The article continues a series of works about the fortresses of the North-Western Black Sea region and the temples located there (and near that place), mainly Ottoman mosques, some of which were re-consecrated (some of them more than once) to Christian churches [1]. It describes the corresponding monuments of the Bendery fortress, to which the author has previously devoted a number of publications [2]. I would like to emphasize that there are no remains of pre-Ottoman Christian churches and its suburbs in the Bendery fortress, and the literary data about them [3], in my opinion, belong to the category of legends rather than historical facts. 

The earliest systematic "Description of the Bendery fortress" was compiled around 1656-1657 by the Turkish traveler Evliya Celebi, and it is proved that his data are highly accurate in relation to this fortress [4]: “When [Sultan] Baezid Khan conquered Akkerman fortress in 889 (1484), Gedik Ahmed Pasha built a small tower in this place; it was useful for crossing the Tatars who were eager to meet an enemy. This fortification was destroyed by the Cossacks in the time of the [Sultan] Suleiman Khan. Since the Russians defeated the Tatars when the Tatar army crossed the Dniester River, the Tatar khan asked Suleiman Khan to build a fortress in this place, and by the highest decree the fortress was erected ...

The shape and dimensions of Bendery Fortress. This fortress is a beautiful strong, stone building of quadrangular shape. It stands on the banks of the Dniester. One side of it is low, and those facing south and to the quibla pass through high cliffs made of limestone. There are only two gates in the fortress. The first are large and strong iron gates, facing quibla and opening into the settlement. Every night, the bridge hanging over the moat is raised and blocked with the gates of the fortress. Since there are only two rows of walls in this fortress, there is another iron gate inside. They face the quibla [to the South], and there is a Tarikh on a quadrangular slab of white marble. But, since the slab is fixed very high and in a very busy place, it was impossible to read the inscription on it, and I could not copy it. To the right hand of the Tarikh the following text was written in a calligraphic handwriting: "Oh! My soul, Rukiya Khanum..! Majar Mustafa, who loves her very much." The stone was cut out from the side of this inscription, and the wall was covered with a painted bowl of Iznik production. The bowl is a masterful work;  it is painted: inside it is blue of iridescent tones [i]. 

There are another gates [in the form of railing] are hung on a high arch between these iron gates. During a battle, this railing is lowered and used to block access to the front gate. There is the mosque of Suleiman Khan[ii] above this gate, but it is not so magnificent. 

There is a small iron gate facing East and leading to the lower part of the fortification inside this fortress. The fortress approaches the very Bank of the Dniester river. All the houses inside of it facing East and looking on the Dniester. In total there are three hundred shingled houses. And there are no vineyards or orchards here at all.  All Janissaries, gunners and armourers are housed in this fortress. 

Another section of the fortress [walled] has a solid, impressive ribat. On six strong towers of this lower fortress there are bal-emez guns facing the Dniester [from Italian. ballo e mezzo - long-range guns], which absolutely do not give the “Chaika” [combat boats] of Russians to go roundtrip…

There are East-facing Water Gates on the bank of the Dniester River; they serve for taking water through them of the entire population of the fortress. Since the Bank of the Dniester is sandy, there is no moat on this side. In some places, this side of the fortress runs along a steep slope. There is another mosque of Suleiman Khan in this large lower fortress, which has its own gates, and there are guns of Bal-emez on both sides of mihrab. There are graves of two shaheed in front of the Janissary Aga’s house… In general, the well-equipped Bendery fortress is a reliable castle of the Ottoman possessions.

Outside the gates of this fortress, not far from it, at the edge of the moat, on a windy hillock, there is a meeting place for educated people, a place for walks and a platform for namaz. All Ghazi perform rituals and prayers there and wait for those arriving to the fortress. The moat is completely enclosed at its edges by thick pillars with crossbeams, and no horse, mule, or other animal can pass through this fence. For the same reason, no one can throw garbage into the moat. And the moat is very deep and clean.

The battlefield lies on all four sides of this massive fortress. There are no traces of any buildings. To the east of this fortress there is no settlement at all, but in the western and southern sides there is a large suburb, and it is surrounded by a sheer moat from all sides. Everywhere there are wells with a thick curb and guard rooms.

