Pidhirtsi Castle is a well-preserved Renaissance palace surrounded by fortifications. It is located in the village of Pidhirtsi in the east of the Lviv region. Pidhirtsi Castle was constructed by the Italian architect Andrea dell’Aqua between 1635 and 1640 for the Hetman (Cossack chief) of the Polish crown.
On the northern side, the castle was decorated with a spacious terrace with a balustrade and sculptures. The castle, built with brick and stone, stands at 399 meters above sea level, overlooking the Styr River valley, in a prominent location where it can be seen from great distances.
The rich decorations of the castle’s facades and the interior were made by Italian masters who used expensive species of trees, black marble, and gilding for this. In that period an Italian Park was established near the castle, with vast flower terraces, fountains, and statutes.
Pidhirtsi Castle was to serve as a suburban residence where a leader could take a rest from warfare. The design of the fortifications of Pidhirtsi Stronghold was most likely made by military engineer Guillaume de Beauplan, although some historians believe that architect Nicolo Silvestri and Johann Ludwig von Wolzogen were also somehow linked to this building.
In 1648 the peaceful existence of this luxurious building was interrupted. It was attacked by Ukrainian Cossacks during Khmelnytskyi Uprising, although they could not capture the complex, which proved its fortress characteristics. After this event, Koniecpolski’s son Aleksander repaired damages and strengthened the fortification.
In 1682 after the castle’s owner died childlessly, the residences in Pidhirtsi, Zahirtsi, and Brody were inherited by the family of King Jan III Sobieski. After the death of Jan Sobieski, life in the castle died out, his heirs rarely visited Pidhirtsi and the castle was run by stewards or it was simply rented.
In 1725 Konstanty Sobieski, younger brother of Jakub sold the castle to the Great Crown Hetman Stanislaw Rzewuski. After hetman Rzewuski’s death, the complex was inherited by his son, Wacław, who also was the owner of the nearby Olesko Castle. He ordered that a third floor be added as well as a church (1788), and he opened a theater.
In the 1720s Pidhirtsi Castle with Olesko Castle was bought from the House of Sobieski; then another stage in the life of the luxurious stronghold began. Stanisław Mateusz Rzewuski, an influential and rich nobleman, became its new host. He wanted to restore this old residence to its former splendor. His son Wacław began a more extensive renovation of this castle resulting in new rooms, an additional storey, a new form of the main building’s roof, and side pavilions. In the time of Wacław a rich «arsenal» (collection of weapons) and a library with thousands of ancient volumes, archives and manuscripts were established behind the castle’s wall. However, this «golden» era of the castle ended, when Wacław Rzewuski with his successor was sent to exile after their participation in the Bar Confederation in 1768.
After the Partition of Poland, Pidhirtsi was owned by the Austrian authorities which did not miss an opportunity to plunder the castle that had been already deserted. The rich collections of the Rzewuski family, dishes and items of the interior were several times put up for public auctions, and the castle was deprived of the copper roofing and stone slabs covering the bastion’s tops.
It was not until 1787 when Seweryn Rzewuski bought his family residence, but he was more interested in alchemy and treasure hunt than rebuilding the residence in Pidhirtsi. It was not until 1833 when another owner of Pidhirtsi, Leon of the House of Rzewuski, decided to rebuild and save this building of historical interest.
In 1867 a long and costly renovation began, it lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. Parties and celebrations were held again in the renovated castle in the 1870s. Then the castle was visited by a few famous artists (J. Matejko, N. Orda, А. Grilevsky), who immortalised the building in their works. In 1894 the family of Sanguszko decided to establish a private museum behind its walls that people from different social classes could visit.
During World War I, the castle was captured by the Russians, who did not destroy it, but looted most of the precious items from it. Pidhirtsi Castle was owned by the family of Sanguszko until 1939. The day before the Soviet authorities arrived, the last owner of the stronghold, Roman Sanguszko, managed to take some of his castle collections to Brazil, where he also emigrated soon. In 1940 in Pidhirtsi Castle a branch of the Lviv Historical Museum was open. World War II and the post-war period were again difficult for the castle and the museum housed inside. Many exhibit items were lost.
After World War II, Soviet authorities opened in the complex a Tuberculosis sanitarium. In 1956, a fire started by a lightning storm caused major damage, and during the Soviet regime, the castle was at various times either abandoned or misused. In 1997 it was purchased by the Lviv Gallery of Painting, which turned it into a museum.
In 2010 an archival photo exhibition of the construction and history of the castle took place in the building’s eastern casemates. Since then, various concerts and events have taken place and the Foundation “Pidhirtsi Castle” received a grant to participate in the annual International Conference of Museums in April 2015.