Khortytsya – the heart of Zaporizhzhya Sich

Zaporozhye. Part 1: Khortytsia – the island of legends.

The culmination of my trip to Zaporozhye as a historical region was a visit to Zaporozhye as a city. Even before my arrival I heard that the beauty of Zaporozhye is very much underestimated, but I did not expect that to be so.

It took me a day and a half to explore the city, but I didn’t have time to do everything. The story of Zaporozhye will consist of three parts: Khortytsia Island, Sotsgorod and Old Town. And we will begin, of course, with the island of Khortytsya – one of the most beautiful places in eastern Ukraine.

Khortytsia is the largest island on the Dnieper. Its length – 12 kilometers, width 2-4 kilometers. The shores of the island are high and rocky, and from above the approaches to it were blocked by a rapids – the last of the nine great Dnieper rapids, the “cascade” of which began near the current Dnepropetrovsk (hence the name Zaporozhye). To the left and bottom of the Khortitsa were impassable floodplains, and the narrow and fast Old Dnieper to the right was well shot. Thus, the Khortytsia was a natural fortress, and in this capacity was used by many peoples.

Today on its doorstep stands the Dnieper hydropower plant, a legend of Soviet industrialization. They say its construction is not welcomed by the inhabitants of the villages on the rapids, not only because of flooding, but also because for centuries the most profitable profession here has been piloting.

But the rocks of Khortytsia are still impregnable. The island went down in history primarily due to the Zaporizhian Sich – the “capital” of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. The first fortifications were built here in 1553 by the Cherkassy and Kanevsky Prince Vyshnevetsky (Buida). Initially the fortifications were placed on the small island of Malaya Khortitsa, but later they were relocated to the “main” island. With Khortytsia was associated with the “golden age” of Ukrainian Cossacks, which ended in 1775 with the defeat of the Zaporizhian Sich.

Modern Khortytsia is a very beautiful place. Unusual nature, which seems to be virgin (and in the protected meadows it is), amazing views of Zaporozhye with its factories, a wild combination of industry and nature and numerous extremely effective “reconstructions” are added up here in a unique picture.

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We entered the island by the north bridge, and headed along the shore to the south. Almost everything interesting on Khortytsia is located near the shores of the Dnieper, and the inland areas are occupied by forests of amazing fantasy look. And from the coast, in addition, there are very interesting views.

Dnieper Hydropower Plant is one of the most striking elements of the landscape of Khortytsia. Once there was a rapids in its place the entire width of the Dnieper, reliably protecting the island from the north. In 1932 the threshold was obstructed by a hydroelectric power plant – it was the first hydroelectric power plant of this scale in the USSR, and in some ways all three great Soviet cascades – the Dnieper, the Volga-Kama and the Angara-Yenisei – are its “descendants”.

The Dnieper hydropower plant is more than 700 meters long and more than 60 meters high, with about the same water drop. Very beautiful is its smooth curve. During the war, the Dnieper hydropower plant was blown up during the retreat, and after the war it was recreated.

In front of the dam – the characteristic rocks, which probably crashed into a lot of ships over 1500 years. In the direction of the Dnieper hydroelectric power station is the highest part of Khortytsia – the so-called Black Rock. According to legend, on this place in 972 Prince Svyatoslav Igorevich – father of Vladimir Krasnoye Solnyshko and one of the greatest Russian rulers of the pagan period, who was feared by Byzantines and Bulgarians, died in a battle with Pechenegs.

According to the legend (possibly modern), this menhir stands on the same place:

To the water from here – 50-70 meters, which means – a beautiful overview. As on the palm of your hand is the Dnieper hydroelectric power station and the center of Zaporozhye, hidden by the greenery, behind which rise the giant pipes of the industrial zone.

The industrial zone is a real attraction of Zaporozhye. I have come across a statement that it is the largest industrial zone of the former Soviet Union by area – about 5×5 kilometers. But I will talk about the industrial zone another time, in the part about Sotsgorod, which is visible at its foot.

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The last pictures were taken not even from the Black Rock itself, but from this hill or mound.

The title shot is also taken from it – you can see perfectly reconstructed Zaporizhzhya Sich. At the foot of the mound is the grave of Peter Kalnyshevsky. At least this is written about it on the memorial stone:

Again, however, I have doubts about the authenticity. Peter Kalnyshevsky is the last ataman of the Cossacks. He was born in 1691, became ataman of the Cossacks only in 1765, successfully fought the Turks, and after the defeat of the Zaporizhian Sich was exiled to the Solovki, where he spent 15 years in prison, coming out only 3 times a year. Kalnishevsky was freed by decree of Alexander I, but could not leave Solovki and died there at age 112. In general, it is difficult to believe it: to be born before the accession of Peter the Great, and die in the Napoleonic era. And it is even more incomprehensible how the grave of the last ataman could be here, when he died not far from the Arctic Circle.

In general, Khortytsia is a special place. There are a lot of reconstructions here, but the reconstructions are so convincing, that one wants to believe in the legends, and to check the information and boring facts – not so much. Khortytsia is an island of legends, not history.

And here is another view of the Dnieper Hydropower Plant from the very bank of the Dnieper:

At night the Dnieper hydroelectric power plant is beautifully illuminated – but I didn’t have the strength to wait for darkness. However, Zaporozhye at night is a separate topic, and it is worth to come back here for some sights that are impossible during the day. But about it – separately.

A couple of views over the Dnieper. For example, the Soviet Palace of Pioneers:

Or a residential complex, for its shape received the nickname Drunken House.

And we go out to Zaporizhzhya Sich, or rather its reconstruction.

