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A Cultural Respite
The Land of Lvivshchyna offers a lot of places to go to for sightseeing. WU Magazine offers tips of where to go and what to see in Lvivshchyna to those who would want to take some time off.
Mykola Ivashchenko, Olena Krushynska
Depending on how much time you will have in Lviv on a visit there, you can go and see the castles in Olesko, Pidhirtsi, Svirzh and a monastery in Univ. With more time available, you can explore north and visit the medieval town of Zhovkva and the monastery in Krekhiv.
Olesko Castle is believed to have been founded in the 11th century, probably at the time when the Crusades began. Olesko Castle was built on a hill on a site that commanded a vast albeit marshy area and made it possible to control the hub of the trade routes from north to south and from east to west. The then mightiest powers of the region — Poland and Litva — vied for making the castle their own. Olesko Castle is mentioned in many Western European documents of the 13th–16th centuries, including the chronicles, royal orders, papal bulls, official messages and private letters, but it was in the seventieth century that the castle was firmly put on the European map — in the year 1629, a baby boy of royal parentage was born under the protection of the castle’s mighty walls. The boy was destined to become one of the most remarkable Polish rulers, King John (Jan) III Sobieski (1629– 1696). When still commander in chief of the Polish army rather than king, he defeated the Turks in a decisive battle at Khotyn in 1673. He was elected king in 1674 and marched to Vienna with 20,000 Polish troops to relieve the Austrian capital of the Turkish siege. He successfully drove the Turks out of Austria, thus saving Europe from being overrun by the Ottomans. For this deed he was acclaimed as “Hero of Christendom.” It was the climax of his royal career. In addition to being a successful general — though not a very successful Polish king, (the political conditions in Poland being wretchedly out of control), he was a patron of science, literature and art, a man of vast and refined erudition.
Olesko Castle is a haunted place. Unmarried girls have a chance of meeting a ghost — that of a suicide. The ghost is said to be prowling around at night, revealing himself only to single women. But meeting the wandering specter is only one of the reasons you may wish to pay a visit to Olesko Castle, maybe even not the most compelling one. There’s a lot to see in the castle — it is surely a romantic sight.
Olesko Castle not only looks beautiful — it also houses a Section of Lviv Art Gallery.
The Restaurant Hrydnytsya in Olesko Castle; it is not a stylized eatery — in medieval times it was a dining room for guests.
The castle in Pidhirtsi is much closer to what in French is called chateau rather than a castle proper. In the eighteenth century it was a royal residence on a par with other European royal residences, and though it is much smaller than, say, Versailles, it is a worthy rival in handsomeness. The first known written mention of “a castle in Pidhirtsi” dates to the year 1431. In 1633, commander in chief of the Polish army Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski bought the estate of Pidhirtsi and commissioned architects, artists and gardeners to transform a fortified castle into a civilized chateau complete with a groomed park.
In the nineteenth century, Leon Zhevuski, the then impoverished owner of the chateau, sold Pidhirtsi to Prince Sanguszko for a very low price but on condition that the restoration work would be done, and the chateau and collections would be properly taken care of. Everything was done as promised. But in 1914, the First World War broke out; civil war followed and later the western Ukrainian lands were “joined to the Soviet Ukraine.” The Sanguszkos saved some of their art collections from their Pidhirtsi chateau and took most of the items all the way to Brazil where they are kept in safety at the Sanguszko Foundation in San Paulo. A small part of their collections belongs to several museums in Lviv — the rest disappeared without trace or was destroyed. In 1956 a big fire devastated the chateau — only the skeleton of the building survived. This “skeleton” was repaired in a typical Soviet slipshod manner and the chateau began to be used as “a TB sanatorium.”
After Ukraine’s independence, restoration work in the chateau began. The park is also being taken care of, but the lack of funds allows only for a slow progress.
Tourist keep coming to see the palace and those of more adventurous disposition try their luck and stay in the chateau until late at night hoping to see the White Lady, the ghost of a woman slain by her much too jealous husband a couple of centuries ago.
The Castle in Pidhirtsi looks like a French chateau.
The Church of St Joseph in Pidhirtsi.
There is a village of Univ located not too far from the town of Peremyshlyany in the Land of Lvivshchyna. The Holohorsky Mountain range provides a gorgeous scenic natural background. But it is the presence of the Svyatouspensky (Holy Assumption) Lavra Monastery that makes the village a center of pilgrimage rather than its picturesque surroundings.
The monastery belongs to the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. It is believed to have been founded as early as in the thirteenth century. In 1549, it was raided and destroyed by the Crimean Tartars.
It was thanks to a Ukrainian noble named Oleksandr Lahodovsky, an invalid, who lived in the vicinity of the ruined monastery, that this religious community came back to life. He claimed that the Virgin Mary revealed herself to him in a dream at night, and she advised him to go east and find what will cure him. He did as he was bidden — and found an icon of Virgin Mary among the ruins of the monastery. The icon restored his health and the grateful noble financed the construction of a new church to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Uspenska (Assumption) Church is still there, with the icon to be seen in it. The dates of its construction have been ascertained — 1549–1574.
The monastery revived around this church. In the twentieth century the monastery was turned into a concentration camp for Catholic priests and later it was used as a home for the aged. Still later, the monastery functioned as a psychiatric asylum.
