- Bakhchisaray
- Khan Palace

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Khan Palace in Bakhchisaray



The Bakhchisaray Palace was, first of all, the patrimonial centre of the Giray dynasty, which ruled the Crimean state from the date of its establishment. 48 khans and hundreds of princes and princesses (called in Crimea sultan s and sultani es) belonged to this noble kin.

Menli I Giray (in the middle) with his elder son, future khan Mehmed I Giray (from the left) and the Turkish sultan Bayezid II (from the right).

fragment of Turkish miniature, 16th century

The symbol of the khan dynasty was tamğa (a trident). It was minted on the Crimean coins and put on the khans’ seals. The meaning of this sign is not clarified yet though it is possible to state that the tamğa sign has its roots in ancient traditions of Turkic peoples among which each large clan used its own tamğa .

The first Crimean khan Hacı Giray (1428…1466) achieved the throne and independence in struggle with governors of the Golden Horde. However the true founder of the dynasty could be recognized his sixth son Meñli (1467…1515) who made the father’s name Giray the dynastical name for all descendants of Hacı Giray. He was the first Crimean khan who attached Giray to his own name. This famous ruler went down into the history as Meñli I Giray.

The post of the khan was essentially an elective post. The elections were organized by the seniors of four most noble clans of Crimea. They gathered on a solemn assembly called qurultay and made decision about the nominee. After the new khan had been elected the seniors sat him on a broad white felt and rose him up proclaiming the inthronization of the new ruler and reading Muslim prayers. They weren’t absolutely free in their choice: only people from the kin of Girays, descendants of Jenghiz Khan, could be nominated for elections. Further, the tradition prescribed a sequence among the Girays themselves. The preferred candidates to the throne were two younger brothers of the previous ruler and then his sons. Since 1478 when a union was established between the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire the choice of the noble clan leaders should be approved by the Turkish sultan. In due course the sultans got the full control on the procedure of nominating the Crimean khans while the ceremony of qurultay elections became just a formality. In the 18th century the seniors just confirmed symbolically the sultans’ decrees on inthronizations of the Crimean khans.

Adil Giray, reigned in 1666-1671 

The ruling family possessed lands throughout Crimea - however, these land-ownings were not too large as the most of the Crimean land belonged to noble clans. The khans owned also several country palaces and gardens in different places of the Crimean peninsula. The source of incomes of the dynasty were the next: incomes from taxes and custom fees from seaports, donations from the Turkish sultans and rich gifts from neighbouring countries, obligatory part of spoils of war of the Crimean army, incomes from minting. Some khans built mosques, fountains, educational institutions for their people at their own expenses. Generally, it was not an extremely rich clan – the incomes of the Crimean khans were sufficient but weren’t enough to set as luxuriant court life as, for example, at the Turkish court.

Most members of the khans’ kin lived not in their native land but in the Ottoman Empire, in the estates granted them by the Ottoman rulers. Many of these estates were located on the territories of what is now Bulgaria. A lot of khans’ relatives lived in their manors close to the town of Yanbolu (present Jambol in Bulgaria). Another place of residing of members of the khan family was the Rhodes Island in the Aegean archipelago (which was known also as a place for exile banishment where Turkish sultans sent objectionable khans of Crimea).
Since Sahib I Giray the Crimean khans had got their main residence in the Palace of Bakhchisaray. The palace was not a personal but a patrimonial property. Each khan was occupying it just during the term of his reign. When the sultan issued the decree about his resignation, the former governor took his properties, family and servants and left from Cri-mea to his personal estate somewhere to Bulgaria or to Rhodes. The newly appointed khan arrived to Bakhchisaray and settled in the state residence.

İslam I Giray, reigned in 1644-1654

There were many outstanding persons in the family of the Girays. Fearless warriors and great reformers, wise theologists and refined poets, historians, dervishes, rebels, sometimes even traders could be met among the Girays. The representatives of the khan dynasty were much respected in Crimea and abroad, because the kin of Jenghiz Khan had got more ancient roots and was nobler than many of Middle East dynasties with no exempt for the Ottomans. Many people in Turkey and in Crimea believed in a legendary secret treaty between the khans and the sultans. Accordingly to it, if suddenly the Ottoman dynasty is interrupted – a Giray should succeed the throne of Turkey.

After the Russian annexation the Girays living in Crimea left to Turkey, from which they emigrated later to other countries. The present successor of the Crimean dynasty, Cezar Giray, lives in the UK. He visited Bakhchisaray in 1995. 

Texts © Oleksa Haiworonski, 2004