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Friday, January 8, 2016

Tustan, a City-Fortress in Ancient Ukraine

by Ihor Cap, PH.D.

The White Croats, an old Slavic tribe that lived in the foothills of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains founded the city-fortress known as Tustan.  It’s cultural and historical significance stems back to the IX-XIII centuries of the first Ukrainian state known as Kyivan Rus’, Halych, and the Halych (Galician)-Volhynian principalities. As a city-fortress, it defended the western frontiers of Europe from undesirable hordes.  As a midway customs checkpoint for the China-Portugal “Silk Route”, it provided many merchants and traders with overnight safe shelter.  Arab origin monetary units, the Dirham (a.k.a. Dirhem, Derham), which were in use during the IX-XI centuries were discovered in the Tustan archeological digs.  Much later still, it served as a very important pathway for the lucrative salt trade from Drohobych, across the Carpathian Mountains to the West. In fact, it could very well be that Halych (Galicia) received its name from the Greek word 'als or "hals" in Roman letters, meaning salt.
No fortress in the history of world architecture is comparable to that of Tustan. Its unique wooden construction blended directly into the side-cliffs, reaching a height of approximately 80 meters.  The local museum exhibit provides several graphic illustrations of its developmental phases. These illustrations reflect the 4000 chiseled slots, grooves or cliff-side postholes identified and documented by archeological and scientific research. Throughout the years of its existence (IX-XII centuries), the fortress has gone through five rebuild phases. It steadily grew from a one-story construction into a five-story one. Tustan’s importance and role steadily diminished due to the changing economic, political and military realities of the day. Today, Tustan is a state owned historical-cultural preserve and home to a Medieval Festival of music, medieval duels, and merriment.
Early History of the Big Rock
Roman Shchur, researcher and museum curator, provides tourists with a wealth of information previously forgotten or unknown about Tustan. The Frankians have left their traces here as far back as 1000 B.C., he informs us.  Their sacrificial altar stands nearby.  Archeologists also discovered 270 pagan mandalas and petroglyph rock art hewn into the cliff-side and their settlement. These petroglyph artists etched spirals, wheels with spears, dancers, animals and horns, but the most frequent in appearance was the sun sign – a Pre-Christian symbol worshiping the Sun God. By the end of the first century, the Frankians melded into the Old Slavic ethnos, and the Frakian sun symbol could very well have transformed to mean the Pagan Slavic Sun-God – Dazhboh. Throughout the VI-IX centuries, 14 Old-Ukraine Rus’ tribes co-existed in this area, the Dulibians (Duliby) in the Halych area. With time, the Duliby melded with the Volhynians and under that name joined the state of Rus’-Ukraine.  
The state owned historical-cultural preserve Tustan is located nearby the village of Urych (Urich), Skole Region, Lviv oblast in Western Ukraine. It is not to be confused with the town of Tustan located near Halych (Galich) that is much further eastward. Consult Table 1 below for other places nearby and approximate distance to Urych in kilometers and miles where the historical-cultural preserve is located. MSN Live Search has a wonderful search feature to calculate distances between cities for any country in the world. It’s this feature that I used to arrive at the distances between various known Ukrainian cities and the village of Urych itself. ( ) I had to go to another useful site to convert between miles and kilometers and that offers dozens of quick links for other conversions too. (See ).

Table 1. Distance from Urych to nearby Ukrainian cities and approximate distance in kilometers and miles
FromToDistance in kilometers & miles
(a.k.a. Borislav)
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
18.6 km or 11.56 miles
(a.k.a Drogobych, Drogobycz)
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
28.8 km or 17.9 miles
(a.k.a. Ivano-Frankovsk)
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
144.4 km or 89.7 miles
Kyiv (a.k.a. Kiev, Kiew)
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
643.8 km or 400 miles

(a.k.a. Lvov, Lwow, Lemberg)
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
105.5 km or 65.6 miles
Morshyn (a.k.a. Morshin)
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
58.3 km or 36.2 miles
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
47.5 km or 29.5 miles
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
200.5 km or 124.8 miles
Urych (a.k.a. Urich)
26.2 km or 16.3 miles
ISBN 966-95279-2-9.
Shchur, R.; Kokhanets, M. Tustan (State Historical-Cultural Preserve) History. Folklore/ Roman Shchur; Skolivs’ki Beskydy (National natural park) / Mykhailo Kokhanets. - Lviv: Novyj Chas Publishers, Ukraine. ISBN 966-95279-2-9 
Author: Ihor Cap, Ph.D. Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Canada. This article was first published December 8, 2008 in