Author: Alexander Koretsky
What do the walls of the Bendery fortress “speak” about?
There is hardly a Pridnestrovian monument of history, whose legendarium would be richer than the treasury of stories about Vender Kalesi. And don't let the last word confuse Game of Thrones fans. This is how the familiar “Bendery Fortress” sounds in Turkish. There are many beliefs associated with this unique artifact of engineering, one more incredible than the other. Mazepa's "Golden Carriage", Mohammed's 90-carat diamond, the treasures of the Janissaries buried in mysterious underground galleries and guarded by ghosts - such legends are passed down from generation to generation by the inhabitants of Bendery. It is said that the map of the fortress, kept in the central museum of the Turkish capital, was closed to public access after restoration work began here in 2008. And while Hollywood screenwriters have not yet got to these stories, which can make a good plot for the next series of Indiana Jones (say, Indiana Jones and the Kalesi Diamond), the stones of the fortress keep the secret history of the castle on the Dniester.
Jealousy of Roksolana
As you know, the Bendery Fortress consists of three defensive sectors that appeared at different times: the eight-towered Citadel of the middle of the 16th century, the Lower Fortress of the late 16th century and the Outer Bastion Fortress of the first half of the 17th century.
Researchers claim that they were built by the Turks after the conquest of the Moldavian principality. As an argument, the so-called Suleiman's tarikh is a six-line inscription in Farsi (Persian), carved on a marble slab, which was built into the wall above the southern gate of the Citadel.
Today, only one fragment of it remains. The surviving lines of the Persian script are kept in the Bendery Historical Museum, and a skilled orientalist can read the following:
“I am the Shah of Baghdad and Iraq, the king of Rome and the sultan of Egypt // my sympathy and generosity, he is the obedient slave of the sultan // When dust rose from the horseshoes of my horse, I conquered Bogdan.”
Other fragments of the marble slab with the text of Suleiman's tarikh appear to have been lost forever. Like many other inscriptions on the walls of the fortress, which, according to historian Georgy Astvatsaturov, were stolen at different times.
Nevertheless, the full text of the marble slab was still restored thanks to the Russian military, who made a copy of it back in the 19th century, and even photographed it at the beginning of the 20th century.
This allowed specialists to decipher the inscription in its entirety, and at present there are at least four translations of the text of Suleiman's tarih into Russian, Romanian, Turkish, German, English and other languages. Here is one of them:
“I am the slave of Allah and the ruler of this world, the Sultan. Allah made me the faithful leader of the people of Mohammed, I am the favorite of the All-Merciful. The wisdom of Allah and the miraculous power of Mohammed are my companions. I am that Suleiman in whose name the “khutba” [prayer to the sovereign] was read in holy places. I am the one who sent ships to the European, African and Indian seas. I am the Shah of Baghdad and Iraq, the King of Rome [Byzantium] and the Sultan of Egypt. I achieved the throne and the golden crown of the Hungarian king out of my sympathy and generosity, he is the obedient slave of the Sultan, and I also expelled the voevoda Peter, the many-evil rebel. When dust rose from the horseshoes of my horse, I conquered Bogdan. Hassan Bey, the new Qadi of Bender, who fortified the crossing, helped the sea beys. I am Suleiman, a descendant of the Ottomans, who built the fortress and wrote the chronogram. Year 945".
We are talking about a man whose name is associated with the golden age of the Ottoman Empire. It was his famous Roksolana, they say, who was jealous of the Bendery fortress. In this story, Suleiman, in addition to his own glorification, talks about the conquest of Bogdania (as the Turks called Moldova) and the expulsion of its ruler Peter. At the same time, even the year 945 according to the Muslim calendar is indicated, which counts the time from the resettlement of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina (Hijra). Translated into the current chronology, the year is 1538.
So, based on Suleiman's tarikh, historians believe that the Bendery fortress was built by the Turks no later than 1538. However, in recent years, new facts have appeared that point to a more ancient origin of the Vender Kalesi.
King of Germany
Ukrainian researchers Igor Sapozhnikov and Volodymyr Levchuk published for the first time the information of the Prime Major of the Izyum Light Horse Regiment L.-P.-B. von Kampenhausen, who was in Bendery in 1789 and left detailed notes about them. The officer says that out of the seven gates of the fortress, two have inscriptions of the “oriental style”. A literal translation of one of them Campenhausen cited in his notes:
“I, by the grace of the highest, the first in the world of all emperors, the Sultan, born of God and his prophet Muhammad, the interlocutor of the Lord, the conqueror of the world, the governors of Peter and Bogdania. I am Suleiman, the imprint of the banner of the temple of the only God, I wrested the Tegin fortress and its garrison with the King of Germany. I took it by storm, in the presence of my invincible army. And I ordered, taking stones from the castle of Palanka, to build this wall and gate, and call the fortress Ben-Derim [Ben-Derim]."
