The town is situated 86 km from Odessa, and the trip (by car or coach), including a tour of the fortress and a visit to the museum of Regional Studies will take 8-9 hours.
Belgorod-Dnestrovsky is one of the oldest towns in the Soviet Union. It lies west of Odessa, 20 km from the sea, on the right bank of a wide liman formed by the Dniester River as it flows into the Black Sea. The town occupies a territory of 19sq. km and has a population of over 50,000.
The town changed its name many times. In the 6th century В. С Greek colonists founded the town of Opheususon which is the site of present-day Belgorod-Dnestrovsky. In the 5th century В. С it was called Nikonia, Herodotus called it Tyras-from the Greek name of the river Dniester, Tyras, which means quick.
Archeological excavations which began in the middle of this century have established that Tyras occupied a territory of more than 20 hectares. It was built in terraces, and the central part, the Acropolis, was situated on the site of the present-day fortress while the old harbour has become the wharf.
By the 4th century В. С Tyras had become a major trading centre. It minted its own coins and traded with the towns in the Northern and Western Black Sea coastal areas. Tyras sold grain, cattle, fish, honey, wax, hides, and bought olive oil, wine and ornaments.
From the 1st century В. С Tyras was politically dependent on Rome and was turned into Rome’s advance post in the north-east. In the 3rd century the Roman Empire often became the target of attacks from barbaric tribes and during this period the town gradually lost its importance.
A new life began for Tyras in the 9th century A. D. when the Black Sea Slavs, Tiberians and Ulitians, came to the Dniester-Danube area, rebuilt the town and named it Belgorod.
During the invasion of the Mongolian-Tartar hordes in the 13th century Belgorod shared the fate of other Russian towns and was pillaged, but it managed to rebuild.
In the last third of the 14th and the first half of the 15th century, Belgorod was part of the Moldavian princedom. It was one of the largest towns in Moldavia, and the centre of the Orthodox religion. It was at this time that the fortress was built in order to protect the town from the raids of the nomadic Polovets tribes and from the threat posed by the Ottoman Empire. The fortress has remained practically intact to this day and is the town’s main historical sight.
During the 15th century the Ottoman Empire made a number of attempts to capture Belgorod, and in 1484 it succeeded. The town was ransacked and renamed Akkerman (White Fortress). For 300 years it was part of the Ottoman Empire, and only under the Bucharest peace treaty of 1812 following the Turko-Russian wars did the town revert to Russia again.
In the 19th century the town was known as the grape capital of the Dniester region, holding first place in Russia in the production of wine. Industry gradually developed and so did the port.
In March 1917, soon after the February revolution, a Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies was formed in the town and Soviet government was established in January, 1918. However, two months later Romania occupied the territory of Bessarabia and troops entered the town, the occupation lasting 22 years.
In 1940 the Soviet government began talks with Romania on the return of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union and Romania had to accede to this just demand. The greater part of Bessarabia became part of the newly formed Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, while the regions with a predominantly Ukrainian population, including the Akkerman district, became part of the Soviet Ukraine. In August, 1944 the town reverted to its ancient name of Belgorod with the addition of Dnestrovsky, to distinguish it from the town of the same name in the Russian Federation. With the restoration of Soviet government in 1940 a new life began. All industrial enterprises were nationalised, the unemployment that had plagued the area for years was eliminated, and an eight-hour working day was introduced. Hospitals and schools were opened, as well as teachers’ training colleges, libraries, etc.
The further advancement of the area was interrupted by nazi Germany’s treacherous attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 and Bessarabia was again invaded.
The town was liberated on August 23rd, 1944, by troops of the Third Ukrainian Front in the course of the Jassy-Kishinev operation, one of the biggest in the Great Patriotic War.
Today Belgorod-Dnestrovsky is an industrial and holiday centre of the southern Ukraine. A big sea port has been built and is being further extended. There are more than forty industrial enterprises in the town which produce medical instruments, ferroconcrete parts and other building materials, furniture, footwear, clothing, tinned goods, flour, wine, etc, more than a hundred types of commodities in all.
The sea port, which was reconstructed in the early seventies is used by ships from twenty-two countries.
The town is also a major health resort. Each summer up to half a million people from all corners of the country spend their holidays here. The most popular resort is Carolino-Bugaz some 20 km outside the town on an 8-km-long sand bar. On one side of the bar is the Black Sea and on the other the fresh-water Dniester Liman, which has warmer water than the sea. You pass this resort on your way from Odessa. There are also medicinal muds and mineral springs in the vicinity of the town.
Belgorod-Dnestrovsky is very green with 56 sq. m of greenery for every inhabitant.
The most interesting sight in the town is the fortress which is an architectural monument of the middle ages.
Excavations have revealed that the fortress was built by Russian craftsmen. Their names are listed on the tower, on the stones over the main entrance, and on the four-cornered tower of the smaller palace. The architecture of the citadel and its Byzantine style provides additional confirmation, while the general layout of the fortress is similar to that of other Russian medieval fortresses. Archeologists are still finding the burial mounds of the Slavs and also their artefacts.
