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fortress tower

A description of the Akkerman Fortress structure, Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, Ukraine.

The fortress of Akkerman (long. 30.35; lat. 46.20) is located on a promontory inside the estuary (liman) of the Dniester River, some 15 km from the point where the river enters the Black Sea. With a circumference of over 2 km, an area of 9 hectares, double walls, a ditch 13 m. deep, and 30 towers still standing (see google map and fortress plan), it is one of the most remarkable architectural and cultural monuments of the Black Sea region.

Akkerman fortress was variously known as Moncastro or Cetatea Alba. It is built on top of the remains of ancient Tyras, a Greek trading settlement founded in the 6th c. BC by colonists from Miletus in western Anatolia. In the 2nd c. AD Tyras was a Roman frontier post, and it survived until the 3rd c. when it was destroyed by the Goths. Thereafter the site was in Byzantine, possibly Ruthenian, and Genoese hands, before being held for a century by the principality of Moldavia. In 1484, the fortress was conquered by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid II (r. 1481-1512), and for most of a period of more than three hundred years, until the Russian Empire annexed it in 1806, Akkerman was held by the Ottomans. It became part of a chain of massive strongholds protecting the Black Sea-the 'Ottoman lake'-and its coasts from attackers from the north, first Ukrainian Cossack raiders and forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and then in the 18th c. those of the Russian Empire. Given its strategic location on one of the two great rivers that flow south from the steppe into the Black Sea-the other is the Dnieper-it was among the most forbidding of the fortresses that stretched in an arc from the Danube to the Sea of Azov, and is one of the best-preserved.

The fortress today comprises three enclosures or yards. In the north of the site is the citadel, a square fort with circular corner towers whose north wall forms part of the enclosure known as the 'garrison yard'. To the south of the garrison yard is the so-called 'civil yard'. To the west of these two yards, on the shore of the liman, is the 'port yard' whose most salient remains are those of a 'barbican', situated on a headland protruding into the Dniester, and an Ottoman bath-house or hamam. The main gate of the fortress is on the eastern, landward wall, immediately south of the wall dividing the garrison from the civil yard. The ditch runs the full length of the land walls, meeting the shore at either end.

The site has been excavated at various times in the past. The earliest expedition to Tyras, whose remains can be seen outside the main gate, dates from the early 1900s. Within the fortress the formerly undulating ground was levelled sometime after a survey in 1955, doubtless resulting in the loss of a wealth of archaeological material. Since then, a programme of 'restoration' has gradually been undertaken, effectively remaking many parts of the site.