This page was created by Drake Marshall. 

The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Sevastopol in the 1870s

A Letter Written by a Russian Soldier Newly-Garrisoned at Sevastopol to His Mother 

Dearest mother, 

Let me start off by saying that I have reached Sevastopol safely. The harbor itself is quite beautiful - an expanse of dark water tucked into a natural cleft in the peninsula. Surrounded by hills, one has a sense of safety, but also dreadful isolation. We arrived two days ago and have been kept quite busy since with drills and inspections. My accommodations are modest but altogether satisfactory. We are staying in a relatively new barracks building in the northern end of the city. This place is not what I was expecting. It feels more like a ghost town than a glorious bastion of our empire, the one-time jewel in Russia's Black Sea crown. Clouds of white dust blows across the plazas and courtyards. The sun beats down mercilessly at what seems like all hours of the day, and there are few trees to offer any respite from the glare. Some of the buildings were left in ruins following the siege nearly twenty years ago and have yet to see any repairs.

After our arrival we were given some time to walk about and familiarize ourselves with the city before reporting back at the barracks. I used this time to stroll along the water's edge and try to get a better idea of the layout of the harbor. I was surprised to see clear signs of conflict still present in the damaged architecture even along the harbor. The docks themselves are a wild mess of tangled weeds which speak to years of neglect. At the edges of the harbor lie massive piles of rubble and stone, once the great fortresses which guarded the marine approach to Sevastopol. It's hard to imagine this place as the wee-maintained and primary port of our Black Sea Fleet, which it was not two decades ago. 

Sevastopol is a strange place, to be sure. There is an air of disrepair about the town, as though it has been forgotten by the rest of the empire. I heard yesterday that new docks are being constructed elsewhere - meanwhile those here will begin to rot if left for much longer. I must acknowledge that there are some efforts being made to bring the place back to life. New houses are being built and a club was recently opened which has music and dancing on the week-end. Several new churches are being erected as well. While we are on the subject, yes, I've been going to church often. I don't know if I'll ever get used to this place, mother. It feels like a town trying halfheartedly to make its way into the present despite the fact that it is still terribly disfigured by the scars of the past. I do not know why the ruined buildings have not been demolished, to me they only serve as a reminder of the defeat the empire endured here. Anyways, I fear that I must get back to work. I hope that all is well with you, mother. With any luck I will be able to come home and visit you soon. 

With love,

September 4th, 1874

Based on an account of a foreign traveler as seen in:
“Sevastopol.” The Albion, A Journal of News, Politics and Literature (1822-1876); New York, January 22, 1876.

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