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History of Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle

The first accounts of Kamianets-Podilskyi and the castle, which date back to the 12th century, appear in the chronicles of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. Unfortunately, in the mid-13th century the Golden Horde marched across the Principality like a devastating wind. As a result, the wooden castle was destroyed and the city was sacked. For more than a century Kamianets and other Podolian settlements belonged to Mongolian Khans, who designated their beklyarbeks to govern them. The victory against the Tatars in the Battle of Blue Waters in 1362, won by Duke Algirdas of Lithuania, was a milestone in the history of Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress. His relatives, four Koriatovych brothers, took possession of the fortress. In the time of the Koriatovych family this fortress looked different than it does today although it was a well-fortified stronghold which consisted of several towers protected by the surrounding stone wall with arrowslits. There was a garrison and housing for the Duke and the city's starost within the castle. The city which was established around Podolia Fortress developed and expanded rapidly, becoming a huge agricultural and trade centre of Podolia. In 1374 Dukes Koriatovyches, who were allies of the Polish king at that time, granted Magdeburg rights to the city. These rights were in effect under the rule of Polish monarchs as well.

In 1393 Duke Vytautas of Lithuania conquered the territory of Podolia. As a result, Fyodor Koriatovych had to flee to his brother in the Principality of Moldovia to save his own life. Confusion and anxiety occurred in the garrison. The governor, who was in the castle, was no longer able to raise the garrison's spirits. That is why in the autumn of 1393 Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress was taken by Vytautas's army almost effortlessly. However, Vytautas was not destined to rule over the Lithuanians in Kamianets for long. King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland forced Vytautas to give him the nearby lands and the castle, which soon became one of the most important outposts on the Turkish and Tatar route.

In 1434, when the long-standing conflict between Poland and Lithuania ended, Kamianets-Podilskyi became the main city of the Podolia Province. A huge stronghold was necessary to protect Christianity at the eastern border of Poland. Some of the castle's towers were built in the 15th-16th century thanks to the funds given by various titled personages and influential noblemen. The following towers were later named after them: the Tenchynska Tower, Lanckorońska Tower, Laska Tower. The most impressive of them is the Pope's Tower; it was funded by Pope Julius II. In the early 17th century fortifications were built to defend the city and the Old Castle against long-range cannons which were already in use in battles at that time. Between 1617 and 1621 fortifications designed by military engineer Teodor Szomberg by order of Sigismund III Vasa were constructed in Kamianets-Podilskyi. They were earth embankments strengthened by bastions and covered with stones. They were surrounded by a deep ditch which was also covered with stones. These huge fortifications through which cannonballs could not go impressed Sultan Osman II so much that he did not take the risk of storming the building and withdrew his troops in 1621.

In 1633 Mehmed Abaza Pasha was defeated before the walls of Podolia Fortress even though the allied Ottoman forces included the Tatars with Moldovan prince Kantemir's troops. Between 1648 and 1655 Ukrainian and Cossack forces led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky made some unsuccessful attempts to capture this impregnable stronghold. However, two decades later Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress was conquered by combined forces of Turks and Tatars, joined by Hetman Doroshenko's Cossack army.

In August 1672 the Turkish army thousands strong began to besiege Kamianets; at that time the Old Castle and the fortress's embankments were under constant fire. Additionally, the Turks managed to dig tunnels under the New Castle. They blew them up using powder barrels and conquered these impregnable fortifications. After those events the fate of the small Polish garrison was sealed: the Turks dug under the towers and the fortress's walls day by day, trying to storm their way to the building through the breaches made by the explosion. The siege of the castle ended as the garrison surrendered – that was the second and the last time when Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress was taken by enemies.

When the fighting ended, the fortress's walls trembled from a large explosion which led to approximately 800 deaths and the destruction of a few towers. Out of despair, the artillery major barricaded himself in the Powder Magazine where he set fire to a powder barrel, and another 120 on his way. Also Col. Jerzy Volodyovski died in the explosion. As a result, he became the prototype for the main character of «Fire in the Steppe», a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz which describes in detail the defence of Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress.

When the Treaty of Karlowitz was signed in 1699, Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress was part of Poland again. Although its defensive function was no longer so important, no funds for the rebuilding of its military power were spared. In the early 18th century English master Archibald de Gleyden was drafted in to strengthen the building and alter the older fortifications. Later, Jan de Witte and Christian Dahlke also worked in Kamianets. In the second half of the 18th century the castle's arsenal was significantly improved; it included more than 220 cannons. After the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, Kamianets-Podilskyi became part of the Russian Empire and the great fame of this old castle was lost. In the early 19th century there was a prison within the walls of the fortress and a century later, during World War I, the Podolian castle housed the headquarters of the Russian army. In 1928 the Old Castle and some other buildings became an open-air historical museum. However, the major restoration of the fortress started much later, i.e. after World War II.