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A trip to see palace in Korsun-Shevchenkivsky
Olena Krushynska went to Korsun-Shevchenkivsky in the Land of Cherkashchyna to take a look at the once luxurious residence of the Poniatowsky- Lopukhins, and now she presents her story.
The romantic palace in a pseudo-Gothic-Mauritanian style sits in an English-style park that stretches along the River Ross. The palace was designed by a Swiss and a Scottish architects (incidentally, the count and the architects were Freemasons). At a later date, the Poniatowskis estate in Korsun was bought by the Russian tsar and presented to the then minister of justice; still later it was inherited by the minister’s son. An assistant to the steward who worked for the owner of the estate was a relative of Shevchenko.
This initial information was enough to start getting acquainted with the place.
I walked through the entrance gate with crenellated top and took a slow walk through the park. I found a good rock to sit on the bank of the river and pondered the vicissitudes of fortune.
The young Polish Prince, who was a nephew of the Polish King Stanislaw Augustus Poniatowski, was one of the wealthiest landowners in Europe. He caused annoyance and jealousy by his wealth, by his good manners, by his generosity (he treated his guests to lavish dinners and excellent wine), by redeeming his peasants from serfdom, by his setting up a hospital for the needy. These eccentricities could have been provoked by Freemasonry ideals. The Prince was also known for his excellent collections of antiquities and works of art, which were exhibited in his many palaces.
In 1781–1783, Poniatowski traveled across Ukraine, visiting his estates. What he saw in Korsun, as far as the natural scenery was concerned, impressed him greatly and he decided to establish his residence there. Jan Heinrich Munz, a Swiss in his service, shared Poniatowski’s admiration. The Swiss, who was an architect and artist well read in the fields of agriculture and military fortifications, made a lot of drawings during his travels with Poniatowski. Among the landscapes, houses, peasants, folk costumes and other drawings and paintings that can be seen in his notebooks, we find a picture of Poniatowski’s estate in Korsun. The drawing is supplemented with the following description, “There is nothing more beautiful than this place with its meandering paths, with little bridges, with lakes, water cascades, rocks, swans on the lakes, and a dozen or so water mills… Trees and bushes of many species, islands on the lakes and the placid or running waters around form scenes of unparallel beauty.”
Munz, instructed and authorized by Poniatowski, laid a park and had several buildings designed and built in it. Poniatowski trusted the Swiss’ tastes. Munz, as well as Poniatowski, was a follower of the English style in parks and was well aware of English architectural trends which promoted pseudo-Gothic and pseudo-Mauritanian motifs. In fact, Munz used to work for Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Oxford (1717–1797), English novelist and letter writer. In 1748 Walpole purchased the villa of Strawberry Hill in a suburb to the west of London. The estate became a showplace because of its pseudo-Gothic architecture, its fine library, and its collections of art and curios. One of Walpole’s books was devoted to parks (Walpole is better known for his “Gothic” novel The Castle of Otranto). It must have been from Walpole that Munz got some of his “Gothic” ideas and principles of arranging parks. When Munz left Korsun because of ill health, his successor, John Lindsay, of Scottish descent, whose family had lived for some time in Poland, designed a two-story palace in a pseudo-Gothic- Mauritanian style, and the park surrounding it acquired an “English-style” appearance with elements of Chinese esthetics. The park included outcroppings of rocks, creeks and water canals, age-old trees and groves. The creators of the park did not intend to “change nature” — they adjusted the natural features to the requirements of a park. The park also contained a stylized “antique temple,” arbors and gazebos in “Chinese” and “Turkish” styles, a grotto, a gallery, an obelisk, a pyramid and other features, some of which displayed Freemasonry symbols. Decorative bridges spanned the canals and streams. Only one of those bridges has survived — but it is in a sorry, disintegrating condition. I even risked taking several tentative steps on it, but looking down at the stones in the water below, I hastily returned to the firm ground.
