- By Matthew Luxmoore
- Aug. 25 2013 21:00
Main industries: mechanical engineering, food production and light industry
Mayor: Viktor Ageyev
Interesting fact: The early Zionist activist Joseph Trumpeldor lived in Simferopol for six months in 1919. A commemorative plaque now hangs outside the house that he stayed in on 6 Ulitsa Pushkina. It is here that he devised the blueprint for the collective community that would later become the Israeli kibbutz.
Helpful contacts: Viktor Ageyev, Simferopol mayor (+7 652-27-2115; sim.gov.ua); Simferopol tourist information center (+7 666-28-8488); Alexander Basov, head of the Crimean Chamber of Commerce (+7 652-44-5813; cci.crimea.ua)
Sister cities: Ruse, Bulgaria; Heidelberg, Germany; Kecskemet, Hungary; Irkutsk, Russia; Moscow, Russia; Eskisehir, Turkey; Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — It's no irony that Simferopol's name comes from the Greek Simferopolis, meaning "city of usefulness."
Each year about 7 million tourists pass through its railway station, and the city has earned a reputation as a stopover for vacationers waiting for their connection to the ports of Sevastopol or Yalta.
As a result, the city is one of the few places on the stunning peninsula that does not enjoy the status of a tourism hot spot.
But a new campaign by Simferopol City Hall aims to change the city's reputation and take advantage of the financial possibilities created by the tourist traffic.
Simferopol is home to the main university and ministry buildings in the Crimean republic. But locals, despite taking pride in its role as an administrative and educational center, have not forgotten the city's fascinating history.
On this site the first signs of human habitation in the Crimea were found, dating back about 40,000 years. The discovery was made in 1927 by archeologists excavating the Chokurcha cave east of the city.
On the outskirts of Simferopol lie the remains of the ancient city of Scythian Neapolis, which functioned as the center of the Crimean Scythian tribes from the 3rd century BC and resisted repeated raids from the Sarmatians and Huns until its near-total destruction at the hands of the Goths six centuries later.
During the period of the Crimean Khanate in the 15th century, Crimean Tatars founded the city of Ak-Mechet (White Mosque) on the site of modern-day Simferopol, and the city became the state's second main center after neighboring Bakhchisarai.
Phiolent (34/2 Kievskaya Ulitsa; +7 652-27-4254; phiolent.com) is the biggest producer of power tools in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The 100 year old company also produces marine automation control systems. It employs almost 2,000 staff and has an annual turnover of about $25 million.
Santekhprom (41 Kievskaya Ulitsa; +7 652-27-6597; santehprom.com.ua) opened in 1935 and specializes in the manufacture of door and window fittings.
Founded in 1946, Selma (32a Ulitsa Generala Vasileva; +7 652-58-3060; selma.ua) is one of Ukraine's largest producers of electric welding equipment. It has a range of 100 different models and exports account for more than 70 percent of sales. Selma has recently expanded into the production of electric tricycles.
Following Crimea's annexation to the Russian Empire in 1784, Catherine the Great designated the newly established city of Simferopol as the regional center. It eventually became the capital of the Taurida Governorate, which was created 20 years later.
Economic development accelerated in the second half of the 19th century when the Simferopol-Kharkov railway line was constructed and major factories were built.
With the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, Crimean Tatars seized an opportunity to re-assert their national identity and established the Crimean People's Republic, the world's first Muslim democratic state. It collapsed only a month after its proclamation when advancing Bolshevik forces captured Simferopol and imprisoned its president.
The Crimea became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic in 1954, and Simferopol remained the regional capital after the peninsula's incorporation as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea into newly independent Ukraine in 1991.
This turbulent history has made Simferopol a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, and a walk through the city shows its enduring efforts to accommodate a range of religious and cultural persuasions. Along with a German Lutheran church, a synagogue and a 16th-century mosque, the city is home to an impressive range of theaters, including the Crimean Tatar Music and Drama Theater and the Russian Drama Theater, Crimea's oldest.
A: We operate bus tours around the town's main sights. We also have 16 different walking routes and plan to add another eight. For a town with as rich a history as Simferopol, this is not even the limit. We will continue to develop this further.
