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20 January, 2011  ▪  Marina Gnatenko

Noble Walls

One third of the hundred castles preserved in Ukraine can be found in Ternopil


Captions: ZBARAZH. This photogenic fortress starred in Jerzy Hoffman’s blockbuster, With Fire and Sword. Today, Zbarazh is a tourist spot.


Wandering along the corridors of once luxurious palaces and stern fortresses, going down to dungeons and learning Ukrainian history live is no problem in Ternopil Oblast. But don’t expect to visit all castles in one trip, because this region boasts 34 castles, of the 100 that remain in Ukraine. They all look different but they share a similar fate. Their stories all began in the era of fortified defensive towns. Most are ruins today, waiting desperately for someone to take care of them. The strongholds that survived enemy attacks have since been destroyed by time and negligence. 

Zbarazh: Kozak glory

On our way from the Zbarazh bus station to the castle, we pass 17th century wooden sculptures. After another few hundred meters, here we are. The walls look brand-new. I remember joining a Polish excursion group here four years ago—the castle is featured in With Fire and Sword by Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz and in Jerzy Hoffman’s blockbuster film of the same name—and feeling embarrassed about the state of the castle. Today, it is a serious tourist spot. 

A clean well-kept park, a moat and a gate… That’s the place to go for history classes! Who can possibly forget the famous battle, standing on the spot where Stanislav Morozenko died in 1649 as Bohdan Khmelnytskiy led his army against Jarema Wisniowiecki? 

The episodes of Kozak life displayed in wooden sculptures by Volodymyr Lupiychuk fit the castle very well, ideally matching the works of artists from the renowned Johann Pinsel School and the elaborate 18th century Angel supposedly made by the maestro himself in the next room. The country’s spirit lives in every piece here. 

Another room hosts the most complete collection of medieval weapons in Ukraine, including both original and exact copies of swords, battle axes, cannons, muskets, and suits of armor. The hall and the rooms display busts of Kozak leaders, portraits of Zbarazh princes, Kozak commanders and Polish heroes. 

Contemporary marketing approaches have not passed by here, either. A medieval torture chamber was recently opened in the dungeons. Glamorous girls do photo shoots here. Everybody is looking for something…  

Inside, the castle looks great, but the dungeons that stretch for dozens of kilometers need some restoration to last till spring. The Government has promised to pay UAH 6mn for this. And by Fall 2011, when Zbarazh turns 800, the Cabinet of Ministers promised to fix not only the sites, but the town water supply system, too. 

Berezhany: An Eastern Babel  

The Eastern Babel, a Renaissance castle in Berezhany and a one-time residence of the Siniawskis, a noble family, has not done so well. The owners took care of fortification, building walls that are 2-6 meters high, and of natural protection from an 800-meter wide swamp and two arms of the Zolota Lypa River. Needless to say, there is also elaborate architecture and a fancy interior. The castle was known for the luxury balls attended by Hetman Ivan Mazepa himself. 

“Our fortress wasn’t so lucky,” says Volodymyr Paratsiy, Director of the Research Unit at the State History and Architecture Reserve in Berezhany. “Bohdan Khmelnytskiy never fought here, so the castle has been of little interest until now, even though it survived dozens of sieges and only surrendered twice: to the Kozaks in 1648 and to the Swedes in 1655.” 

The part of the castle that has been cleaned up hosts a small display of bricks with Potocki crests and marble fragments of decorations from the headstones of the Siniawski family found in the dungeons. The second floor is a museum of 19-20th century furniture. People from the area have brought furniture from all over to recreate the life of the then-middle class: a chest, a cupboard, a triangular wooden clock, a bed, a nightstand, and doors…   

The castle started to fall apart two centuries ago. After the last owner, Jakub Potocki, died in 1934, the war and time hammered the final nail into its coffin. Since 2004, the castle has been part of a history and architecture reserve. One floor built with red bricks and the steel roof of the western wing are eyesores. But these are temporary. As long as there is no money to restore the castle, at least this little bit of repair work is better for the lower section and the display than a space open to the elements. 

“For almost 30 years when the castle stood abandoned, vagrants stayed here to warm up because it’s like a cave; the temperature hardly ever changes here,” Mr. Paratsiy says. “We had to clear a forest here, put in a roof and fixed cracks in the wall of the new palace.” 

In the courtyard stands a model of the castle, scaled 1:170 and showing what it once looked like. If the allocated funds arrive in time, it should look like this again in another 25 years. Two chapels of the castle cathedral form the Siniawski family vault. For the past 5 years, scaffolding has been needed to support them. 

