The Bender fortress impressed the imagination of travelers and writers of the past and present centuries not only with the power of defensive structures, but also with its oriental flavour. A number of its descriptions have been preserved. There are a lot of them: quite detailed, and superficial, sometimes careless. There are descriptions of only a few phrases, mentioned cursorily, but very valuable for the historian.
Everyone who described the defensive structures clearly identified its two main components: a stone citadel and an earthen fortress with powerful bastions and deep moats. Scientists and local historians have long ago come to the unanimous opinion that the Bendery fortress was rebuilt several times, expanded and occupied about 65 hectares of land by the beginning of this century. However, the experts’ opinions differ in determining the stages of improving the Bendery fortress defensive system.
A professional soldier, a member of the Odessa Society of History and Antiquities, A. I. Zashchuk, based on the widespread “Genoese” version, concluded that “the original construction of the castle... was made before the invention of gunpowder, and the fortifications were assigned to the premises of the former throwing guns, and therefore the Turks began to adapt the castle to the room and the action of firearms after mastering this place.” The next stage, the author considered the capital reconstruction of the fortress by Italian engineers, and it “belongs to the beginning of the XVI century.” The historian came to such conclusions imaginatively, without supporting them with documentary facts.
Stefan Chiobanu, based on documentary data and studies of historians, highlights the major reconstruction in the early XVIII century, after the construction of the fortress by the Turks in 1538. This scientist mentions cursorily about the reconstruction of the XIX century.
The architect V. A. Voitsekhovsky, who studied the Pridnestrovian fortresses, was sure that in 1538 the Turks “overbuilt” the “Moldavian fortress” that existed before, and then rebuilt it several times during the Russian-Turkish wars. After examining the fortress walls, V. A. Voitsekhovsky identified 3 periods in the construction of the fortress:
1. Fortification with thin walls (possibly built at the end of the XIV century);
2. Strengthening of the walls of the first period after the occupation of the fortress by the Turks in 1538;
3. Stone-earth fortifications made during the Russian-Turkish wars of the XVIII century.»
However, V. A. Voitsekhovsky’s certainly interesting observations were not supported by documentary data. Let’s try to trace the stages of construction of this architectural monument based on both previously known and newly discovered archival sources.
The stone Citadel is an older structure. On a high rocky shore, an eight-tower castle was built, it has the shape of an irregular quadrangle. The three corner towers are cylindrical in shape, and the north - eastern tower is octagonal. Four-sided gate towers are built between the corner towers. The upper castle had two gates. Some of them faced south and were, according to E. Chelebi, “large and strong iron gates ... that opened into the posad... Every night, with the help of a gate and chain, the bridge hanging over the moat is raised and blocked by the gates of the fortress. Since there are only two rows of walls in this fortress, there is another iron gate inside the Main Gate.”
Descriptions of the Turkish traveler of the XVII century reproduce in detail the appearance of the citadel, which has not actually changed to this day: “There is another gate (in the form of a railing) between these iron gates. It is suspended on a high arch. During the battle, this railing is lowered and blocked with it access to the gate from the front. There is a mosque of Suleimanjan over these gates, but it is not as magnificent and majestic.” The remains of this mosque are still visible above the southern gate of the citadel. The base of the red - brick mihrab, a prayer niche in the wall facing south to Mecca, has been preserved. Here the defenders of the fortress performed their prayers, inspired by the mullahs or dervishes-wandering Muslim monks who accompanied the Turkish soldiers in large numbers on their many campaigns.
Unfortunately, we have to check E. Chelebi every time, and with his book in one hand, with a pencil in the other, climb the fortress walls and check his description with the original. For example, a Turkish traveler reports that “the Upper Fortress consists of twelve large, strong, impressive towers covered with batten”, but in fact, as mentioned above, there are only eight of them. In the lower part of the fortress, according to E. Chelebi, “there are six strong towers facing the Dniester”. In fact, there are only two towers there. There was another gate leading to the lower part. Most of the Turkish buildings were located here. We can only wonder how in the book of the Turkish traveler the smallest reliable details are combined with obvious inconsistencies in the description of Bendery.
