Castles of Lviv Part 2: Pidhoretsky Castle
Updated: Feb 26, 2019
Pidhoretsky Castle was the second stop on our Lviv castle tour and it could not have been more different from the first. Whereas the former was a fortress erected primarily for defence, this castle resembles more of a French residential manor. I wasn't surprised to learn that it was built by a French architect, one Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan. Constructed between 1635–1640, it had all the hallmark features of a Renaissance age royal palace: manicured gardens, a zoo, and vineyards. Sadly none of these extravagancies remain today.
A long straight road leads towards the castle and is flanked on either side by thick hedges. On the opposite side of the entrance is a private cathedral towering over the rural landscape. This massive and imposing structure looks as if it had accidentally been transported here from the middle of Paris. We did not go inside the church but looking from afar I could see its derelict manner. Yet, the doors remained open and a hint of candle light shimmered from the inside.
As we approached the castle I realized that it was surrounded by a deep moat, the perils of which had dried out a long time ago. We crossed the drawbridge and stepped into the main courtyard.
Despite a Sahara like heat bearing down on me, the chilled feeling of a haunting enveloped my whole body. Ancient paint peeled off the walls, broken stones littered the courtyard floor, and the entire place threatened to crumble into dust at any moment. Around the perimeter of the courtyard were various doors leading to former guard, knights and servants' quarters. Only one of these remained open and inside were bulletin boards with the history of the castle, all in Ukrainian.
When the castle was occupied by Polish nobles, its many rooms were richly decorated with tapestries, paintings, marble accents and luxurious furnishings. In mid 20th century, great fire destroyed the inside of the building, the echoes of which still bled from the stones.
The windows and doors were boarded up although one wing did remain open for those who purchased special passes. I did not, as it was pretty evident that there was nothing to see on the inside.
There is some intermittent archeological work being done here and its continuation relies entirely upon the allocation of national funds.
Still, even in its sorry state the manor exudes and enthralling beauty. Apparently, it has even become a popular set destination for filmmakers. According to our guide, there was a scene from The Three Musketeers filmed here.
History of the Castle
The castle built by a military commander of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Stanisław Koniecpolski between 1635 and 1640. Such military commanders were called Hetmen, and Koniecpolski was one of the most successful military commanders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He rose to the rank of Grand Crown Hetman, which is second only to the King. Koniecpolski was constantly at war, mostly against the Tartars and Turks of the Ottoman Empire. His military success brought him a lot of wealth and some even said that he was Ukraine’s unofficial ruler. He had his own private army and also an espionage network stretching from Moscow to the Ottoman Empire.
On this map the castle entrance is on the left and the back gardens are on the right.
Koniecpolski was equally passionate about education in the arts and sponsored many artists, writers, and construction of churches and public spaces. The Presidential Palace in Warsaw was built under Koniecpolski’s guidance. It is not surprising then that he wanted his own home to look like an elegant and expensive property, worthy of a royal. The palace, a classic Italian palazzo in the fortezza style, sits high above the sea level on a hill and has an incredible oversight of the valley stretching to the horizon. A perfect position for a man of military powers.
The palace reached its prime under a different owner however, James Louis Sobieski, the son of King John III of Poland. James’ godfather was none other than King Louis XIV of France, the Sun King. Unfortunately for James, he never got to be king of Poland. When his father died there were 18 contenders for the throne and his own mother and godfather both supported other candidates.
For the first time ever, the crown passed to a German, Frederick Augustus, who took the title of Agustus II King of Poland in 1697. Just to be on the safe side, Augustus then attacked James and his brother Alexander, and imprisoned them for a couple of years to deter any usurper tendencies. After James' death, the palace always remained in the hands of various military leaders.
Shortly after World War I, the palace was very badly vandalized during the Polish- Soviet War. After World War II, it suffered more damage when it was hastily converted into a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. The building was improperly renovated to suit the needs of a hospital and proper preservation of heritage work was ignored.
Finally, the castle suffered a great fire in 1956 when a huge lightning storm ignited a spark. The building was then left abandoned. Water infiltrated much of the foundation and there are many walls in danger of immediate collapse. Most recently though, efforts by the World Monuments Fund have been made to preserve the castle, restore its structure and return it’s rich collection of paintings, sculptures tapestries and furnishings which are currently housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lviv.
A proper restoration of this national historic site would be a tremendous prize for the region's history.
If you want to take this tour, book through one of Lviv's travel guides in the market square. It costs about $20-30 pp.