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Fort Shevchenko

The dusty little town of Fort Shevchenko stands 130km north of Aktau near the tip of the Mangyshlak Peninsula and close to the natural ice-free harbour of Tyub Karagan Bay. Fort Shevchenko is the oldest town in Mangistau Region. It was established in 1846 around the fortress of Novopetrovskoye, and renamed in the late 1850s as Fort Alexandrovsky. Its main historical claim to fame rests on its role as the place of exile between 1850 and 1857 of the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

The town was renamed Fort Shevchenko in his honour in 1939. Fort Shevchenko today is a quiet town of whitewashed bungalows, set at the foot of a rocky outcrop on which remnants of the Tsarist fort still stand. At the base of this outcrop is an elegant Tsarist chapel. The main sight of the town is a museum complex centred on a park which has its origins in the Tsarist-era Officers' Park.

The Local Museum, in a yurt shaped building near the minibus and taxi stand, includes material on the region’s necropolises and underground mosques, but the best reason to come here is the Shevchenko Museum, behind the Local Museum. The great Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko (1814–61) spent seven years in exile here in the 1850s, and the museum, housed in the old Russian military commandant’s house, exhibits many of Shevchenko’s penetrating landscapes, local scenes, portraits and self-portraits. Beside the house is the cellarlike zemlyanka, a half-underground room where the sympathetic commandant permitted Shevchenko to live and work.

About 5km beyond Fort Shevchenko, the coastal village of Bautino is a service base for offshore oil and gas operations. Minibuses to Fort Shevchenko (two hours) leave from Aktau’s bus station at 9am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7pm (more frequently on Saturday and Sunday). The last one back to Aktau leaves Fort Shevchenko at 7pm.