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Crimea (krīmēˈə), Rus. and Ukr. Krym, peninsula and republic (1991 est. pop. 2,363,000), c.10,000 sq mi (25,900 sq km), SE Europe, linked with the mainland by the Perekop Isthmus. The peninsula is bounded on the S and W by the Black Sea. The eastern tip of the Crimea is the Kerch peninsula, separated from the Taman peninsula (a projection of the mainland) by the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov. Simferopol is the capital of the Crimea. Other major cities include Sevastopol (politically independent of the rest of Crimea), Kerch, Feodosiya, Yalta, and Yevpatoriya. Part of Ukraine (then the Ukrainian SSR) from 1954, the peninsula was occupied and annexed by Russia in 2014, a move not generally recognized internationally. An autonomous republic in Ukraine, Crimea was made a Russian constituent republic; Sevastopol has been a politically independent city with the status of an oblast under Ukrainian and Russian administration.

Along the Crimea's northeast shore are a series of shallow, stagnant, but mineral-rich lagoons, known collectively as the Sivash or Putrid Sea, which are linked to the Sea of Azov by the Arabatskaya Strelka. The northern part of the Crimea is a semiarid steppe, drained by a few streams; this region supports fine wheat, corn, and barley crops. In the south rises the Crimean or Yaila Range (Yaltinskaya Yaila), with its extensive meadows and forests. The tallest peak rises to c.5,000 ft (1,520 m). In the Crimean Range is a major astronomical observatory. Protected by steep mountain slopes, the Black Sea littoral, once called the “Soviet Riviera,” has a subtropical climate and numerous resorts, including Crimea's Yalta. During the years of Soviet rule, the resorts and dachas of the Crimean coast served as the prime perquisites of the politically loyal. In this region are vineyards and fruit orchards; fishing, mining, and the production of essential oils are also important. Heavy industry in the Crimea includes plants producing machinery, chemicals, and building materials. The peninsula's territorial waters may have underwater petroleum and natural gas fields. A 10.5-mi (16.9-km) road bridge opened in 2018 connects Crimea with Russia across the Kerch Strait; an 11.9-mi (19-km) rail bridge opened in 2019.

Ethnic Russians now constitute some two thirds of Crimea's population. Ukrainians, once more than a quarter of the inhabitants, now make up about a sixth. After 1989 there was a movement back to the area of native Tatars who had been exiled to Central Asia in the Stalin era, and they grew to form more than a sixth of the population, but they now constitute about a tenth. These population changes have occured mainly since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea; tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Tatars have left for Ukraine, and a roughly comparable number of Russians have moved to Crimea. There are also smaller minorities of ethnic Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Germans.


Known in ancient times as Tauris, the peninsula was the home of the Cimmerian people, called the Tauri. Expelled from the steppe by the Scythians in the 7th cent. B.C., they founded (5th cent. B.C.) the kingdom of Cimmerian Bosporus, which later came under Greek influence. Ionian and Dorian Greeks began to colonize the coast in the 6th cent., and the peninsula became the major source of wheat for ancient Greece. In the 1st cent. B.C., the kingdom of Pontus began to rule the Greek part of the peninsula, which became a Roman protectorate in the 1st cent. A.D. During the next millennium the area was overrun by Ostrogoths, Huns, Khazars, Cumans, and in 1239, by the Mongols of the Golden Horde. Meanwhile, the southern shore was mostly under Byzantine control from the 6th to the 12th cent.

Trade relations were established (11th–13th cent.) with Kievan Rus, and in the 13th cent. Genoa founded prosperous coastal commercial settlements. After Timur's destruction of the Golden Horde, the Tatars established (1475) an independent khanate in N and central Crimea. In the late 15th cent. both the khanate and the southern coastal towns were conquered by the Ottoman Empire; the Turks called the peninsula Crimea. Although they became Turkish vassals, the Crimean Tatars were powerful rulers who became the scourge of Ukraine and Poland, exacted tribute from the Russian czars, and raided Moscow as late as 1572.

