Zbarazh Castle: Historical Heritage Site

Located on a hill overlooking the town of Zbarazh near Ternopil in Western Ukraine, Zbarazh Castle is a superb example of historic defensive architecture. Visitors to the castle will find a number of fascinating exhibits detailing the history of the area, archeological excavations, sacred arts, icons and sculptures, as well as local ethnic crafts and a collection of weapons dating back to the Stone Age era. A more recent addition to Zbarazh Castle is an exhibition of a torture chamber located in the cellar of the fortress. Using original blueprints, artisans have manufactured replicas of ancient torture devices apparently used during the period of the Inquisition initiated by the Roman Catholic Church to combat heresy.

Prior to the construction of the Zbarazh Castle as it is seen today, the Zbarazky landlords built a wooden fortress near the town now called Stary Zbarazh. The wooden fortress was burned down during conflict with the Tatars and the occupants killed. A replacement was built and commanded by Yanush Zbarazky, but destroyed in 1589 by nomads. In the early 17th century, his son chose a new location and undertook the construction of a masonry edifice which was designed by Hendrik van Peen.

The new square-shaped fortress was built with 88 meter long walls, featuring 12 meter high bulwarks with bastions and a wide trench around. A palace in the Renaissance architectural style was built in the rectangular courtyard in the middle of the fortress. The palace has two floors with its main entrance featuring a balcony with stone embellishments. Having been built to protect the occupants from raids by Tatars, the fortress was relatively small. But during the event that came to be known as the Siege of Zbarazh, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth forces fighting against rebel Cossacks and Tatars were besieged in Zbarazh Castle for some time. The cramped quarters and lack of food and water took their toll on the soldiers and others besieged in the castle and an estimated 6,000 people died, many from diseases. The events of the siege are described in the 1884 novel With Fire and Sword by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

For a time the Zbarazh Castle lay abandoned, but with Ukraine gaining independence, the castle was listed as a national historical architectural heritage site in 1994 and was restored. Today Zbarazh Castle is a major attraction in the area and well worth exploring.