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The History of Zbarazh Castle

Zbarazh, an ancient city of the principality of Galicia-Volhynia, was located a few kilometers from modern Zbarazh, and namely there the construction of the predecessors of the castle had taken place since the 12th century before it gained its modern look. Constant Mongol and Tatar raids left no chance to the wooden castle, which was built during the reign of the Polish Prince Leszek the White - the hordes of Batu Khan destroyed the ancient settlement and the castle in 1219. In the late 14th century, Prince Koribut Olgerdovich of the Gediminids dynasty made a new attempt to create a castle in Zbarazh, which was made of stone this time, but this castle was not destined to exist for a long time.

In 1435, Prince Fedor Nesvitskiy was given the right of hereditary possession of Zbarazh, so his descendants changed their surname to Zbaraski. Under the Zbaraski princes the stone castle gained fortress walls and it was the only protection of citizens from the Tatar raids. But in 1474 the horde of Aydora Khan almost destroyed the castle to the ground in revenge to brave inhabitants who had chosen to perish in flames of the fire rather than surrender the castle to the enemy. Later on, Zbarazh castle was rebuilt and it was again exposed to devastating raids of the Tatars; in the second half of the 16th century, the castle was attacked at least eight times, until it was turned into total ruins along with the settlement in 1598. The construction of New Castle was shifted to a new location to the east of the Old Castle. There Prince Janusz Zbaraski decided to move his residence around which the city soon arose that is now called Zbarazh. Sons of Janusz, Krzysztof and Jerzy Zbaraski, continued their father's work, although New Castle was finally completed only under princes of Wiśniowiecki in the second half of the 17th century. So, the first pages of the history of New Zbarazh Castle were written in 1602, when Krzysztof Zbaraski, who was studying in Italy, ordered a famous architect Vincenzo Scamozzi to create a project of the castle.

Constructing the castle started on the hill of the left bank of the Gnezna river only in the 1620s, and the initial design of Scamozzi "palazzo in fortezza" (Palace in the fortress) had to be significantly changed because the Italian made really grand palace rather than a defensive fortress. According to some researchers, famous fortifiers of that age Henry van Peene and Andrea del Aqua had a hand in the creation of an alternative project of Zbarazh castle. However, the castle owners the Zbaraski brothers studied fortification art in Italy and the Netherlands, so they could manage the construction themselves. During 1620 - 1627, Krzysztof was responsible for the castle, and after his death Jerzy Zbaraski was engaged in the construction of the residence up to 1631.

Zbaraski brothers had not left any direct heirs after themselves, so the unfinished castle was taken over by their nephew Janusz Wiśniowiecki in 1631, and a few years later by his son Dymitr. It was the beginning of a new stage of the castle construction and the strengthening of existing fortifications: towers at the corners of the defensive walls were reduced in height and were turned into bastions, where about 50 guns were placed. Casemates were built inside the courtyard, and the distance between them and the fortress walls was covered with earth to exclude the possibility of a breach with battering rams during a siege. A secret underground passage led from the castle to Bernardine monastery, which was located in the urban part of Zbarazh.

These preparations were not superfluous at all, in fact, Zbarazh castle found itself in the midst of the confrontation between Cossack army of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Polish garrison of Jeremi Wiśniowiecki in the summer of 1649. The forces of Cossacks and their allies, hundred thousands of troops of the Crimean khan İslâm III Giray, outnumbering the Polish army tenfold, whose number hardly exceeded 10 thousand people. The siege of Zbarazh castle lasted 42 days, and there were battles under the castle walls, assaults and night raids almost every single day. One day Cossacks stormed the fortress more than 15 times, but they could not break the resistance of Zbarazh castle defenders.

Another trial fell to the lot of Zbarazh castle in 1675, when the town and the castle were captured and burned by janissaries’ troops of Ibrahim Shaytan Pasha. Restoration of the castle was carried out by Prince Dymitr Jerzy Wiśniowiecki, after whose death the castle passed into the possession of the Potocki family - one of the most powerful magnate families. During this period, minor changes were taken to the castle in order to transform the castle into a more refined residence of aristocrats. However, the fragile happiness of the peaceful existence of the castle did not last long. During the Great Northern War (1700-1721), the castle was captured by the Swedes, and it was the beginning of the desolation of Zbarazh castle since them staying in it.

In 1734, the dilapidated castle was easily captured by chieftain of Haidamaky, self-proclaimed Colonel Verlan. After all these misfortunes, Potocki family was not too much concerned about restoring the Zbarazh castle, and in the middle of the 18th century the castle was owned by General Jozef Bem, who establish a sugar factory within the walls of the old building. In the late 19th century, Zbarazh castle was bought by Tadeusz-Vladislav Nemerovski, who intended to reconstruct the castle with the support of a historian Jan Boloz-Antonovich. The successful work progress was interrupted by World War I, during which the military garrison housed in the castle that caused a lot of new destructions to the ancient building.

In 1935, the Polish Union of Reserve Officers was occupied with the restoration of Zbarazh castle, but these good intentions were again interrupted by the war, this time by World War II. After the war various public organizations and children's clubs were housed in Zbarazh castle as well as an acting city museum during the years of Soviet power. But the real revival of the castle began only in 1990s, when the castle was given the status of historical architectural heritage.