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Here we should say a little about Zaporizhzhya Cossacks. The ancestors of the Cossacks were “free people”, who for centuries escaped from the state oppression in the Wild Field: runaway peasants, rebels, criminals. The first mention of the Cossacks in the Russian chronicles dates back to 1444, in the Polish chronicles – to 1493, when the voivode Bogdan Glinsky, nicknamed Mamay, seized the Turkish fortress of Ochakov. At that time, when the Ottoman Empire was in its heyday – a feat unheard of. Cossack Mamai is considered the “point of reference” of the Cossacks.

In the 16th century, the first Cossack “armies” were formed almost simultaneously on the Dnieper, Don and Yaik. In fact, these “armies” were military states. The possessions of the Cossacks (aka Ponizovtsy) were called “kosh” (i.e., “nomadic”), and the cities were called “sech”, that is, the most correct translation, “ostrog”. Zaporizhian Sich was one of several sich in the Cossack kosh. In general, the historical organization of the Zaporozhian army is a very interesting topic, and it does not fit into one post. It would be easier to give link to Wikipedia.

In 1775, Zaporizhian Sich was destroyed by Potemkin. There were many reasons for this: the fact that the Cossacks were quickly transformed into robbers after the fall of the Crimea, and the personal ambitions of Potemkin, who wanted undivided power over Novorossia. One way or another, in 1775 Zaporozhian Cossacks were expelled beyond the Danube, where they founded the Zadunayskaya Sich, and in 1792 Cossacks returned to Russia, and are still known as Kuban Cossacks.

The present Sich is a reconstruction built a few years ago. I don’t know how reliable it is – but it is extremely convincing! As it was already told, Khortitsa is an island of legends, and one does not want to think that all this is not fake.

Even the Pokrovsky Cathedral – the first church of Zaporizhzhya Sich, built in 1576 and standing for 200 years – has been reconstructed. The Cossacks were noted for their extreme religiosity and did not allow any non-Christians into the Sich. And although in 1775 their cathedral was burned, and in 1792, when Golovaty founded the first stanitsa Kuban Taman, there was also built a new church – the Church of the Intercession.

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For me the reconstruction of Zaporizhian Sich seems to be the most successful example of reconstruction of a wooden fortress I have seen. Someone thought to avoid even the most common mistake – calibrated logs! And it was necessary to recreate something like that.

From the Secchi the way lay further south along some narrow, very picturesque trails, and at times we saw this:

Three masts – the poles of the power lines across the Dnieper. Their size is prohibitive – compare with the trees at the foot! Often we went down to the forest, which here is very beautiful, quite a fantasy look:

Somewhere in this forest is a reconstruction of the temple, but we stumbled almost by accident at the reconstructed sanctuary of the Bronze Age in a hidden clearing – reminiscent of the Karelian “babylon”:

Then went down to the shore of the Dnieper, and there I rested and soaked my feet in water: because before coming to Zaporozhye, I had time to bypass Dneprodzerzhinsk and Petrikivka. The nature here, despite all its pollution, is very rich in life – we were constantly seeing some toads, snakes, birds in the water and on the coastal stones.

From here it’s not far to the Preobrazhensky Bridge:

The two bridges over the Dnieper arms were built by engineer Preobrazhensky in the 1950s, and are distinguished by their unique design and architecture. These bridges are considered to be the highest in Ukraine – 53 meters above the water, and in addition, they have two levels. On them the road and railroad cross the Khortitsa from west to east.

By this bridge, already at dusk, we went into town.

The second time I went to Khortytsa in the evening of the second day, taking a cab. In fact, in addition to the northern, rocky part, there is also the southern, flatter, with fields and floodplains. It also has several reconstructions – Scythian camp, equestrian theater (arena of folklore performances), a museum of Cossack ships. The last were very far, we did not have time there, and to the Scythian camp is not close – 4 kilometers, and not every cab driver knows the way (although it is easy to find by the signs).

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This monument is not at all to the Ivano-Frankivsk “egg-makers”, but to the Ukrainian egg, i.e. the Easter egg. A little further is a checkpoint and a paid entrance.

The Scythian camp is only a partial reconstruction: at one time there was a large settlement of the Scythians on Khortytsia, and part of the barrows and megaliths are genuine. The other part is a reconstruction, and it is not so easy to distinguish one from the other.

At the edge of the Scythian camp was the Lapidarium, that is, a museum of megaliths:

In addition to the Scythian women, old millstones and troughs here are also interesting Cossack crosses from the 16-17 centuries, for which the director of Khortytsia at the time almost went to trial, as exported them from the cemeteries of the Zaporozhye region without permission. And behind the lapidarium there is a secluded path that leads to Polovchanka – a very charming “stone woman” of unusual appearance.

A strange construction and a charming smile distinguish this Polovchanka from other “stone women”. To me, Polovchanka seemed like nothing more than the soul of Zaporozhye.

In the far part of the Scythian camp was a vezha – that is Cossack patrol tower.

Getting up to it was only by a vertical ladder, and it was quite scary, because there was no safety equipment. However, as I was told, it helps in the end – drunks are afraid to climb this ladder, and sober people climb there only if they know how.

The Scythian camp is clearly visible from the vezha:

Khortytsya is truly an island of legends. Its landscape is too surreal, its reconstructions are too spectacular. The words “authenticity”, “authenticity”, “and storic value” sound strange here. But you cannot call Khortytsa “Disneyland” either. Something unlike anything else, a place of immersion not even in the History, but in the Legend.

Beyond the Dnieper is Zaporizhzhya itself, an industrial giant with a population of 800 thousand people, but at the same time a very beautiful and unusual city.

Directly about Zaporizhzhya I will have two parts, devoted to its two historical centers.

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