Point of gravity. The remnants of the walls on the flat mountain near Uzhhorod, in the Kamyanytsya village, have always been a magnet not only for Transcarpathia residents. Nevitsky Castle is about love. Weekend walks, little runaways from urban life, romantic dates, family picnics, the most spectacular finish of cycling tours and observation of meteor shower. The epicenter of this is one of the most famous and most mysterious castles of Transcarpathia – Nevitsky. This is written in the article on the Оpinion.
It does not belong to the best-preserved fortresses of the region, here the leaders are the Uzhhorod castle, the Palanok in Mukachevo and St. Miklos in Chynadievo, however, it is the one that has a soul. As well as knowledge. For this castle has its own knight, researcher, guardian, and it is better to go to the stone kingdom near Kamyanytsia with him. This is the archaeologist Oleksandr Dzembas: we say “Nevitsky” – we mean “Dzembas”, we say “Dzembas” we mean “Nevitsky”.
“Do you feel authenticity? Do you feel it? As well there is a lot of young energy. For two decades volunteer archeological camps are working here, so thanks to young people we have a castle of knowledge. Youth from all over Ukraine, as well as foreigners, are united by indifference, love for history, and this special place. There were hundreds of children from all regions of the state here, the West and the East. By the way, I’m sure that none of those who were visiting it during these years hadn’t become a militant ‘there’. Everybody become friends here, they continue to communicate further, Nevitsky castle has become a point of unification. However, let’s go inside the castle. Before we thought that it belongs to the fourteenth century. However, we’ve managed to find out that the monument had already had several stages of reconstruction in the thirteenth. The view that we can imagine now, was acquired approximately in the middle of the fifteenth century. A barbican tower was built, the external wall was carved in the rocky monolith, and the main constructions were completed. Thanks to research, it was discovered that the castle had one more outer wall, which was made of wood and clay, it was locking the palisade (the territory inhabited by citizens and the garrison) on the approaches to the fortress. Yet, there is a lot to explore here!”
The rise of Nevitsky castle was in the middle of the fifteenth century. After that period, only insignificant internal rearrangements took place, while the walls were completed at that time. The castle existed until the middle of the seventeenth century, until 1644, when it was destroyed by the Transylvanian prince George Rákóczi. In general, there were three cycles of destruction and rebuilding of the fortress. However, its main attraction is the lack of more modern constructions, that is, the authenticity that is very valuable now. The Nevitsky fortress is associated with the Renaissance, after all, it was owned by the Italian counts from the Drugeth family, who, together with the King Charles Robert of the Anjou dynasty, got to the Hungarian kingdom, where the monarch granted them several castles.
“As an archaeologist and I firmly believe that this is an outstanding building and a monument. Since the fourteenth-century builders used here the most progressive technologies and materials of their time. For example, stained glass windows were found in the building, we dated them back to that period. The sensation of the castle is plumbing, which was built in the middle of the fifteenth century! It was made simultaneously with the erection of a moat and the last protective wall. Water was running from the bottom to the top! That time engineers used the communicating vessels law, this is pure physics. However, the thing is that this law was formulated by Blaise Pascal at the end of the seventeenth century! Builders used this principle solely empirically, they made reservoirs on a neighboring mountain, connected it to the castle with the help of wooden pipes: the water was going down, and then due to the change of elevation it was running up and filled the outer moat. The well inside has not yet been studied. We predict that it dates back to the eighteenth century.”
With love that can be traced in a tone of his voice, our guide tells us what was in those halls (we’re just standing in the middle of the stone galleries) – how the floors were connected, what was in the towers, what was the bridge that was used for transportation of construction materials: they were mostly brought from the territory, which now has the relevant name – Kamyanytsia (“kamin” means stone in Ukrainian – translator’s note). They were using a lift, the so-called “crane”, which worked on the principle of counterweight, so, one or two guards could lift or lower very heavy bridge on their own, at that time it was an advanced engineering solution. Information about the castle is discovered in parts during a new time and till now. Nevitsky castle is full of riddles.
