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Medieval culture festival in Tustan


Natalya KOSMOLINSKA tells a story of one of the oldest fortresses of Ukraine and of the medieval culture festival held there.


The rocks and cliffs in the vicinity of the village of Urych, in Western Ukraine, situated not too far from the town of Truskavets and close to the Carpathian Mountains proper, are a tourist attraction  on top of these rocks there used to sit one of the oldest fortresses of Ukraine. Particularly many tourists come from the city of Lviv and also from Truskavets and its environs where people go to improve their health by drinking Truskavets mineral water with medicinal and curative properties.


Archeological evidence suggests that there were some sort of settlements in the vicinity of Urych at least five thousand years ago. The hunters must have climbed those rocks to pray to their gods and have a good look around.

Eleven hundred years ago, a fortress was built there. It was given the name of Tustan, probably, from the call Tu stan!  that is, stand here!, meaning: make a firm stand here and defend this place against enemies. The fortress was situated at a strategically important place which, in the medieval times, controlled the silk route from China to western Europe, and the export of salt from Eastern to Western Europe.

The earliest written mention about Tustan dates from the year 1303 in the chronicles compiled by the Polish chronicler Janek from Czarnakow, who wrote his works at the court of Kazimierz III the Great (Casimir III, 13101370, king of Poland from 1333 to 1370, called the Great because he was deemed a peaceful ruler, a peasant king, and a skillful diplomat; within his realm he unified the government, codified its unwritten law, endowed new towns with the self-government of the Magdeburg Law, and founded Polands first university).

By the end of the sixteenth century, when large deposits had been discovered in Europe, and imports of salt from the Prykarpattya had dwindled and then stopped altogether, the fortress of Tustan began to lose its strategic importance, and at one point it became just a thing of the past.

In the nineteenth century, historians and culture enthusiasts began to show an interest in Tustan and its history. Among such enthusiasts were Balthazar Gaket, a scientist and professor of Lviv University, Ivan Vahylevych, a poet and folklorist, and Oleksandr Cholovsky, a culture researcher. The prominent Ukrainian author Ivan Franko visited Urych and wrote, To the east of the village, there are signs on the great rocks that must have been left by an ancient, enigmatic civilization that had long disappeared. Who were the people who cut the signs into those rocks we do not know; neither do we know when it was done  I have not been able to discover any mention of the place in any of the historical works that I studied.

In 1971, a student of architecture Mykhailo Rozhko happened to visit Urych and the mysterious rocks, and was so fascinated with the place that he devoted himself to finding out whatever he could about the ancient fortress. The search he conducted, involving in it other enthusiasts, revealed about four thousand holes, grooves and other man-made marks on the rocks evidently left by the wooden fortification structures. Further examination of the rocks made it possible to reconstruct the appearance of the fortress  it had walls made of logs that rose to a height of about fifteen metres in some places, and of the buildings inside the fortress. Though examination of the rocks was conducted among the rocks that rise to a height of up to 70 metres above the ground, not a single accident ever happened there.

Mykhailo Rozhko must be credited with establishing a new branch of archaeology in Ukraine  archaeology in the rocks. His early reconstructions of the appearance of the fortress were done without the help of computers but even now, when so much more has been discovered and ascertained, the computer reconstructions show how precise were Rozhkos drawings.

Tustan has become a place which attracts those who are nationally minded, particularly among the young people of Lviv. Traditional Ukrainian songs acquire more significance and greater emotional depth when sung by the bonfire among the rocks of Tustan.

Tustan, with its special aura of history, has become a visible link with the past, and no wonder a festival of medieval Ukrainian culture, which was held there at the end of 2006, was a great success. The organizers thought that there would be about a thousand people who would want to come, but the number of people who did come to attend the festival was in excess of ten thousand. The village of Urych had never seen as many cars and buses that passed through it on the way to Tustan. The number of people attending the festival was much greater than the number of people living in the village.

Even the weather seemed to favour the festival  instead of the gloom and rain typical of that time of the year in those parts, the sun shone on the people gathered at the festival for two days in a row.

In between the mock fights and tournaments of the knights from many history reenactment clubs and societies from Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Khmelnytsky; Ukrainian medieval music was played (Lvivsky Menestreli, Rasa, and Burdan music groups performing) and traditional Ukrainian songs were sung.

Bohdan Revkevych, a theatre director and artistic director of the festival, staged a theatrical performance reenacting scenes from the past. Myroslava Rozhko, an artist, designed the costumes for the performers, which, in a stylized fashion, brought to life the appearance and dress of the Ukrainians of a thousand years ago.

A wooden model of the fortress was built and the storming of it at night proved to be the apex of the festival.

Says Vasyl Rozhko, the son of Mykhailo Rozhko, the Tustan enthusiast and director of the Tustan Historical and Cultural Preserve, Not everything at the festival went according to plan, but its success was determined by what has been achieved  and its a lot.


Photos by Oleh VVEDENSKY



Mock tournaments of knights
of the twenty-first century reenact
events of the medieval past.



Fortress Tustan used
to stand on these rocks.



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