At the time of E. Chelebi’s visit, there was another mosque in the lower part of the fortress (its miserable ruins with a preserved mihrab are still visible), the buildings of the command staff and the Turkish administration, barracks for janissaries, gunners and gunsmiths, as well as about 300 shingled houses. All the houses inside the fortress “face east and the windows look out on the Dniester.” A Water Gate led from the lower part of the fortress to the Dniester. The defenders of the citadel and the inhabitants of the city, passing them, went to the river for drinking water. All sides of the fortress, except the eastern one facing the Dniester, were surrounded by a deep moat. “The moat is completely enclosed around its edges by thick posts and crossbars, and no horse, mule, or any other animal can pass through this fence. For the same reason, no one can throw garbage into the moat.”
The marble slab with the chronogram-tarikh, already mentioned, hung over the south gate. In addition to this inscription, the walls of the fortress were decorated with several other tarikhs - inscriptions with ornate Arabic ligature. As a rule, such messages in stone carried little information for historians and were the subject of mischief of the Turkish locals. One such tarikh was read by E. Chelebi: “Ah! My soul, Rukiya Khanum! Madjar Mustafa, who loves her so much.” Some medieval Turkish Rome, who carried military service away from his beloved, expressed his feelings in such a way.
According to eyewitnesses, there were about fifteen similar inscriptions on the walls of the fortress until recently. However, over the past few decades, most of the tarikhs have disappeared, apparently becoming the subject of illegal income by antique sellers. There is one tarikh that has preserved till today - a tarikh with a pattern on the octagonal tower of the fortress is clearly visible
However, we will not be distracted and continue our journey along the walls of the medieval fortress; its builders, and then the defenders sought to decorate it fondly with some artistic excesses.
E. Chelebi notes that on the same tower where the already mentioned “tarikh of Suleiman” hung, a “painted bowl of Iznik production” was embedded in the wall, in a small recess ... it was a masterwork, with painting, it’s blue and opalesce inside.” This bowl is not mentioned in other sources. However, at least until 1917, above the marble slab with the inscription, a porcelain plate was embedded in the wall of the same tower in a small quadrangular recess. The glaze on it by that time was only partially preserved, the lower part of it broke off. The local legend said that it was on this plate that the commander of the capitulated Turkish garrison presented the keys to the fortress to the Russian commander in 1770.
The towers of the fortress are a real work of military art. They had three tiers and upper platforms for guns. There were recesses for the installation of load-bearing beams inside the towers, plank platforms were laid on them for the defenders of the fortress. Stone steps led in a narrow spiral along the inner walls to the upper tiers. The architect of the fortress, according to E. Chelebi, “in accordance with various laws of geometry, built such elaborate bastions, ingenious and strong corner towers that it’s impossible to describe their qualities. All its walls are twenty ayaks wide (1 ayak is about 38 cm), they are thick and smeared with a solution of sand... The length of the walls is 2520 steps... Each stone of its wall is the size of the body of a Menglus elephant, and the pieces of marble are the size of the stomach of a cow or horse.” “In general,” the Turkish traveler concludes, “the well-maintained fortress of Bendery is a reliable castle on the Ottoman possessions.” Of course, we, who have never seen the “Menglus elephant” and are poorly versed in the anatomy of domestic animals, find it difficult to keep up with the artistic imagination of E. Chelebi. Especially we can’t judge the degree of reliability of the fortress. For example, a little later, describing one of the Turkish fortresses in southern Ukraine, the same author emphasizes that it is “a thousand times stronger than Bendery.”
Unfortunately, we have very little information about the construction of the fortress itself. The name of the mimar (architect) of the fortress is known from the same E. Chelebi: Sinan ibn Abdul-Menan, a great medieval architect who lived a long life (1490-1588). An Armenian from a distant mountain village Acharnes in early childhood were deported to Turkey and given to the janissary corps. From a young age, his technical genius was manifested in the construction of bridges and military fortifications. Subsequently, Sinan became the chief architect under the sultans Suleiman the Magnificent and Selim II. Under his leadership and according to his projects, more than 300 different objects were built: palaces, bridges, madrasas, majestic mosques, including the world-famous Suleymaniye and Shahzadeh in Istanbul and Selimiye in Edirne (Adrianople).