Russian armies first invaded the Crimea in 1736. Empress Catherine II forced Turkey to recognize the khanate's independence in 1774, and in 1783 she annexed it outright; the annexation was confirmed by the Treaty of Jassy (1792). Many Tatars, with their Muslim religion and Turkic language, emigrated to Turkey, while Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Germans, Armenians, and Greeks settled in the Crimea. During the Crimean War (1853–56), parts of the remaining Tatar population were resettled in the interior of Russia.

After the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) an independent Crimean republic was proclaimed; but the region was soon occupied by German forces and then became a refuge for the White Army. In 1921 a Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created; Tatars then constituted about 25% of the population. During World War II, German invaders took the Crimea after an eight-month siege. Accused by the Soviet government of collaborating with the Germans, the Crimean Tatars were forcibly removed from their homeland after the war and resettled in distant parts of the Asian USSR. The republic itself was dissolved (1945) and made into a region of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic; in 1954 it was transferred to Ukraine. In 1989, Tatars began to return from their exile in Siberia and Central Asia.

In 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev was vacationing in Crimea at the time of the August Coup. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia and Ukraine engaged in negotiations over the possession of Crimea and the disposition of the former Soviet fleet based in the Black Sea. In 1992 there was an abortive attempt by the Russian-dominated Crimean government to declare independence. Elected Crimea's first president in 1994, Yuri Meshkov called for the rejoining of the Crimea with Russia. In 1995, Crimea's government was placed under national control and Meshkov was ousted, but its assembly was retained. An accord the same year between Ukraine and Russia called for the division of the Black Sea fleet, and in 1997 it was agreed that Russia would be allowed to base its portion of the fleet there for 20 years. Tensions between Crimea's ethnic Russians and the Ukrainian national government continued to mark Crimean and Ukrainian politics; demands by repatriated Tatars for land were another source of tension.

In 2014, following the collapse of Ukrainian president Yanukovych's government, pro-Russian forces seized government buildings in Crimea, and in closed-door (and reportedly invalid) votes Crimea's prime minister was replaced and a referendum on joining Russia scheduled. Local “self-defense” forces in conjunction with thinly disguised (and later officially acknowledged) Russian military forces seized key facilities and surrounded Ukrainian bases in Crimea. The March referendum's reported turnout (80%) and result (99% in favor of joining Russia) was implausible given Crimea's political history and ethnic makeup. Russia quickly annexed the region, and the outnumbered Ukrainian military withdrew. Russia's seizure of the territory led to tensions with Crimea's Tatars. An International Criminal Court report in 2016 labeled the situation an “occupation.”

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Crimean Peninsula), a peninsula in the southern part of the European USSR. Area, 25,500 sq km. The Crimea is bordered by the Black Sea on the west and south and by the Sea of Azov on the east. In the north, it is connected to the East European plain by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop (8 km at its widest point). The Kerch’ Peninsula is located in the eastern part of the Crimea between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. In the west the Crimea narrows to form the Tarkhankut Peninsula.

Natural features. The whole northeast coast of the Crimea is flanked by a system of shallow bays of the Sea of Azov—the Sivash, which is separated from the sea by a flat sandbar (the Arabatskaia spit). The northern part of the peninsula is a steppe (the steppe Crimea). The southern part, which is smaller, is occupied by the Crimean Mountains, which extend from Sevastopol’ to Feodosia. They are made up of three parallel ranges with gentle northern and steep southern slopes. The highest of the three, the Iuzhnaia Range, has a maximum elevation of 1,545 m (Mount Roman-Kosh). Behind the southern foothills of the luzhnaia Range lies the coastal band of the southern shore of the Crimea. In some places along the coast there are outcrops of magmatic rocks—laccoliths (Mount Aiudag) and ancient volcanic massifs (Mount Karadag). The mineral resources of the Crimea include iron ore deposits on the Kerch’ Peninsula, salts and therapeutic muds in the lakes, and limestones, clay, and marl.

