Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire
This page was created by James Browning.
The Search for a Site
Looking at a map of Russia's new acquisitions, the Dnepr estuary seems a natural choice for a large port city. Kinburn Cape parallels the southern coastline, protecting the confluence of the Southern Bug and Dnepr rivers from the open waters of the Black Sea before narrowing to an easily defensible mouth. A general map of the coastline, however, only shows part of the picture. In deciding on a location, the admiralty had to take into account depth readings, the topography of the surrounding land, defensibility in case of Ottoman raids, the proximity of accessible lumber, and the economic feasibility of supplying a growing city and feeding an army of workers. Even the tiny shipworm became a great consideration in the placement of the port city. Every minute detail had to be considered and for this, the admiralty required someone on the ground. The task of scouting out and recommending specific locations fell to Admiral Senyavin, who found “no more fitting place for a harbor” than across from the aptly named Glubokaia Pristan' (Deep Harbor) near the village of Sofievka on the mouth of the Dnepr. Despite the location’s advantages as a natural harbor, he found it unsuitable for the construction of a shipyard as the shore quickly fell away to depths too great for the construction of slipways. While it would be possible to deposit large amounts of sand on the riverbed to lessen the grade, such a process would be costly and require much maintenance over time to counter the river's natural erosion. Senyavin’s solution was to build the shipyard up the Dnepr, near the fortress of Aleksandr-Shantsy. The ships could then be brought downriver, traversing the shallows with the help of ship camels, to Glubokaia Pristan' where the main port would be established. As for the shipworms, Senyavin questioned locals and closely examined their old boats finding no signs of the destructive mollusks, but cautioned that any ships built in the estuary should be doubly sheathed as the nuisances were known to live throughout the Black Sea. (693)