The castle in 1911. Photo by a famous Podillia photografer of that time Michal Grejm. The castle yard in 16th of June, 2006. WWII.
35 km from Khmelnytsky, on the road to Vinnytsa.
Every castle in Podillia has its legends of underground passages branching over several kilometres. But only in the fortress in Medzhybizh (Khmelnytsky region), did these passages not only exist, but were used by Romanovs, members of the family of the last Russian Tsars. Not to escape from enemies, but in order to avoid excessive attention...
| White Swan over the Buh|
When you come to Medzhybizh, it is hard to believe that you are close to Khmelnytsky, the regional centre, with all its noise and fuss. In the village, the provincial silence and quiet is sometimes disturbed by buses with Hasidim pilgrims coming here to worship at the tomb of Besht, the founder of the Hasidic movement. Baal Shem-Tov, alias Besht, came to live in this town in 1740, and here he died 1760. He is buried in the old Jewish cemetery in Medzhybizh.
But Medzhybizh is famous not only for Hasidism. Its bee-buzzing name is key to understanding the historic importance of the settlement. Between the Buh Rivers, there is a strategic area for settling and defense. At the confluence of the Southern Buh River and its Buzhok tributary, a mighty fortress looms. How spectacularly it reflects on the water near the small dam!
The stronghold appeared in the 13th century when it was first built of wood and on a much smaller scale. The stone outpost is first mentioned in chronicles from 1516. Tartar troops then came across Ukraine through Medzhybizh, and it would have been impossible to survive without the castle. As of 1540, the town and the fortress belonged to the Sieniawski magnates for almost two centuries. One of these, Adam Sieniawski, granted Medzhybizh the Magdeburg rights (a set of town laws regulating the degree of its internal autonomy) in 1593 and the town became richer and richer from its fairs and famous for its craftsmen. The magnates restored the castle and built the grand palace in its yard. Their white stone doorways and frames, as well as the Renaissance attics remain today.
It was difficult for magnates to keep this property. During the violent wars between the Cossacks and the Poles the fortress passed to various owners. In 1650, it was occupied by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky for a short period of time.
From 1672 to 1699, Medzhybizh and the whole of Podillia was occupied by the Turks. As of 1793, Medzhybizh belonged to the Russian Empire. The castle was confiscated from its last owners, the Chartoryski princes, for their participation in the Polish riots of 1831. Isabella Chartoryska remembered with dread how Russian soldiers built a pyre from the precious manuscripts of the princes’ library (collected over centuries), fed it with antique furniture, and axed the irreplaceable marble sculptures. The rich apartments of the owners were also burnt.
In 1848, the castle passed on to the military. The building was expensively renovated in the then-fashionable Neo-Gothic style, and the gloomy outpost turned into a palace complex. Builders used bricks which until then had been used only for the castle church in 1586. In the 19th century the fortress received a romantic name, the White Swan, because of the new colour of its walls. Crushed bricks were added to a white plaster solution and gave the castle the glamorous colour of apple blossoms.
| Tsar's daughter is also human?|
Princess Olga Romanova (1882-1960), daughter of Alexander III and sister of the last Russian Tsar Nicolas II, visited the fortress many times. She sponsored a hussar regiment lodged within its walls. The princess often stayed in Medzhybizh and had a very hands-on approach to her sponsorship. Princess Olga last visited the castle in 1913. Tsar Nicolas II also stayed in the fortress once. Guides will tell you the story of Olga Romanova and mention two underground passages (seven and fourteen kilometres long) dug-out under the bed of the Buh River centuries ago. Through these wide grottoes where her carriage could turn, the princess went on dates with her first husband, Prince Oldenburg. Romanova disliked official pompous meetings, very much preferring to stay in the shadow.
And then came Soviet times, when the castle “turned a penny” in its capacity as a butter-making plant, and when stones from the fortress walls were used for lining the village council building. These times also saw the castle’s cellars used as a prison of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs and as a German garrison during the Second World War.
Today, the Knights’ and Officers’ towers, held in the strong embrace of the high walls (180 centimetres wide!) receive tourists as well as brides and grooms who come here from the whole region to celebrate the happiest day of their lives and have their pictures taken. The museum is open, the Carriage gallery is restored and every romantic person wants to see the wonderful views of Medzhybizh from the observation platform in Knights’ Tower.
| USEFUL INFORMATION|
Contacts: State Historic and Architectural Reserve ‘Medzhybizh”, 1 Zhovtneva Str., Medzhybizh village, Letychivskyi district, Khmelnytsky region, tel: +38 039 57 97 123. The fortress is open daily except Mondays, from 10:00 to 18:00.
Entrance ticket costs UAH4. You can also climb to the Knight’s Tower (additional ticket).
UIA offers direct daily flights to Kyiv from most of Western Europe’s largest cities. With your Panorama Club Card you can accumulate miles on all UIA flights and flights of our partner airlines: Air France (excluding the Kyiv-Paris route), Austrian Airlines, KLM, Swiss International Air Lines, TAP Portugal.
Buy tickets online at www.flyUIA.com. For more information, call us in Kyiv at +38 044 581 5050.
KyivStar, MTC, Life:) and Beeline cellular service subscribers can dial 566. The call costs UAH 1 per minute for KyivStar and Life:) subscribers, UAH 0,95 per minute for Beeline subscribers and is billed as a call to a city phone for MTC subscribers.
Take one of the daily trains (www.uz.gov.ua) from Kyiv to Khmelnytsky (348 km), and then by bus from Khmelnytsky to Medzhybizh (32 km).
© Panorama Magazine
| Some more photos:|
Panorama of the Medzhybizh castle. Weddings in the castle. Canons near church. Knight Tower.