In addition to the direct statement of E. Chelebi about the authorship of Sinan, there is indirect evidence of the famous architect’s involvement in the construction of the citadel. But they are unconvincing. It is known that Sinan participated in the Moldavian expedition of 1538 as the head of the construction of bridges and fortifications, but when and under what circumstances the Turkish architect was sent to Bendery, we do not know. Researcher A. H. Toramanyan considers the presence of an octagonal tower to be a mandatory element of the style of Armenian architects. There is an octagonal tower similar to the Bendery tower in the Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi Fortress. For the first time such a characteristic feature of construction, the author claims, is found in the XI century in Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia in the Lambron fortress, and its octagonal tower had the same eastern orientation as in the fortifications of Moldova. But even this indirect evidence of Sinan’s authorship can be accepted with a certain degree of doubt. Six-and octagonal corner towers and free-standing towers were characteristic of fortification art throughout the Middle Ages. Similar towers are known in Bulgaria, Serbia, Italy, and Crimea. For example, during the reconstruction of the fortress of Smederevo (Serbia) in 1480, the Turks erected three octagonal towers at its corners.
There is no information about how the fortress was built, who participated in its construction. Moldavian and Polish chronicles do not tell us anything about the participation of a small local population in construction work, although such an event, if it took place, could certainly be reflected.
Another option seems more acceptable: participation in the construction of the Bendery fortress of the nomadic Turkish Yuryuk tribes. It was in the first half of the XVI century that the Yuryuki appeared in the vicinity of Bendery. In the military campaigns of the Turkish army, they were used as a kind of the combat engineers: they built fortifications, built bridges and performed other auxiliary functions. Just at this time, their participation in the reconstruction of the Ochakov fortress and the construction of new defensive structures was noted.
When studying fortifications, specialists, primarily military historians have always been bewildered by the initially extremely low degree of protection of the Bendery stone citadel from the firepower of artillery. Hence there is their assumptions about the existence of a Genoese castle (or a small Moldavian fortress) that preceded the fortress and its further reconstruction by the Turks. It is even possible that the lower part of the fortress was built later than the upper one. Bendery was too easy prey for the Moldavian army, Cossack squads and Polish detachments throughout the XVI century. We will discuss military events in detail in a separate chapter. Now we can only say with certainty that the Turks at first considered the built structures only as a castle ordered by the Tatars, not adapted for protection from siege artillery and the installation of cannons in it. The small number of artillery in the Tatar troops appeared only in the middle of the XVI century.
A later decision to turn the castle into a fortress and a real stronghold of the Ottoman Empire matured under the unprecedented onslaught of Moldavian, Ukrainian and Polish detachments, sometimes separately, when together, repeatedly put the fortress and its surroundings on fire. The first attempts to improve defensive structures date back to the second half of the XVI century. In order to strengthen the crossing of the Dniester and protect the citadel on its distant approaches, in 1579, despite the increased protests of the Poles, the Turks built a new small fortress on the left bank of the river, citing the need to defend against the Cossacks. This practice of building small fortresses by the Ottoman Port was observed throughout the XVI century. I. G. Kirtoage rightly linked the origin of the name of the village Parkany with this event. This toponym, which is common in Moldova and Ukraine, means “fence”, “hedge”, “small fortification” and is of Turkic origin. M. Fasmer's linguistic conclusions are confirmed by documentary sources. When describing the conquests of Suleiman and the designation of small fortresses by Turkish chroniclers, the term “parkan” was widely used. Praising the valor of the army of the Sultan and his vezirs, chroniclers mention the capture of “Parkana Oradea”, “Parkana Solnik”, “Parkana Timishoara”. The Tatar-Hisary fortress, which was recaptured from the Hungarians, was later renamed Parkan. As you can see, the toponym “Parkan” was born on the left bank of the Dniester River much earlier than the appearance of one of the largest villages in Moldova today and its first settlers. Appearing in the restless Middle Ages, toponyms are striking in their vitality. Settlements appear and disappear, but the name of the area is sometimes preserved for centuries. For example, Parkany and other Pridnestrovian villages during the XVIII century several times ceased to exist after the Tatar raids, but again and again revived from the ashes, retaining their old names.
The construction of a fortified tower opposite the Bendery Fortress caused serious concern of the Moldavian lords and kings of Poland, who saw in this act a demonstration by Turkey of its intentions to gain a foothold in the region and create a springboard for new annexations. In July 1583, 8,000 Cossacks and about 2,000 Poles, with the approval of the Polish government, attacked Bendery and completely destroyed the fortress on the left bank of the Dniester. Subsequently, the Turks still continued the successful development of the left-bank territory. Some defenders of the garrison, burdened with family, had land and buildings there. The crossing area was heavily guarded and fortified with defensive structures.
