Olesko Castle is one of the most famous castles in the country, and a tourist visiting card of Ukraine for tourists. Modest in size, Olesko Castle has a great historical and architectural value; what is more, it is a very beautiful classic medieval castle, as if hovering above the plain.
The first settlement in the site of the present-day Olesko existed back in the 18th- 17th centuries ВС. In the 10th- 12th centuries, there was an Old Rus town under the castle hill. It is unknown when the first castle appeared on the hill; it might have been built here in the 13lh century, shortly after the devastation of the ancient Rus by the Golden Horde. Polish researchers of the 19th century dated the first written mention of Olesko Castle to 1327, though modern historians were unable to find the particular document, which contains this record. According to the abovementioned version, the castle belonged to Princes of Galicia and Volyn. The first reliable written record on that is dated to 1390, which is actually the time when the principality of Galicia and Volyn ceased to exist.
In 1431, Russian feudals who lived in lands near Olesko, revolted against the Polish and Lithuanian king Yagailo (Jagiello), the founder of the Jagiel-lonian dynasty. Olesko Castle became the main base of the rebels, which was captured by Yagailo’s troops in 1432, thus putting an end to the rebellion. In 1441, during the reign of Yagailo’s son, the king of Poland Wladys-law III, the castle and the surrounding lands were all given to some Jan from Siena so that the new owner should ensure protection of these borderlands from Tatar raids. The heirs of Jan adopted the surname of Oleskiy. The castle became an object of Tatar raids for many times: in 1442, 1453, 1507,1512, 1519, and 1575.
At the beginning of the 17lh century, the Russian voivode (warlord) and Lviv castellan Ivan Danylovych became the master of Olesko. He expanded the castle through its reconstruction in the fashion of a magnate defensive residence of that time, in the style of Italian Renaissance, which is still preserved. The reconstruction was supervised by Italian architects, who managed to preserve the original medieval spatial planning of the castle.
The castle is compactly situated on the top of a hill that towers above the marshy plain. Repeating the natural shape of the hill, the castle wall encircles the top in an oval line. The small courtyard is crowded by palace buildings, which housed magnate chambers, a chapel, barracks, and household premises. Between the buildings, there is an entry tower with a wide gate arch. In the yard, there is a deep well that provided the castle inhabitants with water. At the foot of the hill, there was a park in Italian style.
Stanislaw, the son of Danylovych, died young in a battle with Tatars, and the voivode had only two daughters, Martsiana and Teofilia. Their father wanted to marry them to rich and influential nobles. However, a young nobleman Adam Zholkievskiy fell in love with the elder daughter Martsiana; though being a noble, he did not have a rich heritage but possessed a hot temper. Adam proposed to Martsiana for many times, but every time got a mocking rejection from the voivode. The fellow made his last attempt not face to face, but in public when guests sat down to play cards after the dinner at Olesko Castle.
The annoyed Ivan Danylovych rejected his reguest and made fun of the enamored man in public. In despair, Adam Zholkievskiy snatched a dagger and stabbed himself in the heart. His body was just dumped into the lake in front of the castle. Later Martsiana was married to Colonel Stefan Konietspolskiy.
The younger daughter Teofilia was married to Krakow castellan Jakub Sobieskiy. In 1629, their son and the future King of Poland Jan III Sobieskiy was born in Olesko Castle. There is a legend about his birth. It says that the castle was besieged by a Tatar army (in fact, Tatars did attack the castle in 1629) and a strong thunderstorm raged on outside. When the midwife put the newborn on a black marble table to baptize him, there was a clap of thunder so strong that it made the midwife deaf, and a piece of marble was split from the table where the baby was.
After the death of Ivan Danylovych, the castle was first inherited by Mart-siana’s husband, Konietspolskiy. In 1646, during the national liberation war of Ukrainian people, the castle was captured and ravaged by the Cossack army and their allies, the Crimean Tatars. In 1682, Jan Sobieskiy repurchased his home castle and put it in order. After the death of the king in 1696, the castle had been inherited by his son Kostiantyn Wladyslaw Sobieskiy, but he did not visit his Ukrainian possessions. In 1718, Olesko Castle and the neighboring castle in Pidhirtsi were bought by the Hetman of Crown Stanislaw Mateusz Rzhevuskiy, and after the Hetman’s death in 1728 they were inherited by his sons. Olesko Castle was inherited by the Volyn voivode Severin Yuzef Rzhevuskiy, and Pidhirtsi was inherited by Vazlav Petro Rzhevuskiy. Both brothers took good care of their heritage, and for Olesko Castle the times of Severin Yuzef were its last heyday.
In 1739, Severin Yuzef Rzhevuskiy constructed the Capuchin monastery of St Anthony next to the castle. The architecture of the monastery combines perfectly with the architecture of the castle, making them a harmonic ensemble. Severin Yuzef died childless in 1755, and according to his will, Olesko Castle was given to his brother, Vazlav Petro Rzhevuskiy. Vazlav, who was reconstructing his Pidhirtsi Castle at that time, took many valuables and historical rarities from Olesko Castle to his residence, and thus the rebirth of one castle became the decline of the other. In particular, he took away the table of black marble, on which Jan Sobieskiy was baptized.
In the 19th century when the castle belonged to the family of Zelynskiy and then to the family of Lytynskiy, it deteriorated even more. In 1806 and 1836, there were fires and in 1838 the castle was damaged seriously by an earthquake. The castle was destroyed and abandoned. In 1891 it had been partially restored, and the former royal residence served as an agricultural school, which operated until World War II. In 1951 there was a fire in the castle again, and in 1965, its complex restoration began to return the building to its 17lh century appearance.
In 1975, the renovated castle saw the opening of a branch of Lviv Art Gallery, which is still located here. The museum exhibition features all kinds of medieval art and numbers more than fifteen hundred exhibits of old furniture, tapestries, sculptures, paintings and icons. One of the interesting exhibits of Olesko Castle is the great battle piece «The Battle of Vienna» (Martino Altamonte, 1692), depicting the triumphal victory of Jan III Sobieskiy over the Turks.