Beauty is a great power. And greatest of all is Woman’s beauty. But it is ephemeral. Who remembers a beautiful woman after centuries? There are portraits but they are known only to specialists and museum employees. So few women remain in the memory of future generations as Beauties with a capital letter. Sofia de Vitt-Pototsky was lucky: her beauty is enshrined in one of the most beautiful parks of Ukraine and the world: “Sofiyivka”
| Queen’s Garden |
It is best to discover “Sofiyivka” early in the morning or on week days. In autumn on a weekend afternoon the number of tourists in the park is greater than the number of trees. And it is great to stroll here! From Lower Pond with its 15-metre-high “Snake” fountain to Diana’s Grotto; from Devil’s Bridge to the Acheron underground river; from the island of Anti-Circe to the amphitheatre. Guides say that “Sofiyivka”, like a shy beauty, reveals herself only in a tête-à-tête. However, the lady for whose sake this park was planned was not shy, but incredibly beautiful: yes, she was.
Everything here celebrates the memory of Sofia de Vitt-Potocki, from the name of the park to the numerous biographies at the souvenir stands. Thus did wealthy Count Stanislaw Potocki (1751-1805) immortalise his boundless love for his wife.
| Conquests of the Heart|
This love story starts in the Turkish city of Bursa where, in 1762, Sofia was born into the family of a Greek cattle merchant.
When her father died, her mother Maria, left without resources, became a courtesan. In 1777, Maria introduced her beautiful daughter to Karol Boskamp-Liasopolski, the Polish ambassador in Istanbul. Impressed by Sofia’s beauty, he invited her to his palace. There were French lessons, high society parties, trips to Warsaw through Ukrainian Podillia. The new land changed her life forever: 39-year-old Joseph de Vitt, son of Jan de Vitt, the governor of Kamyanets-Podilsky fortress, fell ardently in love with the foreign girl. In my native Kamyanets-Podilsky stories are still told about their secret wedding in 1779 in the church of the village of Zinkivtsi and about Joseph’s father who was very angry and his mother, who became ill because of grief.
From Kamyanets, in her new status of Joseph de Vitt’s wife, Sofia went travelling across Europe. At the time, de Vitt-junior, a former Polish major and even a governor of Kamyanets, was already a general in the Russian army. But the husband had to play second fiddle as Warsaw and Berlin, King Friedrich II of Prussia and the Austrian Emperor Joseph II were conquered by Sofia. Fame breeds envy. Soon there were gossips that the lady was a Russian spy and a friend of Grigory Potemkin. Everyone felt for poor, poor Joseph.
| The Lady in Green|
In October 1791, in Yassy, then capital of Moldova (now in Romania), where de Vitt was stationed, Sofia met Count Potocki for the first time. Love disarmed the married Count; gossips and rumours about the couple spread from Vienna to St-Petersburg. They are surrounded by legends even now, just like the park. Thet say that Potocki literally bought Sofia from her husband Joseph de Vitt. From 1796 to 1805, Potocki created for his dear wife a piece of her native Greece in the ancient style. They say that the park was built by Potocki’s serfs, and its creator was the talented artillerist-inventor Ludwig Metzel (1764-1848). About 800 peasants worked on it daily and received wages for their work, as Potocki abolished serfdom on his lands. The building of the park cost Potocki fifteen million zloty (or two million silver roubles) and nearly bankrupted him! Count Potocki was advised by ex-husband Joseph de Vitt to sell Sofia yet again and recoup his losses…
Visitors already delighted in “Sofiyivka” in the beginning of the 19th century. Poets wrote about it, and in 1820, Russian Tsar Alexander I visited it. Stanislaw Pototskiy’s vision was even grander and had plans for the building of a luxurious palace and the creation of the biggest park of Europe. The untimely death of the magnate on March 14, 1805 prevented the full implementation of his ideas. Sofia reigned in her eponymous green kingdom until her death in 1822. It is strange that the park never became her favourite place: the countess tried to sell Sofiyivka to the royal treasury many times. After her, her son Aleksandr took care of the park…
“Sofiyivka” is really impressive: there are exotic trees from all countries of the world, marble sculptures that seem to come from the pages of the Iliad and Odyssey, numerous ponds, waterfalls, fountains and grottos. It also covers an impressive area: 179 hectares is a lot of land. By the way, modern “Sofiyivka” is different from the green paradise of beautiful Sofia. In 1836-1859 the park, at the time named “Queen’s Garden”, had been considerably enhanced.
Already in 1929 this wonderful landmark was declared a national reserve. In 2004, “Sofiyivka” attained the status of National Arboretum, and in 2007 it was declared one of the seven wonders of Ukraine. Is it a wonder that asteroid #2259, discovered in 1971 was named after “Sofiyivka” in 1985?
| USEFUL INFORMATION |
Address: “Sofiyivka” National Arboretum, 12-a Kyivska Str., Uman, Cherkassy region, tel.: +38 04744 363 19.
Web-site: www.sofiyivka.org.ua, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opening hours: the park is open from May 1st to November 15th daily from 9:00 to 18:00. In other seasons, excursions are arranged by previous order.
Entrance: Adults, UAH8; children, UAH5.
Infrastructure: In the park there is a restaurant and a hotel. Tel.: +38 04744 335 27, +38 04744 343 66.
© Panorama Magazine
| Now and Than|