Visit the Golden Horseshoe Castles

Visitors to the Lviv Oblast of Ukraine may want to take some time to explore the magnificent castles in some of the smaller towns and villages of the region, such as the Olesko Castle, Zolochiv Castle and Pidhirtsi Castle, referred to as the “Golden Horseshoe”. Each of these castles has a long, and often tumultuous, history and each is noteworthy for its ancient architectural style.

Standing on a hill outside the town of Olesko, the Olesko Castle was first mentioned in a document dated 1390 where it was gifted to a Catholic bishop by Pope Boniface IX. Because of its strategic position, through the years the oval-shaped castle and the land it stands upon changed hands frequently and at different times was the property of Poland, Hungary and Lithuania. Visitors to the castle should take note of the well in the basement of the castle which was apparently used as an escape route for those trapped there by invaders. In more peaceful times the castle served as a country home for aristocracy. The castle’s most prominent claim to fame is that it was the place where Polish king Jan III Sobieski was born August 17, 1629. Many of the artworks displayed at the castle come from his personal collection. The castle was damaged by an earthquake in 1838, suffered damage in the two World Wars and was struck by lightning in 1956. Major restoration work took place between 1961 and 1985 and today visitors will see some spectacular antique furniture, interior finishes, sculptures, paintings, tapestries, ancient weapons and other everyday items from centuries ago.

Built in 1634-1636, Zolochiv Castle stands on a hill at the confluence of two rivers. The castle belonged to the Sobieski and Radziwill families in the 17th and 18th centuries, later becoming a prison under Stalin. Today, visitors to Zolochiv Castle can view a memorial to those who died, mostly at the hands of the NKVD, during this dark time in history. The smaller Chinese Palace has been restored, and the Grand Palace is currently undergoing restoration. Visitors will be able to view some interesting exhibits, including chandeliers made from dinosaur bones and dozens of European coats of arms.

Located in the village of the same name, the Pidhirtsi Castle was constructed between 1635 and 1640, replacing an older fortress which had stood there. It was built by order of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s Grand Crown Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski. Standing prominently on a northern slope of the Woroniaki hills overlooking the Styre River valley, Pidhirtsi Castle featured fortified walls with bastions, had a moat and drawbridge and a set of iron cannons. It was surrounded by vineyards and landscaped gardens, with a private zoo and an apiary, as well as a trout pond and a mill. Although it was fortified, the castle was built as a palace for aristocracy and for some time belonged to the Rzewuski family. During the Soviet Era it was used as a tuberculosis hospital and following the fall of the Soviet Union, some efforts have been made to restore Pidhirtsi Castle as and when funds are available. While it may not be in the state it was during its hey-day, Pidhirtsi Castle is open to the public and is interesting to visit.