“For three years I couldn’t understand why there were two close to each other bridges in the castle. After all, a bridge is always a weakening of the castle’s defense. This riddle was solved thanks to a colleague from Portugal, an architect who asked me: ‘Well, have you tried to go up and down on the wagon?’ Archaeologically we managed to find out that, they were in a real hurry with the castle’s construction. Wagons with stones, solution, and other stuff entered through one bridge, unloaded, and then departed through another one, which was temporary.”
It was stones that caused this ongoing story of the connection between the castle and its warden. The young historian of Uzhhorod State (now national) University, Oleksandr Dzembas, decided to explore hillforts and fortifications of Upper Tisza River region. Castles of this region are located mostly on the spot of old hillforts, this also applies to Nevitsky. During excavations in 1991, when the Soviet system of cultural heritage protection had collapsed, and the new one only had to be built, he heard a conversation…
“There was chaos, nobody knew what to do with these sights, castles… I was just digging, I am an archaeologist, you know. So, I became a witness to the work of the commission. I don’t know what was their aim, whether it was to sell, or maybe to do something here. When the commission arrived, nobody even asked me what I was doing with a shovel here. One of their experts (I’m young, I know nobody) was curious: how to determine the value of the object? Now, there is an extremely complicated technique that allows you to calculate the possible cost, back then… I heard a suggestion, it was something like – look, the castle is made of stone, a stone has some cubature, and nearby we have a stone quarry, let’s find the volume, multiply by the price of the cube and have a sum… I have heard it myself! At that moment I reconsidered the scientific topic and everything at all. I was still nobody, a young archeologist, I haven’t dealt with this topic yet, but someone had to start. Thank God, now, there are followers, including the boys-historians who have started here as children in the camp, as Ihor Prokhnenko and others did. Back then I had become the first one. We must save at least something! I have a position of principle: each castle must have its own researcher, at least one! So I became this one for Nevitsky.”
Oleksandr Dzhembas is sure that Nevitsky Castle is of great significance not only for Transcarpathia and entire Ukraine but also for the Carpathian region in general, it helps to understand the history of these lands. The fortress was associated with several European countries; it played a strategic role in controlling the big trade route that was going through the Uzhanska valley. The more the story, which lasted until 2018, was stupid – when the castle… didn’t exist. It didn’t exist officially on papers, there was no responsible person for it, the construction was not listed anywhere “on the balance sheet.”
“To preserve historical and cultural monuments is primarily the responsibility of local self-government bodies. Even more strange was the story which we heard post factum during the next archeological expedition – a camp that was here on the territory of the fortress. It turned out that on the territory under control of Kamyanets village council they discovered ‘an ownerless housing project’ – this is how exactly it was mentioned in the papers of 2010. What is a landmark? It has its own territory, palisades, in the end, the so-called private access road, etc., so all of this makes it different from any other “building”, it is protected by the state. In the newspaper of Uzhhorod District Council (one world-famous media), there was an announcement for the owner of the “ownerless non-residential building” to appear. By the decision of the Uzhhorod City Court, the castle, or rather, this “ownerless building” was transferred to the balance sheet of the village council. As a result, all these actions are taking place here right now and I don’t really want to speak about them (the large-scale construction work of the recreation complex is ongoing in close proximity to the castle – author’s note). This is a great danger for the site, and not only this one. We have been talking about it for a long time. However, we’re not always heard: Transcarpathia is the only region in Ukraine where there are no reserves that would protect historical and architectural monuments.”
Actually, the Nevitsky castle was and is in the registers as a national heritage, however, it couldn’t stop the village council from naming it “an ownerless building”, which, of course, has a completely different mode of protection and management. The legal conflict, and in fact absurdity, ended up only in the summer of 2018 when the Court of Appeals finally managed to transfer the Nevitsky castle to the balance of the region. At that same time, they’ve started to talk about the fact that “it is necessary to do something with the castle”. In a meantime, the hotel and restaurant complex, which grew on the side of the fortress, even built a copy of the tower, which, like the original one, is visible from the road. Visitors go to the castle through a huge construction site, which is a few meters from the fortress and precisely on the territory of the ancient hillfort.
