A trip back to Kyivan Rus
When Mykhailo Rozhko brought his art students to this scenic spot in Lviv Oblast to paint, he discovered the remains of a fortress that was the principle gatekeeper along a trade route that led through the medieval kingdom of Kyivan Rus for nearly four centuries.
Perched atop a sheer cliff, Tustan was a log fortress, built onto natural rock formations, that flourished from the 9th to 13th centuries. The height of the main building was estimated at 17.5 meters, housing five stories in its heyday.
Today, after 33 years of painstaking archaeological digs and research, experts have reconstructed the life and times of the uniquely constructed fortress.
The story of Tustan’s rediscovery is a father-and-son tale of dedication to uncovering and understanding a part of modern Ukraine’s past.
Rozhko set about studying the grooves and slots used to attach the wooden fortress to the rock, as well as overseeing archaeological digs.
A painting of how the fortress presumably looked in the 9th century. (www.tustan.com.ua)
He established a small museum on the site, which is now a historical-cultural preserve, displaying artifacts discovered during digs, including tiles, arrow heads and shoe leather. It also boasts drawings of how Tustan changed over the centuries, as well as the reconstruction of a fortress chamber.
Rozhko’s son, Vasyl, took up his father’s work after his death in 2004. His role has been to bring Tustan to life. An architect by training, the younger Tustan initially planned to work on commercial projects.
When his father became gravely ill and could no longer devote his energy to Tustan, Rozhko realized his own passion for the fortress.
“I didn’t want to take over out of obligation,” he said.
Because of environmental and safety concerns, in recent years Rozhko has installed a wooden walkway around the principle rock formation – visitors used to scale up a steep hillside to reach the top of the cliff, destroying vegetation – as well as a viewing deck at the top of the cliff.
The preserve is financed by government contributions, ticket sales and a small souvenir shop.
Nothing remains of the wooden fortress that dominated the surrounding Carpathians, but scars in the rock point to its unusual construction.
“It is a unique fortress of world heritage,” said Mykola Bevz, head of the architecture department at Lviv’s Politechnic University. There are only three other similar fortress sites known in Europe.
“Tustan was part of the defensive complex of the Carpathian Mountains,” said Rozhko. “It was at the center of the transit corridor.”
That route ran through the spine of medieval Kyivan Rus, a group of principalities spread across modern Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia that recognized the primacy of Kyiv.
“Tustan let traders stay overnight. It was a safe place in the defensive complex of the Carpathians,” Rozhko explained.
Tustan was an effective outpost; the fortress could warn, or be warned, of enemies within a 300 kilometer radius.
Rozhko conducted an experiment recently to determine how well its warning system worked. Groups of individuals lit fires at 17 points that had historically been used in the region to send signals.
“They had three types of signals,” he noted. “The first was smoke during the day and fire at night. You could see the signals at 10-12 kilometers.”
When visibility was bad, a horn was used to send warnings instead.
Tustan was self sustaining; along with stored food stocks, inhabitants were able to get water from wells that remained hidden from enemies. Although one of them is difficult to reach right now, Rozhko is planning to build a wooden pathway to make it easily accessible.
He also hopes to bring Internet access to Urych, which is a tiny community without a village council. He has put considerable effort into making Urych a viable eco-tourist destination; recently he stopped the construction of an illegal hotel that would have destroyed Tustan’s panoramic view.
He has started a newsletter explaining to villagers not only the history of Tustan, but the architectural heritage of their homes and how other communities have profited by bringing history back to life.
As part of that effort, Tustan has started to hold an annual festival where for several days individuals gather and live like their medieval counterparts did, including wearing clothing from that era, cooking their own food and providing their own shelter.
He has already reconstructed several weapons that were used in the defense of Tustan, including a huge contraption which throws rocks.
During this year’s festival, to be held August 5-7, Rozhkov hopes to hold a light show that will superimpose the image of the fortress on the cliffs.
Because public transportation is not yet developed in the region, Urych and Tustan are best reached by car, or with an organized tour. For those going by car, take the highway toward Stryi. Bypassing the city, head toward Dubyna where road signs show the way to Urych and Tustan.
The road can be dicey. Regular tours are available through various Lviv tourist agencies. For those hoping to reaching the fortress by bus, take the Lviv bus headed toward Sopit, and then walk or hitch the five-kilometer ride to Urych.
The Tustan museum is open 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. daily. Entrance is Hr 5 for adults, Hr 2 for others. Tours are Hr 20. Entrance to the Tustan preserve is Hr 10 for adults, and Hr 5 for others. Free tours are held around the site on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays every 45 minutes from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.
20 June 2011 KyivPost