On one of the plans of the Bendery fortress of the beginning of the XVIII century, fortifications, small structures surrounded by an earthen rampart are marked on the left bank. There is a signature “Guardhouse” on the plan. The Bendery fortress itself was significantly damaged in 1583, and then in 1584 and 1587. The burning of the city and fortress is reported by G. Ureke, Polish chroniclers, and European travelers. After the significant destruction of 1587, the Turkish Sultan once again sends the Moldavian ruler to restore the Bendery fortress.
At the beginning of the XVII century, the Turks engaged in a thorough reconstruction of fortifications. Probably, at the same time, the walls and towers of the citadel were completed and thickened, which was noticed in their research in the fortress by such professionals in their field as the officer of the General Staff of the Russian Army A. I. Zashchuk and the architect V. A. Voitsekhovsky. It was at this time that the appearance of the earthen fortress should be attributed. Even on the distant approaches to the stone citadel, deep moats appeared, which served at the same time as protection for the citizens who settled under the walls of the fortress. In 1639 Italian traveler Nicolo Barsiv reports that the town of Bendery is fortified with strong walls with deep moats and a large number of artillery.
E. Chelebi also left us a description of the earthen fortress. “A large suburb,” wrote a Turkish traveler, “is surrounded on all sides by a steep moat. There are wells with thick curbs and guard rooms everywhere in it.” The radical reconstruction of the Bendery fortress took place at the beginning of the XVIII century, when Turkey felt a real danger coming from the young Russian Empire, which was persistently rushing to the Black Sea. With the loss of Azov by the Turks, the military and strategic importance of the fortress on the Dniester grew rapidly. Bendery became the residence of Silistra Beylerbey. Under the leadership of French engineers, a giant construction project began, which took up almost the entire first decade of the XVIII century.
In early 1705, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, P. A. Tolstoy, informed Peter I that the Sultan had sent to Bender one of his most experienced officials - the Grand Vizier Yusufpasha, the lords of Moldavia and Wallachia, the Rumelian Timariots, as well as “other serving people from Rumelia under the pretext of rebuilding the Bendery fortress”.
Turkish sources also report on the significant reconstruction of defensive structures at the beginning of the XVIII century. The information about this serious event in the life of the Bendery fortress is preserved in the Moldovan chronicles. Ion Neculche tells in detail how the Moldavian boyars, fulfilling the instructions of the Turkish pasha, organized the delivery of stone and wood from Orhei and Lapushna to Bendery. In the spring of 1707, according to the chronicler, the lord Antiochus Cantemir came to Bendery with all the boyars, who, having gathered thousands of peasants, on behalf of the Porte, supervised the construction works .
Another chronicler, Nikolai Kostin, also reports on the participation in earthworks and transport works of tens of thousands of Moldovans and Wallachians, torn from their homes, from their land and bending their backs on the steep ramparts until late autumn.
The limestone was probably mined in Varnitsa and Bychok, on the left bank of the Dniester River. On the maps of the beginning of the XVIII century, a new crossing is marked just north of the fortress to the place where the remains of a stone quarry that operated for several centuries are still located. However, granite was also widely used as a building material, which was delivered, according to Sh.Ciobanu, from Dobrudja or the coastal cliffs of the village of Cosauti, Soroca district. Plan capital reconstruction of the fortress was to create a whole system of fortifications (hornworks, crownworks etc.) and bastions, that is, fortifications, maximally complicating the enemy storming the fortress, especially its citadel. On the distant approaches to the town, earthen defensive fortifications were also created, where Turkish patrols were on duty, warning of the approach of the enemy.
According to the concept of fortification art that prevailed in the XVIII century, the main obstacle that protected the fortification from assault was a moat, the walls of which were lined with stone and equipped with escarpments – stone and earth barriers in the form of a steep cut of the terrain slope facing the enemy. Behind the stone escarpment, defensive escarpment galleries were equipped with loopholes for rifle shooting and holes for drawing powder gases. The opposite part of the moat, which faced the defenders and was also a stone-earth barrier, was called a counterscarp.
The fortress defense consisted of eight stone-earthen obtuse-angled bastions in the upper part and two in the lower one. Bastions were connected by curtains – it’s the fortified passes. The hornworks were built in front of the main fortifications – they’re fortification buildings with two wings on the sides, lined with granite. From here, underground stone galleries, equipped with vertical wells, led into the fortress.
