The fortress of Cembalo is located atop Kastron mountain in the south-east coast of the Bay of Balaklava, 12 km far from the historical center of the city of Sevastopol. Nowadays, modern Balaklava is a district of the present Sevastopol offering a beautiful site of the Crimean seashore with specific climate and landscapes, as well as interesting historical monuments.
The finds of coins, fragments of ceramic pottery, cult artifacts dating to the ancient and medieval periods, all these supply an evidence that the area of modern Balaklava constantly attracted populations.
After that invasion, the Genoese conducted large-scale fortifications of their Black Sea colonies and started building of a fortress at the mouth of Balalklava bay. It became the westernmost Crimean district of the Genoese republic and home to the Cembalo consulate, which borders stretched along the seashore from the mouth of Chernaya river near the fortress of Kalamita (Inkerman) to cape Sarych on the south coast of the Crimea (near the present town of Foros).
The cliff's steeps were occupied by the lower city, which was named after St. George and housed most of the fortress' population. This lower city had also strong fortifications, which were reconstructed fundamentally in early 1460s. One may draw the conclusion that the fortress was densely populated according to the sites of building that remain on rocky benches and artificial, specially arranged terraces. Water supply system of the given fortress is of undoubted interest.
The consul's inscriptions about buildings they made still keep the dates when the fortification structures of Cembalo were erected. The earliest inscription dates to 1357. The building of the fortress was completed in 1467.
The population of the fortress included the Genoese, who governed and controlled trade, and local people, such as Greeks and Armenians, Jews and Tatars, who engaged in fishing, wine-making, and various crafts.
In 1472, the fate willed a famous Russian traveler Afanasiy Nikitin to find himself in Balaklava. In his journal, he supplied Tatar (Turkish) variant of the fortress' name, Balikaya (Turkic for "fish cliff"). In the middle of 1475, Cembalo and the other Genoese colonies in the Crimea were conquered by the army of Ottoman Empire. From that time onwards, the name of Balikaya (or Balaklava, as the Europeans pronounce it) became the official designation of the town.
Nowadays, the Genoese fortress of Cembalo forms a branch of the "About Chersonesos". Side by side with the others Genoese colonies in the Crimea, such as Kafa (present-day Feodosiya) or Soldaia (modern Sudak), it is an object of great interest of the historians, archaeologists, and tourists.
© T. Yashaeva