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Common board – common heritage

New look on Polish and Turkish castles on Dniester


The first fortress on the Dniester situated at the location of the present Moldovan town Soroca was probably erected by Genoese merchants in the 12th or 13th century and called Olihonia (from the previous Byzantine name). This settlement was a part of the system of Genoese trading posts on the northern coast of the Black Sea including such towns as Balaclava and Caffa in Crimea as well as Tana at the mouth of the Don River (present-day Azov). Near Soroca, the route connecting the areas on the Danube with those on the Dnieper crossed the Dniester. Moreover, the river could be used to float goods to Bilhorod on the Black Sea, which was Genoese as well.

It is not known when exactly the colony fell, but in 1489, in place of the ruins of the old Genoese town, Hospodar Ștefan the Great of Moldavia built a stone castle in order to protect the strategic crossing. Since 1499 at the latest, a Moldavian pârcălab (governor) resided there. In this period, the settlement was given the name Soroca (from Romanian sărac – poor man, it was probably named after people forced to hide from the invading Tatars and Turks in caves on the Dniester River). In the years 1543–1546, the castle was converted by Hospodar Petru Rareș and was given the present form, namely, a rotunda with a courtyard in the middle, four round towers and a four-sided gate tower. At that time, Soroca became one of the most important centres of eastern Moldavia.

In the 17th century, the crossing near Soroca was used several times by armies operating in this region e.g. by the Cossacks in 1653 and by the Turks during the war against Moscow in the years 1674–1681. During the so-called great Turkish war in 1691, King Jan III Sobieski of Poland decided to capture Soroca. It seemed a reasonable move for several reasons. Firstly, it would confirm the Polish rule in northern Moldavia (after capturing Suceava, Dragomirna and Câmpulung). Secondly, Soroca was a convenient base for further offensive in the direction of the areas on the lower Dniester and the Budjak steppes. Finally, the Polish garrison at Soroca would be one of the points in the blockade ring around Kamyanets-Podilsky. In September 1691, when the main Polish-Lithuanian forces under the command of the monarch entered north-western Moldavia, a concentration of Crown troops and the Zaporozhian Cossacks under the command of Colonel Stanisław Zygmunt Druszkiewicz, Castellan of Chełm, attacked Soroca and captured it with no great difficulty (the Turkish garrison was out of the castle). Then, the Zaporozhian Cossacks went south and ravaged Tatar uluses in Budjak.

It was difficult for the army of the Commonwealth to keep Soroca. Firstly, the castle was located far away from other Polish garrisons, which caused supply difficulties. Secondly, the fortress was in a lamentable condition and required immediate construction work. In January 1692, Colonel Christoph von Rappe, the commander of his brother, Major General Otto Ernest von Rappe’s infantry regiment, became the commandant of the fortress. His garrison was composed of his unit, Wallachian squadrons of Piotr Drocienko and Bazyli Sinica as well as 500 Cossacks and artillery. Moreover, Rappe received a certain amount of money for fortification work. The Polish garrison was to receive supplies through Nemyriv or Suceava and Sniatyn. But the most convenient supply route was the Dniester and, partly in order to secure the waterway to Soroca, the grand hetman of the Crown decided to erect the Ramparts of the Holy Trinity and the Rampart of the Virgin Mary. Probably as early as in February, Adjutant General Franciszek Gałecki, Royal Chef of the Crown, delivered the first supply shipment to the fortress.

In the summer of 1692, Rappe built new ramparts around an area adjacent to the castle and dug a new well. It proved crucial for the further fate of the garrison because in Autumn, Daltaban Mustafa, Pasha of Ochakiv, decided to take Soroca over from Poland. On 27 September, Turkish-Tatar-Moldavian forces laid siege to the fortress. The Polish commander defended it skilfully by retreating first from the Old Town and then New Town (having set them on fire) and by making frequent sorties against the Ottoman troops. On 9 October, the Turkish commander sent his forces to storm the newly built fortifications. Despite initial success (the Turks hoisted three flags on the ramparts already), the attack was repulsed and the troops of the Porte ended the siege. In the end, the Turks and Tatars were to lose about 2 thousand people and six flags and the Polish garrison 150 people (out of the original 600 soldiers). What contributed to the success was the fact that to the relief of Soroca, Hetman Jabłonowski sent Druszkiewicz’s troops (although they did not reach the fortress) and a cavalry unit of Wojciech Ciński, Pantler of Bratslav, which made a sabotage raid on the Budjak steppes. The effective defence of Soroca was one of the greatest Polish victories in the final period of the great Turkish war.

Opening the waterway to Soroca did not improve the supply situation of the fortress considerably but Maj. Brink who was substituting Rappe for some time was able to defend it from the Turks in the Autumn of the next year as well. In the end, Soroca remained in the Polish hands until the end of the war, constantly threatening Tatar settlements and Cossacks loyal to the Porte in Budjak (the raid of pro-Polish Cossacks under the command of Colonel Semen Paliy in 1694 in particular caused great losses to the subjects of the sultan). Only after the Treaty of Karlovitz (1699), the fortress was returned to Moldavia.

The town on the Dniester played a military role in the 18th century as well – it was captured by Russian troops twice, in 1711 and 1738. In 1812, under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest, Soroca was taken over by the tsar.


Based on:

Library of the Czartoryskis in Kraków, manuscript No. 2699.

The Library of the Ossoliński National Institute in Wrocław, manuscript No. 3003.

T. Ciesielski, Od Batohu do Żwańca: Wojna na Ukrainie, Podolu i o Mołdawię 1652–1653 (From Batoh to Zhvanets: the War in Ukraine, Podolia and for Moldavia 1652–1653), Zabrze 2007.

https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soroca (last access: 22 September 2014)

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Сороки_(город) (last access: 22 September 2014)

J.Krz [J. Krzywicki], Soroki (Soroca), [in:] Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries), ed. F. Sulmirski et al., Vol. XI, Warszawa 1890, p. 83–84.

K. Sarnecki, Pamiętniki z czasów Jana Sobieskiego: Diariusz i relacje z lat 1691–1696 (Memoirs from the Times of Jan Sobieski: a Diary and Accounts from the Years 1691–1696), ed. J. Woliński, Wrocław 1958.

M. Wagner, Rappe, Krzysztof (Rappe, Christoph), [in:] PSB (Polish Biographical Dictionary), Vol. XXX (1987), p. 591–592.

M. Wagner, Wojna polsko-turecka w latach 1672–1676 (The Polish-Turkish War in the Years 1672–1676), Vol. II, Zabrze 2010.

J. Wojtasik, Ostatnia rozprawa zbrojna z Turkami i Tatarami w 1698 r. (The Last Armed Conflict Against the Turks and Tatars in 1698), Part I, “Studia i Materiały do Historii Wojskowości” (Studies and Materials on the History of Military Science), Vol. XIII/1 (1967), p. 63–127.


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