In addition to the fortifications, a new mosque and a luxurious palace of the Turkish pasha were built, striking contemporaries with its splendor, new barracks, baths and other buildings.
Several descriptions of the fortress have been preserved after its reconstruction. The companions of Charles XII, who left many memories of the Swedish king’s stay in Bendery, report little about the fortifications. They were, as a rule, military men; they were not surprised by the new bastions and casemates of the Bendery Fortress, built on European models. But one of the contemporaries of Charles XII conveys the oriental flavor of the town in sufficient details: “A glittering fortress with towers and buildings prevails over the river, to the west is the city itself with neat houses, with two well-fortified gates and surrounded by a wall. There is a mosque with a minaret in the center of the town; from its gallery the muezzin (servant of the mosque) calls the people to prayer with heart-rending cries. All who wish to enter the temple are required to remove their shoes at the entrance, then walk barefoot on the carpeted floor and mutter prayers... Under the fortress you can see the buildings of stone baths with a long hall, lined with square stone slabs. Hot water comes on the heads and bodies of bathers from the red pipes. Head caps and towels are provided in this hall. The bath attendant rubs the bodies of those who come to the bath with soap and a hard washcloth. Regularly, twice a week, women also come here to the men's bath, who are obliged to take care of the cleanliness of their bodies. Barbers shave Turks only in the baths and only the neck, chest and armpits with very sharp razors, but do not touch the beards and mustaches, which are the national pride of the Turks.”
The Austrian merchant Kleeman, who was traveling from Vienna to the Crimea in 1769, gave a very picturesque account of the town and the fortress. According to the description, Kleeman surveyed the Bendery Fortress from its southern side and complained that he could not enter “inside it”. “This fortress lies in the middle of the town, surrounded by strong walls, rather elevated; deep moats are dug near it.” Kleeman reports that drawbridges with railings are thrown across the moat to the gates of the fortress. “…Below, at some distance from the river, a hornwork is made of carved stone, which is covered with an elevated bollwork. The earthen ramparts are equipped according to the Turkish taste - with towers, and cannons are placed between them. This hornwork is fortified by some ravelins (fortifications) and the moats are deliberately wide, while at the top and bottom of the glacis (a gentle earthen embankment) double front gardens are made. Part of the town lies at an altitude, is surrounded by strong walls covered with bastions and fortresses, and a reliable moat. The part that is on level ground, except the fence, has bastions, ravelins and a wide moat. The gate is very thick, well made of railings. The city itself has its own suburbs, and when viewed from the side of the Dniester, it represents the figure of a “half-moon”.
As you can see, the French military engineers paid great attention to the moats, which were considered the main obstacle for the enemy to storm the fortress. After the restructuring, the lower part of the fortress received a completely sensible independent meaning. An earthen rampart was erected under the sheer wall of the upper castle; it provided a circular defense. Two bastions were erected, reinforced by a crownwork, an auxiliary fortress fence with two wings, arranged between them and a little ahead. Unlike the upper stone moats, the lower one was left earthen. As elsewhere, it was also equipped with a glacis-a gentle earthen embankment in front of the outer moat of the fortress. Glacis was built, as a rule, to improve shooting of the area, camouflaging and protection the fortification. The moat remained dry. Two parallel equipped water pipes were discovered in the northern part of the fortress during construction work on the territory of the fortress a few years ago. But they were primarily used not to fill moats, but to supply the fortress with drinkable water from nearby lakes. They probably did not have any serious significance, since in some descriptions of travelers it is reported that the townspeople took water from the Dniester. The lower gate of the fortress was called "water". To provide reserve water supplies, the Turkish garrison had a huge tank with a capacity of 25 thousand buckets.
Unlike fortifications, internal buildings (mosques, baths, barracks, warehouses, etc.) were chaotic in nature and surprised contemporaries with their lack of consistency and oriental exoticism. After the capital construction of the beginning of the XVIII century, the appearance of the fortress has not actually changed to this day. All other works were later in the nature of cosmetic repairs or did not affect at least its main characteristics.
Some elements of defensive structures attract attention. For example, the fortress walls are not monolithic. They are equipped with special hollow vertical and horizontal channels that perform several functions at once. The fortress successfully withstood two strong earthquakes in November 1821. Eyewitnesses of the destruction of the minaret remains in the mid-1960s claim that its foundation was laid by the Turks taking into account earthquake resistance.
