“Wise Germans plant potato at the Sich and you buy it, eat it to your health; and glorify Zaporizhia. But whose blood irrigated that earth, which gives birth to potato, does not concern you. If only it was good for the vegetable garden…,” wrote the poet Taras Shevchenko looking round, in Khortytsia and adjoining terrains, the colonies of German settlers-Mennonites invited to these lands by Catherine Il. The remains of the activity of these adroit businessmen can be seen even today in the architectural appearance of Zaporozhian oblast. Most German settlers left these lands after the bloody events of the 20th century.
Khortytsia is an unusual island. Wrapped up by the wide and mighty Dnieper, with high rocks and covered with forests, it came into notice of people as far back as Paleolithic age and Mesolithic period. In the 7th century B.C.Scythians came to these terrains. From the 2nd century A. D. early Slavic tribes began to colonize the island. However, the brightest pages in its history are linked with the Zaporozhian Cossacks. The first fortification appeared on Small Khortytsia Island due to Dmytro (Baida) Vysh-nevetsky in 1556.The Ukrainian Cossacks created a state unique for those times-a Christian republic. Defenders of faith, noble knights, revelers and robbers, good managers – all this was applicable to the Ukrainian Cossacks known all over the world. Apart from soldiery, the Cossacks engaged in hunting, fishing, cattle breeding, and trades. After the Sich was destroyed, the czar’s government presented Khortytsia and the adjoining lands on the right bank of the Dnieper to Prince Grigory Potemkin who afterwards passed the island to the Treasury. In 1789 first German-Mennonites Irom Danzig settled in Khortytsia Island.
In September 1965 Khortytsia was declared the State Historical and Cultural Reserve, and in 1993, National Reserve. The island is 12.5 km. long, 2.5 km. wide, and its general area being 2,650 hectares. Its northern part, high and rocky, gradually turns into marshy fields in the south. Khortytsia divides the river into two large flows: the New and the Old Dnieper. In the treatise of Byzantine emperor Constantine Bahrianorodny “On the Management of the Empire” there is a mention that the local people of the island made sacrifices to their gods in front of large oaks.
Khortytsia is surrounded with numerous large and small rocks and islands, each having its own history. In the northern part there are Three posts, which are made up of three rocks: Catherine’s Couch, or Arm-chair, the Middle Post and the Inclined Post. Passage-ways between these rocks are named Gates. According to a legend Catherine’s Couch is linked with the name of Catherine II. The rock looks like a couch indeed. On the Middie Post there is a deep pit which is called “Zaporozhian bowl”- they say the Cossacks used to cook dumplings in it. The cavity was formed under the influence of water. The name of the third Post- Inclined – was determined by the form of the rock. To the left of the Posts there are Two stacks – the stones whose form looks like stacks of straw. Today other names are used more frequently-Two Brothers, or Twins.
Also in the northern part of Khortytsia, in front of the Dniprohes, there is found Oak island, which is quite often called Tortoise because of its shape. On the left bank of the Dnieper, opposite Khortytsia, there is the isolated terrain of Sahaidachny. In front of it there are two rocks-the Foolish and the Middle. The Foolish one became so scorching in summer, that it was impossible to stand on it barefoot. If a Cossack was guilty, he was brought therein the sultriest time to serve his sentence. Three highest rocks on the island are called Heads: in the northern part the Higher head, on the east bank, the Middle head, and in the flooded fields, the Lower head. From the northern corner of the island, from under the overhanging Higher Head you will see the so-called Snake cave. According to a folk legend a huge Serpent lived in it during the times of Zaporozhian Cossacks, nightly appearing in the sky and lighting the Dnieper. The island is cut by the Long gully. At the close of the 19 th century enormous oaks were growing there. In 1789 the Germans founded their colony on the island. According to them there were 49 thousand oaks on Khortytsia island. In 1876-1877, as a result of a severe winter, many of them were cut down, and by 1884 almost nothing remained.
The Matvieva and Karpova gullies stretch after the Long gully from the north southward.The rock Thoughtful projects into the Dnieper down the river. They say the Zaporozhian Cossacks assembled there to meditate. From this place you will see a wonderful view of the river and its left riverside.