The fortress played an important role in the defence of the region. In times of war the town’s people took refuge inside its walls, while it also served as a protection for the harbour.
The fortress occupies almost four hectares. In cross section it resembles a closed polygon. The length of the outer wall is almost 2 km. The walls stand 15 m high and are up to 5 m thick, while the walls, like the rest of the fortifications, are made out of local shell rock.
There are thirty-four towers along the walls and inside the fortress, with a moat 14 m wide circling the walls from the outside. Its depth is now 11m although in the past it was much deeper, as much as 3 m below the level of the water in the liman. When the danger of a siege arose sluices could be opened and the moat filled with water, then it could be crossed by the drawbridge.
Inside, the fortress had three courtyards separated from each other by thick walls. The first was the civilian courtyard where the people lived, the second was the garrison’s quarters, and the third, the oldest and smallest, but the best fortified was the Citadel or Genoa Palace which housed the garrison headquarters.
Out of the thirty-four towers, twenty were part of the military set-up while the remaining ones served only to link the walls and legends have been told about some of them.
To the left of the main gates stands the Ovidius tower, or the Maiden’s tower. Legend links it with the Roman poet Ovidius Nazo, said to have been exiled to these parts. The tower’s second name Maiden’s tower comes from the legend about the daughter of the Moldavian King Alexander the Kind, Tamara, who is said to have been imprisoned in the tower by her father for her cruelty to the people.
The remains of a mosque have been preserved in the first courtyard. The mosque was built by the Turks to replace a church they had destroyed on the same site. Its minaret has an interior spiral stone staircase. In the southwest corner of the first courtyard is the square Pushkin tower, named after the poet following his visit to the fortress in December, 1821.
Standing at the entrance to the second courtyard is the tower that served as a warehouse for food and arms. Inside the walls of the fortress there are galleries leading to the liman and clay water pipes. It was in the south-east tower of the citadel, the Administrative tower, that in 1789 the Turks handed over the keys of the fortress to one of the heroes of its capture, the future great Russian military commander, but at that time only a Major, Mikhail Kutuzov. That same year Kutuzov commanded the fortress for three months.
It was only in the mid-19th century that the fortress lost its military significance, but to this day it remains an impressive picture of military might.
The original layout of Belgorod has remained. Thirteen streets take their beginning and fan out from the square outside the fortress.
Apart from the fortress a number of other medieval architectural monuments have been preserved in the town and these include the Armenian and Greek churches. The Armenian church on Ulitsa Kutuzova (Kutuzov St.) was built in the 14th century and almost half of it is below the ground, resembling the underground cellars of the first Christians at the time of the Roman Empire. The Greek church on Ulitsa Leona Popova (Leon Popov St.) was built later, at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century. Today it houses the Museum of the History of Religion.
At the Museum of Regional Studies on Ulitsa Pushkina 19 (19, Pushkin St.) you can learn a lot about the past and present of Belgorod-Dnestrovsky. The nine halls of the Museum describe the nature of the area, tell the story of ancient Tyras, medieval Belgorod, the years of struggle for the Socialist Revolution and the establishment of Soviet government, the story of the heroes of the underground movement during the Great Patriotic War, and the present-day economic and cultural achievements of the town.
The War Memorial to the dead of the Great Patriotic War was unveiled on May 9th, 1975, the thirtieth anniversary of the victory in the war, in the Komsomol park situated not far from the fortress on the high bank of the liman.
At the entrance there are granite stelae with bas-reliefs of soldiers and a grieving Mother-Country. The 18-m-high obelisk is surrounded by a parapet along which are two rows of gravestones inscribed with the names of those who lost their lives fighting for the liberation of the town from the nazis. At the foot of the obelisk is the grave of the Unknown Soldier where an Eternal Flame burns. The guard changes every fifteen minutes, and every half-hour Solveig’s song from Grieg’s Peer Gynt is played.
Where two streets intersect, Shabskaya and Shevchenko, there is a monument to Vasili Ryabov. It was erected in 1912 and paid for from funds collected by the people of Akkerman and the Akkerman region. The monument is an obelisk of black labradorite on a granite pedestal. On the front is the inscription, “To the eternal memory of the hero of the war Vasili Ryabov and all the other soldiers from Akkerman and the Akkerman region who lost their lives in the Far East in the 1904-1905 war against Japan.” On the three other sides are the names of a hundred and fifty soldiers from Akkerman and its region killed in the Russo-Japanese war.
Vasili Ryabov was born in the Penza region of Russia, but he served as a soldier with people from Akkerman and its region. He volunteered for a scouting assignment behind the Japanese lines but was captured and shot. His courage won admiration even from the enemy. At that time monuments to Vasili Ryabov went up in many parts of Russia, but the only ones which are preserved were the one in Belgorod-Dnestrovsky and the other in Yasnaya Polyana.
If you feel hungry after the sightseeing tour of the town, a good meal can be had in the restaurant Yuzhny or the restaurant Parus.