Pidhirtsi Castle – 17th Century Historic Treasure
Pidhirsi Castle is located on the outskirts of the village of Pidhirtsi in the Lviv Oblast of Ukraine, and was constructed between 1635 and 1640 at the command of Stanislaw Koniecpolski, a Grand Crown Hetman of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the time. The brick and stone structure replaced an older fortress, becoming one of the most strategically placed, and therefore most valuable, castle-fortresses on the eastern borderland of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the area which now forms part of western Ukraine.
While the castle now shows the effects of hundreds of years of exposure to the elements, it nonetheless remains a sturdy building and displays some indication of what it was like when first constructed. In the late 17th and early 18th century, the castle was lavishly furnished, with elaborate gardens and parks surrounding it. The landscaping included vineyards and formal parterre gardens, with tightly clipped hedges and gravel paths. Other features of the castle gardens were an apiary, a trout pond, a mill and a private zoo. A moat and drawbridge restricted access to the castle, while fortified walls with bastions, along with iron cannons, provided security against invasion. The interior of the castle featured hundreds of paintings, many of them portraits, with the walls being covered in richly decorated wallpapers and the flooring made of marble tiles.
The position of Pidhirtsi Castle made it a prime target for attack by the Ukrainian Cossacks, Tatars and Turks, but the strong structure proved impenetrable time and again. In 1682 the grandson, and namesake of the original owner, Stanislaw Koniecpolski ceded the castle and its estates to Jakub Ludwik Sobieski – the son of King John III of Poland and Marie Casimire Louise de La Grange d’Arquien. The castle changed hands a number of times in the following years, during which time it hosted various members of European royalty as guests under its roof.
The Russians captured the castle during World War I, and while they did not destroy the building, they stripped it of all its precious and historical heirlooms. Located on the front-line, Pidhirtsi Castle became headquarters of the 5th Austrian-Hungarian Corps in 1915. Once again, the building escaped damage, but any remaining items of value were removed by the Russians, who also destroyed much of the interior features, including the marble tiled floors. Various efforts at restoration were later made and following World War II, the castle was used by Soviet authorities as a sanitarium for Tuberculosis sufferers.
When Ukraine finally regained its independence from the Soviet Union, there were tentative plans to restore Pidhirtsi Castle and use it as a Presidential residence. However, these plans never came to fruition and the castle is now in the care of the Lviv Art Gallery which reportedly intends to restore it to its original state and preserve it as a museum.