The settlement of Bendery fortress. There are four mosques with mihrabs, seven Muslim quarters, and seven Wallachian and Moldavian quarters in this settlement. In total there are one thousand seven hundred houses with a top floor, covered with thatch and reed. The courtyards of many houses are fenced. The minarets of mosques are covered with planks. The mosque, located in the shopping arcade, has a crowded coming. There are primary schools in two locations. There are two hundred large and small shops. There is no pavement on the streets at all, and there are few vineyards. The reason for this is that every day the infidels come, start fighting and cause destruction. However, the plain extending to the West and South of the settlement is very fertile, covered with grass and other vegetation. There is a lot of honey and oil in the villages. The water and air are very pleasant. The people here are extremely strong, of a heroic physique. Everyone wears Tatar hats and sheepskin coats. Every morning they go to the other side of the Dniester to fight the Cossacks. There is only one small bathhouse in the town." [6].

Evliya Celebi saw 6 mosques in Bendery: in the Gate Tower of the citadel, in the tower of the Lower fortress (both for the love of Sultan Suleiman) and 4 more in the suburbs, more precisely in seven Muslim quarters. Today the location of the temples in the settlements is unknown, since the latter have not been preserved, and other information on this subject is missing. But the remains of the first two exist till the present day! One is located in the Gate Tower of the citadel (Fig. 1) and the construction of this mosque can be dated to 1538 according to the text of the Tarikh on the southern wall [7]. The second is located in the octagonal three-tier tower No. 12 of the central part of the eastern wall of the Lower Fortress. The mihrab with a semi-domed arched vault, made of red brick, is located in the southern wall of its second tier, between two artillery loopholes [8].  Yet the quoted phrase of Evliya Celebi that "there are guns of Bal-emez on both sides of mihrab" became clear.

The information about the studied structures in the next almost century-long period is missing. Details of the internal layout of the fortress appear on a number of plans removed in connection with its assault by the Russian army in 1770.  So, on the "Plan of the town and the attack of Bendery in 1770", depicting Bendery after the construction of external Bastion fortifications at the very beginning of the XVIII century [9] only one mosque is marked. It was located in the South-Western corner of the fortress opposite postern No. 5, marked with the letter J and signed "Stone mosque»[iii] (Fig. 2). Does this mean that the other temples at that time were made of wood, or did they not exist at all? It's hard to say.

However, the only known view of the fortress of those times recorded a different picture.

We mean an engraving from an undetermined book, which is printed on one sheet with the plan "Accurate Grundriss des Vestung Bender". Both are undated, although the plan can be referred to the 1740s and 1760s [11]. The figure has the signatures “castle”, two “mosques”, “Greek church” and, and we can speak of at least a third mosque, because we can see two more minarets.  As for their location, the first mosque with two minarets was located in the southern part of the fortress, the second in the southwest corner, and the third the highest one with four minarets is to the west of the citadel. The Greek Church is visible in the outer settelement to the West of the fortress, and not far from it there is another bell tower or spire (Fig. 3).

G. Vilkov believes that "the first Orthodox Church on the territory of the former Turkish fortress was hastily built on the site of a Turkish mosque in 1770, after a successful assault on the fortress, at the main Tsargrad Gate" [12], but did not give a single fact to confirm his words. Knowing the practice of "mastering" Ottoman fortresses by Russian troops, one of the components of which was the re-consecration of mosques in the Church, this assumption seems to be unlikely. Most likely, in 1770 in Bendery fortress, as, for example, in Akkerman [13], "guests" went the same way, adapting the above-mentioned stone mosque for a Church. Tiraspol local historian EA. Lobanov [iv] states: "After the capture of the fortress in 1806, there again, for the third time [the first - in 1770, the second-in 1789] people hastily converted the main Turkish mosque into the Orthodox St. Alexander Nevsky Church" [14].

