Old Fortress in Kamianets
There are legends, heroic deeds, tragedies, stones, impressive as people and historical personages, majestic as cliffs in the town that you can't help falling in love with...
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Spring blossom and the castle
Every castle should have chronicles written about its history, battles and sieves; it should also have deep crypts and a ghost. Stara Fortecia ("The Old Fortress") in Kamianets is mentioned i chronicles: there are many stories about its vaults and crypts, but no ghosts have been reported lately. The actual history of Kamencts, this stronghold in the land of Podillia, was so turbulent and often bloody that ghosts must have felt it was too troublesome a place to stay at.
They say that when in 1621 the Turkish Sultan Osman arrived with his army to lay siege to Kamianets, he looked at the fortress and asked one of his generals, "Who has built this awesome place?" "Allah himself," was the answer. "Well, then may He himself try to storm it!"
Saying this, the sultan ordered a retreat.
In fact, Kamianets was seized only twice: in 1393 the Lithuanian Duke Witovt managed to do it thanks to a treachery, and in 1672 the Turks overwhelmed the defenses of Kamianets by the sheer weight of their numerical superiority - the besieging Turkish forces numbered 60 times more men than the defenders.
In 1928, the Council of USSR's People's Deputies passed a decree which proclaimed the fortress a Historical and Cultural Museum. Made obsolete by new technologies, the castle was spared destruction in World War II almost without damages and remains one of the most popular tourist destination in Ukrainne.
Nowadays the complex consists of eleven migthy towers (everyone with its history) and high fortress walls. The courtyard of the stronghold is suprisely cosy and green. A regional museum is situated in old buildings of the barracks.
In the seventeenth century new fortifications (called Nova Fortecia, New Castle or Valy) were built around the old fortress. French engineers supplied the design. In the twenty-first century it has become a venue of mock knights' tournaments; on holidays fireworks are let off there.
In some of the castle's crypts and towers you will see wax figures representing historical and legendary personages associated with Kamianets: the outlaw Karmalyuk and his brothers-in-arms; musketeers of the Polish national hero Erzy Wolodiewski; an unfortunate debtor put for his failure to pay back his debts into a hole in the ground; a clerk issuing certificates of welcome to guests, to name just a few.
Old Fortress, with powerful walls and towers, sits on an island in the river Smotrych.
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Kamiantes was always a border town. Many cultures and nations united here during last thousand years. And everyone of them left its traces.
In the years (1674-1699) when the Turks held Kamenets, they began turning Christian churches into mosques. The Poles who took the fortress back from the Turks, turned the mosques back inio churches. They did nor destroy the 38-meters high minaret that the Turks had built close to the medeval Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul (15th century) but pill a golden statue of The Virgin (made in Danzig, today Gdansk, Poland) on its top. It is the only minaret in the world topped with a Christian image. Interesting, isn't it?
In this church we find the most precious remnants of the art in the whole town. The marble tomb of young Laura Pszezdecka from a small town of Chorny Ostriv made in 1874-1876 by the famous sculptor Viktor Brodsky. The artist's works are preserved only in Vatican - Laura's tombstone is the one and only Brodsky's masterpiece in Eastern Europe. The beautiful girl lays in a bed, she seems to be asleep, but the woeful angel has extinguished the torch of life and a book is opened at page 21 (Laura died at the age of 21).
You can actually climb to the top of the minaret coming up 145 steps of a dark winding staircase. The local muezzin during the time when the town was under the Turkish domination (1672-1699) used to climb these steps five times a day. If you do it once, you'll be rewarded with an excellent panorama of the old fortress. You will easily make out the city hall, an Armenian well, the belfry of the Dominican church; a Franciscan monastery, and a good number of churches.
Another place of interest that beautifying the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul is the Triumphal Gate. It was erected in 1781 in honour of the visit of the Polish King Stanislas II Augustus. The inscription under the arch reminds of this event. The author of this arch executed in the late Baroque style may have been a gifted engineer Jan de Witt.
