In 1971, architect and archaeologist Mykhailo Rozhko discovered a Kyivan Rus-time fortress — Tustan, near the Boykos village of Urych in Lviv region. After the death of Mykhailo, his son Vasyl founded a reserve and headed the museum of the fortress. Read his story about the history of Tustan and how 11 artists from Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Russia in the summer of 2018 created 12 interesting art objects there using a grant from the EU Creative Europe programme.
The Ukrainian Carpathians have not only mountains but also unique tourist attractions and historical landmarks.
One of them is Tustan, a 9th – 13th century fortress which served as an important strategic fortification of the Carpathian Defense Line guarding borders of the Kievan Rus and later the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia.
In addition, the fortress was used as a customs post between the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia and Hungary, and later between Poland and Hungary.
It was discovered in 1971 by Mykhailo Rozhko, an architect and archeologist from Lviv when he began to study the traces of a rock building near Urych, a Boyko village in the Lviv Oblast.
As archeological studies later revealed, Tustan is unmatched anywhere in Europe.
In historical documents, the fortress is first mentioned in the chronicles of Janko from Czarnków, a junior clerk of King Casimir III the Great (1333-1384).
The name “Tustan” is of Old Slavic origin, and according to the main hypothesis, comes from the name of the settlement’s owner or founder. “Tustan” is variously translated as “strong, resilient, brave, courageous”.
According to another version, this name originates from the words “tut stan (stop here)”, because everyone was required to stop before entering the fortress, show what they’re carrying and pay a customs duty.
For over 30 years, Mykhailo Rozhko examined Tustan in detail. Based on the cavities in rocks which medieval builders made to fix wooden structures in place, the scientist graphically reconstructed, with the precision degree of up to 90%, the appearance of the lost wooden fort.
After Mykhailo Rozhko died in 2004, his son Vasyl Rozhko founded Tustan Historical Cultural Preserve and became director of the fortress museum.
Today, Vasyl is the head of the same-name civic organization concerned with preservation and development of the fortress itself and of the cultural landscape of Urych.
The young man spoke about his very personal relationship with this unique landmark of medieval Ruthenian architecture and about how it can be restored without ruining it or turning into a Ukrainian “Disneyland”.
A fable that may disappear
“From the early childhood, my sister and I were visiting Tustan every year with our father. While he was at work, we played, climbed rocks, and later, were helping him.
“For us, it was a fabulous place where I always wanted to come and bring friends. However, I could not imagine that Tustan will become my lifetime project,” Vasyl says.
The lad studied modern design and architecture at Lviv Polytechnic Institute, and had plans to design cars.
But when his father became seriously ill (he was diagnosed with terminal cancer), Rozhko junior has suddenly realized that the entire fable to which his father devoted his life may quite disappear, turning into a picnic site.
“That was when I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps,” Vasyl recalls.
“I wasn’t an easy choice for me, because I knew that the sense of duty alone wouldn’t carry me far – I had to feel it with my heart.
“And this feeling was born fast, so I was able to tell my father about my decision before he died in December 2004“.
The first practical step was the foundation of Tustan Preserve.
Before that, the institution itself did not exist; there was only a section at Lviv Museum of History, even though the Cabinet of Ministers has issued the relevant resolution back in 1994.
“I recall that day in early spring when I limped my way to Lviv Regional Department of Culture on crutches, because I had a broken leg,” Mr. Rozhko smiles.
“I was 24 back then; I had no clue about legal and financial aspects of this business, but found people whom I could trust“.
In November 2005, Vasyl Rozhko was appointed as the director of the newly-established preserve. That was how his Tustan began.
3D model of the fortress
Today, this is a quite popular tourist destination: in 2018, the fortress received 120 thousand visitors.
In 2019, Tustan expects to receive 150 thousand.
Besides the rock fortress itself, the complex includes the surrounding area: the Boyko village of Urych of 200 households, which also has two modern interactive museums: Tustan Museum and House in Glubokim, a museum of local history and ethnography.