As we can see, these authors speak of two different mosques, and both of them are not marked on the mentioned plan of Bendery 1770 (Fig. 1).  In addition, not a single mosque of the fortress, as, indeed, of Akkerman, is mentioned in the summary of the churches of Bessarabia, "converted" from the Muslim temples of I.N. Halippa [15]. Therefore, the author can only try to solve this problem using both written and cartographic sources. As for the latter, I emphasize that, in contrast with Akkerman, Ishmael and Ochakova, Bendery’s published plans not only of the Ottoman, but also of the post-Ottoman time are rare and (or) insufficiently informative [16].

As for documents on the topic, even well-known and published official papers, as well as a number of unique eyewitness accounts, have not yet been included in its historiography.

Let’s come over to the characterization of the first ones, emphasizing that the earliest of them belong to 1789. On November 7, the third day after the capitulation of Bendery, the commander-in-chief Prince G. A. Potemkin took care of the spiritual life of the troops and part of the local population. He said to Archbishop Ambrose in his latter: "I have chosen two of the best mosques here to convert to the Church. Your Eminence, be pleased to consecrate one of them to the Cathedral in the name of the Holy Great Martyr and victorious George; the other to name according to your discretion; and they may be prepared for this purpose, I have given my command."

His Highness wrote the second letter to the Armenian Archbishop Joseph: “I betake to your flock all Armenians who live in the lands acquired by the victorious arms of her Imperial Majesty. Your Eminence, do not forget to make an order for the better organization of this people and for the suppression of various abuses that took root among them during the rule of the Turkish leaders. I ordered one of the mosques here to be converted to a church for Armenian confession, which I have been notifying you of, with special respect.”

All that was said on the same day was issued by a special order signed by G. A. Potemkin: "Of the two mosques I have chosen, the large one is assigned to convert to the Cathedral Church, and the other will also turn to the Church, both of which I order to be emptied and prepared for consecration. Beside the above two mosques, two more mosques are appointed to the churches, one for Roman Catholic confession, the other for the Armenian; the Armenian church is entrusted to the Archbishop Joseph, and of the church of the Roman confession to a priest Skirnevskiy". A week later, the Prince reported to the Empress that next Sunday "in the Church of St. George, converted from the main mosque, we will sing prayers of thanks."

Other mosques in Bender were less fortunate, as the order of the commander-in-chief, Lieutenant General M. N. Krechetnikov stated (dated November 12): “Entrusting your Excellency with the command in Bendery, I have the following instructions: Order the Pashas appointed here to divide the empty houses on the suburb and in the fortress, if they can be found. Unnecessary people can not be tolerated in the city, and especially volunteers, who cause theft and riots. The house, shop and mosque in the suburb to convert to residential ones. In the village of Talmazy, located near Bender, you should put a few troops, in order to save the city and fortress from destruction. The Turkish people, as long as they do not get out, will be satisfied with provisions from the shops... When the Turks come out, empty everything and keep it neat, and I will order the workers to pay" [17].

An analysis of these important documents for the study of our topic allows us to conclude that G.A. Potemkin ordered the conversion of all suburb mosques to housing for Russian troops [v] and the re-consecration of four mosques: the Cathedral mosque to the St. George Church and three more to Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches. Let's try to establish which mosques were meant and where they were located.

The full description of the 1789 Bendery by Campenhausen, which is published in Russian for the first time as an Appendix[vi] to this article, contains a description of a Large or Cathedral mosque with two circular balconies on the minaret, and even its name Munkar-Hamid[vii]. It gives the total number of mosques in the city and the fortress – 12; the names of two more of them, namely Dagestan[viii] and Sultan Selim, are mentioned as the" miserable building " of the Armenian Church (in the suburbs - ?). But it has one disadvantage –  the author did not even hint at their locations.

The situation is partly clarified by the “Plan and profiles of Bendery fortress destruction, undermined by mines in period of April, 22 – August, 5 in 1790”, but before we consider it, we’ll determine some details, one of which is the Fortress Gate. Seven gates are marked on the unpublished plan of 1770 – Istanbul or Tsaregradsky (at the southern corner of the fortress) and then clockwise: Ordynsky, Varnitsky, Kamenesky, Vodyany (Water), Small Vodyany, Tabatsky [20]. According to Campenhausen the names and order of the Gates is the following: Istanbul or Constantinople, Kozhevnikov, Varnitsky, Vodyany (Water), Large or Main, Military and Kamensky one. A plan of 1790 gives the following names: Constantinople, Ordynsky, Varnitsky, Water, Kamensky and Tabatsky (Fig. 4). As we can see, the locations and names of only three gates of the Upper Bastion fortress are more or less clearly defined: Istanbul (since 1806 they were called Kaushan), Ordynsky (Military) and Varnitsky, which together with the citadel will serve as our main landmarks.