There are plenty of old Roman Catholic churches in the city. They all are located not far from the central square of the Old Town - Rynok.
Orthodox churches also abound in Kamianets. The wooden Vozdtnshenska Church (The church of the Exhaltation of the Cross, in the Karvasary area) that sits close to the wall of the canyon not far from the fortress is probably the most "photogenic".
The most original in design is probably the Petropavlivska Church (St. Peter and St. Paul Church) of the 16th century. Nowhere else in Ukraine churches of such design were ever built.
The oldest Orthodox church, Mykolaevska (St. Nickolas' Church), is to be found next to the ruins of a huge Armenian church. It's a small ancient building but its walls are five feet thick! The Armenian cross, called khachkar, dating from 1544, can be seen immured in the wall of the Armenian church. The most conspicuous church is Georgiyevska (St. George Church) - its blue domes can be spotted from anywhere in town.
The most grandiose church of Kameneis, dedicated to Prince Oleksandr Nevsky, is being restored after demolitions of 1930's. It is located in the Novy Plan (the new part of Kamianets), in a small park close to the building of the modern city council. The church was built in 1893 when the inclusion of the Land of Podillya into the Russian Empire was celebrated.
What used to be a synagogue is now a popular restaurant Forpost (formely Stara Forteca), situated close to the Honnchana Tower (Potter Tower). Some other watch towers are seen across all the canyon in the Old Town. The Potter Tower was the main fortification of the east part of the city. It was built in 1583 by Kamianets potters. The tower was reconstructed in 1669 - at that time it had five stories and a high roof with a watch (after the WW2 the tower was rebuilt in 1960-1961 in the forms of the 17th c.). It's interesting to know that the highest raw of the gun-slots are cut from outside: it was made for lead bullets to ricoushette. It's the only example of such gun-slots in Ukraine. Sometimes the tower is also called Durer tower because that type of gun-slots was invented by this famous German artist.
Kamenets, a town that was held by different states and empires, is an excellent example of religious tolerance.
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The first defensive structures in Kamianets were built in the areas where
the island was most vulnerable: at the narrow isthmus in the west and on thegentle slope of the canyon in the north-west. Built in the 11th-13th cc ,
these fortifications served as the basic foundation for the Old Castle and
the Polish gate complex. Taking the Kamianets-Podilsky fortress as an
example, one can trace the history of defensive architecture in Ukraine.
If you want to see something else in addition to the castle, churches and city hall, the mayor trynity of the Kamianets guides, you may find it interesting to have a look at such landmarks as Ruthenian Gate (Rus'ka Brama) and Polish Gate (Polska Brama) which were part of the defenses as long ago as in the sixteenth century. Unfortunately they are in state of ruin and it doesn't seem that anything is being done about it. The Stefan Bathory' Tower, the greatest seven-storey tower in the city, is in terrible condition. So are the St. Andrew's Battery and Riznytska tower near what used to be the Armenian quarters of town.
So many old building far from Rynok square are nowadays in a dilapidated condition as well. Usually tourists are not taken there but to feel the mediaeval spirit of Kamenets in full it's the place to go to.
There is also a palace in Kamenets which was built a couple of centuries ago for the fortress commandant Jan de Witt. It was in this palace that the beautiful Greek woman, a former slave, Sofiya Glavone once lived. She was Jan de Witt's daughter-in-law, and her second husband, a prominent Polish nobleman Stanislaw Felix Potocki gave her as a present an enormous park in the vicinity of the town of Uman. The park, Sofiylvka, is still there, a constant attraction for thousands upon thousands of tourists.
Next to the palace are the ruins of a Turkish prison which was said to be the place where concubines from the harem of Gali Pasha were put for whatever offences they committed; some distance away you find a building of what used to be an Armenian hospital.
Ruins have a sad charm of their own. But there seems to be too many ruins in Ukraine. One wants to believe that some day Kamianets will be taken proper care of and it will become a major tourist center - Kamianets occupies the third place in Ukraine as far as to the number of architectural landmarks.