Hunt for tales of Lviv castles this winter

24.12.2010, 12:13
Hunt for tales of Lviv castles this winter - фото 1
Some 75 kilometers from Lviv, which itself initially developed as a fortress city, one of the region’s best-known and loveliest castles is Olesko.
Buckingham Palace they’re not, but castles in the Lviv region offer enough legends, intrigues and ghosts to captivate even the most seasoned traveler’s imagination.

Some date back to the 13th century, while others offer stunning examples of how the Renaissance developed in Ukraine.

Taken together, they offer an architectural and cultural smorgasbord that can be enjoyed any time of the year.

Many of the region’s outstanding castles were constructed when the area was under the rule of the Habsburg and Polish empires.

Some 75 kilometers from Lviv, which itself initially developed as a fortress city, one of the region’s best-known and loveliest castles is Olesko.

It was first mentioned in 1327 and was likely constructed by one of the kings who ruled that era’s Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia. Already then it boasted 10-meter high walls that were two-meters thick.

The castle enjoyed the strategic location of being perched high on a hill and surrounded by impassable mud.

Situated on the important Lithuanian and Polish border, for more than a century it was a desired trophy for many warring nations.

Having withstood several attacks by the Tatars, in 1590 Olesko was restored by Stanislaw Zolkiewski, a nobleman, magnate and military commander.

Fifteen years later, Olesko was owned by the noble Danilowicz family.

Tour guides and books like to recite legends about Olesko, which entails a tragic love affair between Adam Zolkiewski and Danilowicz’s daughter, whose name is unknown.

Zolkiewski had on several occasions asked for the daughter’s hand in marriage.

Although she appeared indifferent as to who became her mate, her father wanted a rich and powerful son-in-law. He immediately negated Adam’s candidacy.

“One day, whilst enjoying a card game, Adam insisted on being put out of his misery and receiving an answer to his proposal, one way or the other,” writes Ilko Lemko in “The Legends of Old Lviv.”

The father again declined the proposal and Zolkiewski committed suicide on the spot.

Religious practices dictated that his suicide precluded a proper burial, so Zolkiewski’s body was thrown into a swamp near the castle.

“They say, even today, that the moans of a poor soul unable to find peace can be heard at night beside the castle,” Lemko writes.

Another version of the legend says Zolkiewski and the daughter both took their lives and their ghosts can be seen wandering outside around the castle.

The ghosts of another castle in Pidhirtsi village will be part of a television program called “Ghosts of the Eastern Bloc: Ukraine and Poland” that will air on the American Syfy cable channel on Jan. 12, 2011.
One of the ghosts who might make a presence is the female spirit who has led several Ukrainian and foreign psychics to the place where her bones allegedly lie in the expansive Pidhirtsi Park.

Built in the mid 1630’s by French and Italian engineers, Pidhirtsi is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Ukraine.

“You won’t find in Ukraine a village where there are more such ancient memorials of culture than in Pidhirtsi,” writes Dmytro Chobit in a booklet about the castle and surrounding area.

Pidhirtsi was virtually ruined during Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s war for liberation from the Poles, but by the end of the 17th century, it underwent significant reconstruction.

Pidhirtsi flourished under the Rzewuskis family, eventually becoming a must-see attraction for European aristocracy and a place where nobles could linger for weeks.

In the 18th century, the family constructed an inn for guests and provided them with various amusements.

This included a theatre and orchestra that was comprised of the property’s servants. St. Joseph’s Latin Church built near the castle is still an architectural tour-de-force, although decaying.

The castle itself was adorned by paintings purchased from all over Europe.

Many of these works were lost during the First World War, when soldiers rampaged through its halls and corridors.

After the Second World War, the Soviets established a museum at the castle, and then a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. In 1956, a large fire broke out at the castle, ruining much of its interior.

Preservation work has been ongoing and in 2008, the castle was put on a list of 100 world memorials in desperate need of restoration.

Other castles in Lviv that beckon include Zolochiv with its so-called rounded Chinese Palace, which offers a superb collection of Oriental art.

Svirzh castle offers a superb balance of nature and architecture, and Brody and Zhovkva are both examples of what were called perfect cities.

It is only a problem of where to start.

All castles can readily be reached through Lviv tour operators that offer regular excursions to castles in the region.


Natalia A. FEDUSCHAK

23 December 2010 KyivPost