„Report from the visit at Podhorce Castle” by Paweł Lech
There is no easy access to the Podhorce Castle. It is an all-day trip for tourists based in Lvov and without a car. Nonetheless it is well worth the time. The long ride and doubtful comfort of the journey over Ukrainian roads is more than compensated by the unusual landscape of the Lvov region. Podhorce are situated about 85 km from Lvov, about a third of the way from Olecko to Brody. The palace and castle complex is located on a picturesque hill about 3 km from the Lvov-Brody road, on which we, unrelenting tourists aiming for the castle, were abandoned by the friendly driver of bus number 279.
After about 30 minutes’ walk in the fields and a short climb up the castle hill (399 m above sea level) a magnificent, fortified palace met our eyes. A fortified palace? A unique combination, but there seems to be no other adequate name for the never-conquered three level villa built by the Konicecpolski family, surrounded by massive fortifications, bastions and terrace gardens located around the axes of the palace.
Italians call such a location a „villa castello” or „palazzo in fortezza”. These terms reflect precisely the nature of the Podhorce architectural complex. The castle was built during the years 1635-1640. The construction was initiated by one of the greatest Polish magnates of the time, Stanisław Koniecpolski. However, the palace remained in the hands of the heirs of the victor from Trzciana and Ochmatów only until 1682, when it was sold to the Sobieski family, who in turn gave it over to the Great Crown Hetman (Marshall) Stanisław Mateusz Rzewuski. The Rzewuski family owned the palace until the partitions at the end of the 18th century, when the entire region fell in the hands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The 19th and first two decades of the 20th century was a period of continued decline of the palace and successive burglaries. Only after World War I, when the palace was once again inside Polish borders, the first conservation works were carried out and whatever remained of the palace’s interiors and furnishing was taken care of. Since September 1939, after Eastern Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union, the castle housed a hospital for TB patients. After World War II its fate was even more tragic. Having been spared by the armies that passed back and forth through the region over the previous 200 years, the castle was set on fire and burnt down completely in 1956. However, with time the Soviet authorities embarked on a reconstruction, although its scale did not allow for a full restoration of the complex. In 1974 some scenes for the monumental feature film “Potop” [The Deluge] by Jerzy Hoffmand were shot here. At present the palace is still being restored, and since 1997 it is owned by the Lvov Painting Gallery. A very important person for the reconstruction effort was the late Borys Woźnicki. He was a Ukrainian art historian, conserver and caretaker of Ukraine’s palaces and castles.
The castle itself is constantly being restructured. Only the underground levels and ground floor are available for visitors (as at 2012). It is possible to walk over the courtyard, the fortifications and bastions, the park and three levels of the terraces. The building makes a great impression, especially when we look at it standing in the middle of the axis of the Baroque complex. In the basements a short (and unusual) exhibition of the castle’s ghosts is offered, and on the ground floor an exhibition of posters illustrating the history of the palace. It is simple and offers captions in Polish and Ukrainian. The exhibition is the result of a project entitled „Polish-Ukrainian research on the history of residential complexes”. The researchers conducted an extensive source query and presented very effective results. A large number of photos and scans of engravings illustrates the unusual history of the palace, the photos of the burnt down ruin as it was in the 1960-ties are particularly moving in contrast to the engravings which illustrate the riches of the 17th century palace.
The park area includes an austeria [Jewish roadside inn], two Corinthian columns with figures of Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, and an 18th century church of St. Joseph and the Triumph of the Holy Cross. The church is a copy of the „Basilica di Superga” in Turin. Its attica still displays original sculptures of the founders of the Rzewuski family, the founders of the church. Inside the church we still find epitaphs of the Lubomirski and Rzewuski families. The building is in a very poor condition and the interior may only be visited during the Sunday service.
The past splendour, beautiful location and rich history make the Podhorce Castle a real pearl of historical Polish architecture. It is a site that ought to be on the “must visit” list of all tours visiting Western Ukraine.
Autor: Paweł Lech