According to this report, a fortress called Tegin existed even before the Turkish conquest, and Suleiman only rebuilt it, adapting it to his own strategic needs. Moreover, it is rather curious that he captured it not from the Moldavian ruler (voivode) Peter, but from the “King of Germany”. For connoisseurs of history and local historians, this seems incredible (after all, where are the Benders, and where is Germany ?!). However, there are so many blank spots in history that one has to be surprised at each new piece of knowledge.
Back in 2010, the Odessa historian Andrei Krasnozhon noticed that one of the towers of the Citadel was fundamentally different from the rest of the fortifications.
Octagonal, in plan it is an order of magnitude higher than other towers. And judging by the structure of the masonry, it was built much earlier than the Citadel itself! Moreover, at the base of the walls erected by the Turks, there are broken slabs with the remains of mysterious bas-reliefs. It appears that older stone artifacts were used by the Ottomans as building material for their fortifications.
Italians and the Byzantine Emperor
Indeed, in the Moldavian letters of the middle of the 15th century, the names Tyagyanyakyach and Tigina were alternately mentioned. However, in no case was there a mention of the commandant of this fortress - pircalab, although such officials appear every time when talking about Moldavian strongholds. It seems that the fortress and its garrison were not subject to the administration of the Moldavian rulers. There is another example in the history of Bogdania: the Kiliya fortress on the Danube was in the possession of Hungary until Stefan III captured it. So the story of how Suleiman "wrested the Tegin fortress from the king of Germany" is much more interesting and plausible than the version that Campenhausen could get confused in translation.
The ambiguity of reports about Bendery raises a logical question: who, when, and most importantly, why built a castle on the banks of the Dniester? Indirect data contained in historical works erect the original castle of the Bendery fortress to the era of the rule of the Italian-Genoese in the Black Sea region. In the 13th-14th centuries, they owned vast trading posts here, through which they traded with the Golden Horde that dominated the steppes. This theory is still quite popular today, however, direct evidence of the Genoese origin of the Bendery Castle has still not been found. There is, however, a version that this stronghold existed long before the enterprising Italians appeared in the Black Sea.
One Byzantine emperor, whom schoolchildren know as the godfather of the chronicle princess Olga of Kyiv, left a curious description of the North-Western Black Sea region of the 10th century. This is Konstantin Porphyrogenitus, the author of the famous work "On the Management of the Empire." His book speaks of some "empty fortresses" located at the crossings across the Dniester. One of them Konstantin calls Tungata. Due to its consonance with Tegina, researchers associate it with the Bendery fortress. But even this version does not have a solid argument that fair criticism could break. So future generations of historians have yet to get to the bottom of the answer to the question of when and who built the first castle. For this, however, a lot of work will have to be done to study the foundation of all the fortifications of the fortress.
Mystical symbols, love lyrics and audacious kidnapping
No less interesting is the "language" in which the fortress "talks" to us, overcoming time. It consists of bas-reliefs, graffiti and chronograms, of which there are about sixty. Among them there are real allegorical scenes, as, for example, on a slab daringly stolen and suddenly returned. Last year, antique hunters stole a bas-relief from the masonry of the fortification, which depicts a figure of a horse tied to a tree (similar to a cypress). Minarets are also painted there and an inscription in Farsi is engraved: "Muhammad carved on a stone, from a pure heart", with the date 1206 Hijri or 1791 AD. The plate, however, was very quickly returned to its place by the "black diggers". “Something must have happened,” the wits say in such cases.
There are also real cryptograms among graffiti. One of them is made in the form of a pendulum wall clock, the arrow of which points to 8. Odessa researcher Andrey Krasnozhon believes that they contain engineering calculations that were carried out during the modernization of the bastion fortress by European engineers commissioned by the Turkish government at the end of the 18th century.
The walls of the stronghold carefully store love lyrics. As early as the 17th century, the traveler Evliya Celebi quoted sensual lines of oriental poetry, skillfully carved on a slab in the masonry of the southern gate of the Citadel: "Oh! My soul, Ryukiye-khanim ..! ... Loving her Majar Mustafa ". Today, almost four centuries later, only a few words remain of these notes of soulful melody.
But the six-petalled symbols and the hexagram, inscribed on the St. George Gates of the Bendery fortress, continue to haunt the minds of researchers. In the system of fortifications, these gates were internal, having an unnatural front view for a defensive structure. On their pediment, a mystical decorative ornament is carved in stone - a six-pointed star between two squares, on the sides of which rosettes are inscribed.
So far, experts are far from an objective interpretation of this symbolic composition. We can only state that both the hexagram and the rosettes are found in the art of many cultures and traditions. It is believed that these signs are associated with the symbolism of the transition and the border. As a rule, they are found on the facades of religious buildings and tombstones, being a kind of marker for the separation of two spaces.
So, the Bendery fortress is full of mysteries and surprises. For a long time it remained a closed strategic object of several states - Turkey, Russia, and then Pridnestrovie. Today it is a historical complex, on the territory of which a large-scale reconstruction is underway. The fortress is open to foreign tourists and residents of the republic, and its research potential is truly colossal, local historians say. At first glance, it is a familiar element of the urban landscape of Bendery. But once inside the fortress walls, it is impossible to get rid of the feeling that Terra Incognita is in front of you.