Founding a Town

Rostyslavychi brothers, great-grandchildren of Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kyiv, conquered the territory of Galician Rus in the 11th century and became entitled to appanage principalities. The elder brother Ruryk ruled in ancient Przemysl, the younger Vasylko was building up ancient Terebovel and the middle brother Volodar founded a new town of Zvenyhorod.

The first mention of the town’s name, Zvenyhorod, dates back to the Chronicles of 1086.

The town’s construction started in the late 11th century. Headland with a hill was chosen as a place for the future capital. The princely fortress was to be build on the top of the hill, encircled by fortified wooden walls.

During the reign of Volodar Rostyslavych the town was gradually developing and gaining its economic might. Pioneer artisanal settlement sprang up around the princely inner city. The settlers lived in dugout timber houses. They processed bog ore, smelted iron and harvested timber. Their efforts resulted in building wooden fortified walls around the castle, the first church. Moreover, a dike was built across the bog, with paved way laid on top to connect the town with the trade routes. 

Sewing workshop was functioning at the western approaches to the princely castle, and leatherworkers treated hides there. Rich natural resources of Zvenyhorod Valley provided for farming, fishing and hunting wild birds and animals.

Перша писемна згадка про місто в Повісті временних літ датується 1086 (або, за іншою версією, 1087) роком.

The Town’s Golden Age in the 12th century

Zvenyhorod’s Golden Age is attributed to the reign of Volodymyrko Volodarevych (1124–1141).

He inherited Zvenyhorod in 1124 and turned it into a large prosperous town. The total area of Zvenyhorod within its fortifications (i.e. inner city, outer city and suburbs) amounted to 139.5 hectares. It was the largest town in the entire Zvenyhorod principality.

Volodymyrko was married to Sofia, daughter of Hungarian king Koloman the Learned and had three children with her. In order to secure political alliance, he married both his daughters to Polish princes – Krakow prince Boleslaw the Curly and one of his brothers. There is reason to believe that 

Volodymyrko’s only son, later known as Yaroslav Osmomysl, was born in Zvenyhorod and spent his early years there.

Construction on an unprecedented scale took place in the town at that period. All housing and artisan buildings in the eastern part of the outer city was demolished. This area was expanded and the defensive lines moved 100 m eastwards. New princely court, a white stone complex, was erected. The ensemble consisted of the palace connected to the church with wooden two-storey gallery and a mausoleum. 

Volodymyrko’s brother, prince of Przemysl, and his cousins, princes of Halych and Terebovlia, passed away having sired no children. Following this, Volodymyrko joined all territories of Rostyslavychi brothers in one principality between 1141-1144 and moved the capital to Halych.

Way of Life and Arts in Ancient Zvenyhorod

Collections of artefacts found in the territory of the town are associated with the produce of local workshops. They are the evidence of highly developed artisan industry, particularly jewellery, bone carving, glass making, sewing, woodworking, blacksmithing, pottery etc. Trade and importation of various goods were going strong.

Foundries, glasswork shops, jewellery workshops, smithies and warehouses thrived in prosperous seignorial quarter on the premises of each homestead.

Every residential building had wooden flooring. Foot paths within yards, passages, alleys and lanes were laid with wooden walkways as well. There was two-way traffic on the town’s principal road. Houses were lit from inside using long dry sticks, clay lamps, glass lampions and candlesticks. 

Wide selection of utensils and crockery is telling us a story of a highly developed culture of cooking and serving food, ranging from pots, plates, bowls made from wood or clay (often glazed) to bone and wooden spoons, glass goblets, wooden scoops etc.

Fine arts (painting, stone and wood carving), music (piping, playing the gusli) and calligraphy flourished in Zvenyhorod. Various games developing both physical and mental skills of children and adults were very popular.

Downfall of Zvenyhorod

Time after time in its history Zvenyhorod managed to stand up in fierce battles. However, in January 1241 the town failed to oppose an attack of Tatars led by Batu Khan. For some time, the strong fortification system and the terrain made it impossible for the nomads to come close. The army commanded by Khan took the most advantageous position at the northern suburb in the area still known as Batuvytsia. Watchtowers in Sholomyn, Vidnyky and Hryniv were the first to fall. It was a small price to pay for Zvenyhorod standing undefeated and being able to keep standing for a long time. If it were not for a treachery… Legend has it than an old woman brought the enemy into the town. She lived at the bog and knew secret passages.

Zvenyhorod people were fighting fiercely, but the town’s fate was sealed. Mongols sustained enormous casualties. They burned the town to the ground, leaving only a thick layer of ashes in its place. 

Zvenyhorod has never gotten back its status of a mighty town. However, the tragedy of a destroyed town which did not get to be great again, gives a unique chance to archaeologists today. They can explore a thousand-year-old capital which survived below the ground.