Special mention should be made of the underground fortress communications. Along the equipped stone galleries, the defenders could quickly reach not only the bastions and the citadel, but also the distant retrenchment -temporary defensive structures erected in front of the fortress. Some of them are quite spacious. In the direction of Kaushan, a detachment of 5-6 people could run through the underground gallery without hindrance. With their help, it was possible to carefully disguise the passages leading outside the fortress and they were intended for sudden attacks on the enemy during its siege and for intelligence service. Many underground passages were dug during the war, especially in 1770. The length of some of them reached several kilometers.
Later, in the XIX century, underground structures brought a lot of trouble to Bendery’s residents. For a long time, they were not allowed to build “houses on a capital foundation”, then they were allowed only after the appropriate permission of the commandant of the Bendery fortress, who apparently had a scheme of underground passages. The local police were seriously concerned that the underground mazes were being cleverly used by criminals. For example, on the night of July 3 to 4, 1812, thieves made their way through one of the passages under the house of the priest of the Assumption Church Ivan Hadzhiy, got inside and took out property and money. In the 1830s, large-scale works were organized in the city to fill up “holes left by the Turks”, but in subsequent years, and even today, builders and ordinary citizens have repeatedly stumbled upon these peculiar traces of the former Turkish rule.
It worth mention the images on the stones in the moats of the fortress. If we discard the obviously later “art”, many interesting images have been preserved on the stones. Probably, most of them should be dated to the beginning of the XVIII century, that is, the time of the appearance of fortress moats. However, the nature of the images, the complexity of the drawings show that the stones of different composition and different sizes were carved by craftsmen separately, and not on the wall itself. Perhaps some of them were extracted from earlier buildings. For a serious analysis of the drawings, a separate depth investigation is necessary.
The fortress city was equipped with six gates. Depending on the direction of the road leaving them, each of the gates had its own name, which changed over time along with the political situation. For example, on the “Plan of the Bendery fortress”, compiled in 1770, the following gates are indicated: “Istanbul or Constantinople, Ordynsky, Varnitsky, Kamenetsky, Water, Tabatsky”. It was possible to pass through the “small water gate” from the lower castle to the Dniester. “Iasi, Izmail, Chisinau” gates are mentioned in other documents.
The Russian writer and public figure Pavel Sumarokov saw the still Turkish town of Bendery after two Russo-Turkish wars on August 2, 1799: “After spending the night in Tiraspol, I went the next day to the Bendery, which is 7 miles away from here. Soon the white buildings appeared in the distance, and they opened more and more as I approached. Then, when I arrived at the area of Parkany... the town of Bendery appeared to my eyes no further than 50 fathoms (about 80 meters), as if it was separated by one wide street, and on the other side I could not only to see all the faces, but even to talk to the Turks coming out. This famous town has its position on the Dniester itself, which, flowing near it in a straight line at both ends, bends into Russia. Stone walls, rising from the water to the surface of the mountain, enclose the vast fortress and promise its invincibility. Inside it, you can see decorated mosques, high minarets, many Asian-style buildings, the Pasha’s house, his country garden with pavilions, and outer settlement (pre-fortress buildings), adjacent to it on the left side. Muslim women with their faces covered walked along the shore, and many Turks rode out of the fortress gates along the stone slope with barrels to the Dniester for water... The damage from the Russian battles that has been repaired on the walls is reminiscent of the two-time mastery of it from our heroes.”
Unfortunately, the admiring epithets of P. Sumarokov give us not very significant information about the fortress itself. However, we have some more recent information, although not very detailed; it was given by a military specialist. Count A. I. Langeron - a Frenchman and a participant of the Russian-Turkish war of 1806-1812, who was in the Russian service - gave not too flattering assessment of the defensive structures of the Bendery fortress: “ Bendery is situated on the right bank of the Dniester, its surroundings are quite correct, the ramparts are lined with stone and made according to the latest method, but they have neither a covered path nor slopes, and some curtains were so excessively large that even from the bastions it was impossible to produce crossfire. There is a commanding height on Russian territory on the other side of the Dniester; placed one battery on it could crush a Turkish town and even the house of the Pasha himself and his inner apartments.”
Indeed, Bendery never performed a purely military function. Even after the major reconstruction of the beginning of the XVIII century, the town and the fortress again began to grow with chaotic buildings of the suburbs, which prevented compliance with all the rules of fortification.
