Text and photos by Iryna Pustynnikova ©PANORAMA
Ukraine’s tranquil Rivne region boasts a region called the “Volyn Switzerland” due to the incredible beauty of its landscapes. Blue lakes nestle among thick forests, while hills rise dramatically from plains of unobtrusive beauty. It is here that Gubkiv castle, so generously endowed with legends and history, rises over the Sluch River.
The legends that have collected around Gubkiv castle during the centuries of the fortress’ existence shed light on the dark areas of its long history. The village near which it is located over the river often changed its name over the years, but that did not help it protect itself from Tartar invasions. Ancient chronicles mention the castle, the local town church, and the owners of the fortress – the princes of Semashko – for the first time in 1504, after one of the nomads’ regular raids. The fortress existed long before that, however: in the 10th-13th centuries the wooden fort, not yet fortified with stone, already peered out across the river. Archeologists have only recently discovered the remains of the princes’ castle. Legends, however, last longer than wood. One legend indigenous to the area tells of the love one of the princes’ daughters had for a commoner who lived on the Sluch’s opposite bank. The prince prohibited the lovers’ relationship and locked his daughter in the castle’s highest tower. But at night the boy and girl turned into falcons and flew out to meet each other. The old prince cursed them when he learned about this, driving the ill-fated lovers to settle in the nearby hills, which became known as the called Sokokolyni (Falcons’) Mountains after them.
Other legends describe a mysterious tunnel to Kniazh Hill that was used during emergencies by the Semashko princes and the other owners of Gubkiv, the powerful princes Danylovych. This tunnel, it is said, starts near the deep well in the castle yard. Other legends concern vaults full of mythic gold. For centuries rumors of these treasures kept local Indiana Jones types on their toes trying to dig them up with picks and spades. Whether they found anything we do not know, while those who do will not tell.
Thick walls and looming towers are not always sufficient protection against unbidden guests: In 1596, the Cossacks conquered Gubkiv castle. In 1708, the Swedes arrived. The Scandinavians ransacked the premises, and were helped by the plague in subduing the town – according to data from 1727, only 38 houses remained in Gubkiv after the pestilence hit. Now, however, a town that had been famous for its fairs, with boatloads of people and goods arriving via the Sluch, found its economy wiped out.
In 1729 the survivors moved to the Sluch’s other bank and founded a new settlement called Ludvypil. The castle, which had stood empty since 1708, began to fall into disrepair and decay. The fortress’ southern tower stood longer than the others, and even now it remains in the best condition. Gubkiv’s former residents rebuilt the wooden church of Paraskeva, the belfry and bells of which had been cast by Volyn craftsmen. The church stood for 250 years, only to be burnt to the ground in 1943 by the invading Nazis. Today a new church is being built, the third one in the same location.
Today Castle Hill, which rises 32 metres over the Sluch, belongs to the Nadsluchanska Switzerland (“Switzerland on the Sluch”) Regional Park. The views the castle ruins command are simply breathtaking. The fresh air that wafts forth from the surrounding forests inebriates the visitor like a good wine, and heals as well as any medicine. You begin to understand here that whether the old prince hid golden ingots in his vault is not so important. A more important treasure is the chance to come to Nadsluchanska Switzerland and fall in love with its beauty.
Excursions to Nadsluchanska Switzerland:
Bereznivskyi Museum of Local Lore, History and Economy, tel: +380 3653 54-86.
Where to stay in Gubkiv:
Private houses of Azalia (tel: +380 3653 56-241) and Zatyshok (tel: +380 3653 66-241)
Ukraine International Airlines offers direct daily flights to Kiev 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 Kiev-Paris route), Austrian Airlines, KLM, Swiss International Air Lines and TAP Portugal. Buy tickets online at www.flyUIA.com.
For more information, call us in Kiev on (+380 44) 581-5050. KievStar or UMC cellular service subscribers can dial 566.
From Kiev, take one of the daily trains or buses to Rivne. Then from take a daily bus from Rivne to Gubkiv (65 kilometres).
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