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30 March, 2012  ▪  Oleh Kinash

The Secrets of Abandoned Museums

Buchach is slowly shaking off its soviet dust and becoming infused with colour

Buchach, with its 12,000-strong population easily qualifies as a backwater Halychyna in not to mention Ukraine . To get to the town by train, you have to get off in Chortkiv, switch to a locomotive pulling two carriages, or sometimes just one, and sway through the hilly terrain of the Ternopil Oblast for a whole hour. After this lengthy and monotonous rocking, it’s as if you enter another world – the Canyon of the Strypa , one of the most turbulent and wild rivers of the plains of Ukraine, cross the bridge over it, enter the tunnel and there you are in Buchach.  

FOLLOWING THE FERRARI

Just like any decent tourist, you first go downtown to see the town hall, the Roman Catholic cathedral, the church and a few other sites. Several primitive informational billboards in patriotic blue and yellow colours are located next to the County State Administration, featuring an intriguing inscription about engineer and architect Giovanni Battista Ferrari who was born in the town. The name will make a car lover’s heart rush until the local guide cools his ardour saying that he won’t get a brand new Ferrari for discovering something unknown about the brand’s founder, since there are as many Ferraris in Italy as there are Smiths in the US. Instead, you can enjoy Giovanni Battista’s engineering and architectural talents as you take a train from Buchach to Chortkiv or vice versa. Austrian authorities commissioned him and a group of his colleagues to build the railway before WWI. Once he finished this project, the young engineer did not rush back to his sunny Italy, but decided to stay in rainy Halychyna.

After a short walk around the town centre, try to get to the old ruined “dishevelled” castle overgrown with small trees that are at least a hundred years old, looking like hair. Stand on the edge of the castle wall and have a bird’s eye view of the landscape. Anyone with sharp vision and senses will grasp the essence of old Buchach and understand why some places are called eternal. You will see the thread of the Strypa River as a nominal X axis of the local 3D world. The Z axis is the road and Y axis – the town hall, the core from which the old streets emanated.

From the picturesque car crossing over the river it is possible to see the castle, monastery, secondary school, town hall and a humble park with willows hanging over the river.

Along the Z axis (the road), Buchach looks like most provincial towns in Halychyna, but with significant sinusoidal waves in the landscape. Its intricate lines are engraved with simple derivatives of human activity: plinths, retaining walls, stairways or bridges to the entrances of buildings.

The X axis, or Strypa River, is a blue thread that makes Buchach what it is. Without it, there would be no canyon or contours intersected by the river. Weeping willows and town neighbourhoods, small suspension bridges and hand-made footbridges, rifts and crags, gorges deeply cut by streams and riverbank terraces filled with buildings – all these combinations of park and rocky elements create simple yet fascinating landscapes.  

Because of the undeveloped tourism infrastructure, rafting on the Strypa River, organized by the Nad Strypoyu (Over Strypa) resort, is not very popular. An inexperienced hiker would find it unbelievable that there are true jungles with canyons, waterfalls and ancient plants that have survived on the steep river banks for millions of years.

THREE PILLARS OF THE TOWN

The first pillar is the town hall, the construction of which was funded by Mikolaj Potocki, a renowned philanthropist of the past. Despite its serious official role, it still looks quite toy-like even after all sculptures by Johann Georg Pinsel, a gifted master in the art of expressing dynamic movement and extreme emotions, were removed for renovation. The town hall is reminiscent of a giant humming top that can be spun, holding the elegant spiked tip of the tower. Spires and towers have always lured people who did not see their power. The people of that time were not only scared of their perfect splendor; they worshipped them and wanted to enter them. The town hall absorbed the local crème de la crème. These “black holes” in every medieval town first lured the elite and later turned into their Molochs. The tower is a symbol of grandeur and completeness of power; the spikes - a symbol of penetration, accuracy and reaching a goal; while the clock represented the innovative technologies of that time, but also symbolized responsibility, reliability and indestructibility.

The second pillar is the Roman Catholic Church, which was also funded by Mikolaj Potocki. The exterior of the church looks simple, yet its interior is almost perfect due to the altar with a group of sculptures by Pinsel. Most of his statues express extreme tragedy and passion: utmost surprise, unwavering readiness for self-sacrifice, desperate supplication through prayer, or irrepressible joy. The sculptor once secretly sheltered by Duke Potocki, appears to have been a fugitive convict, who was able to closely observe and record extreme human feelings and emotions in his mind, to later recreate them perfectly in his sculptures.   

Everything experienced by the local population nearly 200 years after Pinsel’s death, can now be clearly seen in the tragic faces of his wooden sculptures. With their unselfish devotion and sacrificial lent,  the church’s priests are reviving its original role and make every effort to establish good relations between Ukrainians and the few Poles who still live in Buchach.

SPIRITUAL DOMINATION

The third, and probably most powerful pillar, is the Basilian Monastery of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the construction of which was also funded by Potocki. Along with the cemetery on Fedir Hill, it creates the local sacral aura. This is possibly because this part of town has hardly any traffic, loud markets or bright stores. On a Sunday morning, Mass can be heard from the monastery’s church, enchanting almost all of the old town. The Basilian Monastery dominates the revival of the spirit of Buchach. Even members of the younger generation, who tend to smile indulgently at their grandparents walking slowly to church in other regions, are responsible and focused participants of Sunday Masses here.  

Over the years of independence, most private buildings in town have become neat and cute, with only a few remaining shabby and neglected. When one looks at some of the gates, portals and decor of modern buildings in Buchach, the impression emerges that the locals are well-versed in Viennese Secession - much more so than the residents of Kyiv, who are generally much wealthier and give preference to kitsch for their homes. Partly due to migrant workers who support their families from Europe and elsewhere, and partly due to local businesses, the town is now awakening from its post-soviet coma and reviving its historical role and tourist beauty step by step.

Sometimes, though, when builders level out a castle ravine that makes the landscape look unique just to sell the adjoining piece of land, you realize that local authorities are not good at maths and do not understand the combination of form, size and aesthetics. Entering a nice empty restaurant overlooking the Strypa River that offers much better food than any similar restaurant in Kyiv, with prices that are lower than in any of the capital’s bistros, the sad thought comes to mind, that this amazing museum town with sites that are entered in the UNESCO heritage list, may one day become desolate.   


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