Ladies in long evening dresses still walk around the territory of Radomysl Castle or sit in black lace wrought iron chairs in its picturesque gardens, while their kids play on the trimmed grass.
Travelers stop to smell the roses or enjoy a meal in the welcoming shade of old trees.
This is no medieval fantasy. About an hour away from Kyiv in Radomyshl, Zhytomyr Oblast, the complex is a perfect weekend getaway and location for a wedding or a corporate retreat.
The castle’s history goes back to the XVI century when it was a fortification and paper mill. Later it served as a flour mill and eventually a garbage dump.
But now it is a museum and a part of the Via Regia, the Royal Highway, a cultural project of the Council of Europe that connects medieval sites in the east and west of the continent.
“I didn’t know anything about this place,” said Olga Bohomolets, a famous Ukrainian doctor, singer, and composer who bought the castle years ago, and began rebuilding it in 2007.
Bohomolets was looking for a place to house her giant private collection of icons, which she has been rescuing from second-hand markets for decades. Then she saw an advertisement in the paper saying the old mill in Radomyshl is for sale.
“When I arrived, I saw some ruins on top of a swamp and lots of trash. I somehow understood that my icon museum should be here,” she said.
It took three months and 60 trucks to clear the site of trash. According to Bohomolets, workers would sometimes spend a whole day clearing the site only to wake up in the morning and find locals had dumped new piles overnight.
Surrounded by gardens and ponds, the castle’s halls and stairwells offered lots of space for displaying the icons, which are carefully arranged by region to show how the perception of God can differ.
“This is a stone wayside icon of St. Nicolas,” said Oksana Lysak, the castle’s executive director. She puts her hand on it and encourages visitors to do the same.
“There is something in this, and several other icons, that you can’t see, only feel,” she added.
On a grimmer note, one of the halls houses a corner of Soviet atheism – a dozen icons with gouged eyes, bullet holes in the heads of saints, and an old chest made of chopped icons. The exposition is called “The Soul of Ukraine.”
“The icons (were) trashed and tortured, then thrown away, just like Ukraine’s soul,” explained Bohomolets.
Visitors can rent rooms and walk freely around the park, but need a guide to see the icon exhibits. “It doesn’t make sense to walk around not knowing anything about the exposition. Besides, it’s very easy to get lost,” the director explained.
Tickets cost Hr 20 ($2.5) for children and pensioners and Hr 40 for adults, and cover both inside and outside excursions. Since opening at the end of 2011, the museum, which also exhibits such antiquities such as old irons, canoes and ancient sculptures, has already attracted more than 10,000 visitors.
The owner says her focus is not making money now, but giving the complex the means to be self-sustainable.
The complex has a hall for wedding ceremonies, a concert hall and a small hotel. It has 5 standard rooms for Hr 800 a night, a honeymoon suite for Hr 1,500, a princess room for Hr 1,200 and a more luxurious suite for Hr 2,500. All prices include breakfast, sometimes cooked by the director herself.
“We don’t have many overnight visitors yet, so it’s not hard to cook the breakfasts,” Lysak said. “I can do it just as well as my colleagues,” she laughed.
Plans for development are endless.
“We hope to open up a small chapel in the castle’s tower soon, a refectory and a paper mill,” Bohomolets said. She said a monastery from Tallinn, Estonia, has taught them to use the ancient paper-making techniques. Starting next year, visitors will be able to make paper as the ancients did, by themselves.
The fortification is surrounded by a beautiful park. There are two islands in the ponds, rose bushes and trees, ancient sculptures and bridges. Visitors can sail along the adjacent Myka River for Hr 50.
“A couple years ago, after we cleaned up the territory, animals started showing up,” Bohomolets said. “Now minks, otters and even a family of beavers live in our river. They are not afraid of people at all, and can sit by your side and start eating a tree,” she laughed.
Kyivan Olga Yurchenko came here with her family and a little son. They didn’t see any animals but enjoyed the boat ride and the icon exhibition.
“Our son liked the fortress. We enjoyed the excursion. The icons are amazing,” Yurchenko said, noting that the only thing missing was a playground for children.
“But this is a great job anyway. I think this should be an example for all of us – how one can take a landfill and turn it into an outstanding landmark.”
Radomysl Castle Historical and Cultural Center
Radomyshl, Zhytomyr Oblast
098-339-1807; 096 426-2735.
Excursion inside the castle:
Hr 40; Hr 20 (for children, pensioners)
Entrance to park (without excursion): Hr 20
Days off: Monday, Tuesday
Standard room – Hr 800
Princess room – Hr 1,200
Honeymoon suite – Hr 1,500
Luxurious suite – Hr 2,500
Kyiv Post staff writer Daryna Shevchenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.