We are preparing to open a cycle path for tourists making their way to the Crimean south coast. The route will take in the region's most spectacular sights, including the Scythian Neapolis, where excavations have recently resumed after decades of conservation work.
Q: How do you see Simferopol overcoming its reputation as a transit town?
A: The town should become more recognizable and attractive for tourists passing through. People should know that this is not only the "gates of Crimea" with a rich history but also a city with beautiful parks and university buildings. The town has many comfortable hotels, modern nightclubs and entertainment centers.
The tourists should become aware of what the town has to offer before they depart from the Crimea — we need to convince them that it is worth spending time in Simferopol out of sheer curiosity and interest, and we are working hard towards this goal.
The city's lingua franca, as elsewhere on the peninsula, is Russian, and Russians constitute two-thirds of its inhabitants. This demographic has made the region more resistant than other parts of the country to campaigns aimed at expanding the usage of the Ukrainian language.
But potential political animosities have given way to a distinct community feel, and many residents have acknowledged in recent public opinion polls that a self-proclaimed "Soviet identity" transcends national sentiment.
Yet tolerance alone is not enough to attract visitors, and the recent drive by City Hall to establish Simferopol as a major stop on the Crimean tourist map has met with setbacks. As was the case with many Soviet towns, little attention was paid to the creation of tourist facilities during the 20th century.
But it is precisely the calmness and tranquility that make the Crimean capital a good alternative to the more obvious destinations, offering a chance to escape the cramped and chaotic streets of Yalta and experience a raw urban life on the peninsula unmasked by the cleanliness and order of Sevastopol.
The pace of life is slower here, and instead of hordes of tourists, a visitor can see families with small children strolling through downtown parks on most afternoons. A simple visit to a cafe underscores the differences: Although the service might take longer, the prices are far more reasonable and the staff are more sincere and personable than elsewhere on the Crimea's southern coast.
The challenge, therefore, lies in convincing potential visitors that the city is able to compensate for its lack of coastline with sheer charm.
In a move popular with residents, the city center recently has been transformed into a haven of modern bars and cafes as part of a $1.7 million modernization project that began in 2012. The second phase of the face-lift is a $2 million overhaul of Pushkin and Karl Marx streets, followed by the construction of a sport complex with soccer fields and tennis courts and a second ice rink in the city center.
In local parks, a number of fountains have sprung up. The city has also been working on burnishing its green credentials by limiting pollution through the modernization of its public transportation. Simferopol's Lenin Square was the starting point for Ukraine's first electric-car rally in 2013, and similar events are planned for the future.
What to do if you have two hours
A: Our aim for the past few years has been to make tourists spend time in our city and see what we have to offer, even if just for a few hours between connections. I therefore hope to see the city develop in the next three years as a major attraction to tourists.
The problem is that the city budget is supplemented on the commercial side predominantly by small business. Many larger enterprises that drove the economy in Soviet times were bought up and subsequently made inactive by the new owners, and this reflects the economic landscape today. It's also about the availability of information. Little effort has so far been made to really publicize the city as a tourist destination.
Q: How do you deal with the task of accommodating various cultures in one city?
A: This is a charming and peaceful city where more than 100 nationalities live alongside one another. This diversity of cultures has ensured an atmosphere of tolerance, as evidenced by the presence of a synagogue, a mosque and churches of various denomination as well as a number of theaters, each with its own repertoire.
Our strength lies in the fact that we provide an outlet for these cultures to a relatively equal degree. We want Simferopol's inhabitants to be not simply representatives of a nationality, but be part of the community, seeing themselves as members of one family.
Q: Do the people of Simferopol identify more with Russia or Ukraine?
A: The inhabitants do not think about such things. Simferopol is part of Ukraine and we should not describe ourselves as looking in one direction or another. A lot of Russians live here and everyone speaks Russian. More important to us is the continuation of friendly relations with other cities. We have signed partnership agreements with a range of cities abroad. Our aim is to develop the city and its economy and not to concentrate on such things.
The people of Simferopol are beginning to love and respect their city more and more. We have seen fewer incidents of graffiti or vandalism, and I think people are beginning to recognize the value of the positive changes that we are making to their surroundings.
