Cembalo Fortress is one of the landmarks of Balaklava and is clearly visible from any point of Balaklava harbour. It is not difficult, even for the elderly people, to ascend up to its majestic ruins, as a comfortable road leads to the top of the hill.
While ascending a hill up to Cembalo Fortress, you feel a strong wind blowing right into your face, and you feel that your meeting with history will take place soon, the history full of sanguinary wars, bombardments and endless acts of valor and heroism of its inhabitants. Cembalo Fortress (to be precise –its remnants) is located on Krepostnaya Gora (“Fortress Mount”) otherwise called Mount Castron (which also means “a fortress”, if translated) in harbour of Balaklava.
This site for Cembalo Fortress was ideally created by nature – from the one side there an extremely narrow entrance to the bay, from the other side there is a steep precipice to the open sea. The Genoese traded a lot and their primary goods were, as a rule, the slaves. The slaves were massively brought by Crimean Tatars from Russian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian lands.
The most famous tower of the Genoese Fortress Cembalo – is the master’s tower, or keep. The most elevated tower served as a lighthouse and observation post, and it was used as final shelter in case of a siege when the outer walls were broken through. Like a stone-made skirt, the ground floor of the tower descends down, where a water-supply tank used to be. Sloping walls decreased the possibility of ramming. The second floor comprised dwelling rooms, and remains of a fireplace survived. The dates when Cembalo Fortress was built are well-known. The earliest towers are dated back to 1357 by consul laying inscriptions, and the whole construction was finished in 1467.
Famous Russian traveler Afanasy Nikitin visited the fortress in 1472 and described it in his diary, diving the Turkish name of the fortress – Balikaya. The reason to this was that by this time the Genoese colonies of Crimea were occupied by troops of Ottoman Porte and the name Balikaya (Balaklava) became the settlement’s official name.
Inhabitants of the Fortress witnessed many events during their uneasy and restless life. Rough walls of Cembalo Fortress saw numerous bloody battles and devastating ruin. As it was already mentioned, during the 15th century, Cembalo Fortress and the entire Crimea were occupied by the Turks, and the place itself served as site of exile for the dismissed Tatar khans from Bakhchysaray. Later, in 17th century Don and Zaporizhia Cossacks became the new owners of Cembalo. In 1773 a naval battle took place between Turkish and Russian Fleets, and in 19th century, during the Crimean War and Siege of Sevastopol, Balaklava was chosen as base of the British army.
Cembalo was also noted during the Great Patriotic War. Here, Soviet defenders repulsed about 70 Fascist attacks within short three months. Researcher of Crimea Vyacheslav Gorelov states in his works that some 2500 mines and 1500 projectiles were launched to hit Genoese towers.
The cliff not far from Cembalo Fortress is considered to be a place of grief. According to a legend, during the Great Patriotic War Nazi Germans threw Russian prisoner of war from that high cliff right into the sea.
Cembalo Fortress can bee seen on many photographs taken by Roger Fenton during the Crimean war.
Cembalo Fortress is located in southern part of Balaklava. And Balaklava is 5.6 miles to south-east from Sevastopol.