We are in Pidhirtsi, Ukraine. For believers, the country itself is filled with legends and mysticism, and Pidhirsti castle (Ukrainian: Підгорецький замок; Polish: zamek w Podhorcach) is also known as one of the most haunted castles in Ukraine.
Tales surround Maria Zhevusska, the wife of Vaclav Zhevussky, a mysterious lady in white whose spirit is said to still wander around the castle. According to the legend, Vaclav Zhevussky, a former owner of the castle, walled up alive his young wife in the castle’s basement. The reason for such a terrible act was insane jealousy of Vaclav to his wife, Maria and it is not surprising: at the time Vaclav was 60 and Maria only 19.
Ghost stories apart, the massive castle has been restored many times over the years. It was constructed by French-Polish cartographer, engineer and architect Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan and Italian architect Andrea dell’Aqua between 1635–1640 by order of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s Grand Crown Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, the highest-ranking military officers, second only to the King. Built for leisure rather than for defensive purposes, the castle remained in the hands of Polish military leaders into the eighteenth century.
The structure, built with brick and stone, stands at 399 meters above sea level, overlooking the Styr River valley, in a prominent location where it can be seen from great distances. In the 17th century, it was surrounded by vineyards and Italian-style gardens, and was guarded by a moat and drawbridge, fortified walls with bastions and a set of iron cannons (some of which have been preserved to this day).
Above the entrance gate, a marble plaque to this day bears a Latin inscription: “A crown of military labours is victory, victory is a triumph, triumph is rest.”
In its heyday under polish nobleman Jakub Ludwik Sobieski, the castle was richly furnished, with several halls and a library. Walls of all rooms were covered with paintings, around 200 portraits and wallpapers, floors were made of marble tiles and each room also had a marble fireplace.
The castle was sieged several times over its history. At the end of World War II the region, previously part of Poland, was annexed to Ukraine and the castle became a tuberculosis sanitarium, until a fire started by a lightning storm nearly destroyed it in February 1956. The was castle almost completely burned down, including the valuable paintings, and the fire lasted for three weeks, leaving behind only walls and $12 million in damages.
When Ukraine regained independence from the Soviet Union, on August 24 1991, the castle was planned to be revamped and made into a presidential residence. This never came to be true, and eventually it was placed under the jurisdiction of the Lviv National Art Gallery that purchased it in 1997 and turned it into a museum.
Author’s notes: the Lviv National Art Gallery is trying to restore the castle to its historical look, however lack of funds has delayed most restoration work, and progress is only being made slowly. The basement, which apparently holds a “ghost residence” can be visit by purchasing a ticket. Visit the church in front of it is free.