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Common board – common heritage

New look on Polish and Turkish castles on Dniester


Khotyn is situated on the right (formerly Moldavian) bank of the Dniester River. The first stronghold in this place, controlling the crossing connecting the later Khotyn and Braha, at the confluence of the Dniester and a small stream, was probably built by Vladimir the Great, Duke of Kiev, at the end of the 10th century. It protected the south-western borderlands of Rus and the trade routes linking Kiev to the area on the Danube River. The stronghold was probably situated in the place of the north tower of the later castle. At the time of the fragmentation of Rus, Khotyn finally became part of the Principality of Halych-Volodymyr. It was the rulers of this principality, King Daniel of Halych and his son Lev, that built the masonry castle in the place of the old stronghold in the years 1250-1264. It was probably then that the stone seven-metre-high walls were erected and the moat was deepened. When Red Ruthenia was annexed by the Kingdom of Poland, Khotyn became one of the main centres of the so-called Land of Szepienice, an area between the Dniester and the upper reaches of the Prut and Cheremosh, at the time within the Polish sphere of influence. In 1388, King Władysław Jagiełło of Poland gave the Land of Szepienice to Petru I Muşat Hospodar of Moldavia. The castle of Khotyn became the seat of a pârcălab, a Moldavian governor. In the 15th century, the Land of Szepienice was a subject of Polish-Moldavian conflicts and changed hands several times.

The castle of Khotyn was rebuilt again in the reign of one of the most outstanding Moldavian monarchs Ștefan the Great, probably in the 1460s and 1470s. Building modern castles was one of the key elements of consolidating the power by Ștefan. Apart from Khotyn, he erected or rebuilt the castles in Suceava and Soroca. Italian craftsmen from Genoese Caffa were hired to help with construction work. The defensive walls were extended to a height of 40 m (they were 5-6 m thick). Five towers were erected and buildings in the extended courtyard underwent modernisation. As a result of the work, two residences came into existence – the princely one and the boyar one, and cellars were built under the courtyard. The castle (except for the south wall rebuilt in the 18th century) was given its modern form, became one of the seats of the hospodar and one of the most important fortresses in Moldavia. The fortifications of Khotyn were put to their first test as early as in the 1476. In the summer of this year, Ottoman forces defeated the army of Ștefan the Great in the battle of Războieni, attacked northern Moldavia and besieged the castles in Suceava, Neamț and Khotyn, but they did not manage to capture any of them. In 1487, Ștefan was forced to formally recognise the Turkish suzerainty. Maybe it was then that a garrison made of janissaries appeared in Khotyn for some time.

In 1509, the town of Khotyn was ravaged by Polish forces led by Mikołaj Kamieniecki, Grand Hetman of the Crown, which attacked Moldavia in retaliation for an earlier invasion of Red Ruthenia by Hospodar Bogdan the Blind. On 4 October, when Polish forces retreated from Suceava, they fought and won a battle near the castle of Khotyn. The Polish army appeared at the walls of Khotyn once again in 1538, when King Zygmunt the Old of Poland, with the approval of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, decided to dethrone Hospodar Petru Rareș of Moldavia, who was troublesome for both countries. On 17 August, Polish forces led by Jan Tarnowski, Grand Hetman of the Crown, laid siege to the castle of Khotyn. Tarnowski opened fire on the castle walls and started to dig underground tunnels. Rareș could not afford to lose the castle, so he hastened to the relief. However, due to the incursion of Turkish forces into southern Moldavia, he had to strike a deal with Tarnowski on 30 August. The hospodar relinquished all his territorial claims against Poland. The reconstruction of the castle after the damage related to the Polish siege may have involved extending the stronghold towards the south.

After 1561, Iacob Eraclide Despot, placed on the Moldavian throne with the help of a Polish magnate, Olbracht Łaski, pledged the castle of Khotyn to his benefactor to secure the repayment of the costs of the expedition that gave him the power. The hospodar did not want to pay his debt and in 1563, he took over the stronghold from Łaski. The ambitious magnate took advantage of the invasion of Iacob Eraclide’s lands by Prince Dmytro Vyshnevetsky, Hetman of Cossacks and a pretender to the Moldavian throne, to regain and garrison Khotyn in the same year. However, as early as in June 1564, King Zygmunt August of Poland forced Łaski to return the fortress to Moldavia so as not to strain relations with the Ottoman Porte, the suzerain of Moldavia. Khotyn played an important part in 1572 as well, when Hospodar Bogdan Lăpușneanu was overthrown by a boyar rebellion helped by the Turks. The ruler had to escape to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Zygmunt August decided to help him. It was favourable to Polish forces that a Pole loyal to the Hospodar, Marcin Dobrosołowski, managed to keep the castle of Khotyn. Thanks to this, the artillery from Khotyn reinforced Polish forces led by Mikołaj Mielecki. However, the expedition was not successful and on 13 April, the retreating Polish army was attacked by Moldavian-Turkish forces. Mielecki was not defeated, partly thanks to the help provided by the castle garrison. However, just as in 1564, Dobrosołowski had to surrender the stronghold to the new hospodar – Ioan the Terrible (called Ivonia) after he had sworn allegiance to Zygmunt August. Polish forces entered Khotyn once again in 1600, this time called by Hospodar Ieremia Movilă, driven from Iași and Suceava by Mihai Viteazu, Hospodar of Wallachia. Finally in 1615, Polish magnates – Princes Samuel Korecki and Michał Wiśniowiecki captured Khotyn during an expedition aimed at placing Alexandru Movilă on the Moldavian throne. It was only at the Peace of Busza (1617) that Poland pledged to return Khotyn to Moldavia. Nevertheless, as early as at the negotiations with the Ottoman Empire in 1634, Poland demanded that Khotyn be returned to it.