30 persons, including 20 residents of Urych and nearby villages, work at the preserve. It gives people work.
In addition, it offers master classes in traditional crafts and agro-tourism, enabling the locals to earn living off the creative industry instead of cutting forest and removing stones from the river.
“It is very important to preserve traditions and cultural landscape, for that’s what attracts tourists in today’s world and gives impetus to development of a 700-year-old village,” Vasyl says.
From the very inception of the preserve, they wanted to make a 3D model of the fortress based on Mykhailo Rozhko’s graphic reconstruction in order to show people what this structure looked like eight centuries ago.
A ready 3D model of all five periods of the wooden fortress’s history was presented in 2014.
Tustan is a unique structure for Ukraine and Europe.
“What’s so unique about it?” you might ask.
They in Europe also built fortresses and castles on rocks, and also from wood. But the creators of Tustan brilliantly combined the natural ridge of rocks with an artificial structure. They used rocks as ready walls and only supplemented them with wood.
To fix wooden parts in place, medieval builders cut out grooves in stone, and this technology allowed to completely reconstruct the fortress’s appearance.
The cavities, of which over four thousand remain, indicate the location and height of walls and roofs, roof incline angle and the like.
Moreover, scientists led by Mykhailo Rozhko were able to determine five periods of the fortification’s existence, because it wasn’t built so big right away but was gradually growing.
“In its heydays in the 13th century, the fortress towered 90 meters above the valley.
“The main wooden structure was 25 meters high, like a modern nine-story building,” Vasyl says.
“And in the meantime, our history textbooks claim that our forefathers lived in earth lodges back then. What a crack in a template!“
In 2018, the Ukrainian IT company SoftServe developed a 3D model-based augmented reality app for Tustan Museum: a visitor can install it in a smartphone or tablet computer, point the gadget at the rocks from any side and see what the lost fortress used to look like centuries ago.
Then, the same company has developed a virtual reality app: a visitor puts the helmet on, leans against a hang glider-like structure, holds the control bar and “flies” over the fortress.
The visualization was tested in the summer of 2018, and this year, it will be launched on the premise of the preserve, on the observation site up the rocks.
That’s how visitors can see Tustan without ruining it.
There were many discussions about restoring the fortress and giving it the original appearance.
“My father dreamed about it, and back in the 1990s there was a government program of restoring significant architectural landmarks, to which Tustan was included,” the preserve’s director says.
“However, the program was closed, and I think that most likely, it’s for the better. I have a lot of questions regarding reconstruction, let alone the resources and money that would require“.
First of all, even though the modeling is very thorough, it is still not 100% accurate. Certain details allow for different interpretations, and they can be done either way.
“Presently, we are preparing documents for the inclusion of Tustan to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites,” Vasyl Rozhko explains.
But UNESCO rules do not allow for an “approximate” reconstruction. We run the risk of creating a “Disneyland“.
Another important point: when doing 3D modeling, we discovered that the rocks are crumbling, so something must be done, and fast, to stop this process.
Unfortunately, the best rock reinforcement specialists in Ukraine were left in Crimea.
Generally speaking, Tustan is an extremely complex phenomenon that requires experience of various specialists: geodesists, historians, architects, builders.
“The farther we go, the more questions we have,” Tustan’s “guardian” cites examples.
“Even if we do rebuild this huge, of the size of a quarter of the Olympic Stadium, wooden structure, how it would live in wintertime? It would start to rot.
“Perhaps we could replace wood with concrete or plastic. But why restore a still decoration?
“That’s why I wouldn’t rush reconstruction. Instead, we could restore Tustan in a different – technological, such as virtual reality, and artistic – way“.
Since 1971, when Mykhailo Rozhko began organizing annual expeditions, Tustan has been attracting writers, musicians, artists.
Vasyl Rozhko continues this tradition.
In 2005, almost immediately after opening the preserve, he launched Tu Stan! festival of medieval Ukrainian culture to help the landmark come alive, not leaving it as a drawing of a long-dead fortress in which only scientists take interest.