With not much to show now, the entrance fee is only UAH 3. Today, putting things in order is the main priority. But the Government is in no rush to help the castle out. It is hoping to draw foreign grants for that purpose. Last year, a festival with knights and fire shows was arranged to promote the castle and it could well become a regular event. 

Kremenets: Surviving Batu

As our bus heads towards Bona Hill where the Kremenets castle stands, a passenger says: “Write about our roads – they are one big mess! Our mayor is in his third term, so now he will definitely do—nothing!” The bus explodes with laughter. But at the top, the road is straight and even has road signs. 

Tourists stay here till night. They say shashlyk tastes very good at Bona and the air is fantastic in the Kremenets hills. A short walk takes us to a wall around the corner. There is not much to see here – several walls, a half-buried well that looks like a bomb crater, and the remains of the entrance tower. It’s more interesting to listen to the guide while you stand on the wall ruins above the abyss overlooking Kremenets. The small town also has medieval architecture that looks European from up here. The onion domes of the Pochayiv Monastery shine near the horizon on a sunny day. 

It’s hard to call these ruins a castle these days. Kozaks destroyed it in 1848—Polish kings had owned Kremenets since 1569—and no one has restored it since. Yet once upon a time, it was the most glorious castle in Volynhia, surviving even Batu Khan. Bona gleams with the blood of attackers. The nearly 100-meter high steep walls on the hill prevented anyone from seizing the castle. But in the mid-13th century, Prince Vasylko ordered the wooden fortifications dismantled. Later, the fortress was reconstructed in stone by Prince Liubartas, who is mentioned as a master, not a conqueror. 

During the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Italian-born Polish Queen Bona Sforza d’Aragona owned the castle. Kremenets tells many legends about her lovers and her cruelty. Still, the castle lived a peaceful life until Kozaks, led by Maksym Kryvonis and local rebels against the nobles, took it over after exhausting battles that lasted six weeks.


Our guide, the ticket-taker at Kremenets-Pochayiv State History and Archive Reserve, Mykola Vinnytskiy, says that history must be felt, otherwise it’s boring. The fortress, Mr. Vinnytskiy continues, has many mysteries. In the 16th century, weapons were stored here, though kings and army commanders who might need guards did not live at the castle. To this day, nobody knows what was here before, a treasury or something else. 




Berezhany: The Grey Eminence

Two floors of the late 17th century New Palace crown the side of the current entrance gate to the Berezhany castle. The photocopies of portraits remind visitors of the nobles who once owned the palace. Their life was the history of several countries. With every shift in power, the family flourished and its offspring were not just friends with tsars and kings, but had crown ambitions themselves, such as the rascally Adam-Nicholas Siniawski. At one time, he hid the rebellious Hungarian Prince Ferenc Rákóczi and socialized with his persecutors. He welcomed both Piotr I and Ivan Mazepa as guests and corresponded with the King of Poland whom he wanted to replace. Everyone thought Adam was irreplaceable and he was lucky enough to die in his bed. 

Tourist routes

Ternopil oblast has countless castles. Just choose your route. If you go in the direction of Chernivtsi, you will find castles at Mykulyntsi, Terebovlia and Budaniv. Another way to go is Buchach, Pidzamochok and Yazlovetskiy castle. The last was preserved through the efforts of nuns from a nearby nunnery.  In addition to the fortress, Buchach has an interesting town hall and a Basilian monastery. And don’t forget Ternopil castle, Skalat, Toky, Sydoriv, and Skala-Podilska! Whatever direction you choose (see the map), you’ll find plenty of fortresses. 

The best-preserved castles are in Ternopil, Berezhany, Zbarazh, Skalat, Kryvche, Zolotiy Potik, and Yahilnytsia. The best palaces are in Vyshnivka, Yazlivets and Bilokrynytsia. 

Vyshnivka: Another Versailles

Another palace worth seeing is in Vyshnivka. It gained fame thanks to the founder of the Sich at the Little Khortytsia who had the same name as the palace: Dmytro “Baida” Vyshnevetskiy. An old park surrounds the palace and the windows offer amazing views. The ruins of the wall are all that is left from the fortress, but the palace is in fairly good condition. It has a museum and offers guided tours. Plans are to set up a picture gallery for Ternopil-born Ivan Marchuk here. When Honoré de Balzac visited the palace in 1848, he called it “a little Versailles.” 