A very significant description of the fortress is one of the tsarist officials P. P. Svinin in 1816, that means it was given before the Russians began large construction works. He reports that the fortress “has 10 bastions surrounded by a deep moat, 11 towers, 6 stone gates and 4 bridges in the castle... Inside the fortress there were many buildings under the Turks, both houses and shops, enclosed in narrow streets, but after leaving them almost all the buildings were broken, and the magnificent palace of the pasha was destroyed. But today there are such remaining ones as: 4 stone supply stores, 1 powder cellar, 2 artillery storeroom, 3 mosques, one of them was turned into a Russian church in the name of St. Prince Alexander Nevsky, and the others into a shop and a guardhouse, 2 guardhouses, 30 hurdle dilapidated houses, now occupied by garrison staff and chief officers, and 5 soldiers’ barracks”.
After the deployment of Russian troops in the fortress in 1806, many changes took place in and around the territory, which, however, did not affect the walls of the citadel itself and the bastions. Conventionally, the reconstruction of the XIX century in the fortress can be divided into several stages:
1. Repair and restoration works of the period of military operations of the Russian-Turkish war of 1806-1812.;
2. Planned major reconstruction of the fortress in the 1814-1840s;
3. Mass defensive construction during the Crimean War of 1854-1855;
4. Works after the abolition of the fortress. 1890s.
According to the “Chronicle of the Bendery Fortress” compiled by A. I. Zashchuk, the reconstruction began in 1807 with the full repair of the Janissary barracks, the Pasha's house and a number of other buildings. The data of A. Zashchuk are also confirmed by archival documents. By order of the commander-in-chief of the Moldavian Army A. A. Prozorovsky to the commandant of the Bendery Fortress, the population of the town and nearby villages in the order of natural duty from the spring of 1808 began to allocate the necessary number of carts and people for “breaking up houses and buildings that have worn out” and removing construction rubbish.
On May 23, 1811, the Tsar’s rescript on the creation of garrison artillery teams in the former fortresses of Bessarabia was adopted. Bendery, Izmail and Akkerman fortresses were ranked as 2-nd class fortresses. But already on July 18 of the same year, the Russian Emperor Alexander I signed a decree to consider Bendery a fortress of the 1-st class, and significant funds were allocated for its capital re-equipment. For example, only in July 1814, 5,000 rubles were allocated from the provincial funds for "fortification works”.
One of the former Turkish mosques at the fortress was converted into a church. At the behest of the Moldovan metropolitan, the collection of donations for its improvement began, but funds from the war-depleted small population were received little. In the autumn of 1813, meeting the petitions of the clergy and parishioners, the government of the Bessarabian region allocated the missing amount to the fortress church.The fortress Church of Alexander Nevsky was located 30 meters to the west of the citadel and was a two-story stone building covered with tiles. Turkish flags were kept in the church as trophies. The garrison command held military parades. However, already in 1822, the Bender Engineering Department applied for funds for the construction of a new fortress church. Its construction lasted until 1833.
The fortress capital reconstruction began with the repair of the towers of the upper and lower castle and the armory. According to the command’s order, no civilian buildings should be located at a distance of up to 500 meters around the fortress. All the chaotically sparsed and dilapidated churches were demolished, and the planned development of the Bendery town began to the south of the fortress in 1814. A new building of St. Nicholas Cathedral Church was erected first. The appearance of a new village with the distinctive title of Protyagailovka (that means “stretched”, “pulled” from the city) is also connected with the relocation of the outer settlement from the walls of the fortress; it then became the suburb of Bendery. In the following years, in addition to repair and restoration, the following construction works were carried out: 1819 - two guardhouses, the main guardhouse, warehouses were built. 1821 - major reconstruction of the powder cellar and construction of three lunettes (fortified moats) to cover the fortress gates. Bridges were built across these lunettes. 1821-1823 – “front yard sheds” were built around the walls of the citadel. 1834 - completion of the construction of a three-story defensive barracks. 1845 - construction of the 1-st class hospital was started.
Due to the growth of military-technical progress and because of the remoteness from the new Russian borders, the Bendery fortress gradually lost its strategic importance. It was increasingly used for the deployment of troops and storage of military equipment. On May 19, 1834, the Duke of Ragusa Auguste de Marmont - a well-known military commander in European military circles - passed through Bender to Odessa to meet with the Governor-General M. S. Vorontsov. It was a curious assessment of the fortress, given by a 60-year-old French marshal, who became famous during the time of Emperor Napoleon. “During my passage,” recalls Marshal Mormon, “they were engaged in its reconstruction. However, it is not bad to keep such a small fortress as Bender: it protects the warehouses and can serve as a support and shelter for scattered troops, in case of any confusion in this country that is vast and recently acquired.”