“We wanted to reconstruct the culture and daily life of the Kievan Rus, to show visitors what life used to be in this fortress city,” the director of the preserve says.
Today, this festival became a huge annual event taking place during three days of August.
800 participants and seven thousand spectators, 23 locations, jousting contests and a nighttime assault at the fortress, plein air paintings, symposiums on stone and wooden sculpture, theatrical performances, master classes in various crafts, fairs and even a medieval university in which disputes take place…
“In a role play, you can imagine yourself, say, as a blacksmith, weaver, cooper or warrior, but – and we insist on that! – a warrior must also be good at poetry, music and the art of rhetoric, for our forefathers were people of high culture, and therefore, it is important that we learn from them, not only reconstruct their weapons and clothes,” Vasyl explains.
Artists are inspired by the atmosphere of Tustan – they bring and leave there a part of themselves and take something with them to the outside world.
“Territory of Inspiration” – that, by the way, was the title of a very interesting art project implemented with a grant from the European Union’s Creative Europe program.
It was initiated by Machaon International, an environmental organization from Slovakia, and Tustan CO was a participant. Interesting cultural events were held in rural localities in five European countries, aimed to make these places more attractive for tourists and at the same time help the locals cast a “fresh look” at their native land.
For example, a “wild nature plein air” took place on Lake Synevyr, while in the Czech Republic there was a trip to meadows in Southern Moravia with Sheep for the White Carpathians folklore group.
As for Tustan, The Land of Power art symposium was held there. 11 artists from four countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Russia) came to Urych in the summer of 2018 and created 12 art objects inside Tustan Preserve.
All participants stayed at private houses in the village; each of them engaged one or two helpers from among the locals who wanted to help.
“At first, we planned the project’s theme to be fables and legends, but in the end, decided to simply show the fortress city using artistic methods,” Vasyl says.
“For instance, we know that the Salt Road from Galicia to Europe ran by the fortress and it flourished thanks to it, but when in the 16th century countries of Central Europe began developing their own salt mines, Tustan lost its significance as a customs post and began to decline.
“That’s what the work by the Lviv artist Evelina Trintsolin is reminding us about: the road is symbolically paved with salt cubes, which emit light in nighttime.“
Vasyl Tatarsky, a sculptor from Kyiv, erected a group of horses made from wooden rods and standing in the place of former grazing ground.
The Zaitsev brothers from Belarus created an allegoric Guard of the Fortress greeting the visitors in the forest.
“As for me, I’m the most impressed with Dmitry Zaitsev’s Arrows: seven-meter-long arrows sticking out of the ground. They demonstrate how formidable Tustan’s defensive function was: the arrows flew as far as 400 meters, repulsing the enemy on far approaches,” Vasyl comments on the art objects.
All objects are created from natural materials and aptly integrated into the landscape, but they catch your eye and make you realize that something was there!
This project showed real, not virtual Tustan, delicately reconstructing what would have been difficult, long, expensive, and most likely impossible to do using traditional reconstruction methods.
“Today, we hope that the art residence will become permanent and artists will come here every year, creating a community of artists who want to preserve Tustan,” the director of the preserve shares his cherished dream.
How to get to Tustan
The preserve is open daily. There are several options of getting to Tustan.
The rock complex and preserve are located in Urych, a village in the Skole Raion of the Lviv Oblast. You can choose one of the following routes depending on your mode of transport.
- By car: The distance from Lviv to Urych is slightly over 100 km. You can reach the village:
- via Skhidnytsia. The distance is 110 km (7 km of the road from Skhidnytsia to Urych is graveled).
- by Kyiv-Chop Highway. In that case, the distance will be 118 km. Turn right after Verkhnie Syniovydne village at the “Urych” sign. When in Urych, stay on the main road until you reach the center of the village, then follow the signs.
- By bus or train: If you use public transport, the best organized transfer option to Urych is from Stryi.
You can also reach Urych from Skhidnytsia (7 km away), Truskavets or Skole. For bus and train timetables, visit the official website of Tustan.
Author: Olha Pereverzeva