Castles and fortresses of Ukraine

Castles and fortresses of Ukraine

Kamianets-Podilsky, Khmelnyrsky region. A view over the Old Fortress (llth-18th centuries)

Castles and fortresses of Ukraine

Ukraine’s long and turbulent history is marked by numerous wars, assaults and armed conflicts, which is reflective of a country located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. For several centuries the land, today known as Ukraine, was a ‘bridge’ between the East and West. During the Great Migration numerous peoples wandered across these flat lands to and from the West. The rivers, which cross Ukraine from the North to South, served as the main arteries of the Great Trade Route. It was on this land, which since long ago had been known as a «free trade area», that antagonistic worlds and cultures clashed in fierce fights. It was here that the Aryans first met the Semites, and the ancient Greeks encountered the nomadic tribes of the East. Being a frontier border of different continents and civilizations, Ukraine was destined to wage a stubborn struggle for its freedom. Thus, its geographical location settled Ukraine’s fate. The nation’s right for independence had to be protected, and more often than not at the expense of human life.

Castles and fortresses of Ukraine

Berdychiv, Zytomyr region. Fortified walls of the monastery of the Barefoot Carmelite Order (16th-18th centuries)

For centuries, driven by the necessity to strive for their liberty and protect the European civilization, Ukrainian knights clashed with nomadic tribes. The continuous struggles with enemies necessitated the building of a ring of strongholds.
Ukrainian castles, and especially those in the Podillya region, are a unique historical phenomenon, known as Europe’s Ukrainian Shield. During the 15-17th centuries most of the Christian countries suffered terribly from incursions by Crimean Tartars and Turks. By the 15th century Crusaders’ bold ambitions to liberate the Holy Land from Muslims were frustrated. Following fierce Turks assaults, Constantinople fell in 1453. After the fall of Byzantine Empire, Turkish sultans sent their armies under the green flag of Mohamed into the heart of Europe. Ukraine became the first obstacle on the course of their headlong pursuit. A fringe region on the boarder of the Dykee Polee (Wild Field), Podillya had to fortify its land carefully with a ring of castles built in the 15-17th centuries. Ukraine, located on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, has undergone considerable influence by numerous neighboring as well as distant civilizations, which is evidenced by the fortifications. It was the tenacity to survive in those turbulent years that drove the nation, which populated mostly flat areas, to master the art of fort-construction.
In the Middle Ages, even the houses of worship were designed such that, if need be, they could be converted to fortifications. In those days, churches were viewed not only as sanctuaries from evil spirits, but also as forts, sheltering the locals from enemies’ assaults.

Castles and fortresses of Ukraine

Berdychiv, Zytomyr region. A view of the monastery of the Barefoot Carmelite Order from the Hnylopiat River.

Ukrainians developed unique defensive installations, such as the famous Cossacks’ camps made of carts, as well as timber and ground ramparts, established during the times of Kievan Russ (10th-13th century). Apart from locally built fortifications, numerous castles all around Ukraine were erected by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Genoeses, Turks, Germans, Poles and Lithuanians.
The traveler from Syria Paul of Aleppo, who visited Ukraine in the mid-17th century, wrote in his memories: «This land is stuffed with fortresses as is a pomegranate with seeds».
Bakhchisaray, Crimea. The Kiz-Kule tower (5th-6th centuries) by the ancient settlement site of Eski-Kermen
The efficiency of strongholds and the integrity of their forms and design made fort-construction a well-developed art. This architectural advance reflected all the innovations in military art. While improving efficient characteristics of strongholds, architects never neglected the importance of the forts’ design. The architects added elegance to rugged forms of defensive constructions and produced majestic masterpieces of engineering.
The well-protected residencies of Ukrainian gentry concealed within their walls affluent collections of art and antiquities, including portraits, battle-paintings, weaponry, paper-walls, gobelin tapestry, porcelain, sculptures, crockery and art castings. The largest collection of valuable art-works was garnered in the Pidhirtsy Castle, which was rightfully called by contemporaries the Versailles of Halychyna. The only thing that differed the Halychyna replica of the French Royal Palace was that it was exposed to frequent attacks of Tartars’ and Turkish armies.
Once the mighty protectors of the country’s well-being, by the end of the 18th century castles and fortresses lost their importance as defensive constructions and were left to the mercy of natural disasters and people’s negligence. In the 20th century dilapidated forts were put into new use and turned into utility premises. That together with the failure to restore the constructions, because of the inefficient financing, accelerated the destruction of the strongholds. Most of the ancient castles and fortresses are still abandoned.

Castles and fortresses of Ukraine

Mezhyrich village, Rivne region. The fortified monastery of the Holy Trinity (16th~17th centuries)

Castles and fortresses are part of our cultural heritage, thus their protection should be made a national priority.
Have you ever traveled to the Ternopil, Khmelnytsky, Carpathian or Trans-Carpathian regions? Have you ever marveled at the mesmerizing beauty of the Zbrutch River (the region also known as «Switzerland in Podillya») with steep riverbanks and castles crowning forested hills? Have you ever been to Kudryntsy, Skala Podilska, Yazlivets, Buchacha, Terebliv or Kremenets? Then a trip to these places is a must.
Some of the cities in Ukraine, such as Kyiv, Lviv, Kamianets-Podilsky, Khotyn and Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky boasted advanced defensive constructions. It took more then five hundred years to develop some of these forts. Today, they are unrivalled open-air museums, which can reveal to the curious the mysteries of the history of fortification art.
The authors of the album tried to transmit to readers the idea that castles are not only valuable historical remainders and ‘historical documents in stone, but also imposing masterpieces of architectural art. The authors also hope that the pictures presented in the book will inspire the reader to embark on a fascinating tour around Ukraine’s castles and fortresses.