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Khust

Those who have visited the city will agree that Khust, in spite of rapid civilization changes in Transcarpathia over the last few years, meets its guests with a specific provincial atmosphere of the Ukrainian-Hungarian-Jewish world. For a long time the old section of the city had been built up chaotically, a typically of European cities. The remains of such building up have survived to this day. The best way to begin a tour of the city is to get lost in the lace of more than a hundred wide and narrow streets.

There are many exotic ver­sions of the city’s name origin. One of them says that once the devil decided to jump out of the Underworld. He broke through the earth with his head in the middle of a pic­turesque plain. The devil had a brush at the end of his tail that caught on the earth. His attempts to pull it out were unsuccessful. Then he stained every nerve, started with a jerk, and tore off part of his tail. Out of pain the devil began to bawl: “Khvust;,khvust,khvust!”(tail). Since then a mountain has been stand­ing in place where the devil jumped out, and the locality itself was given the name of Khust. Another version says that Khust (Hungarian – Huszt) originated from the first let­ters of the neighboring cit­ies: H (Hossziimezd – Dovhe Pole), U (Uisk – Vyshkove), SZ(Sziget-Siget),T(Tecso -Tiachiv).

The city is situated at the picturesque foot of the mountains where the Rika and Tysa rivers flow together. First written reference to the city dates from the 10 th-11 th centuries. In the 13 th century, after the Tatar assaults and partial depopulation, it was populated by Hungarian migrants sent by King Geza II. In 1329 King Karl Robert granted Khust privileges of a royal city. Later on Khust and its castle went through a great variety of adventures, persistently passing from one owner to another.

Khust is probably the only city in Transcarpathia, which has so many legends about its origin. On entering the city from Vynohradiv, near the bridge, there is a rock noted for reddish color. They say that during the Tatar invasion the local voevode, Khust by name, killed his son there, having taken him for a Tatar. On realizing he had made a mistake, the voevode took his own life. The blood of the father and son got mixed and changed the color of the rock forever.

Sometimes one can hear a legend according to which the fatal explosion was caused by the legendry folk brigand Pyntia who, during a siege, hit the powder tower with a single shot.

The ruins of the Khust castle tower over the city on the hill at a height of 150 meters. Today, while being among the picturesque witnesses of history, one ought to use one’s imagination to fully immerse oneself in the past. In plan the castle was an oblong structure composed in the upper and lower yards. It was first mentioned in 1191. It withstood the Tatar siege of 1241, the attack of khan Ghirey in 1594, and that of the Turkish army in 1661. In the course of its complex history the castle was reconstructed several times. A tower with a sharp corner directed outwards defended the gates from the southeastern side. In the yard there were living quarters, household facilities, water gathering reservoirs, palace structures and other premises. Sometimes the castle was used as a prison.

In the 15 th century King Matyas presented the castle and salt mines to his wife, Queen Beatrice of Aragon. In 1661 the well-known Turkish traveler and poet Evlia Chelebi, while being a member of the Turkish embassy, compared this stronghold with the famous fortress Iskander. In various periods the castle belonged to the kings Zsigmond of Luxemburgi and Lajos II (1516-1526). Later on the magnate Istvan Boczkoi, and then the Transylvanian prince Gabor Bathori became its owners. In the 16 th century it was sold to chancellor Mihaly Teleki for twenty thousand. The 17 th century, when the Khust castle belonged to the Redei family, was the period of the castle’s flourishing. In the early 18 th century, when the rising under the leadership of Francis II Rakoczi broke out, his accomplice Emerich llosvai bribed the guards and took hold of the castle. The fortress turned into an important strategic stronghold of the uprising. In the 16 th-17 th centuries, along with the development of firearms, the castle was persistently reconstructed and fortified. In the upper part of the castle there was an arsenal, and in the lower, cellars from which several underground passes branched off. The castle had a well 160 m. deep. On July 3, 1766, a real catastrophe befell the castle when a thunderbolt struck its powder-magazine and the fortress blew up. The Austrian emperor to be Joseph II came in person to see the consequences of the disaster and, as a result, decided to move the garrison to Mukacheve. In 1788 the fortress was again hit by a lightning. Afterwards the Khust castle has never been restored.

Today one can see only the ruins of the outer gates, the powder tower, bastions, and the wall around the periphery. A tour around Khust is an easy walk. Most of the monuments are located in the central section of the city near Karpatska Sich St. and Narodna Square.

A wonderful view of the castle opens up from the square. Yet, you might find it a bit difficult to get there in a day time when the whole area turns into an oriental bazaar. If you are liking for authenticity and national character, a meander along Repin and Poperechna streets will be a good choice.

Calvinists’ Church (St. Elizateth’s Church) (45 Zhovtiana St.) acquired its outward appearance in the first half of the 15 th century. From the outside it is surrounded by a defensive wall. Later reconstructions did not spoil its aspect. It consists of three parts: an isolated tower, a nave, and an apse connected with them. During the restoration carried out in 2004-2005 the remains of frescoes of the 15 th century were discovered here.

In contrast to other cities of the region Khust has a partially preserved authentic Jewish community. Today it rallies round the synagogue (11 Nezalezhnosti Sq.). This structure is about 150 years old. It is the only synagogue in Transcarpathia, which almost never stopped functioning. During World War II it was used as a warehouse for belongings of Jews taken by the Nazis. In Soviet times attempts were made to convert it into a club of the local shoe-factory. Today the synagogue is under repair, but still it is functioning. The majority of the believers are elderly people who carefully preserve the memory of the past.

Among other architectural monuments there are the remains of the socalled local “Czech office” built in the early 20 th century. It is situated not far from school No. 1. Another witness of Czech stay in the city is the building of the city council built in the 1920 for the district government.

In the neighbor of Khust there is a “Valley of narcissi”. Every spring, in the end of April and in the first half of May, five kilometers away from the city in the valley of Kireshi on the height of 180-200 m. on the wide territory thousands of flowers blossom. Wild plants, that are used to hide high in the mountains, cower the field with beautiful flowers. Every year the time of their blossom attracts a lot of tourists.

The surrounding area is filled with the flowers aroma and in combination with the view it leaves the unforgettable impression.

According to a legend a myth­ical Narcissus was wandering around and saw the stream­let Khustets flowing across a picturesque valley. The water was pure and transparent Narcissus saw himself in it like in a mirror, fell in love with the image and stayed there for good. They also say that narcissi once helped the local residents withstand in their struggle against enemies. When the latter seized the castle, the people, as if as a token of submission, made for them pillows stuffed with flowers. It was an artful trick because narcissi are a strong soporific and those who fall asleep on such a pillow may never wake up.

The valley is a reservation, so picking up flowers is strictly forbidden. The violators will face a penalty. The locals usually offer you the flowers in the places tourists are brought to. The entrance during the blossom season is paid.

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