According to the plan of 1790, the “Cathedral Church of St. George in the fortress” was located to the right of the entrance through the Istanbul gate, 25 yards away to the North-East of them; the stone Church of the “Holy Trinity”, consecrated from the mosque was located on the street from this gate to the citadel, 25 yards to the South-West of the entrance; and the stone Armenian Church, also consecrated from a mosque, is 90 yards away from the South-Western corner Bastion (Fig. 4), where the “stone mosque” was marked in 1770 (Fig. 2). I want to pay your attention to the fact that the plan of 1790 does not have a Roman Catholic Church[ix], but there are 4 more mosques inside the fortress:

1. In 80 yards to north-east of the inner wall at half-Bastion 2;

2. In 60-65 yards to east-south-east of Military Gates;

3. In 90-95 yards to east-south-east of Bastion № 5;

4. In 70 yards to south-south-east of Varvitsky Gates (Fig. 4).

I want to emphasize that the mosques present at the drawing of the fortress can be collated: the first leftward – with the Cathedral mosque at Istanbul Gate; the second one – with stone mosque in the plan of 1770; and the third – with the mosque No. 3 of the plan of 1790 at the Military Gate (Fig. 3).

If we add to the list two more temples in towers, as well as 2-4 mosques in the suburbs (which are completely absent in the figure), then the figure of 12 mosques given by Campenhausen  should be considered fairly accurate.  I would like to emphasize that this is the largest number of mosques operating simultaneously in a single city in the North-Western Black Sea region, exceeding the similar indicators of Ochakov, Akkerman and Izmail, quite apart from Khadjibey, Kinburn and Berezani, etc. [21].

The following chronological data about the Bendery temples belong to the first decades of the Russian period of the region's history, which began with the capture of the Bendery fortress without a fight in November 1806.

It was mentioned above about E.A. Lobanov’s point of view that this time the “main Turkish mosque” was turned into a Church, which stood “30 yards to the west of the citadel” [22]. However, we already know that there was another mosque on this site in 1790, which was re-consecrated as the Trinity Church (Fig. 4). In 1812-1813, the same Church, but already named after Alexander Nevsky, was described as a “Cathedral Church, inside the fortress consisting of a Turkish mosque, of a wooden structure, strong one, rich in vestry, utensils and books”, consecrated in 1809 [23].

The history of this Church, which was called the Bendery fortress but already in the new building, is described in a special article. Here are excerpts from it: “The Bender St. Alexander Nevsky Church " was converted from a Turkish mosque in 1807 by the diligence of Archpriest Stepan Shamraevsky, who, as the Eminence Exarch Gabriel puts it in a letter to the fortress commandant, Lieutenant Colonel Chichagov, dated June 23, 1809... “sanctified decorated” this church.

The building of this Church was stone and from the outside it looked like a two-story house with two tiers of windows, covered with tiles. The interior of the Alexander Nevsky Church was quite magnificent; and two icons from the iconostasis that have been preserved to this day show that painting on it was not alien to artistic art. This Church had an internal gallery for worshippers (choirs); Turkish banners were kept in the Church as trophies of victory, and solemn parades were held in it [next to it]”. In 1826, in connection with the decision to build a new building on a different site (125-130 m to the south-south-west of the previous one), the temple's throne was temporarily moved to a residential building near the Varnitsky Gate. In 1828, the first stone was laid, and in 1833 the Church was consecrated [24].

As for other mosques, two of them are mentioned around 1816 as "converted into stores" (warehouses), and the following remark is also made: “Inside the fortress there were many buildings under the Turks, both houses and shops, enclosed in narrow streets, but when the Turks left the territory, almost all structures were broken, and the magnificent Palace of the Pasha was destroyed” [25].