If you find yourself in Simferopol with time to spare before your next connection, avoid the temptation to while your time away in the McDonald's restaurant that dominates the square outside the railway station. Instead, pay 15 hryvna ($1.80) to leave your bags at the left-luggage facility and take a walk along Prospekt Lenina to the city center.
On the way, you will pass the impressive "craftsman's avenue" on Dybenko Square, lined with painstakingly forged steel figures made by local blacksmiths. Look out for the Harley Davidson complete with angel wings.
It should not take longer than 30 minutes to cover the 2.5-kilometer distance. If it completely empties your energy reserves, take a bus from downtown back to the railway station for the equivalent of $0.15.
Another way to explore the city for those with a little time is to jump on an excursion trolleybus. It leaves the railway station daily at 4:30 p.m. for a one-hour tour of the historic city center. The trip costs $5.
What to do if you have two days
Crimean Tatar culture is seeing a revival in the city, and a visit to the Crimean Tatar Museum of Art (17 Ulitsa Chekhova ; +380 652-24-9532; krtmuseum.com.ua) is a rewarding way to join the cause. The museum houses decorative arts and crafts from the 18th century and a large collection of paintings by Crimean Tatar artists. It also has rare documents relating to the deportation of Crimean Tatars and the history of the nationalist movement. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Entrance costs $0.85.
You can also take a day trip to Bakhchisarai, the former capital of the Crimean Khanate and a mecca of Crimean Tatar culture. The town lies about 30 kilometers southwest of Simferopol and contains the only remaining palace of the Crimean Khans. Once there you can take a walk through the spectacular palace gardens or visit the palace itself, which is open to tourists as a museum from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays (33 Rechnaya Ulitsa; +380 655-45-0805; bikz.org). Entrance costs $7.
Also worth visiting are the ruins of the ancient settlement of Scythian Neapolis (1 Arkheologicheskaya Ulitsa; neapolis-scythian.crimea.ua), which stand atop a rocky plateau near the city center. Do not expect to come across an intact Scythian settlement, however. The only parts remaining today are the foundation of a house and a restored tower overlooking the mausoleum of King Skilurus, which was discovered along with more than 800 ornaments shortly after World War II and is the most exciting element of the site. The spot also provides an impressive view of the city. To reach the ruins, take the No. 4 bus from the railway station and get off at the last stop. The site is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and entrance costs $2.50 for adults and $0.60 for children. Entrance is free on Tuesdays from 4 p.m to 6 p.m. and Saturdays noon to 2 p.m.
On the edge of the city you will find the old Karaite Kenesa (6 Karaimskaya Ulitsa), an abandoned Karaite synagogue built in the late 19th century in eclectic style. In 1936, the building became the headquarters of Krym state radio service, and the star of David on its front facade was taken down and replaced with the five-pointed star of the Soviet Union.
What to do with the family
Simferopol has a rich park culture and many facilities for children. If you are visiting with the little ones, take a stroll through Children's Park, a 13-hectare expanse of greenery specially designed for kids. Among the attractions is a zoo (open daily 7 a.m. to 8 .p.m, entrance $1.20), an aquarium and a "fairy-tale corner" with super-sized versions of Soviet fairy-tale characters. On your journey, you will come across a 700-year-old giant oak that the locals call the Hercules of Taurida.
Also worth visiting if time and weather permit is the beautifully preserved Vorontsovsky Park (2 Yaltinskaya Ulitsa), home to an impressive summer palace built in 1826 for Prince Vorontsov, a Russian nobleman who served as field marshal in the Napoleonic wars. Be sure to also visit Gagarin Park near the main station, which was named after the famous Soviet astronaut and is Crimea's largest park.
A: Simferopol has always been not only the administrative and cultural center but also the industrial center of Crimea. The town has a very highly qualified and trained workforce. In addition, a new training center has recently opened in the city that prepares qualified workers for 46 different trades, from professional diving to operating modern machinery.
The town is home to most of the Crimea's educational institutions. It has a developed primary and secondary education system and the most qualified teaching force.
