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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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: