The roses of the Bakhchisarai Palace

Text: Yuta Arbatskaya

     The climate conditions of Bakhchisarai, located in the foothill area of the steppe Crime, are similar to those of other regions of the steppe zone of Southern Ukraine. However, there are significant differences in the gardening traditions. Fruit growing and horticulture anciently prevailed in the steppe zone of Southern Ukraine, and decorative gardening is widespread along with the fruit growing and viticulture in the steppe zone of the Crimean peninsula. The palace gardens of the Crimean Khanate rulers in Bakhchisarai played an important role at it, and Moorish garden style, in turn, served as the source of inspiration for their gardeners.

     Moorish gardens were widespread in Europe in the VIII-XIII centuries. They arose under the influence of Arab culture after the Muslim invasion of Spain in 711. These gardens were similar to ancient Arabic, but carried more grace and surpassed them by the courage of design and sophisticated gracefulness of forms. Moorish gardens were divided into internal and external ones. External gardens were not noted for luxury and were intended for domestic purposes. They were planted with fruit trees and mulberries. The fountain was arranged in the centre of each external garden.

Bakhchisarai. Khan's Palace. End XIX c.

     The internal gardens were surrounded by buildings or major extensions from all the sides in the form of decorative arcades and galleries, which were sometimes constructed in two stages. Trees and shrubs were not subjected to clipping in the gardens, flowering plants were selected on the base of their flavor, color and the degree of usefulness, for example, in the drugstore business. The gardens of Alhambra, which are situated in the rulers' palace of the Granada Emirate, are still considered to be an unsurpassed masterpiece of Moorish gardens and, and they made a stunning impression on Europeans in the Middle Ages.

     Perhaps roses always were the main flowering plants in these gardens. The gardens of Valencia, Cordoba and Granada were during the reign of the Moors the flower parterres made of only roses, unfortunately they are lost in present days. Granadian poet Ibn Luyun (XIV century AD.), listing the principles of the Moorish Garden arrangement, wrote that “climbing roses, myrtle and any other flowers that make up the beauty of the garden” should be among the plants without fail. The researcher in the field of the botany history N. Kichunov believed that even the Moors bred roses by planting and propagated by grafting them to the wild rose.

     All the Muslims became fond of roses, they attached purifying force to those flowers, - by the legend a white rose grew from Mohammed’s drops of sweat during his night ascent to the heaven. Gradually a real rose cult appeared in the countries of Islamic world. Poets praised not only the rose, but also the image, which was associated with the beauty of the flower. A woman was compared with a blooming rose and a girl was compared with a bud. Soon fading of a rose likened to the transience of a human life. All Muslim rulers encouraged and strongly promoted the cultivation of roses and rose oil production, both in their own and in the conquered countries.
The ruler of the Ottoman Empire of the XV century Mehmed II Fatikh (“the Conqueror”) became especially famous in this field; he was even depicted with a rose in his hand on his portraits. Ironically, he conquered the Crimea in 1475.

Mehmed II Fatikh (“the Conqueror”) XV c.

     Eastern legends about the rose and symbolic, divine meaning of this flower have been moved to the Crimea by Turks, and eventually became essential part of the Crimean Tatar culture. With the development of the Crimean Tatar ethnos and Khan’s reign strengthen roses have been paid more and more attention, especially in the capital of Bakhchisarai. The Khan’s palace was the heart of the old city and its most ancient part. The ruler Adil Sahib Giray finished its construction approximately in the middle of the XVI century. The palace, which occupies an area of 4 hectares today (and even more in the past), included the gardens, surrounding the main buildings. Hence, Bakhchisarai was called “Palace- Garden”.

The garden of Bakhchisarai Khan's Palace. Beginning XX c.

     The following is written in the book of T. Fadeeva “The Secrets of the Mountainous Crime” about the principles of eastern palace gardens organization: “A courtyard and a garden with a fountain were the main component, organizing the constructions in the palaces and at homes according to the Eastern tradition. The theme of the garden was one of the most typical features of Islamic architecture: floral designs, which were carved on the stone, embodied in the painting of the walls and depicted in the design of fountains – everything intended to present the garden as the most beautiful place on the Earth. Folk concept of paradise drew it as a garden with numerous sources. The master’s palace had to show some kind of similarity with the Garden of Eden. Light “Kiosk” architecture of the palace buildings, the lack of monumentality in the Khan’s residence were not random: even the walls, partitioning off the garden and the interior, are arbitrary to some extent: their task was to create coolness at a hot summer day, but at the same time they “let in” the garden through the double row of windows, surrounding the placement on three sides, and the marble fountain gurgled inside it, maintaining the freshness of the air and the illusion of being in the garden”.

     The first mentions about roses in the Bakhchisarai gardens were founded in the letters of Turkish traveler Evliya Celebi, having been in France during 1666- 1667. He estimated 26 “paradise gardens”, which were the walking places of “men of desire- beloved ones”.

     “Then, - Chelebi writes, -there is the garden of Kachi. Then, there are gardens of Suren. Then there are a meadow and a walking place in the palace Sefer Gazi-Agi with pear- trees, the place, rich of flowers. Then, there are the gardens of Kub, the gardens of Aski- Yurt. Then there is a walking place from the Kybla side of Bakhchisarai on the hill, the square for a public pray of Mohammad Giray Khan. It occupies 70-80 thousand of footsteps. This is a broad meadow. <...>. There is a walking place, the Palace of Yusuf, built by Muhammad Giray Khan, if you climb up from this place of worship toward Kybla. Truly, this palace- havernak is one of the highest in the world. Roof gardens and vineyards, the smoking chimneys of every house are visible from there. That’s how highly this place is located. Different streams flow, built-up with palaces, kitchens and countless buildings, planted trees with just blossoming flowers. This is a walking place with the gardens and vineyards, which may serve as an example [to follow]”.

     Evliya Celebi, having been in Solkhat (that is the Old Crimea now), clearly indicates that there are also roses among the flowering plants: “There is a variety of gardens with roses, hyacinths and basilicas, similar to the Garden of Eden, from all the sides of this city Solgata-Crimea, only the Gardener - The Great Lord knows the number of them. The land of this city is spacious and precious, it has no equal on the Earth, except the plains of Havran in Syria”.

     Celebi gives the most detailed description to the “Padishah Garden” in the valley Ashlama-Dere, under the cliffs of Chufut- Calais. This park belonged to the Crimean Khan and was intended for walks and treats, when Turkish traveler visited Bakhchisarai, and it was a public holiday place for members of the upper and middle strata of society, where “gardeners do not interfere with <...> viewing their watchful eye and walking”. Knowledge of Celebi in botany and architecture strike, he even lists the varieties of tulips, growing in the garden of Ashlama! Here are some excerpts from this description, omitting much delights and praises:

     “All the Khans, Khans’ sons and sultans, their wives and daughters had fun in the garden. That was such a beautiful garden, in which, like in the Garden of Eden – in a rose flower garden- bubbling water flows from one end to another, it lingers on in the palaces, which are located at the corners of the garden. <...> Each of the highly respected Khans built a variety of gilded and painted superb palaces, pavilions and arbors in different parts of the garden, as if it was made of Chinese porcelain. And there is a variety of pools, fountains and palaces...
     You can’t find such a variety of fruit trees, growing there, not only in the Crimea, but also in any other country...
     Thousands of flower species with an excellent smell, sent as a gift to the Khans, fill the nose with flavor. Especially, the bulbs of Anatolian Spikanarda (that is a valerian plant family - Ed.) and the seedlings of Trabzon clove are noteworthy, Istanbul Golden Tulip ‘Monlam Celebi’ tulip ‘Chilli Haji’ tulip ‘Kyagythane’, various red peonies, Istankoysky hyacinth and many hundreds of thousands species of flower bulbs, given as a gift, adorn the garden. Those who come to this garden think that they got into everlasting Paradise. All the trees bloom in spring, plums, apples, pears, cherries and other trees bloom, other flowers blossom too...”(Celebi, 2008).

P.Swinein. The garden of Bakhchisarai Khan's Palace. 1840

     So, the roses were an essential part of the Crimean Tatar pleasure gardens. By Islamic tradition, a rose garden is a symbol of paradise, a place of mystical marriage and the unity of opposites. However, a harem metaphorically was also called a rose garden in the East. Residential block of the Bakhchisarai Palace, designed for women, once consisted of 70 rooms, however, they were very small and cramped. The wives, relatives and concubines of Khan lived here. Eastern woman was compared not only with a rose or any other flower, but also with the most important character of the palace gardens - bubbling cool water. The Bakhchisarai Palace, as it is known, was rifed with fountains. Associative relationship “harem - roses - water (or fountain)” was used by the poets of all times. It is not accidentally, that admired poet lays two roses, plucked in the garden, on the “Fountain of Tears”, mentioned in A. Pushkin’s poem “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai”:

“The fountain of love, alive fountain!
I brought two roses as a gift.
I love your incessant murmur
And some poetic tears”.

     According to historical descriptions, the territory of the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisaray was even oversaturated by various ornamental plants. The count de Segur , who accompanied Catherine II on a trip to the Crimea in 1787, wrote that “the sun barely made its way through the branches of countless laurel, jasmine, grenade and orange trees, which, replacing the blinds, enveloped the windows by their foliage” (Segur Louis-Philippe, 1859). The picturesque floral ornament was present everywhere: on the walls, books, dishes, prayer rugs and walls, women’s clothes, furniture, mosaics and stained-glass windows: “ceilings and walls were painted, doors and windows were painted, the floors were painted with hopsacks and carpets, even the mirrors, tables, stools and sofas were also painted till the last corner...”(Markoff, 2006). In the East the ornament has become a special form of creative expression of the artist - his philosophy, art, religion and a science, as it is forbidden to depict the pictures of animals and a human in the art of Islam. Islamic floral decor (Islimi) together with geometric designs (Girih), having absorbed the form of Byzantine, Coptic, Persian and Greco -Roman ornaments, reflected Arab- Muslim understanding of the world and was a unique creation of human hands. In Europe an Eastern geometrical painting was called “Moreska” and a floral one was called “Arabeska”.


     What plants were used in the floral ornament? These were the flowers of tulips, carnations, hyacinths, amaryllis, the shoots of creepers, depicted in natural or stylized manner. The roses and pomegranates were uncommonly popular, they symbolized a paradise life.

     Such gardens as “The Fountain courtyard”, “The Summer Arbor” or “Alhambra” and “Swimming Pool garden” were especially interesting in the Bakhchisarai palace. Pallas mentions about the last of them in his notes: “The charming rose garden appears among the private apartments of Khan, a fountain, surrounded by a wall, cascades into a marble pool” (Pallas, 1999). Sumarokov also wrote about roses: “...a small garden, filled with rose bushes and flower beds; vine branches intertwine on the walls, barriering it, and there is an arbor with a splendid fountain at the end of it” (Sumarokov, 1800).

     We can also find the information about the palace rose garden in the notes of a French traveler Dubois de Monpere: “Someone passes by from the pavilion to the garden terrace, covered with rose bushes...” (Dubois de Monpere, 2009). Paintings, made by this traveler in Bakhchisarai, are noteworthy. The garden (from the right behind the fence) and the terraced gardens at the background of the palace square are clearly seen on the reproduction from the Monpere album. This means the borrowing of not only the Moorish-style gardens, but also Italian ones, by the Crimean Tatar architects. Such a structure could be “spied” in Kaffa and Soldayya (that is now Feodosia and Sudak), where the rich Venetians and then Genoese broke their own “entertainment” gardens, using a terraced construction, that is the traditional method for Italy.


     The second director of the Imperial Nikitsky Botanical Garden Nicolai von Hartwiss breathed new life into the “rose” story of the Bakhchisarai palace gardens. Bulatov, who was the chamberlain of the palace, addressed to N.Hartwiss at the instance of M. Vorontsov with a request to help with identifying the plants and advising on its range and care on the eve of the royal family’s travelling to the Crimea, scheduled for autumn, 1837. The director of the Nikitsky Garden sent his employee Stepan Pimenov to Bakhchisarai and wrote the following statement, speaking as a landscape architect and agronomist at the same time:

      “1. To dig the flower bed, having been planted with trees in a small yard, 4 inches in depth, take away all the stones and pour as much as possible black soil or light manure. Then to do around the plantation thereof and in the midst thereof track, to plant more dahlias and summer flowers, and at the corner opposite the entrance to the fountain hall - monthly roses and other flowering plants.
       2. Stepan Pimenov ought to go to Nikitsky very soon for these monthly roses as well as for many potted plants...
       3. The plants in pots should be put to decorate near the pool as well as near the front porch. I order to buy another 500 smaller pots to these, having already bought 200 pots, as well as good female waterers with sprinklers and 2-3 gutters for better filling with flowing water.
       4. Stepan Pimenov should unleash the grape trellis in a small garden between the pool and fountain hall as best as he can in order to vines and bunches of grapes, hanging on them, could serve to decorate this place, pillars and bare walls.
       5. You need to have a number of good hewn stakes for flowers garter, especially dahlia, and also for table grape garter, in order to this last one could ripen earlier.
       6. Concerning to the maintaining of the pupil Stepan Pimenov, I think it would be enough to make him a monthly fee for 15 rubles by banknotes and, moreover, to give him the palace gardener's salary of 150 rubles a year.

The 25 of May, 1837. N. von Hartwiss”.

     In addition a few days later Hartwiss writes: “There is an empty space against the exit from the large arches ... To plant always verdant shrubs in front and bushes of the different height behind ... to plant different vines, such as Clematis, Caprifolium, Rosa sempervirens, and so on by the walls of the house. To plant the same creepers beside the kitchen near the small door. To dig wild cherries opposite Harem, except large trees, and to plant dahlias, summer flowers, carnations and so on. To broaden the roads everywhere…”

     There is the following note in the book of plant release of the Nikitsky Garden on the 03.24.1837, “252 plants for the Bakhchisarai Palace released cash-strapped, including Rosa indica centifolia - 10, R. indica elegans - 10, R. indica hibrida - 10, R. indica semperflorens - 10, R. ‘Sempervirens Woronzowii’ - 10, R. centifolia -20, R. odorata americana - 5, R. multiflora -5”. In sum, it is sent 80 shrubs, including 10 shrubs of sorts, dedicated to the Count M.S.Vorontsov- ‘Sempervirens Woronzowii’.
     And then, on the 25/06/1837: “Released cash-strapped 225 plants for the Bakhchisarai Palace garden (that was for the flowerbeds construction, judging by the range - Ed.), including Rosa indica div. – 30”.

     Unfortunately, since the 1840-ies, the roses were paid less and less attention in the Bakhchisarai Palace. In the beginning of the XX century the green decoration of the Bakhchisarai Palace came to mainly wild-growing species- ivies, wild grapes, Crimean mountain ashes, different types of snowball trees, etc., as the center of ornamental horticulture has moved to the Southern coast of the Crimea. Today, you can see some of the rose bushes on the territory of the Palace in Bakhchisarai, but this is the newest hybrid tea varieties, breeded in recent decades. The Bakhchisarai Palace almost continuously existed as a public museum during the Soviet period. In different years, it was planned to realize a large-scale restoration of the Bakhchisarai Palace gardens with the restoration of the original range of plant species, but these good intentions, unfortunately, have remained on paper.