Kamianets-Podilskyi is a town that has preserved the spirit of the Middle Ages, while rapidly developing its tourist potential. Kamianets is the largest town, which is not a regional centre in Western Ukraine; however, the number of architectural monuments is third in Ukraine after Lviv and Kyiv. All this makes this city one of the best places to visit in Ukraine.
What does the name of Kamianets-Podilskyi mean?
The name of the town comes from the word “kamin” (stone) or “kamianyi” (stony). But in the Halych-Volyn Principality, there were a few other settlements with the name Kamianets, and therefore the second part contains the name of a district location – Podillia. However, the folk name of the town – Kampod – is also popular now. 🙂
According to archaeological research, the history of Kamianets dates back to the 12th century. First, the city was part of Kyivan Rus and then belonged to the Halych-Volyn Principality. In 1240, Mongol-Tatars invaded Kamianets and owned it until 1362. Later, the army of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Olgerd gained control over the town, and he passed the area to his nephews – the Koriatovych brothers.
Since 1434 Kamianets belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, with a short time when it was part of the Ottoman Empire (1672-1699). During this period, the town gained great strategic importance, becoming the centre of the Polish Voivodeship and acquiring the status of a Royal city.
In 1793, Kamianets-Podilskyi was annexed to the Russian Empire and in 1795, became the centre of Podillia province.
During the Soviet-Ukrainian war (1917–1923), the town changed ownership many times.
From February 1919 to November 1920, after the evacuation of the government of the Ukrainian People’s Republic from Kyiv, Kamianets-Podilskyi became the capital of the UPR. Later, from 1937 to 1941, the town was the centre of Kamianets-Podilsk region.
Nowadays, the town is very interesting for tourists – the national historical and architectural reserve “Kamianets” is listed in the “Seven wonders of Ukraine” and has more than 150 architectural monuments. It often hosts various cultural events, ethnographic, historical and musical festivals. Popular festivals are of aeronautics and military-historical reconstruction, which take place several times a year and attract thousands of tourists.
Undoubtedly, the main highlight in Kamianets is an ancient fortress built on the steep banks of the Smotrych River to protect the town. Now all the fortifications of Kamianets are divided into two parts – the castle and the town strongholds. The castle itself also consists of two parts: the old one with walls and towers and a new one with earthen ramparts and moats. The fortress was built before the invention of firearms, so the castle and the town’s towers were completely stone and had stone tops; modern roofs on the towers appeared much later.
For a long time, they believed that the fortress was built in the second half of the 14th century. You can find the first mention of the Kamianets castle in the Charter of January 7 (15), 1374. However, architectural and archaeological research proves they were built it in the XI-XII centuries. Originally, the castle was a wooden defensive building, and in the XVI century, they replaced the wooden fortifications for stone ones.
For centuries, the Kamianets-Podilskyi fortress was impregnable. One of the legends says that when in 1621 Khan Osman and his army came to the town and saw the fortress’ walls, they were surprised by their strength. The Khan asked who had built that miracle. And they told, “Allah.” Then Osman exclaimed, “May Allah take it”, and retreated. Only twice in its history, the fortress was conquered: in 1393 by the Lithuanian Prince Vytautas, and in 1672 by a large Turkish army, which stayed here until 1699.
Kamianets-Podilskyi fortress lost its defensive importance after the end of the Russian–Turkish war in 1812 when the borders of the Russian Empire expanded significantly to the South. Then the fortress served as a detention institution. However, World War I again reminded of its military purpose. In Kamianets, there was the headquarters of the South-Western Front.
Kamianets-Podilskyi fortress has remained well till this day.
The Old Fortress occupies 1.5 hectares and consists of eleven towers located in the form of an irregular quadrangle and connected by fortress walls.
On the territory of the courtyard, there are former offices, converted into a Museum, a debt pit, a 40-meter deep well, and a partially open underground passage, which, according to ancient legend, led to the Khotyn fortress, which is 30 kilometres away. There are also a variety of tourist attractions – souvenir rows, places for archery or crossbow, a place where you can mint souvenir coins yourself.
To get to the Old Town, you need to go through the Castle Bridge, one of the town’s wonders, which is a national architectural monument. The first mention of the bridge dates back to 1494, but architects-restorers Plamenytskyis state the bridge was built by the Romans at the beginning of the II century. Based on this hypothesis, the bridge was listed in the “Book of Records of Ukraine” as the oldest bridge in the country.
Another common name, Turkish Bridge (Turetskyi Bridge), is associated with its serious reconstruction when the Turks owned the town in the XVII century. After that, there were several other reconstructions, which brought their changes in the bridge construction.
Today the Castle Bridge is a solid stone wall, little resembling a bridge and rather perceived as a dam. The basis is a limestone rock in the form of a ridge, which becomes even narrower in the middle. Here, they broke a channel in the rock thickness for water, which resulted in the formation of the waterfall Krucha. On both sides of the bridge, there are stone staircases to the Smotrych valley, built in the XIX century.