Vyshnivka: Crazy chess

In 1848, Taras Shevchenko visited Vyshnivka with an archeographic expedition. Here he heard a story about the “crazy chess” of Jarema Wisniowiecki. The nobles played it on a giant chess board with the serfs they owned as chess pieces. The viewers sat on a platform. New owners would then take the “lost” pieces with them and those poor people were likely to not see their families ever again. 

Where to stay and to eat

Zbarazh has a three-star Hetman Hotel. It is ready to host guests for Euro 2012. If you want to dine in a medieval interior, go to the Legend Restaurant in the Zbarazh castle dungeons. 

Castles are cool

Two of the 10 State History and Architecture Reserves operating in Ukraine are in Ternopil Oblast: the Kremenets-Pochayiv and Berezhanskiy Reserves. Another historical and architectural reserve called Ternopil Castles in Zbarazh, was established in 2005 and has saved several castles.

 Andriy Matsipura, General Director of Ternopil Castles, told Ukrainian Week that Zbarazh castle earns UAH 600-700,000 from visitors, excursions and leasing its halls every year, followed by the Wisniowiecki castle at UAH 150-200,000, and Yazlivetskiy and Terebovlianskiy castles at UAH 10-15,000. All the money is spent on blueprints and preservation, as all of the castles are dangerously derelict. Over the past two years, the Government has not spent a penny to repair or restore them.


There is an abundance of castles in Ternopil region. You only need to choose a route. If you go in the direction of Chernivtsi to Chortkiv, you will see the castles in Mykulyntsi, Terebovlia and Budanov. Another route will take you to Buchach, Pidzamochok and Yazlovets Castle which has survived owing to the efforts of the lay sisters from the neighboring convent. Buchach has a fortress, a quaint town hall and a Basilian monastery. You shouldn’t forget about the Ternopil Castle. Then there are Skalat, Toky, Sydoriv, and Skala-Podilska. Whatever route you choose (see the map), you will come across a number of fortresses.

The castles in Ternopil, Berezhany, Zbarazh, Skalat, Kryvche, Zoloty Potik, and Yahilnytia and the palaces in Vyshnivska, Yazlovets and Bilokrynytsia have survived the ravages of time the best.

Another Versailles

You can also see the Vyshnivets Palace which was made famous by Prince Dmytro “Baida” Vyshnevetsky, the founder of the Sich on Mala Khortytsia Island. The palace is encircled by an old park, and wonderful landscapes open before an observer looking out of the palace’s windows. The remains of the walls are the only surviving pieces of the fortress. The palace is in a pretty good condition and houses a museum. An art gallery that will feature paintings by Ivan Marchuk, a Ternopil region native, is scheduled for an opening soon. On his visit to this palace in 1848, Honoré de Balzac called it “small Versailles.”

Crazy chess games

That same year Taras Shevchenko came here as a member of the Archeological Commission. He heard here the story of Yarema Vyshnevetsky’s “crazy chess games.” The players used a huge chess board with serfs serving as chess pieces and the viewers looking on from the stands. The serfs that were “lost” went to their new owners, and families could be torn apart forever.

Room and board

Zbarazh has a three-star hotel, Hetman, which can also accommodate Euro 2012 guests. If you want to have a meal in a medieval setting, go to the Legend restaurant in the dungeon of the Zbarazh Castle.

Castles bring profits

Two State Historical-Architectural Preserves (SHAP), Kremenets-Pochaiv and Berezhany, are located in Ternopil oblast. There is also a national preserve of this type here, “Ternopil Castles,” with the headquarters in Zbarazh. It was created in 2005 and saved several castles from destruction.

Its director general, Anatolii Matsipura, says that the castles bring profits, earning on tourists, excursions and rent: 600,000 to 700,000 hryvnias a year for the Zbarazh Castle, 150,000 to 200,000 for the Vyshnivtsi Castle, and 10,000 to 15,000 for the castles in Yazlovets and Terebovlia. The money is spent on other castles, particularly on construction documentation and conservation works. All of them are in a dangerous condition, while the state has left them without a red cent for maintenance and restoration works in the past two years.





BEREZHANY. The Eastern Babel was once one of the most outstanding Renaissance era defensive fortifications in Europe.


MYKULYNTSI. This castle survived Turkish sieges but surrendered to a textile factory in the 19th century.

KREMENETS. The castle survived Batu Khan. Only Maksym Kryvonis managed to seize it with his Kozaks.


THE REBIRTH. Soon, visitors to Berezhany castle will see an allegoric marble sculpture reconstructed from fragments, in cooperation with Polish architects.

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