Huge works to improve the defensive fortifications were carried out during the Crimean War of 1853-1856. The first failures of the Russian army created a real possibility of conducting military operations on the territory of Bessarabia. On March 21, 1854, the imperial decree on the transfer of the Bendery Fortress to a state of siege was signed. A huge number of people from all the districts of Bessarabia and the Tiraspol district of the Kherson province were drawn to the Bendery in the order of military service. 6,000 workers and 3,300 ox-wagons arrived from Kishinev County alone. The peasants worked in difficult weather conditions. On March 24, a strong storm swept over Bessarabia, it became sharply cold, and the spring flood began. The local population was mainly involved in large earthworks for the construction of lunettes - another strip of defensive structures in front of the fortress. Lunettes were fortifications made of earthen ramparts with dug moats in front. The village of Lipkany was on the way of one of the lunettes.
On October 24, 1854, Nicholas I signed a decree on the relocation of some Lipkany residents to empty Bendery houses, and for the rest he allocated a grant of 25 rubles to each owner for the construction of houses in New Lipkany.
The second important object on which the peasants were involved was the construction of earthen dikes on both banks of the Dniester. Thanks to them, the Odessa-Kishinev postal road was significantly raised, and now it was not threatened by the annual floods of the river. Two floating bridges on galleys were built across the Dniester. Subsequently, one bridge was dismantled, and the other was transferred to the civil department. After the previously unreliable ferry crossing, this was a major step forward.
Among the other large built objects, we can distinguish a bridgehead on the left bank of the Dniester and a new powder magazine for 1,300 poods. In addition, many auxiliary and repair works were carried out around the perimeter of the fortress. The peasants’ military service lasted until the end of 1855. Those who worked were required to change every two weeks, but often, without receiving a replacement from their village, they were delayed for a month. Despite the great work done, the strategic importance of the Bendery Fortress was further evaluated by military experts extremely low. This was due both to the general development of military art and offensive weapons, primarily artillery, and to the individual characteristics of this object, which in the 1880s received the status of a fortress of only the 3rd class.
On February 5, 1894, a special meeting was held in St. Petersburg under the chairmanship of the Minister of War, which considered the question “About the fortresses of Kerch and Bendery”. Leading Russian military experts on the basis of the report of the command of the Odessa Military District came to a unanimous opinion on the abolition of the Bendery fortress. “The fortress is located in a secondary theater of military operations,” the resolution of the meeting noted,” the available defensive fortifications and artillery weapons do not meet modern requirements. It has lost its strategic importance... The defensive means of the fortress are also unsatisfactory due to the presence of command heights close to it to the west. In this regard, the fortress will not even be able to provide in the event of military actions the defense of the crossing at Bender across the Dniester.” The military meeting rejected the proposal of the Odessa District command to turn the Bendery fortress into a warehouse fortress, referring to the tightness of the rooms and proximity to the border. The decisions of the Military Conference sounded like a verdict. Yet the question of the future fate of the fortress was not closed.
In April of the same year, officers of the General Staff and the Odessa Military District arrived in Bender, who, after careful consideration on the spot of all the pros and cons, still recommended “turning the Bender Fortress into a warehouse for storing the necessary material parts.” It was also proposed to leave behind the fortress the functions of protecting the railway bridge, built in January 1871. Exactly one year later, on February 5, 1895, a Special Meeting under the Minister of War decided:
1. To maintain the defensive structures in good condition;
2. To store 104 artillery pieces in the fortress with all the material and combat equipment, as well as have 54 guns for arming the bridgehead;
3. To leave 1 company of fortress artillery in Bendery;
4. To maintain warehouses with a special supply of field fortification hand tools in case of military operations.
According to the decision of the Special Meeting, two blockhouses and a special guardhouse were built near the south-eastern bastion in the immediate vicinity of the railway bridge on the right and left banks of the Dniester River. The construction of these defensive facilities was the last in the history of the Bender Fortress.
Published in the book by G. Astvatsaturov. Bendery fortress, second edition, section 3, Bendery, 2007