Across the bridge is Zamkova (Castle) street, which leads to the Armenian market, and a little further, to the Armenian Well. These names date back to the XI century when Armenians arrived in Kamianets and actively developed trade and crafts in the town.
Other best places of Kamyanets-Podilskyi
Next to the Armenian Well, there is the oldest Town Hall in Ukraine, also known as the House of the Polish Magistrate (XIV – XVI centuries). Kamianets, as an important trade centre on the way between East and Western Europe, received Magdeburg Law in 1432, and with it, the permission to build facilities for the governing body.
The Town Hall consists of two parts, a two-storey building (which is the House of the Council) and eight-tiered bell tower. They used to be separate buildings at a distance of 3 meters, but after the fire of 1616, they joined them in a single ensemble. In the Town Hall cellars, there were torture chambers of the inquisitorial court and for centuries near the walls, they massacred those who fought for regional independence. It is where they severely punished the leader of the peasant uprisings in Podillia Ustym Karmeliuk.
Nowadays, the renovated ensemble of the Town Hall houses Museum exhibitions. The decoration of its tower is a clock set in the XVII century, which consisted of two bells cast in copper and silver. Now one of them is in the historical Museum, and the second one still beats the time every hour.
To the left of the Town Hall, there is Tatarska Street, where you can find the Triumphal Arch. They built it to commemorate the last visit of the last Polish king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, to Kamianets. But that’s not what made it famous. They believe that when you go under the arch and think about a secret desire, and it will come true. We advise you to take advantage of this opportunity!
The arch passage leads to the courtyard of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, probably the strangest temple of the Old city. It is the only Christian Church in Ukraine, the composition of which includes a characteristic element of Muslim architecture, a minaret topped by a sculpture of the Holy Virgin. The temple’s architectural ensemble consists of the Church, the bell tower, the Triumphal arch and the minaret.
The date of the Church foundation is unknown. What we know is that Pope Gregory XI founded the Kamianets-Podilskyi bishopric in the town in 1375. Probably at the same time they started building the first wooden Cathedral Church and completed it in 1428-1430. They might have constructed the stone Cathedral in 1502-1517 with the support of Bishop Yakub Buchatskyi.
During the reign of the Ottoman Empire (1672-1699), they turned the Cathedral Church into a Muslim mosque, removing the Catholic sacred paraphernalia from the temple, stoning the Renaissance chapel and turning it into the foundations of the 36.5-meter minaret. After the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth returned to Kamianets during their rule, they repaired the Church but left the turret. Subsequently, with the assistance of Bishop Mykolai Dembowski, they put there the 3.5-meter statue of the Mother of God, which stands on the globe and a half-moon blessing the city and region.
Another famous town temple, the Church of the Holy Trinity, was transformed into a mosque in the XVII century. After the Polish power established in the town, they gave the Church to the Greek Catholic community, and in 1722 Bishop Athanasius Sheptytskyi gave the temple to the monks of the Order of St. Basil, who founded a monastery there. The order operated until 1795 when Podillia became part of the Russian Empire and the Church was re-consecrated to Orthodoxy. But the most difficult was the XX century – in 1935 the temple was dismantled, and the restoration began only in 1995.
The fully restored Church and monastery opened in 2010, and now the building impresses with its power and spiritual strength.
Not far from the temple, there is another famous bridge over the Smotrych River, Novoplanivskyi, which at first had the name Novyi (New). The provincial architect, Olexandr Peske, designed it. Construction lasted for ten years. They opened the bridge in January 1874. During World War II, the Soviet troops blew it up during their retreat, and it was only rebuilt in 1949. In 2006, they reconstructed the bridge, and now it is 38 meters high and 136 meters long. Along the bridge, there is a zip line across the river valley, which is a popular entertainment for fans of extreme sports.
After crossing the bridge, we get into the neighbourhood of Novyi Plan, which gave it the name. Right here to the left, there is the square “Lebedyne Ozero” (Swan Lake) with fountains, sculptures and beautiful views of the Smotrytskyi canyon. There is also an unnamed waterfall with a height of 27 meters.
The square “Lebedyne Ozero” (Swan Lake).
How to get to Kamianets-Podilskyi?
In the Nove Misto (the New City) there are bus and train stations. Unfortunately, there are no direct trains from Lviv, and the bus journey will take 5.5-7 hours. By car, you can drive to Kamianets on the two main routes: through Zolochiv, Ternopil and Terebovlia (roughly 4.5 hours) or Svirzh, Berezhany, Buchach and Chortkiv (about 5 hours).
However, it is more convenient to choose one of our tours, during which you will discover not only this ancient town, but also fascinating places nearby, including incredible Bakota, mighty Khotyn, the unique cave of “Verteba” and the “Ukrainian Paris”, Chernivtsi.