Undoubtedly, we should mention the former Cathedral mosque with two (?) minarets. On its wall, a Russian officer in June 1819 drew a marble plaque with a five-line inscription “Above the mosque standing at the Kaushan Gate”. It is placed on the well-known table “Coats-of-arms, inscriptions and others carved pictures on stones in the walls of Bendery fortress”. Apparently, this inscription "in Golden letters with verses from the Koran" was seen and described by Campenhausen. I would like to emphasize that one minaret of this particular mosque was preserved for more than a century after the Russians captured the region, as evidenced by a photo taken no later than 1928. (Fig. 5).

Now let's describe some Bendery churches, which were built specifically for Christian services, immediately noting that they were all located outside the fortress walls.

In 1812-1813 there were two of them: Uspenskaya “Greek, wooden, strong, sufficient with vestry, utensils and books”, consecrated in 1798 and Nicholas “wooden, strong, sufficient with vestry, utensils and books”, consecrated in 1808 [26]. The first of them, which existed under the Ottomans, would be easier to connect with the Church in the drawing of the 1740s-1760, but in the historical essay dedicated to it, it is written that it was located not to the east of the Military Gate, but in 250 yards to the south of the Istanbul Gate. “It was an ordinary house, the walls of which were made of wicker brush, covered with reeds, differing from the others only in its comparative size, and also in the fact that a small wooden cross was placed on the roof. The interior of the Church was in perfect harmony with its appearance. The remaining fragments of the iconostasis, stored in the storage of the Bendery Cathedral, according to the roughness of carving and painting testify the poverty of the Uspenskaya Church. The tabernacle of this Church was made of wood. The Uspenskaya Church was demolished in 1828 and a small stone pyramid was built on the place where the throne stood " [27].

On July 26, 1815, the churchwarden Vlashchitsky reported to Bishop Dmitry of Bendery and Akkerman that “the churches of Bendery: Nikolaevskaya and Uspenskaya, located on the fortress Esplanade, by order of the chief military authorities are subject to be broken or moved to another place, but as both these churches are wattle and covered with reeds, therefore, inconvenient to transfer; that’s why the parishioners agreed to build a new Cathedral, three-altar, stone Church in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord instead of them.” Soon after the construction of the Transfiguration Cathedral began, St. Nicholas Church was demolished [28].

Already in 1816-early 1820s, there were three churches on the outskirts of the Bendery fortress: Uspenskaya, Nicholas Church, Old Believers’ stone chapel, Jewish synagogue [29], and possibly the Armenian Church [30]. In 1825, not far from the location of the Uspenskya Church, the building of the Transfiguration Cathedral was completed, which had three thrones: Preobrazhensky, Uspensky and Nicholas one [31].

By the end of the 1850s, there were two Orthodox churches in Bendery (the Transfiguration Cathedral in the city and Alexander Nevsky in the fortress), a new “Roman Catholic chapel built by the dependency of the fortress commandant, Lieutenant General Olshevsky” (for military personnel, in the fortress), and an Old Believers’ chapel (in the town) [32]. The synagogue is not named in this source, although it also mentions “four Jewish prayer schools”.


This is the history of the Bendery temple buildings. It shows that during the Ottoman period until 1806, there were 12 mosques in the fortress and the city of Bendery; the remains of two of them (the earliest after Sultan Suleiman, in stone towers) have been preserved to these days. Now we know for sure not only the name of the Cathedral mosque (Mun-kar-Hamid-Jami) and its place at the Istanbul Gate, but also the names of two more temples – Dagestan-Jami and Selim-Jami. Most likely, these three mosques (each at least once) were re-consecrated as Christian churches in 1770, 1789, and 1807. One of them, located near the entrance to the citadel (Sultan Selim Khan ?) it was destroyed in 1826-1830 in connection with the construction of a new building of the Alexander Nevsky fortress Church, and the minaret of the Cathedral mosque was preserved until the end of the 1920s. In addition, today we have data that since the end of the XVIII century. in the southern suburb of Bendery there was a Greek Uspenskaya Church, and maybe another of the same confession even earlier, but in the Western suburbs.