The northern part of the Crimea has a warm, temperate cli-mate. The winter is mild, with an average January temperature of 1°-2°C. The summer is very warm: the average July temperature is 24°C. On the southern shore, where the climate is Mediterranean, the summer is very warm (average July temperature, 24°C), and the winter is mild (average January temperature, about 4°C). The annual precipitation is about 1,000–1,200 mm in the western part of the mountains, 500–700 mm in the eastern part of the peninsula, and 300–500 mm in the north.

The Crimea’s rivers are shallow. The most important ones are the Chernaia, Bel’bek, Kacha, Al’ma, and Salgir. The Simferopol’ Reservoir is located on the Salgir. There are several large, lagoon-type salt lakes, including the Krasnoe, Staroe, Sakskoe, Aktashskoe, and Tobechikskoe.

Characteristic of the northern part of the Crimea are chestnut soils, which are mixed with solonetz and solonchaks along the Sivash. Southern chernozems prevail in the central part of the peninsula, and leached chernozems and brown mountain-forest soils, in the foothills and the mountains. On the iailas (flat crests of the Glavnaia Range of the Crimean Mountains) there are mountain-meadow soils similar to chernozems.

Most of the surface in the northern part has been plowed up, but steppe vegetation has survived in a few small areas. The mountains, especially the northern slopes, are covered with forests of oak, beech, beech and hornbeam, and occasionally pines. The flora of the Crimea’s southern shore is Mediterranean. There are numerous parks with ornamental trees and bushes, as well as orchards, vineyards, and tobacco plantations. Most of the cities and resorts are located on the southern shore, including Yalta, Miskhor, Alupka, Simeiz, Gurzuf, and Alushta. The major cities are Simferopol’, Sevastopol’, and Kerch’.

Historical survey. The earliest traces of human habitation in the Crimea date from the Paleolithic period. (Among them are the settlements of Kiik-Koba and Starosel’e, where the bones of Neanderthal and other types of early man have been found.) Many archaeological remains of the Neolithic, Bronze, and early Iron ages have also been discovered. In the first millennium B.C. the Crimea was inhabited by Cimmerians, Scythians, and Taurians. (From the last is derived the ancient name of the mountainous and coastal part of the Crimea—Taurika, Tauria, or Taurida.) Among the occupations of the ancient population were hunting, fishing, herding, and primitive farming.

The Greeks founded colonies on the Crimean coast in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The Bosporan kingdom was founded on the Kerch’ Peninsula in the fifth century B.C., and the Scythian kingdom was established on the Crimean steppes in the third century B.C. Rome conquered part of the coast in the second half of the first century B.C. and continued to rule over some areas of the Crimea until the third century A.D. In the third and fourth centuries A.D. the Crimea was overrun by a number of tribes. Many ancient cities were left in ruins after the attacks of the Goths and Huns, and the Bosporan and Scythian kingdoms fell.

The Crimea became the object of Byzantine expansion in the fourth and fifth centuries. Feudal relations developed during the second half of the first millennium. In the southwestern Crimea many new states were established. From the 13th through the 15th century the largest state was the principality of Theodoro. The eastern Crimea became part of the principality of Tmutarakan in the tenth century. During this period the Crimea was inhabited by the descendants of many tribes, including the Scythians, Taurians, Goths, Sarmatians, Alans, Khazars, and Pechenegs, as well as by Slavs and Greeks, who settled mainly along the coast.

In the 13th century the Mongol Tatars invaded the Crimea and founded the Crimean Ulus of the Golden Horde. Genoese merchants had fortified trading centers in the Crimea from the 13th through the 15th century. In 1475 the Crimean Khanate, which had been founded in 1443 after the disintegration of the Golden Horde, became a vassal of Turkey, which used it as an instrument of its policy of aggression and as a base for raids on Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish territory.

