Olessky Castle in Lviv region, How to get there History

Olesky Castle

Olessky castle is an architectural monument of XIV-XVII centuries, located near the Olesko village, Bussky district, Lviv region (Ukraine). Together with Pohoretski and Zolochevsky castles it forms “the Golden Horseshoe of Lviv region”. Also here the King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – Jan III Sobieski was born.

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The castle was built on a hill in the village Olesko more than six centuries ago. It happened during the difficult period of disintegration of Kievan Rus into appanage principalities and occupation of its territory by external enemies. In 1223 Genghis Khan’s army defeated the united Russian troops on the river Kalka.

This event symbolized the end of the period of power of the Kiev state. In 1241 Batyi’s detachments destroyed the town of Plisnensk, 10 kilometers from Olesko. Probably, the fugitives from Plisnensk founded a fortress on the hill among the mochars. After the Tatar-Mongols, other invaders came to the Ukrainian (Russian) lands: Lithuanians, Hungarians and Poles. In the middle of the 14th century the Lithuanian feudals took over the lands of Chernigov and the North, Kiev land, part of Podolia and Volyn.

Galicia and Western Volhynia fell under the power of Poland, Bukovina was ceded to the principality of Moldavia, and the Hungarians took Transcarpathia. It was at that time of hardships for Ukrainians (Rusichi) at the border of Lithuania and Poland Olessky castle appeared.

The first written mention of the Olessky castle dates back to 1327 when it came into the possession of Yury – the son of Mazovian prince Troyden and Russian princess Mary.

Jury was invited by boyars to Galitsko-Volynsk prince’s throne after Romanoviches family died out. This date allows us to assume that the castle was built by one of the sons of Prince Yuri Lvovich of Galicia-Volyn – Andrew or Lev.

The hill, on which the castle was built, was the basis of strengthening. Below, on the slope of the mountain, there was a ring of ramparts with palisades, and further – another line of defense – a wall with a water moat. The hill was surrounded by impassable marshy plain territory.

A fortress wall, about 130 meters in circumference and oval in plan, was built on top of the hill. The location of the castle on the border between Lithuania and Poland meant that there were constant fights for the castle and the owners changed frequently.

In 1340 the Lithuanian Duke Lubart became the owner of the castle, and in 1366 the castle was conquered by the Polish King Casimir the Great. Later Casimir was succeeded on the Polish royal throne by Ludovik, who was also the Hungarian king. Louis gave the castle of Ole to Prince Wladyslaw of Opole, the last prince of Galicia.

Wladyslaw of Opole pursued a policy of Catholicization of Galicia. He strived to get from Rome the right to create a separate Galician metropolitanate, but realizing the futility of his plans in 1375 he gave the ownership of the Oles’ka castle together with Rogatyn and Tustany to the Galician bishop. This provoked a protest of the Russian population.

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A revolt broke out and for two years (till 1377) the castle passed into the hands of the rebels. The king, having tamed the rebellion, placed a Hungarian garrison in the castle, which was to guard the surrounding lands from Lithuanian encroachments.

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The Hungarians did not like it, so immediately after Ludwig’s death in 1382 they gave the castle to the Lithuanians for ransom. Hungarians did not like it very much, so immediately after the death of Louis, in 1382 for a ransom, they gave the castle to Lithuanians.

And since the end of XIV century the castle belonged to Svidrigail. For several decades Svidrigailo fought with Vitovt over the fact that he would not join Galitsko-Volynskoe lands (including the Olessky castle) to Poland. Svidrigailo did not want to tolerate it – the war between Lithuania and Poland began.

During these stormy events Olesky Castle remained Svidrigailo’s frontier outpost. For almost half a century it was impregnable for the Polish magnates.

After the truce between Jagail and Svidrigail (September 2, 1431) Volhynia, Galicia and Western Podolia were finally annexed to Poland. Oles’ka castle officially remained the property of Svidrigail and his boyars. But in 1432 the Olessky castle after a long siege was captured by Polish king Wladyslaw Varnenchik’s troops and given together with surrounding lands to Jan of Senna, son of Dobeslav whose descendants began to be called Olessky.

Thus fell the last Russian fortress in the Galician lands. Severe oppression of the population began. As a symbol of the planting of the Catholic religion in the late XV century a church was erected in Oles’ko… After Jan of Senna died, Oles’ko together with the castle was passed to his son – Peter, and after him his two daughters inherited a half, and with their husbands the castle passed to the families of Kamenets and Gerburtsy.

The second half of the XV – the first half of the XVI centuries was marked by constant attacks of Tatar hordes in the Ukrainian (including Galicia) lands. In 1442 and 1453, the Olessky castle repulsed attacks, but in 1512 it could not withstand the siege and was destroyed. It was rebuilt, but did not remain until 1519, when the Tatars appeared again in the Oles lands.

In the middle of the XVI century the Tatar raids ceased – life in Oleska and the neighborhood stabilized to some extent. The construction and consolidation of Olesko castle began. Inside the walls, in the eastern part there were two-storied hall (Gothic portals and window frames are preserved till our days) and a chapel, in the south-east – towers and in the middle of citadel – chimneys.