No other city in the Crimea is able to offer a more able or better qualified workforce.
Q: What are the opportunities for outside investment in Simferopol?
A: Areas in which investment is welcome include industrial production, agriculture, food, the hotel and restaurant business, exhibitions, construction of city infrastructure, maintenance of the road network and others.
Q: What cities compete with Simferopol and in which industries?
A: Currently, in the Crimea, there are no rivals for Simferopol in terms of investment. Even in Sevastopol, which during Soviet times had a comparable level of productivity, the ship repair industry is probably the only field that remains strong. That's why Simferopol is highly attractive. This is evidenced also by the fact that interest in collaborative projects and public-private partnerships in various industries is being shown by many Western companies.
The city is also home to the Crimean Puppet Theater (9 Ulitsa Gorkogo ; +380 652-25-0543; ktk.com.ua), which was opened in 1939 and today has more than 40 performances in its repertoire. It is one of the few places where you can witness the traditional Ukrainian vertep brand of puppet theater.
If a dose of culture is what you are looking for, then seeing a show at the Russian Drama Theater (15 Ulitsa Pushkina; +380-652 27-2351; russian-theatre.crimea.edu), which at nearly 200 years is the Crimea's oldest, will not disappoint. The theater's artistic director Anatoly Novikov is one of the Soviet Union's most praised artists, who won the U.S.S.R. State Prize in 1977.
For a more unusual experience, pay a visit to the Crimean Tatar Theater (5/1 Ulitsa Mendeleyeva; +380 652-51-1130; kirimtatar-teatri.org), the only one of its kind in the world despite large Crimean Tatar diasporas in the U.S., Turkey and Romania.
The cost of a ticket at most theaters in Simferopol is between $3 and $10.
The city center is filled with modern cafes and bars that come alive in the evenings. If you're keen on live music, head to Sem Pyatnits on the trendy Ulitsa Pushkina (+380 652-84-80-0990). The name translates as "Seven Fridays," and true to this sentiment, the place is lively every night of the week. This is where the city young crowd gathers, and most nights a band plays to entertain those present.
Where to eat
To sample Crimean Tatar cuisine, a good place to start is Simurg (3 Proletarskaya Ulitsa; +380 652-27-2643). The cost of a two-course meal without alcohol is only about $6.50. The lagman, a thick noodle soup with lamb and vegetables, is particularly good.
Knyazha Vtiha (35 Ulitsa Turgeneva; +380 652-25-1020; vtiha.crimea.ua) offers Ukrainian food in a traditional atmosphere. A two-course meal without alcohol will set you back about $14.50. Live Ukrainian music is often played and the restaurant is a favorite of the mayor's, who usually goes for the coal-roasted mackerel freshly caught from the Black Sea.
Where to stay
Most popular with the business elite is the Hotel Ukraina (7 Ulitsa Nevskogo; +380 652-53-2253; ukraina-hotel.biz), which is located in the heart of the administrative district and has a lavish interior and one of the city's best restaurants. Prices are not cheap, however, and economy-class rooms are comfortable but fairly basic. A double room costs $85, while a large suite is $150 hryvna.
If you are looking for something simpler, try the Dom na Suvorovskom (9 Suvorovsky Spusk; +380 652-27-7586; gostinec.com.ua). For $88 per night, you can rent a clean and comfortable apartment with two beds and a bathroom. A single room costs $45 per night.
The locals love discussing the vibrant history of their city, so demonstrating some knowledge of the events that shaped modern Simferopol will go a long way toward making the right impression.
How to get there
The quickest way is by plane to the Simferopol International Airport (+380 652-66-8527; airport.crimea.ua) located about 15 kilometers outside the city. Daily flights operate from Moscow's Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports, and the main operators are Aeroflot, S7 and Ukraine International Airlines. The flight takes more than two hours and a return ticket starts at $300.
Upon arrival you can take bus No. 115, which gets to Simferopol city center in about half an hour and costs $0.35. The average price for a taxi from the airport is $8.50.
Simferopol's railway station has connections to a number of cities in the former Soviet Union. The journey from Moscow takes about 23 hours, and a third-class ticket costs $75.