The castle of Khotyn is famous mainly for two 17th-century battles between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire fought just outside its walls in 1621 and 1673. However, literature on the subject of both events is so rich that it seems appropriate to just refer the reader to relevant works. The most complete studies so far are: L. Podhorodecki, Kampania chocimska 1621 r. (The 1621 Khotyn Campaign), “Studia i Materiały do Historii Wojskowości” (Studies and Materials on the History of Military Science), Vol. X-XI (1964–1965) and M. Wagner, Wojna polsko-turecka 1672–1676 (The Polish-Turkish War of 1672-1676), Vol. I–II, Zabrze 2009. 

In the spring of 1653, once again a hospodar driven from Iași (the capital of Moldavia at the time) took refuge at Khotyn. This time it was Vasile Lupu, father-in-law of Tymofiy Khmelnytsky. However, very soon, the hospodar escaped with his retinue to the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the castle was captured by Transylvanian forces supporting the new hospodar, Gheorghe Ştefan.

A less known episode in the history of the fortress is its defence by a Polish garrison under Lieutenant Jan Magnus von Ochapp in the spring of 1674. Ochapp garrisoned the castles in Khotyn and Zhvanets as well as the fortifications of the former Turkish camp (near Khotyn), but without reinforcements from the main Polish forces, he had to capitulate at the end of June. Polish forces captured Khotyn ten years later as well, when King Jan III of Poland tried to get his troops across the Dniester to Moldavia near Zhvanets, but after the campaign, the Poles abandoned the castle. As a result of building the Ramparts of the Holy Trinity in 1692, Poland was no longer interested in capturing Khotyn.

The significance of the castle in Khotyn dwindled in the 2nd half of the 17th century, because the fortifications were already very outdated. On the other hand, Turkish experiences related to almost 30 years of possessing Kamyanets-Podilsky showed that a strong Ottoman military presence in the middle Dniester region was an effective means of keeping a tight rein on the Hospodar of Moldavia. Moreover, the expedition of Tsar Peter the Great to Moldavia in 1711 made the Ottoman Empire realise the necessity of strengthening its north border. As a result, Khotyn with the adjacent area was taken away from Moldavia and brought under direct Turkish control in the same year. In the years 1712–1718, modern bastion fortifications were built around the castle under the supervision of French engineers.

In the 18th century, Khotyn was besieged and captured three times: in 1739 and 1769 by Russian forces and in 1788 by Habsburg forces. Moreover, in the years 1768-1769, the castle offered support and refuge to Bar confederates fighting with the Russian army in Podolia. As a result of the Treaty of Bucharest (1812), the Russian Empire took possession of Khotyn and the whole Bessarabia. The Russian army kept using it for some time. Nowadays, the castle and the fortress, in a very good state of preservation, are one of the best tourist attractions on the Dniester.



                        Jan Jerzy Sowa 

The University of Warsaw 






Based on: 

J. Demel, Historia Rumunii (The History of Romania), Warszawa 1986.

D. Kołodziejczyk, Podole pod panowaniem tureckim: Ejalet kamieniecki 1672–1699 (Podolia under the Turkish Rule: the Eyalet of Kamyanets-Podilsky), Warszawa 1994.

S. Koniecpolski, Korespondencja Stanisława Koniecpolskiego hetmana wielkiego koronnego 1632–1646 (Correspondence of Stanisław Koniecpolski, Grand Hetman of the Crown 1632-1646), ed. A. Biedrzycka, Kraków 2005.

D. Milewski, Rywalizacja polsko-kozacka o Mołdawię w dobie powstania Bohdana Chmielnickiego (1648–1653) (The Polish-Cossack Competition for Moldavia at the Time of the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648–1653) , Zabrze 2011.

M. Plewczyński, Wojny i wojskowość polska w XVI wieku (Polish Wars and Military in the 16th Century), Vol. I - II, Zabrze – Tarnowskie Góry 2011–2012.

L. Podhorodecki, Stanisław Żółkiewski, Warszawa 1988.

M. Wagner, Kampania żwaniecka 1684 roku (The 1684 Zhvanets Campaign), Warszawa 2013.

Id., Wojna polsko-turecka 1672–1676 (The Polish-Turkish War of 1672-1676), Vol. I–II, Zabrze 2009.

http://uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Хотинська_фортеця (last access: 20 August 2014).

Autorzy zdjęć/grafik:Krystian Trela (12) - w sumie 22.