With the development of firearms the character of fortifications changed. The means of defense were moved outside the walls, the ramparts were improved and the system of bastions was harmonized. The castle premises expanded and acquired a residential character (earlier people lived inside the fortress only during sieges) and became mostly two-storeyed. The inner space of the citadel became much smaller.

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In the second half of the XVI century trade routes, which passed through Olesko, revived. The city began charging duties from the Chumaks, who carried salt from the Valley to Volyn. There appeared craft shops. In 1605 the Olesko castle with all the surrounding lands and estates passed into the hands of the great Ukrainian magnate Ivan Danilovich.

He was a typical representative of the feudal upper class. For the dowry of his first wife Catherine Krasitskaya he decided to rebuild the Olessky castle – a medieval fortress to turn it into a Renaissance palace. An unknown architect (most likely the Italian Galeazzo Appiani), who supervised the works in the castle, fulfilled the task.

The plan kept mostly the same rooms, but the areas of the walls and towers were decorated. Open galleries in the form of orderly arcades were built to unite the buildings that adjoined the defensive walls. The windows of the second floors were framed in stone, and the doors received portals. Above the gates and in the portals, coats of arms of the castle owners were placed.

In 1648 Bogdan Khmelnitsky’s troops liberated Olesko from the Poles, but not for long. In less than a year, Konetzpolski returned to the castle. His desire to live the high life led to the division of the estate among 17 creditors.

In 1681 Jan Sobieski, who was already a king at that time, paid his debts and became the owner of the castle. In three years (from 1684 to 1687) he repaired it and made it his “chamber” castle (the “villa”). He built outbuildings in the castle and renovated the park, which had been laid out by the previous owners.

In 1707 during the military alliance between Peter I and the Poles the Russian army came to the castle, which stayed there for five years, and in 1716 the king gave it to his son Jakub. The king gave it to his son Jakub Sobieski in 1716. Yakub Sobieski has not been the owner of Olesko castle for three years, and sold it to Stanislaw Rzewuski. Stanislaw Rzewuski’s son, voivode Severin generously decorated the interiors of the castle and turned it into a luxury palace.

The 18th century was a period of significant changes in the castle. French sculptor Leblanc played a major role in changing the interiors. New fireplaces and stoves appeared in the castle, and the walls were covered with stucco, monumental paintings and artificial marble. The rooms, depending on their purpose, were named: “portrait”, “European”, “Viennese”, “mirror”, etc.

After the death of Seweryn Rzewuski, Olesko was first owned by his brother Wenceslas.

It was this magnate who began the period of decline of the castle. He ruined the castle, took all the valuables to Pidgirtsi and let it “under the hammer”. In 1796 the castle passed into the ownership of Alexander Zelinsky, and a little later to the Litinsky family.

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At the beginning of the XIX century the left part of the castle was reconstructed. At that time the end of the big tower was torn down, and the height of the building was leveled. After that reconstruction the period of slow, but steady destruction of the structure began.

The building was particularly badly damaged during an earthquake in January 1838. The owners of the castle stopped caring about its preservation and, after a treasure was found in one of the rooms, accelerated its destruction. The feverish search for other treasures began: the walls with paintings were smashed, the floor was removed, and the fireplaces were dismantled. In 1875, fell 42 meter castle well, which was used since the XV century.

At the end of the XIX century the Olesski castle was in ruins.

In 1882 the state of Poland bought Olesski castle. There were various ideas about its use: to transfer it to the monastery, to make it a museum of Jan Sobieski, to turn it into a boarding school for students of the teacher’s seminary. But for various reasons the castle was not restored and for a long time it remained dilapidated and until 1939 it was used as an agricultural school for girls.

In Soviet times the castle was restored. In it were created a museum-reserve “Olessky Castle” and a department of the Lviv Art Gallery. The gallery contains over five hundred works of painting, sculpture, decorative and applied art of Western Ukraine of the X-XVIII centuries. Now there is a restaurant “Gridnya” in the castle, which contributes to the work on maintenance of the castle.

Near the castle there are preserved buildings of the Capuchin monastery, which was built in 1737 by the architect Martyn Dobrawski. It is a classic baroque complex of buildings, the compositional core of which is the church. To the south there is a monastery building with cells on the first and second floors and a closed courtyard. The monastery courtyard is surrounded by a three-meter high wall.


In Olesky Castle since 1975 operates the exposition of the Lviv Art Gallery. Works of art of XIII-XIX centuries are on display: paintings, sculptures, icons.

Among the paintings are significant battle paintings from the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: The Battle of Klushino, commissioned by hetman Stanislaw Zolkiewski (1620, by the Lviv artist, the Armenian Simeon Bogushovich), and three paintings commissioned by King Jan Sobieski, The Battle of Khotyn (1674-1679, Dutchman Ferdinand van Kessel and Polish artist from Gdańsk Andrew Stach), the Battle of Vienna (completed in 1692, Italian artist of German origin Martino Altomonte), and the Battle of the Parkany (also by Martino Altomonte).

