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Tovtry and Medobory — curious places that used to be the bottom of the sea
Volodymyr HRYPAS, a Ukrainian travel enthusiast, took trips across the part of Ukraine which is now known as Podillya, and which 15 to 20 million years ago was a sea; geologists call it the Sarmatian Sea.
I wanted to travel along the prehistoric barrier reef that runs for 250 kilometers across the Lands of Lvivshchyna, Ternopillya, Khmelnychchyna and Vinnychchyna.
In particular, I wanted to see the places called Tovtry and Medobory, which as I had found out doing some research, were considered to be very unusual natural landmarks, probably the most remarkable in Ukraine.
It turned out that within the time I allotted myself for the trip — a weekend — I failed to see both places, and had to take a second weekend trip to get a fuller picture.
Tovtry is a place in the vicinity of the villages of Chorna and Bila in Khmelnychchyna, dotted with hills which once used to be coral islands; Medobory is a place in the vicinity of the village of Vikno in Ternopilshchyna; hills in Medobory are mostly overgrown with trees.
Tovtry was chosen to be the first to visit. I find traveling by car the best way of seeing the land you travel through. I studied the maps and set out. On my way to Tovtry I saw ancient castles and fortresses which are typical sights in Podillya but I did not stop to have a better look — these landmarks deserve a separate trip.
My first stop was in the town of Letychiv in Khmelnytsky Oblast. In the early nineteenth century it was the center of a rebellious movement headed by Ustym Karmalyuk who later was often referred to as “a Ukrainian Robin Hood” (in fact, in the Ukrainian history there were several “good robbers” who were described as “Ukrainian Robin Hoods”). Near a fortress tower I discovered a monument to Karmalyuk who is buried in the same vicinity.
My next stop was at Medzhybizh, twenty kilometers away from Letychiv. There is only one other fortress in Podillya which is bigger and more impressive — it’s the one in Kamyanets-Podilsky. In the village of Sutkivtsi I saw a fortress that dates back from the fifteenth century but I did not spend much time taking a closer look and went on.
I left the village of Chorna at the end of the day. In the gathering dusk I could see ranges of hills which looked rather like miniature mountains than hills. Some of the hills looked like small volcanoes.
Early the next morning I arrived at Kamyanets-Podilsky where I parked the car, had a good breakfast and went on foot along the river Smotrych — I was advised it was the best way to see the Tovtry landmarks. At one point, my way was crossed by a massive range of hills that in fact was a barrier reef which millions years ago had been overgrown with corals. I climbed to the top of one of the hills, Sokil, and enjoyed stunning vistas stretching to the horizon. From that vintage point I saw that even yesterday I could have easily gotten to my destination, without making a detour.
The hills I was surrounded by used to be coral islands — atolls, which were located in what used to be a lagoon between the barrier reef and the mainland. Scanning the landscape I chose to get to a number of hills that stuck out from the surrounding plane. I was not sure I’d be able to easily reach my destination because the hills on the way looked challenging, even forbidding, and my mountain-climbing skills are not very good. But as I got closer, it turned out that what looked steep and high from the distance was in fact quite climbable hills. I even discovered a trodden path which took me where I wanted to get to. At the top of one of the hills — in fact, an ancient atoll — I spent some time, relaxing and having a picnic meal. It felt quite exotic — I imagined myself perched on the top of an atoll with waves of the Sarmatian Sea licking its slopes…
After lunch, I moved back to the canyon of the River Smotrych. At several places I saw springs with crystal-clear, very cold water in them; the air was permeated with the fragrances of herbs, the mint being the dominant smell.
Walking on, I saw the dark entrance to a cave, a little further away I saw another cave, a bigger one. These caves must have been used as shelters by the villagers of the nearby villages in the medieval times when enemies raided these lands. I did not risk exploring the caves though — the sun had already sunk low over the western horizon, and I did not think that spending the night in one of the caves was a very good idea. So I returned to Kamyanets-Podilsky for the night. When I was leaving for home, I knew there was still a lot that I wanted to see in that area.
Trip to Medobory
I took a trip to Medobory a week later. There was something luring in the very name of that place and I felt an urge to see it. I knew that the general area where Medobory was situated is very rich in flora and a part of it is a natural preserve.
This time I traveled not by car but by train. A night train took me to the station called Pidvolochysk; from there, in the morning, I hitchhiked for about twenty kilometers and got to a place where a hill known as Skala — “Rock” is situated. From there I moved along the Tovtry range of hills, with wonderful vistas opening on both sides. On the way to the town of Skalat I saw a recently restored castle of the seventeenth century. But I found the sight of a field of red poppies and other wild flowers that opened before me as I climbed one of the hills, probably even more exciting than the old castle.
The hill known as Hora Hostra Mohyla was the place I went to next and was rewarded with dramatic landscapes of Medobory opening from the tops of the hills I climbed. The hills in the distance looked like mountains rising from the green hills. They resembled the Crimean Mountains in miniature.
That day proved to be a tiring one. At the end of it I got to the village of Vikno, in whose vicinity Medobory looked particularly picturesque. The prominent Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko was known to come to Medobory in the early twentieth century, and some of the hills got nicknamed “Franko’s Rocks.” A part of Medobory, as I said, is a natural preserve — some of the plants growing there are hardly to be found anywhere else in Ukraine. One of such plants is neopalyma kupyna — “burning bush” (probably called this way because of the association with the burning bush from which, according to the Bible, God talked to Moses). Volatile oils that this bush releases into the atmosphere will burn for a moment if you hold a burning match close enough.
In the vicinity of the village of Vikno I discovered two charming lakes, not far from a small river. Also, I saw a chapel close by, at which, as I learnt later, religious services are held on the Feast of Vodokhreshchya — Baptism of Christ.
To cook my dinner, I got some water from one of the lakes — when I tasted it, it proved to be immensely delicious. From the place I camped at for my meal, I could see the hill Hora Hostra Mohyla silhouetted against the sky, and its top did look like a sharp pinnacle (Hostra Mohyla literally means — “Sharply Pinnacled Barrow”).
The last stop on my tour was the little town of Satanov, which is situated among the scenic hills at the River Zbruch. The town is known for its architectural landmarks and mineral waters with medicinal properties. I took a good look at the ruins of a castle that sits on a high point above the river. The defensive walls and four towers of the fourteenth and sixteenth century are well preserved. In ancient times, the defensive walls surrounded the whole town and some of those walls were connected with the walls of the castle. In the southern part of the town there still stands a gate that dates from the medieval times. And close to the gate I spotted a synagogue that also dates from ancient times.
By the end of the trip I knew I had to come back — and more than once.
Photos by the author
The map of my travels; it may be of some use
to those who will visit Medobory and Tovtry.
The Tovtry hills.
The fortress in Medzhybizh.
The waves of the primordial sea once
splashed against this rock.
The field where the poppies grow was the bottom
of the sea million years ago; the hills in
the distance were atolls then.
Letychiv; to the left of the tower — a monument
to Ustym Karmalyuk, a legendary Ukrainian
nineteenth-century “Robin Hood”.
A tower of the castle in Skalat under restoration.[Prev][Contents][Next]