

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941 to 1945, Kerch was the site of heavy fighting between Soviet Army and Nazi forces. After fierce fighting, the city was taken by the Germans in November 1941. On 30 December 1941 the Soviets recaptured the city in a naval landing operation. In 1942 the Germans occupied the city again. Red Army lost over 160,000 men killed or taken POW at the Battle of the Kerch Peninsula. On 31 October 1943 another Soviet naval landing operation was launched. Kerch was finally liberated on 11 April 1944.

The German occupants killed about 15,000 citizens and deported another 14,000 during their reign. Evidence of German atrocities in Kerch was presented in the Nuremberg trials. After the War the city was awarded the title Hero City.

The Ajimushkay catacombs (mines) in the city's suburbs were the site of guerrilla warfare against the occupation. Thousands of soldiers and refugees found shelter inside, and were involved in counterattacks. Many of them died underground, including those, who died of numerous poison gas attacks. Later a memorial was established on the site.

Modern Kerch

On 11 November 2007 there was a great storm that passed through the city, causing much damage and an ecological disaster as many ships were shipwrecked and blocked the Kerch Strait, while oil and sulfur poured out.


Today Kerch is considered as a city of metallurgists, shipbuilders and fishermen. The largest enterprises in the city are:

  • Kerch Metallurgical Works Factory launched in 1900
  • Kamysh-Burun Iron Ore Plant
  • "Zaliv" ("Gulf") shipbuilding factory that produces supertankers and warships.

Construction-materials, food processing, and light industries play a significant role in the city's economy. Kerch is also a fishing fleet base and an important processing center for numerous fish products.


Kerch has a harbour on the Kerch Strait, which makes it a key to the Sea of Azov, a railroad terminal and a small airport. Ferry transportation across the Kerch Strait was established in 1953, connecting Crimea and the Krasnodar Krai (Port Krym - Port Kavkaz line). There are several ports in Kerch, including Kerch Maritime Trading Port, Kerch Maritime Fishing Port, Port Crimea (ferry crossing), Kamysh-Burun Port. Bus network connects Kerch to other cities in Crimea and Krasnodar Krai.


Kerch hosts (2004):

  • 28 schools,
  • 9 institutes and branches of Ukrainian and Russian universities,
  • shipbuilding and polytechnical colleges,
  • medical school,
  • 6 PTU schools,
  • a number of pre-school child institutions


Archaeological digs in Kerch were launched in the middle of the 19th century. Since then the site of ancient Panticapaeum city on Mount Mithridates has been systematically excavated. Located nearby are several ancient burial mounds (kurghans) and excavated cities. Kerch takes part in UNESCO's "Silk Road" programme.


Because of its location on shores of Azov and Black seas, Kerch became a popular summer resort among people of former USSR. Also, several mud-cure sources are located near the city. Despite the seaside location, the tourist appeal of Kerch today is limited because of the industrial character of the city and associated pollution. Despite the lack of beaches in town`s area, there are a lot of them at distance of 20 minute travel by bus, train or taxi.

Kerch has a number of impressive architectural and historical monuments. Ancient historical heritage of the city makes it attractive for scientific tourism. The most notable of Kerch's sights are:

  • Site of ancient settlement Pantikapaeum (5th century BC–3rd century AD).*Tsarskiy Kurghan (4th century BC) - burial mound for one of Bosporian kings
  • Church of St. John the Baptist (AD 717)
  • Fortress of Yenikale (18th century)
  • Large Mithridates Staircase leading on top of the Mount Mithridat, contains 428 footsteps, built in 1833–1840 under the guidance of Italian architect A. Digbi
  • Obelisk of Glory on the Mount Mithridat, built after World War II
  • Memorial of heroic guerilla warfare in Adzhimushkay mines
  • Kerch Fortess, restricted area in soviet times, free to enter in present days. Fortess was built by famous Russian military architector Totleben in the middle of 19 century.
  • Sites of ancient settlements Mirmecium, Tiritaka and Nimphei. There are also some settlements gone underwater due to earthquackes.
  • So called Demetra`s Crypt, a crypt with numerous frescos dated 1st century BC.


A minor planet 2216 Kerch discovered in 1971 by Soviet astronomer Tamara Mikhailovna Smirnova is named after the city.


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