The museum-preserve “Olesky Castle” also has the largest in Ukraine collection of volumetric wooden sculpture of XIV-XIX centuries; works of original Lviv school of sculpture of XVIII century are the basis of the collection. At that time about seventy masters worked in Lviv, among them the most famous are John George Pinzel, Tomasz Gutter, Conrad Kutschenreiter, Yuri Markwart, Sebastian Fesinger. Characteristic features of the Lvov sculpture of this period are expression, dynamics, and crystalline modeling of clothes.

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The collection of museum funds, archives and restoration workshops are now located in the former Capuchin monastery.

In the XVII century, around the Olesko castle was laid out a park, which grew a variety of shrubs and such rare in the local climate plants such as citrus, cypresses and oleanders. The castle’s owners, King Jan Sobieski and Voivode Severin Rzewuski, decorated the park with sculptures and fountains.

Nowadays the museum-preserve “Olessky Castle” owns an area of 13 hectares, on which starting from 1970th years the park is restored on its former place, there are traces of the old paths, trees and bushes are planted, the orchard is restored. The park’s reservoirs are fed by running water from the Libertia River. On one of the terraces of the park is an exhibition of stone sculptures.

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Olesky Castle has been used as a site for the shooting of several films. There were shot episodes of the movies “Gadfly” (directed by N.Mashchenko), “Na krutizne” (1985), “The Cossacks Are Coming” (1991) and “Time to Collect Stones” (1995).

The “Belarusfilm” studio shot scenes for “The Shepherd Yanka”, “The Wild Hunt of King Stakh” and “Queen Bona” in the castle. The Odessa film studio shot episodes for “D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers”[5]. The final episode of the Polish film “By Fire and Sword” was filmed in Oleski Castle. Also an episode of the Polish film “The Flood” was filmed here.

How to get there

Olesky Castle

Olesky castle

The Olesky Castle in Lviv region together with other places of interest forms the so called “Golden Horseshoe” of the western Ukraine.

While visiting the castle you can appreciate the architectural beauty, take a walk in the picturesque park and feel the mysterious atmosphere created by the stories about ghosts and mystical phenomena.

History of Olesski castle

Olessky castle is located in Lviv region near the village Olesko. The fortuitous location (natural hill about 50 m high) and well-designed defensive constructions were of great strategic importance.

According to archaeologists, there were no wooden buildings on this place, and the construction of the fortress started immediately from the stone.

The first period of construction took place at the turn of the 13th-14th centuries. At that time, a strong fortress wall was built to protect the local residents from the raids of the enemy.

In the 15th century, a two-story building was erected inside the walls, and in the 16th-17th centuries the premises were greatly expanded. Later the residential buildings acquired Renaissance architectural features. In the park inside the walls of the fortress grew rare trees, which required special care in the local climate.

Jan Sobieski, King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Severyn Rzewuski, a warrior who owned these lands at different times, added sculptural compositions to the landscape.

Olesko had several levels of defense.

The enemies on the way to the fortress first had to overcome a palisade fence, then an earthen wall with a deep ditch. If the enemies managed to pass these obstacles, they could stop them by taking advantage of the well fortified castle and defensive towers.

On the territory of the castle there was a shooting of famous films “Dovzhenko Film Studio” and “Odessa Film Studio,” in particular fragments of the film “D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers. The final episodes of the Polish historical film “With Flame and Sword” are so colorful largely due to the choice of Olesko as a place for filming.

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At the end of the 19th century, buttresses were added to the eastern part of the fortress.

In the 20th century, extensive restoration work was carried out, thanks to which the dilapidated castle gained its former splendor. The once lush park has been recreated with great detail – specialists have found traces of old paths, restored ponds and orchards of fruit trees.

An interesting exhibition of stone sculptures, located on one of the terraces.

These days, traveling to mysterious and mystical places is becoming increasingly popular. To wander through the streets of cities with rich history or to plunge into the atmosphere of ancient castles, where once balls and tragic events took place – all this like a magnet attracts both connoisseurs of antiquity, and those who want to be convinced of the truthfulness of legends about ghosts.

In Western Ukraine, where many buildings are famous for their architecture and stories of lost souls, many castles have witnessed bloody events, wars, domestic intrigue and family conflicts. Not surprisingly, many eyewitnesses have sensed the presence of ghosts here. Even if you are not lucky enough to encounter the supernatural while visiting one of these places, you can feel the special atmosphere reigning around you.

The guards, who have been at the walls of the fortress at different historical periods, often heard stories about strange phenomena occurring here after dark. Even the watchdogs sensed that there was something amiss.

From local residents and excursion guides you can learn a story about the appearance of the ghost of a man in the Olesko castle.

According to one of the versions, it was the nobleman Adam Zolkevsky. He passionately wished to tie his fate to Maryana Danilovich, the heiress of a noble family, which at that time owned the castle and nearby lands. But the bride’s father had other plans for the future of his child and he refused Adam. The unfortunate bridegroom heard his father’s will and immediately killed himself. As the custom dictated, the young man’s lifeless body was thrown into the swamp nearby. Now the restless soul, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead, is doomed to wander there forever.

Strange events associated with the elements of nature also took place in this land. In the middle of the last century, after a lightning strike, a fire broke out and the building was badly damaged.

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