Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle - One of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine
The Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle is a fortress located in the city of Kamianets-Podilskyi, in the western part of Ukraine. According to written sources, the city existed as early as the 12th century, while the castle was built at a later date, i.e. during the 14th century. The archaeological evidence, however, suggests that there was already a castle on the site at an earlier date.
Differing Historical and Archaeological Accounts
In any case, over the centuries, the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle was rebuilt several times. Additionally, the castle was an important defensive structure, and successfully withstood many attacks. The castle lost its defensive role around the end of the 18th century, and was subsequently converted into a prison. Today, the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle is an open-air historical museum.
Today, the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle is an open-air historical museum. (Goinyk /Adobe Stock)
The Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle is first mentioned in a document dated to the year 1374. This historical document belonged to Prince George Koriatovicha, the ruler of the Podolia region at that time. But based on the archaeological evidence obtained from the investigation of the site, it is possible that a castle already stood there between the 10th and 13th centuries. In any case, the original castle has not survived, as it was rebuilt a number of times over the centuries.
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Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle Only Fell to Enemies Twice!
The Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle rests on a limestone formation, which is reflected in its name, the root kamin’ being the Slavic word for ‘stone’. The castle was constructed on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Smotrych River, which provides it with a natural defensive system. This contributed greatly to the castle’s defensive capabilities, so much so that it gained a reputation of being impregnable. As a matter of fact, it is said that the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle fell to besiegers only twice in its long history.
The Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle fell to besiegers only twice in its long history. (Alex Green /Adobe Stock)
The first time the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle fell to enemy forces was in 1393. In that year, Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, invaded Podolia. When he heard of the Lithuanians’ arrival, the prince, Fyodor Koriatovicha, abandoned the castle, and fled to his brother’s court in the Principality of Moldovia. The prince’s flight dealt a heavy blow to the morale of the defenders, and Vytautas was able to easily capture the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle.
The second time the castle was captured by besiegers was in 1672, this time, by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans bombarded the castle continuously with artillery. Additionally, they dug tunnels under the defensive structure, and then blew the tunnels up, so as to undermine the castle’s foundations. Eventually, breaches were made in the castle’s defenses, and the Ottomans were able to enter the castle. The garrison, which was manned by Polish troops, surrendered, and thus the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle was captured for the second time.
View of the castle from southwest with the Old Castle (bottom right) and New Castle (top left). (Håkan Henriksson/CC BY 3.0)
In between 1393 and 1672, the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle was part of the Kingdom of Poland, and then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In fact, the castle did not remain in Vytautas’ hands for long, as he was forced to surrender it, and the nearby lands, to Władysław II Jagiełło, the King of Poland. Consequently, the castle became a significant and strategic stronghold on the eastern frontier of Poland.
The Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle played an important role not only in the defense of Poland, but also in the defense of Christendom, as it bordered lands controlled by the Muslims, first the Tatars, and then the Ottomans. Indeed, during the 17th century, the latter attempted to capture the castle on several occasions. In 1621, for instance, Sultan Osman II decided to withdraw his troops from the walls of the castle, as he did not wish to risk storming the castle, seeing that his cannons were unable to damage the fortifications.
As befitting the strategic importance of the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle, it was rebuilt and fortified during its history. During the 15th and 16th centuries, for instance, a number of the castle’s towers were built thanks to donations from wealthy nobles. The towers were subsequently named after their benefactors. The most impressive of these towers is the Pope’s Tower, named as such due to the fact that it was funded by Pope Julius II.
The Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle towers are named after their benefactors. (DiscoverWithDima/CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Many Uses of Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle
In 1793, the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle, along with the Podolia region, became part of the Russian Empire, following the Second Partition of Poland. Consequently, the castle lost its defensive purpose. During the early 19th century, the castle was turned into a prison. One of the castle’s most famous inmates was Ustym Karmalyuk, a 19th century Ukrainian folk hero. As he was imprisoned in the Pope’s Tower, this structure became known also as the Karmalyuk Tower.
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During World War I, the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle served as the headquarters of the Russian army. Between the two World Wars, in 1928, the castle was turned into an open-air historical museum. Nevertheless, the major restoration of the castle was only carried out after World War II. The castle is considered to be one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Ukraine’, and was nominated in 1989 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The castle is considered to be one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Ukraine.’ (Arsgera /Adobe Stock)
Today, the Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle continues to function as an open-air museum, with military and historical re-enactments. During the summers, the castle’s courtyard have been used as a venue for concerts. Tickets are required for entry into the castle.
Top image: The Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle in Ukraine. Source: Leonid Andronov /Adobe Stock
By Wu Mingren
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