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History of Podhirtsi Castle

The first fortifications in the form of watch posts and defensive structures had already existed in the area where today's castle stands when Ruthenian tribes inhabited that land. A note about the settlement of Plisnesk, located only several kilometres from today's castle, appears in chronicles from the 12th century. However, a Mongolian-Tatar invasion in the second half of the 14th century, and next an expansion of Polish-Lithuanian and Hungarian rulers at the beginning of the 15th century led to a decline of the settlement. A charter by Polish King Władysław of Varna, dated from 1440, saying that the villages of Pidhirtsi and Zahirtsi belong to Janusz Podhorecki, is considered the first written note about the village of Pidhirtsi.

The Podhorecki family that owned the land in the 15th and 16th centuries is the founder of the previous stronghold in Pidhirtsi, a defensive manor guarded by a wall made of huge hewn rock. Little is known about the history of this fortified building and the life of its owners since neither the village itself nor the members of the Podhorecki family are found in any historical notes of that period. The history of this castle started in 1633, when the residence of the Podhorecki family was bought by Poland's Grand Crown Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, a talented leader and influential figure. At that time a stronghold in Brody was the residence of the Koniecpolski family. Apart from it, a few other strongholds and castles were built on the initiative of Stanisław.

Pidhirtsi Castle was to serve as a suburban residence where a leader could take a rest from warfare. The construction of the castle, which first was a wonderful palace, then a massive stronghold, started in 1635. An Italian, Andrzej dell'Aqua, designed buildings in the «palazzo in fortezza» style («fortified palace»); he was hired by Koniecpolski to construct a fortress in Brody. The design of the fortifications of Pidhirtsi Stronghold was most likely made by military engineer Guillaume de Beauplan, although some historians believe that architect Nicolo Silvestri and Johann Ludwig von Wolzogen were also somehow linked to this building. The terraces located on the curtain walls and bastions, the castle's courtyard and the moat surrounding the castle were covered with stone slabs.

The rich decorations of the castle's facades and the interior were made by Italian masters who used expensive species of trees, black marble, and gilding for this. In that period an Italian Park was established near the castle, with vast flower terraces, fountains, and statutes. On the hill, within a short distance from the castle, vine varieties from Hungary were planted to produce home-made wine. In the 1640s the new castle of the Koniecpolski family had been many times visited by important figures, including Prince Radziwiłł and Polish King Władysław IV with his wife. In 1648 the peaceful existence of this luxurious building was interrupted. During the Khmelnytsky Uprising the Cossacks several times conquered Pidhirtsi. As a result, not only the castle itself suffered but also its beautiful garden and park complex.

In 1656 Koniecpolski's heir started a reconstruction of the castle. The restoration ate up a huge amount of money at that time, a hundred thousand thalers. In 1682 after the castle's owner died childless, the residences in Pidhirtsi, Zahirtsi, and Brody were inherited by the family of King Jan III Sobieski. After granting the status of a royal castle, a huge conversion lasting 14 years started in Pidhirtsi Stronghold. It gave the castle an appearance of a sophisticated palace arousing overall admiration. After the death of Jan Sobieski, life in the castle died out, his heirs rarely visited Pidhirtsi and the castle was run by stewards or it was simply rented.

In the 1720s Pidhirtsi Castle with Olesko Castle was bought from the House of Sobieski; then another stage in the life of the luxurious stronghold began. Stanisław Mateusz Rzewuski, an influential and rich nobleman, became its new host. He wanted to restore this old residence to its former splendour. His son Wacław began a more extensive renovation of this castle resulting in new rooms, an additional storey, a new form of the main building’s roof, and side pavilions. Furthermore, the interior was renovated following the trends of that time. In the time of Wacław a rich «arsenal» (collection of weapons) and a library with thousands of ancient volumes, archives and manuscripts were established behind the castle's wall. However, this «golden» era of the castle ended, when Wacław Rzewuski with his successor were sent to exile after their participation in the Bar Confederation in 1768.

After the Partition of Poland, Pidhirtsi was owned by the Austrian authorities which did not miss an opportunity to plunder the castle that had been already deserted. The rich collections of the Rzewuski family, dishes and items of the interior were several times put up for public auctions, and the castle was deprived of the copper roofing and stone slabs covering the bastion's tops. It was not until 1787 when Seweryn Rzewuski bought his family residence, but he was more interested in alchemy and treasure hunt than rebuilding the residence in Pidhirtsi. The building had been in such a pitiful condition for several decades, deteriorating more and more because of the weather and negligence of its stewards. It was not until 1833 when another owner of Pidhirtsi, Leon of the House of Rzewuski, decided to rebuild and save this building of historical interest.

Worrying about the fate of his residence, childless Leon Rzewuski gave the castle to Prince Władysław Hieronim Sanguszko on condition that his family would continue to rebuild the stronghold. In 1867 a long and costly renovation began, it lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. Parties and celebrations were held again in the renovated castle in the 1870s. Then the castle was visited by a few famous artists (J. Matejko, N. Orda, А. Grilevsky), who immortalised the building in their works. In 1894 the family of Sanguszko decided to establish a private museum behind its walls that people from different social classes could visit. The years of World War I interrupted the serene existence of the castle that suffered heavily because of warfare, and miraculously avoided a complete demolition.

Pidhirtsi Castle was owned by the family of Sanguszko until 1939. The day before the Soviet authorities arrived, the last owner of the stronghold, Roman Sanguszko, managed to take some of his castle collections to Brazil, where he also emigrated soon. In 1940 in Pidhirtsi Castle a branch of the Lviv Historical Museum was open. World War II and the post-war period were again difficult for the castle and the museum housed inside. Many exhibit items were lost. In 1947 the museum was closed, and in 1949 a sanatorium for people having TB was set up behind the walls of the stronghold. As a result, many rooms were converted, and a lot of new utility buildings appeared in the park.

Between the 1960s and 1980s several historical and adventure films were shot on the castle premises. As a result, Pidhirtsi Stronghold was becoming more and more popular as a local tourist attraction, although it served as a health resort until 1997. Since then the former image of the castle has been reborn. The castle becomes a branch of the Lviv Arts Gallery. Unfortunately, due to insufficient financial resources, its renovation is being carried out very slowly, and experts estimate that less than half of the necessary work has been conducted today.