For approximately two years they are talking about the reconstruction of the Nevitsky castle “substantively”. At the beginning of 2018, the region even won a grant from the European Union in the amount of more than 10 million hryvnias. Back then they promised to begin the restoration work by the end of the year. They declared it even with the bigger zeal because 2018 was declared in Europe the year of preservation and revival of historical and cultural monuments. Actually, it is about the restoration that officials talk. Instead, experts say that it should be about conservation and partial repairs of sites that are in a state of emergency, however, this will be possible only after extensive research. But no matter what terminology is used, the future of Nevitsky fortress was unclear. Until March 11, 2019, when… the castle and nature reminded us of it.
On the night before Monday the roof of a keep, – the large tower, fell down. Oleksandr Dzembas was warning about this for years, he was afraid of tragedy. By the way, the site, which had already turned into grey stone walls, was under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and when the Transcarpathia was a part of Czechoslovakia, in the 1920ies, for the first time, they reconstructed wooden roof on two towers (the roof of the small tower fell down several years ago). In the years 1968-1970, they had made capital conservation of the ruins, from that time there remained a steel beam that is connected to a big tower.
On March 11, after waking up Transcarpathians read the news that they would not see the familiar silhouette on the mountain on their way through Nevitsky castle. Someone even optimistically believed in the beginning of repair works: the Transcarpathian Regional State Administration, as if it was predicting or reading the weather forecast, took a proactive approach and on March 9 it announced the dismantling of the tower’s roof. Also, the fortress was closed for the tourists. Even in the evening of March 10, the visitors recorded the menacing creak of the wind. Fortunately, during the fall of the structure, there was nobody in the fortress. The roof fell down, surprisingly causing no damage to the walls.
“A roof fell down in Nevitsky Castle. In the Transcarpathian Regional State Administration they said that it was done by a Scum maiden,” Uzhhorod comedians are joking. The “full-time ghost” of the fortress, the evil owner or even a witch is its main legend. Along with the story about a girl with an evil character, there are also widespread derivatives. They say that she wanted to make the strongest walls, to do so she decided to add to the solution not only the classic ingredient – chicken eggs, but also milk, more specifically breast milk. While working on this, they were taking away milk from mothers, and infants were dying of hunger. Then Scum maiden decided to strengthen the walls with the blood of virgins. Unmarried ladies were taken to the fortress gave the name to this area (nearby Nevytske village is situated) and the “Nevistsky” castle, it came from the Ukrainian word “nevista” that means bride. Of course, there are versions, including the traditional story about the unfortunate love that jumped out of the tower, and that “brides” were protected in the castle from the enemy…
In the meantime, it is time to protect the Nevitsky castle from time. Officials are still talking about plans, but now they are only speaking. So, people continue visiting a place which, after throwing down heavy snow of long winter, and at the same time the roof, still remains a point of gravity, a magnet over the Uzhanska Valley…
“My favorite place in the castle? Here, on the wall, you can see all the Uzhanska Valley. When there is a camp, I wake up very early, at dawn, so here everything is covered in the morning smoke. I watch it slowly vanishing, and these are the moments when I regret that I don’t have a camera… Fog is just under you, here is a rift in which you can see a bend of the river, here – you feel that you are on the mountain, over the valley. So you stand as in heaven and clouds are under you…
The warden of Nevitsky castle Oleksandr Dzembas cited a verse from the British song game of 1744, named “London Bridge Is Falling Down”, where he replaced the London Bridge with “Our (Nevitsky) Castle”:
Our (Nevitsky) castle is falling down,
Falling down, falling down
Our castle is falling down,
My fair lady!
For sure, the dream of preserving Nevitsky castle, that is not guilty of the responsible people’s indifference is alive and stronger than the walls of Uzhanska Valley stronghold.