For several centuries the Russian and Ukrainian peoples fought together against the Turkish and Tatar raids (the Cri-mean campaigns of 1687 and 1689). The Zaporozh’e and Don cossacks took part in these campaigns. Attempting to ensure the security of the southern provinces and to gain access to the Black Sea, the Russian state opened a drive for mastery of the Crimea in the late 17th century. Russian troops conquered the Crimea during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74. Under a treaty signed with the khan in 1772, as well as the Treaty of Kainarji (1774), the Crimean Khanate was declared independent of Turkey and placed under Russian protection. Thus, the hotbed of aggression against the Russian and Ukrainian peoples in the south was eliminated. The Crimea became part of Russia in 1783 and part of Tauride Oblast in 1784 (Tauride Province from 1787). Simferopol’ was its administrative center. From 1797 to 1802 the Crimea was part of Novorossia Province, but in 1802 it was again named a separate province (Tauride).

The unification of the Crimea with Russia was a progressive event. Membership in the Russian market accelerated the growth of the Crimea’s productive forces and promoted the development of sheep raising, grain farming, horticulture, tobacco farming, viticulture, crafts, and cottage industry (especially the processing of salt). New cities were built. Founded in 1783, Sevastopol’ began to develop into the main naval port of the Black Sea Fleet in the early 19th century. From the second half of the 19th century the southern shore of the Crimea was a resort area, where members of the imperial family built villas and palaces. Representatives of the big bourgeoisie followed their example in the 1870’s through the 1890’s.

The Crimea was the main theater of military operations during the Crimean War of 1853–56. During the war Russian troops and the residents of Sevastopol’, led by Admirals V. A. Kornilov, P. S. Nakhimov, and V. I. Istomin, heroically defended the city for 11 months (the Sevastopol’ defense of 1854–55).

The reforms of the 1860’s promoted the development of capitalist relations, especially in agriculture. The construction of the Kharkov-Sevastopol’ railroad (1869–75) accelerated the Crimea’s industrial development. In 1913 agriculture accounted for 55 percent of the economy’s output. Industry was dominated by flour milling, canning, tobacco, and other branches of food processing. In addition, about 300,000 tons of salt were produced. The most important enterprises were a metallurgical plant in Kerch’ and a shipyard in Sevastopol’.

In the early 20th century the first Social Democratic organizations were founded in the Crimea. Sailors’ mutinies broke out on the Black Sea Fleet’s armorclad Potemkin and on the cruiser Ochakov during the Revolution of 1905–07, and railroad workers in the Crimea participated in the October All-Russian Political Strike of 1905. After the February Revolution in Russia petit bourgeois and bourgeois Tatar nationalist parties and organizations became very active in the Crimea, organizing under the slogan “Crimea for the Crimeans” and attempting to detach the area from revolutionary Russia. Many of the Crimean soviets were dominated by conciliators.

On the eve of the October Revolution of 1917 the Crimea was an agrarian region with a multinational population that included Russians, Tatars, Greeks, Armenians, and Ukrainians. The working class was small.

The Crimea’s revolutionary forces consisted of sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, soldiers from local garrisons, workers from Sevastopol’, Kerch’, and Feodosia, and railroad workers. In late November 1917 a party conference of Tauride Province Bolsheviks worked out a plan for the struggle to establish Soviet power in the Crimea. The Bolshevik sailor V. V. Romenets was elected chief commissar of the Black Sea Fleet. A military revolutionary committee headed by lu. P. Gaven took power in Sevastopol’ on December 16 (29). N. A. Pozharov was elected chairman of the city soviet. The Sevastopol’ revolutionary military committee took the lead in the struggle for Soviet power, which was established throughout the Crimea in January 1918. The Extraordinary Congress of the Soviets of the Crimea and of Representatives of the Revolutionary Military Committee of Tauride Province, which was held in Sevastopol’ on January 28–30 (February 10–12), elected the Central Committee of the Soviets of Tauride Province (chairman, Zh. A. Miller). On Mar. 21, 1918, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Tauride was established in the Crimea as part of the RSFSR. Immediately the new republic began to implement socialist transformations. Violating the conditions of the Brest treaty, German troops occupied the Crimea in mid-April 1918. Near Alushta, White Guards and Tatar nationalists shot almost all the members of the Soviet government of the Republic of Tauride. Entente troops landed in the Crimea in November 1918. During 1919 and 1920, the peninsula was occupied by Denikin’s and Wrangel’s White Guard troops.

