During a road trip driving full circle around the Black Sea, Simon Raven and Chris Raven visit the port of Novorossiysk on the "Russian Riviera".
By Simon Raven, Chris Raven
Walking along the harbour wall, I admire the hills that shelter Tsemes bay. Known as Bata by the ancient Greeks, grain grown on the Kuban steppe was once shipped from Novorossiysk to Athens. The bay was later utilised by the Genoese who maintained a trade outpost here until the Middle Ages. Further along the promenade a sailor in uniform leans against the harbour wall beneath the colossal Mikhail Kutuzov. I study a bronze statue of a woman clutching a child. She is wearing 1940s fashion and is waving a hanky in memory of the many ships that have set sail from the port. In the 1950s my uncle was the radio officer aboard a Greek merchant ship that was based in Novorossiysk for five weeks. He had spoken about how well they had been treated by the Russians, and shared stories of the crew trading cigarettes and alcohol with the Russian sailors. The previous decade, the German Army had occupied the majority of the city. In 1942, a small unit of Soviet sailors heroically defended the Malaya Zemlya area for 225 days; allowing the Soviets to retain possession of the bay and preventing the Germans from using the port for supply shipments.
Looking out over Tsemes bay, we watch three tug boats help manoeuvre an enormous container ship from China into Novorossiysk’s port. A row of yellow hydraulic cranes work flat out to load and unload containers in Russia’s largest Black Sea port. From the harbour wall Chris photographs a guy wading through the shallow water to check his fishing nets. A machine grey artillery-cruiser towers behind him. This relic of Russia’s military past was once the former flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and is now a memorial and museum. Wandering further along the coast we join the crowds of holidaymakers on the pebble beach and, absorbing the sun's healing rays, we begin to understand why this region of Russia that stretches south along the east coast of the Black Sea is known as the "Russian Riviera".