The Black Sea is the gateway between the southern part of eastern Europe and western Asia and has long been the major highway between these two great regions for trade and culture. In the past, formidable civilizations dominated the Black Sea region from the ancient Greeks to the Romans to the Byzantines, all bringing their distinct cultures and religions to this busy trade thoroughfare.
Today the Black Sea has six countries that surround its coastline; in the south there is Turkey, whilst opposite to it in the north is the Ukraine, in the west are Romania and Bulgaria and towards the east is Russia and Georgia. In this article we take a look at all six countries and how they influence the region as a whole.
In the early days the Romans were the dominant power in Turkey, and in fact part of the southwest Black Sea coast was a wedding gift from Mark Anthony to Cleopatra. The infamous Trojan Wars took place in parts of western Turkey as well. One of the oldest human settlements known to man is in a place called Catalhoyuk, and it was not until 1923 that modern Turkey as we know it today was formed from the Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul is one of the most significant cities in the world, and its claim to fame is that it is the only city that is partly in Europe and partly in Asia. It also has at one time been the capital of three of the world’s greatest empires: Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman.
When the Russian Empire was defeated in WWI, it led to the country becoming a communist state, and soon it was followed by the creation of the USSR which lasted for seventy years. The USSR, at its strongest, had 15 republics and dominated the region’s commerce and culture. The USSR then went through a brutal transformation under the guidance of Josef Stalin, when tens of millions of lives were lost. In 1991 the USSR was disbanded, and the 15 states once again became republics in their own right. Since then, Russia has been operating under a democratic system and is economically recovering from its failed Communist past. The only deep-water port that Russia has on the Black Sea is Novorossiysk, which also happens to be a major tourist resort on the Russian Riviera.
Ukraine has its earliest influences from the 9th century Scandinavian traders that visited the area. They were responsible for establishing the great city of Kiev, and in the 10th and 11th centuries it was the powerhouse of Europe. Kiev was ravaged by the Mongols and was enveloped as part of the now Lithuania, then it fell in succession to Poland and Russia. Ukraine has always had strong connections to the Black Sea area in many ways, commerce, fishing, tourism and naval.
Bulgaria was formed by the Bulgars that were a mix of central Asian and Turkish tribes, eventually the Ottoman Empire swallowed the region and held it for half a century. Bulgaria became part of the Soviet regime in the mid 1940’s and was a communist state until 1990 and slowly became a democratic state in the subsequent years. Even the Royal Family returned to Bulgaria in 2001 when Borisov Saxe-Coburg returned to his throne. This region is a real cornucopia of different ethnic groups, including the Turks, Romans, Bulgars, Slavs, Greeks, Armenians and Thracians. Varna is Bulgaria’s largest seaport and is responsible for much of the fishing industry and Black Sea commerce of the area.
Romania has its roots firmly placed in the Roman Empire and the once-Roman colony of Dacia. Since then, strong Turkish and European influences have held sway. In the recent past, Romania had a violent and unsettled history, and in the ten years after 1930 there were more than 20 different administrations.
At the end of the Second World War, king Mihai was forced to abdicate, and Romania followed many other Black Sea countries into communism. The notorious Nicolae Ceausescu took Romania to an almost military state, his oppression was brutal. Today Romania has many tourist resorts on the Black Sea, with its largest urban development at Constanta. Some of these resorts offer many in-demand spa treatments, which include thermal procedures and mud.
The last of our Black Sea countries is Georgia which has been part of the Russian Empire since right back in the 19th century. Georgia has long been fighting for its independence and has ethnic problems in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Despite all its political problems, this small nation has been developing its own democratic systems and wish to integrate further with western Europe.
The coastal areas of Georgia encapsulate great beauty with wonderful beaches, studded with eucalyptus and palm trees. Aside from the coastal areas, there is another aspect that Georgia has to offer. Described by sites like the bbc.co.uk, the area of Batumi has been likened to that of Las Vegas, such is the options of gambling, which is believed to bring visitors in all year around. Another post on the Telegraph captured people’s attention by referring to the region as “Casinos, Craft Beer and Caves”. It’s hard to fathom that this once crime ridden area has made such a comeback. However, with reports like the one on the BBC and other prominent sites, you can just imagine the volume of visitors that knock back the local craft beer while hoping their blackjack hand contains an ace and a picture card, of course!
These six countries that surround the Black Sea have been forged by the political histories of their past, some of them are still struggling to find their identities, and some are world powerhouses in their own right.