Mythic Russia

Heroic roleplaying in a mythical medieval Russia

Eski-Kermen: a cave city of the Tatars — October 29, 2011

Eski-Kermen: a cave city of the Tatars

Another place I’m adding to my ‘someday I’ll get to see it’ list is Eski-Kermen, a now-ruined cave city in the Crimea. The name simply means ‘Old Fortress’ in the Tatar tongue, and it was carved into a mesa in the 6th century, and survived the inevitable periodic changes in management, through to the end of the fourteenth century. There were at least 400 caves connected in this settlement, from cattle-sheds to temples, tombs to guard posts. There’s an array of photos here, here and here. It was at once a home, a fortress and watch station and an important trading center. (Incidentally, it was also used as a film set to shoot some of the scenes from the violent but very authentic movie 9th Company, set in the Sovet-Afghan War.)

These cave towns were quite a feature of Tatar-occupied Crimea, because of reasons both historical and geological, and I think they’d make wonderfully atmospheric settings for games.

To the northwest of Eski-Kermen was Kyz-Kule or Kyz-Kermen (‘Tower of the Virgins’ – the mind boggles, unless it is in the same spirit as Baku’s Virgin Tower, supposedly named that way because it was, ahem, never penetrated). The legend is that a massive stone bridge linked Kyz-Kermen with nearby Tepe-Kermen, two towns perennially in conflict. One day, though, it was decided to end this feud by marrying the beautiful daughter of the prince of Kyz-Kermen with the heir to Tepe-Kermen. However, when the girl came to the middle of the bridge on which she was symbolically to meet her fiancé, she remembered the old offences, drew her sword, and cut him down. She was duly killed by his guards and the war resumed, but the bridge collapsed, separating the warring towns.

What if the players were seeking to end the conflict? If their gambit of uniting them by marriage failed, maybe their only option would be to find some way of bringing down the bridge? Or maybe one side or the other, convinced that it has the strength to defeat its foe, is eager either to see the bridge rebuilt or else, through bold adventurers’ questing into the Otherworlds, the shadow of the bridge empowered such that the mossy, vine-twisted rubble that files the ravine suddenly leaps back into place and the old bridge is as new…?