Partisan detachments led by Bolsheviks fought in the Crimea. In the summer of 1920 they were united under the command of A. V. Mokrousov. Implementing the Aug. 2, 1920, decision of the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik), on September 21 the Revolutionary Military Council of Tauride Province set up the Crimean Sector of the Southwestern Front as a separate front —the Southern Front, with M. V. Frunze as commander and S. I. Gusev and Bela Kun as members of the Revolutionary Military Council. In late October the troops of the Southern Front went over to the offensive and routed Wrangel’s main forces in Northern Tavria. Between November 7 and November 11, Soviet troops heroically broke through the fortifications of the Crimean Isthmus (the Perekop-Chongar Operation of 1920). The remnants of the White troops, as well as landlords, capitalists, and officers who had fled from central Russia to the Crimea after the October Revolution of 1917, were evacuated and went abroad. The liberation of the Crimea was completed on November 17.

In November 1920 the Central Committee of the RCP(B) confirmed the Crimean Oblast party committee, whose members included R. S. Zemliachka (Samoilova) as secretary, as well as Bela Kun and D. I. Ul’ianov. The Crimean Revolutionary Committee was formed on November 16, under the chairmanship of Bela Kun. On Oct. 18, 1921, the Soviet government adopted a decree making the Crimean ASSR part of the RSFSR, and on Dec. 21, 1921, V. I. Lenin signed a decree on the use of the Crimea as a health resort area for the working people. During the period of socialist construction the Crimea made great progress in industry, agriculture, science, culture, and the development of health resorts.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) the Crimea was the site of fierce battles against the fascist German invaders. The heroic defense of Sevastopol’ lasted from October 1941 to July 1942. Bloody battles accompanied the Kerch’-Feodosia Landing Operation of 1941–42. On Oct. 23, 1941, the Central Staff of the partisan movement in the Crimea was established (commander, A. V. Mokrousov). Dozens of underground groups were active in the cities. The Crimea was liberated by the Soviet Army in May 1944 (Crimean Operation of 1944). The title of Hero of the Soviet Union was conferred on 126 people who fought in battles for the liberation of the Crimea, and more than 3,000 Crimean partisans and members of underground organizations were awarded orders and medals of the Soviet Union.

The enemy did more than 20 billion rubles’ worth of damage to the economy of the Crimea (in 1941 prices). More than 130,000 people were exterminated by the invaders, who also completely destroyed the cities of Kerch’ and Sevastopol’, many resorts and historical monuments, 127 villages, 300 industrial enterprises, and more than 22,900 residential buildings. All the Soviet republics contributed generously to the restoration of the Crimea’s war-ravaged economy. The June 1945 decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR transformed the Crimean ASSR into Crimean Oblast. In 1954, to mark the 300th anniversary of the unification of the Ukraine with Russia, the Crimea was transferred from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.

Architecture and art. Finds dating to the third and second millennia B.C. include pictures of battle scenes done in red ocher on the rocks of the Tash-Air cave near Bakhchisarai and engraved on a stone plate in the village of Bakhchi-Eli (Crimean Museum of Local Lore, Simferopol’). In addition, ornamental compositions on burial chambers, the Tauri boxes, and stone slabs with flat-relief figures of chiefs, warriors, and shepherds provide information on ancient Crimean cultures. Excavations of ancient Greek city-colonies reveal the wealth and originality of the local variant of ancient art that flourished in the Crimea from the seventh century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. Archaeological excavations at Scythian Naples (near Simferopol’) have thrown light on an important phase in the development of Scythian architecture and art.

Interrupted by the invasion of the Huns in the fourth century, artistic activity revived with the Byzantine colonization of the Crimea. The restoration of the fortifications of Chersonesus, which was completed by the sixth century, was followed by the construction of the fortresses of Aluston (Alushta) and Gorzuvita (Gurzuf). These are known to us from the excavations of basilica-like Christian churches with ornamental mosaics and frescoes (for example, the Uvarov Basilica in Chersonesus, which dates from the seventh and eighth centuries). After the Kievan Prince Vladimir’s campaign against Chersonesus, cruciform churches crowned with cupolas and decorated with frescoes on biblical subjects were built (for example, the Church of St. John the Baptist in Kerch’, 10th–13 centuries).

