How could Constantine VII know that in 12 centuries this island would become one of the seven wonders of Ukraine? Now the Khortytsia National reserve includes Khortytsia Island itself and the adjacent islands and rocks: Baida, Dubovyi, Try Stogy, Blyzniuky and others. This area of 12,5 to 2,5 kilometres includes all the geographies of the country from steppe to mountains and deserts. From over one thousand species of local plants there are 105 native and 33 rare ones. Twelve species of vertebrates and 33 species of invertebrate animals are listed in the Red Book of Ukraine.
In Slavonic chronicles, Khortytsia was mentioned under various names until finally in 1436 it got its modern one. The origin of the island’s name is a bone of contention for historians, and there is no winner yet. It is not known whether the ancient Slavonic god Khorse or its central location (in Turkic language “orta” means “centre”) gave its name to the island.
And it is the same with its history: nobody knows who were the island’s first inhabitants. Khortytsia became famous in times of Zaporizhian Sich (initially – a fortified military camp, later on – the largest organisation of free Ukrainian Cossacs). However, much more ancient settlements of Scythians, Sarmatians, Cimmerians, Pincenates and Slavs were found on the rocks of the island arising 35 metre over the Dnipro. Palaeolithic settlements from 35 thousand years ago were also found here! It is a real history book engraved in rocks! Dozens of ancient burial mounds know everything about it, but they keep silent.
Land and water ways from the north to south crossed at Khortytsia. Near the isle, the Dnipro rapids began, and the Viking drakkar longships and Cossack ‘chaika’ boats could not go further. For ancient Greeks who travelled in the northern direction it was also the end of the way.
And how could such a strategic place remain without defence? Already Scythians (6th and 5th centuries BC) built the first fortresses here. In Kyiv Rus times, the island was a garrison for our troops that fought nomads, as documented in chronicles from 1103, 1190 and 1223. The battles did not always end in victory: Khortytsia was ruled by the Golden Horde for over a century.
At the end of the 15th century, Cossacks built their stronghold on the island. It was convenient because they could defend themselves, fish and keep bees, breed livestock in the steppe and hunt in the forests of Khortytsia. Here there was no oppressive serfdom and everybody was free, which was unknown in feudal Medieval Ages. Freedom in Ukraine started from here!
The foundation for Zaporizhian Sich was laid out on Khortytsia in 1552-56 by a Hetman of the Ukrainian Cossacks Baida-Vyshnevetsky. He built here a castle, from which he set out on campaigns against Turkey. Baida withstood a siege by Crimean Khan Devlet-Gerei (1557), and one year late the ashamed Khan came back with his Turkish allies. Vyshnyvetskyi was forced to leave the island and its fortifications were destroyed. The island where the fortress stood is still called Baida.
Cossacks built a settlement on Khortytsia again in 1618-1620. Until the destruction of Zaporizhian Sich by Catherine II (June 5, 1775) Khortytsia was a Cossack stronghold. Then, Prince Potemkin planted here a garden, and the founder of Odesa, Admiral Jose de Ribas, built dockyards and quays on Khortytsia. As of 1790, German colonists appeared and stayed here for 130 years.
During the past 50 years the island has been gathering regalia and titles. In 1965, it was declared a State Historic and Cultural Reserve. In 1994, Khortytsia and its nearby rocks and islands got the status of National Reserve, and the building of a historic and cultural Zaporizhian Sich centre began here in 2004. The Cossack town from the 16th and 17th centuries has already begun a movie career: last year, film director Volodymyr Bortko shot “Taras Bulba” here. And, recently, in May, Khortytsia hosted the “Cossatskyi Ostriv” (Cossack Island) festival with folk handicrafts, smiths and potters, and a performance by the Cossack horse theatre.
Although possibly not fully authentic, reviving the Sich during the festival gives an image of former and modern Ukraine. This image is enthusiastic, free and brave, just like the Zaporizhian Cossacks.