In more recent times, it was given back to the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic religious community and now is fully operational as a monastery.
The Svyatouspensky Lavra Monastery is not only a major religious center — it is an architectural landmark which is worth seeing regardless of which church you may belong to, or whether you are an atheist or a believer. The place has an aura that is said to affect every visitor.
The village of Univ and its environs are a sight that will impress anyone with a taste for beauty.
The monastery in Univ looks like a castle.
If you travel ten kilometers (about 6 miles) south from the town of Peremyshlyany along the road which, let’s be frank, does not meet the top European requirements for roads to be pronounced of good quality, you can get to the fortress of Svirzh. On the way there you’ll see a number of very picturesque villages, the sight of which may be regarded as a compensation for the imperfection of the road itself — plus you can enjoy the highly scenic natural backdrops.
The fortress sits on a hill with a pond at the foot of the hill. The pond was created in the sixteenth century when the river was fitted with a dam.
The pond played a defensive role in addition to being a good place to fish and enjoy the picturesque surroundings.
The first written mention of the fortress dates from the year 1530, but there is an evidence that suggests that it must have been founded in the fifteenth century (two dates are offered: 1482 and 1484). There is little doubt though that the fortress now looks the way it began to look after the reconstruction of the seventeenth century.
The fortress offers the visitors the atmosphere of the old times when fortresses were functional faculties rather than museums — old buildings, an age-old well, defensive towers, dark cellars and everything else that one can expect to see in an old fortress. The local legends tell of a girl who was drowned in the well for treason — her ghost is said to still haunt the fortress. The church located close to the fortress dates from the fifteenth century — it bears the stamp of the early Renaissance architecture.
The fortress is being restored — and the perennial lack of money, of qualified workers and of determination on the part of those who are responsible for boosting the restoration process, delay the completion of the restoration work indefinitely. But the place does have what to offer inquisitive and curios tourists, particularly to those who like old castles and the stories of ghosts and damsels dying for love and treason.
The main entrance to the Castle in Svirzh.
The town of Zhovkva is located 32 kilometers (about 20 miles) south of Lviv. The town provides the authentic atmosphere of a charming, quiet provincial place. Every house is worth a look, most of the houses are well-kept and well restored.
The town boasts an architectural reserve which includes 55 architectural landmarks, 15 historical landmarks, old-time bridges and old-style parks-gardens complete with old-time sculpture and other features.
At the end of the sixteenth century Hetman Stanislaw Rzolkewski undertook to turn his village of Vynnyky into a sort of an ideal town-fortress which should be both an impregnable place and at the same time a nice place to live in. The Polish king gave Rzolkewski the right to name the new town- fortress the way the hetman wanted — and the place became Zhovkva (the local pronunciation affected the spelling).
A special care was taken to make the place an ideal town the way it was then understood. The Italian ideas of city planning were incorporated in the designs provided by leading Lviv architects. The castle (1594–1606) was the focal point of the town. It was square in shape and provided with tall towers. The severity of the castle was softened by a palace graced with an arcaded gallery.
In 1674, another Polish king, Jan III Sobieski undertook a major reconstruction, turning Zhovkva into a royal residence. The place thrived. It became a center of book printing and a religious center with many churches and five monasteries in its vicinity.
With the decline and partition of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, Zhovkva went into decline as well. The only time the memory of its former significance was revived was in 1809 when a ball in honor of Napoleon was held in the castle.
When in 1939, the Soviet Union occupied the eastern parts of Poland, the castle was turned into prison. Later, it was used as quarters for a military unit.
If you take a leisurely walk in Zhovkva, you are likely to enjoy quite a number of local sights — Rynkova Ploshcha (Market Square), the Dominican Monastery, the Basilian Monastery, the Church of St Lazarus, the Cathedral of St Laurentius and other places worth admiring. It is the general atmosphere that is so wonderfully relaxing.
The monastery in Krekhiv is on the map of both the pilgrims and tourists.
It is an old monastery that puts the village of Krekhiv on a tourist map. The monastery which belonged to the Basilian community of monks, is situated 16 kilometers (about 10 miles) west of the town of Zhovkva in a location famous for its natural beauty. The hilly forested terrain hides many water sources and natural caves.
The monastery was built with a view of making it good for defensive purposes in case of enemy raids. The monastery is complete with a church (St Michael’s), a bell tower, cells of monks and other buildings. Its defensive walls are provided with towers.
It is believed that the monastery was founded by two monks, Yoil and Sylvester, who came all the way down from the Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv. The monks settled in the caves. Some time later, as the number of monks increased, churches and other buildings necessary for an on-the-ground monastery began to be built.
The monastery belonged to the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church and attracted a lot of the faithful who came to worship the “miracle-working” icons — two icons of the Virgin Mary and one of St Mykola the Great.
The monastery had its own library and archives. The twentieth century brought damage to the monastery and final closure.
In 1949 the monastery began to be used as an orphanage and later as a specialized boarding school for children with mental handicaps.
The monastery has a nice garden and the landscapes around it bring peace to one’s soul. Some of the ruined structures in the monastery have been restored to their original appearance.
In the Basilian Monastery in Zhovkva.
The center of the ancient town of Zhovkva is a perfect example of the 17th-century city planning.