From the sixth century the descendants of the Cimmerians, Taurians and Scythians, and Alans built cave cities and for-tresses in the mountains (for example, Chufut-Kale, Eski-Kermen, and Tepe-Kermen near Bakhchisarai, as well as Inkerman and Mangup). In the 12th century Mangup became the center of the principality of Theodoro, near Sevastopol’. The influence of Byzantine art is evident in paintings in the cave churches (12th through 15th centuries). The Armenians, who settled in the Crimea in the 12th century, built the Church of St. Stephen in Feodosia (14th century) and the Surb-Khach Monastery (1340) near Staryi Krym. Genoese defensive architecture is represented by the fortresses in Feodosia (1348), Sudak (1345–1414), and Balaklava (15th century; now in Sevastopol’).

The principal structures dating from the period of the Golden Horde and the Crimean Khanate are the ruins of a 13th-century mosque and a 14th-century madrasa in Staryi Krym, the complex of buildings making up the khan’s palace (16th through 18th centuries, Bakhchisarai), the Jumaa Mosque in Evpatoria (1552; architect, Haja Sinan), and the Mufti Mosque in Feodosia (completed in 1623).

After the formation of Tauride Province in the 1780’s, regular plans were drawn up for Sevastopol’ and Simferopol’. However, they were not systematically implemented. With the exception of a few late Empire buildings (Grafskaia Wharf, 1846, and the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, 1843, both in Sevastopol’), most of the buildings in Sevastopol’ and Simferopol’ are in the eclectic style of the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th (the Museum of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol’, 1895, architect A. M. Kochetov, and the building of the Sevastopol’ Defense panomora, 1902–04, architect V. A. Fel’dman). Some of the villas and palaces on the southern shore of the Crimea are distinguished for their grand scale—for example, the Gothic revival palace with Moorish motifs in Alupka and the former imperial palace in Livadia (1911–13, architect N. P. Krasnov). Built on the summit of a cliff, the Swallow’s Nest (Ai-Todor Cape, 1911, engineer A. V. Shervud) produces a magnificent effect. An interesting example of a planned ensemble of the late period is the Zhukovka villa near Simeiz (early 20th century, plans by the artist V. D. Zamirailo). The mosaics in the villa were created by P. V. Kuznetsov, and the garden and the park sculpture were designed by A. T. Matveev.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s urban, rural, and resort construction were important. For instance, 168 health centers were built, primarily on the southern shore (Kurpaty Sanatorium near Yalta [1936; architect V. Koval’skii] and the workers’ resort in Alushta [1939; architect A. N. Beketov]. New villages with standard houses were built on the Crimean steppes. The postwar restoration of cities and health resorts began immediately after the Great Patriotic War. The reconstruction of Sevastopol’ and Kerch’, which lay in ruins, and work on the further development of Simferopol’ have been stressed. Old sanatoriums and workers’ resorts have been expanded (for example, the new sanatorium building at Nizhniaia Oreanda [1945; architects M. la. Ginzburg and F. I. Mikhailovskii]). New sanatoriums and workers’ resorts have been built, as well as boarding houses (the Donbas in Mas-sandra, 1963, architect A. T. Polianskii), hotels, and youth camps (the international Sputnik camp in Gurzuf [1962; architect A. T. Polianskii] and the Artek “All-Union Pioneers’ Camp). Houses of Creation have been expanded (the new building of the K. A. Korovin Artists’ House of Creation in Gurzuf [1962; architect A. T. Polianskii]). Detailed plans for the regional planning of the southern shore and greater Yalta have been drafted (1968 and 1973, respectively).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a peninsula and autonomous region in Ukraine between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov: a former autonomous republic of the Soviet Union (1921--45), part of the Ukrainian SSR from 1945 until 1991
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005