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Common board – common heritage

New look on Polish and Turkish castles on Dniester


Although the origins of the village and then town located at the confluence of the Dniester and the Zhvanchik go back to the 15th century, the castle in Zhvanets was built as late as at the beginning of the 17th century by Walenty Kalinowski, General Starost of Podolia in the years 1614-1620. It was probably erected due to an increasing threat from the Ottoman Empire as well as constant attacks of brigands from Moldavia. Not much is known about the original form of the complex – it was located on a rocky promontory at the confluence of the Karmelitanka Stream and the Zhvanchik River. It was a masonry structure, built on a pentagonal plan. At the north corner, there was a pentagonal tower, and at the other corners, there were probably similar, pentagonal or quadrilateral towers and demi-bastions, all of them connected with a wall. In the south-west wall, there was a gate tower. Zhvanets itself was soon taken over as Kalinowski’s sister Barbara’s dowry by Jan Lanckoroński, Standard-bearer of Podolia, and remained the property of this family until the 18th century.

It is clearly visible that the fortress was supposed to be mainly a point of resistance to Tatar invasions or brigand raids, and was not prepared for a regular siege. Still, it played an enormous role during the Khotyn campaign in 1621. Although the troops of Prince Władysław marching towards the Khotyn camp completely plundered and burnt down the settlement on 30 August, the castle remained intact. Then, the fortalice with a Polish garrison fulfilled a very important function during the siege of the Khotyn camp, namely, it was there that supply convoys from Kamyanets-Podilsky took shelter from the Tatars on their way to the Polish-Lithuanian-Cossack army. If the army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had not kept Zhvanets, the troops of Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz and Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachnyi would probably not have withstood such a long siege. Having signed a peace with the Porte, the prince himself came to the Zhvanets castle on 13 October.

A period of relative peace in Podolia in the 1630s and 1640s was favourable for the development of the settlement as an important point on the trade route between the Moldavian Iași and Kamyanets-Podilsky. Therefore, as early as in 1646, Zhvanets was granted Magdeburg law by Władysław IV.

Zhvanets entered the stage of history once again in 1653, when the Crown army under the command of King Jan Kazimierz made a camp on the plain between the Zhvanchik and the Dniester. The main task of the Polish side was to prevent the Cossack-Tatar army of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and İslâm III Giray from relieving the son of the Cossack hetman, Tymofiy (Tymish), who was besieged in Suceava by the joined Polish-Transylvanian-Wallachian forces. Therefore, the Crown army headed for Podolia. A siege sensu stricto of the Polish camp did not happen (in the meantime, the Cossack troops in Suceava were forced to surrender and Tymish himself was killed), but the Tatars and Cossacks blocked the Polish army and due to supply problems, Jan Kazimierz was forced to negotiations with the enemy.

During the next war with the Ottoman Empire in 1672, a small Polish troop in Zhvanets did not even try to resist the army of Mehmed IV. On 30 July, the castle was captured by janissaries (the garrison fled to Kamyanets-Podilsky) and then garrisoned with 1500 Turkish soldiers. One year later, the troops of Grand Hetman of the Crown Jan Sobieski set out to Podolia against the Turks in order to revoke the arrangements of the peace in Buchach. The Ottoman commanders were reportedly afraid that some burgesses in Kamyanets-Podilsky secretly wanted to let the Polish-Lithuanian troops into the town. Therefore, the leaders of the alleged plot were to be taken away from Kamyanets-Podilsky and imprisoned at the Zhvanets castle. Several days after the battle of Khotyn (11 November 1673), Sobieski’s troops captured Zhvanets and freed the prisoners. The grand hetman of the Crown garrisoned Khotyn and Zhvanets with strong infantry and cavalry troops in order to block the Turkish garrison of Kamyanets-Podilsky, but in winter a part of the forces left their positions, and when the Ottoman troops attacked both the castles defended by Lieutenant Colonel Jan Magnus von Ochapp at the end of June 1674, the Poles were forced to surrender.

Due to the war, Zhvanets became depopulated, and during the Ottoman rule, the castle fell into ruin because it did not have a permanent garrison. The Turks preferred to concentrate their forces in better fortified castles, such as Bar, Medzhybizh or Kamyanets-Podilsky itself. No wonder that the Zhvanets castle did not play an important role during the next war between Poland and Turkey. In 1684, King Jan III Sobieski and his army camped near Zhvanets at the location of the old camp of Jan Kazimierz and tried to cross the Dniester (a surge of water in the river caused a pontoon bridge to sink, then Sobieski planned to cross it next to the confluence of the Dniester and the Seret, where later the Rampart of the Virgin Mary was erected). Finally, in 1692, the king and Hetman Stanisław Jabłonowski planned to build modern fortifications in place of the Zhvanets castle, which would block Kamyanets-Podilsky, but for various reasons including a dreadful condition of the fortifications in Zhvanets, Hetman Jabłonowski built this fortress (called the Ramparts of the Holy Trinity) a little further to the west, at the confluence of the Zbruch and the Dniester.

After the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, Zhvanets was recovered by the Lanckoroński family, who rebuilt the town (where a large group of Armenian merchants settled) and the castle. In the second half of the 18th century, a border post of the national cavalry subordinate to the commanding officer of Kamyanets-Podilsky was placed in Zhvanets. The last military episode in the history of the Zhvanets castle happened in 1769. In December 1768, Zhvanets was garrisoned with confederation troops driven from Bar under the command of Franciszek Pułaski (whose more famous brother, Kazimierz, got into position in the Ramparts of the Holy Trinity at the same time). In March 1769, Zhvanets was attacked by Russian troops, and after a short battle, the confederates had to retreat to the Turkish fortress in Khotyn. In May, probably trying to exacerbate the supply situation of the Russian army preparing for a siege of the Turkish fortress in Khotyn, the Turks attacked Zhvanets, burnt down the town and killed some of its inhabitants, including the local Roman-Catholic curate, Rev. Kazimierz Grużecki.

Since the end of the 18th century, the castle gradually fell into ruin, although it was the seat of the administration of the local landed estates at the beginning of the 19th century. What has been preserved to the present day is remains of three towers (the north riverside tower is in the best state of preservation).


Based on:

L. Podhorodecki, Kampania chocimska 1621 r. (The 1621 Khotyn Campaign), “Studia i Materiały do Historii Wojskowości” (Studies and Materials on the History of Military Science), Vol. X-XI (1964-1965).

A.J. [Rolle], Zameczki podolskie na kresach multańskich (The Podolian Castles in the Muntenian Borderlands), vol. III, Warszawa 1880.

M. Wagner, Kampania żwaniecka 1684 roku (The 1684 Zhvanets Campaign), Warszawa 2013.

Id., Wojna polsko-turecka 1672–1676 (The Polish-Turkish War of 1672-1676), Vol. I–II, Zabrze 2009. 

Autorzy zdjęć/grafik:Krystian Trela (8) - w sumie 8.