Ovidius, the great writer of antiquity, is said to be buried in the land of his exile along the Dnister River in the Odessa region. Also at the Tiras (the Dnister’s Greek name) a rock bears the footprint of Heracle. And of course the Tiragetts, ancient inhabitant’s of this region, roam the land even today. These are all legends. But even without them the history of the city of Bilgorog-Dnistrovskyi reads like a fairy-tale hidden within fortress walls.
| The Greatness of the White Fortress |
Bilgorod-Dnistrovskyi is without question one of the world’s most ancient cities alongside Athens, Rome and Constantinople. 1998 marked its 2500 anniversary! The Goths and the Romans, the Scythians and the Genoese, the Hungarians and the Moldavians, the Turks and the Poles all lived here and each gave the city their own name. The city, situated at a trade-route crossroads, has changed its name twenty times: Tira, Alba-Yulia, Levkopolis, Asprokastron, Feger-Var, Monkastro and Akkerma etc. Nearly every name used the word “white”, referring to the city’s buildings built of local light chalk-stone.
Countless raiding enemies considered the White city a tempting conquest necessitating a powerful fortress for its ancient citizens. So in the 13th c. on a rocky bank at the Dnister estuary, upon the remnants of the ancient city of Tira, the construction of high walls and unassailable towers began. For 200 years the stronghold was under construction by the Moldavians, the Genoese and the Turks. The defensive walls were approximately 2500 meters long with a thickness of 1,5-5 meters. There were 35 towers (only 20 remain), the majority of which had their own names: Ovidius’ Tower, Pushkin’s Tower, the Commandant’s Tower and the Temnytsia (Dungeon) Tower.
From all sides but the northern where the Dnister waves wash the fortress wall, the castle is surrounded by a moat. Its depth once reached 22 meters! Bilgorod-Dnistrovskyi or Akkerman fortress still stands as Ukraine’s most grandiose.
Nowadays the main fortress gates are hospitably opened for tourists who come to Bilgorod-Dnistrovskyi from the world over. Let’s cross the draw-bridge to the castle territory where history’s wonders come alive before our eyes.
The territory is divided into several yards: the Southern yard where during enemy raids the city’s population hid themselves, the Northern or Garrison’s and the least preserved Economic yard where a minaret remains from the Turk construction. Next to it is the basement of a Christian temple from the 12-13th с. The mixture of religions, languages, cultures – this is Akkerman-Bilgorod’s calling card.
The most “photogenic” part of the complex is the Citadel. This is impenetrable fortress within the fortress was built by the Genoese trades people. Their commandant lived here, the military staffs and the Turkish vicegerents’ harems were to be found here. During the time when Akkerman belonged to the Turks (1484-1812) the Cossacks from Zaporizhya campaigned many times on their renowned boats called "gulls" to the outpost walls. They say that Citadel still hides ottoman treasures.
Akkerman was visited by the "father of history" Herodotus, the ancient princes of Kiev Kyy, Ihor and Oleh, the poets Pushkin, Lessya Ukrainka and Adam Mickiewicz. And in 1896 the fortress was named a historical-architectural monument. In Soviet times close to 30 films were shot here, among them is “Othello”, “Captain Nemo”, “The Musketeers - 30 years later”.
The creation of a historical-tourist complex “Bilgorod-Dnistrovskyi Fortress” is planned for the near future (Ushakova St., Bilgorod-Dnistrovskyi, Odesa region, tel.: (+380 4849) 249-36, open daily from 8:00 tо 20:00). Who knows, maybe this is the beginning to a new era in its history…
| Getting there|
UIA offers daily direct service between Kyiv and Odessa (triple daily) and direct daily flights Vienna-Odessa. To get from Odessa to Bilgorod- Dnistrovskyi, take a short distance train.
© Panorama Magazine