It seems efficient to conduct archaeological excavations on the sites of these buildings in order to locate them more accurately, as well as to install commemorative tokens marking the locations of both Muslim and Christian shrines.

Igor Sapozhnikov. Mosques and churches of Bendery until the middle of the XIX century.

The article is devoted to mosques and Christian churches of the fortress and city of Bendery. There were at least 12 mosques in them during the Ottoman period – 9 in the fortress and 3-4 outside it. The remains of two of them (after Sultan Suleiman) have been preserved. We know the name of the Cathedral mosque (Munkar-Hamid) and its place at the Istanbul Gate, as well as the names of two other temples – Dagestan-Jami and Selim-Jami. Most likely, these three mosques were re-consecrated in the Church in 1770, 1789 and 1807. One of them (Sultan Selim Khan – ?) destroyed in 1826-1830 in connection with the construction of a new building of the Alexander Nevsky fortress Church, and the minaret of the Cathedral mosque was preserved until the end of the 1920s. The Greek Uspenskaya Church may have appeared in the town’s suburbs around the middle of the XVIII century.

Key words: town and fortress of Bendery, Evliya çelebi, L. P. B. Campenhausen, Sultan mosque of Suleiman and Selim, Munkar-Hamid Cathedral mosque, Greek and other churches.

[i] About the Gate Tower of the citadel, inscriptions on it and a plate of Iznik production, see [5].

[ii] Hereinafter, italics are mine (I.S.).

[iii] «Plan de la Ville et des attaques de Bender, assiégé depuis le 20 Juillet jusqu’au 16 Septembr, qu’elle fut prise    d’assaut par les Russes sous les Orderes du Comte de Panin en 1770» [10]

[iv] Regarding Evgeny Lobanov, the author of the article makes a mistake, calling him a Tiraspol local historian. E. Lobanov for a long time worked as the director of the Bender Museum of Local Lore, lived in Bendery and published two books on the history of the town and the fortress. Known as a local Bendery historian (approx. by administration of the website).

[v] Often the same military leader acted more decisively with mosques. On the plan “The drawing and cuts of the Ochakov fortress ... with an indication of how it look like” in 1792 it says: “Four stone mosques, of which the roof with the ceiling and the minaret are broken down to the base in the fortress near the Upper [Cathedral]” [18]

[vi] The description of Bender by Campenhausen in this publication is included in a separate article (note by administration of website)

[vii] Munkar and Nakir in the Islamic tradition are angels who interrogate and punish the dead in their graves. Hamid – in Arabic, praiseworthy, glorifying, ascending.

[viii] The ruins of the mosque of Ali Pasha from Dagestan were recorded in the suburb of Akkerman in 1793 [19]

[ix] most Likely, it was not equipped due to the small number of potential flock, as it is not mentioned later.

Picture 1. Suleiman mosque in the Gate Tower of the Citadel.

Picture 2. Bendery Fortress plan of 1770. Acronyms: A – castle; B - powder warehouse; C – armory; D – warehouses; F – cemeteries; G, H - powder warehouse; J – stone mosque; K - mine galleries; Gate: L – Konstantinople, M – unnamed, N – Varnitsky, O, P, Q, R – gate from river site; W – wells; Z – bridge destroyed by the Turks.

Picture 3. View of the Bendery fortress from the East (appr. 1740-1760, extract) [35]. 

Picture 4. Bendery Fortress plan of 1790. A – stone castle of towers connected by battlements with a moat; B – storeroom; C – powder warehouse (stone); D - philistine buildings; E - Cathedral fortress of Saint George in the fortress; Stone churches consecrated from mosques: F - holy Trinity church, G – Arminian Church; H – mosques; G – former armory; K – storeroom; L – food stores; M – former flour mills; N – former bakeries; О – merchant shops; P – stone baths; Q – philistine buildings; R - stone fountains and pools; Gate: S – Tsargradsky, T – Ardynsky, U – Varnitsky, V- Vodyany (Water), W – Kamensky (stone), X – Tabatsky, Y – small forts, redoubts. In the suburbs – a – philistine building; b – building built by Turks.

Picture 5. Minaret of the Cathedral mosque (picture by 1928) [36].










^ Top