The best view on the palace opens from the top of the hill across the River Ross. I stood there for some time, gazing at the palace, rocks and trees, and thinking of the time when all of it belonged to the dashing Prince. But Poniatowski had to sell all of his estates in Ukraine, including Korsun, after the Third Division of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century when Poland ceased to exist as an independent country, divided as it was between the Russian and Austrian-Hungarian Empires. Poniatowski settled down in Florence where he lived until his dying day. His estate in Korsun was purchased by the Russian Emperor Paul I who later presented it to the then minister of justice Prince Petr Lopukhin. The local peasants were not too happy with the change of the owner — Lopukhin returned them into serfdom. For several years they tried to prove that they had been legally given freedom by Poniatowski, they produced all sorts of documents and sent them to the authorities in St Petersburg. Their naivete and hopes for justice suffered greatly when, instead of a reply, a punitive unit arrived to “set things right.” The ringleaders were arrested and exiled to Siberia; 29 peasants were put into prison and the rest of “the justice seekers” were punished with lashes.
Lopukhin’s son lived in Korsun until 1839, introducing changes to the park and the palace to indulge in the new Romantic and Classical tastes. He had portals added to the palace towers, the main entrance reshaped, a wall with towers erected, a chapel and a Swiss-style chalet built, and the park extended to the other side of the river. The estate grew to be a most remarkable place, known for its beauty outside Ukraine.
Incidentally, Taras Shevchenko, the poet, paid several visits to the estate of Korsun where his relative was employed. Shevchenko loved the park and took long walks in it, enjoying the tranquility and beauty.
In the early twentieth century the estate was still owned by the Lopukhins (who, through marriages became Lopukhins-Demidovs). In the turbulent decades of revolutions, wars, nationalizations and soviet neglect, most of the buildings in the estate and the park itself have miraculously survived destruction suffering no any serious damage.
In my walks through the park, I discovered a grotto, hiding among the bushes. One of the paths took me there. It looked romantic enough but I did not risk to explore it — mostly because of the smell. The main alley had benches in a style that reminded me of Art Nouveau. But the benches were in need of paint and some repair. In my strolls, I came across a piece of sculpture dating from an uncertain period of time that supposedly represented a peasant girl and her aristocratic lover; another sculpture I saw in the park was that of a girl and a doe running side by side.
And the palace? The palace now houses a museum devoted to one of the major battles, Battle of Korsun-Shevchenkivsky, of the Second World War at the Eastern Front. Right by the palace there stand old tanks, field guns, Katyusha multiple rocket launchers and other implements of war. One of the wings of the palace is given to an art gallery. Walking around the palace (I did not feel like going in), I took a good look at the architectural decor which is believed to have been preserved in its more or less original form. Having taken a tour around other buildings which included former stables and a coach house, I took a walk down to the river, past the Swiss chalet, to a place on the bank where I sat on a rock warmed by the sun, and spent some time enjoying the sight of flowers dotting the grass.
Photos by the author
In the 1780s, Prince Poniatowski built his summer
residence in the Gothic-Mauritanian style. In the
1830s-40s, under the new owners Lopukhins-
Demidovs, the palace acquired features of Russian
romanticism. Today the palace building is
a museum dedicated to the Battle of
The foundation for the palace-park ensemble
became the picturesque rocky shores of
the Ros River.
The great park gate, stylized in the spirit of the
Korsun, which was the original name of the place, became Korsun-Shevchenkivsky in 1944 when Shevchenkivsky was added in honor of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko who was born in the village of Moryntsi (in 1814), 34 kilometers from Korsun.
The first known written mention of Korsun dates from 1032, when, the chronicles say, it was founded by the Kyivan ruler Yaroslav the Wise. In 1240, during the Mongol invasion, Korsun was destroyed. Later, the city revived but was included into the Great Principality of Lithuania, and after 1569, when a pact between Poland and Lithuania that united the two countries into a single state was concluded in Lublin, it became part of the Polish kingdom.
In the years of the mid-seventeenth century War of Independence in Ukraine, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Hetman had his temporary residence in Korsun. At the end of the seventeenth century Korsun was one of the Cossack centers in Ukraine. In 1768, when the popular discontent that had been simmering for some time, erupted in a massive rebellion, known as Koliyivshchyna, Korsun became the center of it. The rebellion against the Polish rule and against Catholicism was violent indeed — a great many Catholics, and Jews into the bargain, were massacred, Catholic churches in the areas swept by the rebellion were destroyed. The rebellion was crushed, the Polish rule was re-established, but the land of Korsunshchyna was devastated.
In 1778, the Korsun and the lands in its vicinity came into possession of the Polish Prince Stanislaw Poniatowski.