Our trip starts early in the morning, and it is a 30-minute drive on the Zhytomyr highway before we reach a road sign reading Radomyshl. The road here does not make for ideal driving conditions like so many throughout Ukraine, so it’s another 30 minutes before we reach Radomyshl – which at first glance looks like any other typical provincial Ukrainian town. What makes it differ from the others is its ancient castle and the park around it, which lures tourists from all over Ukraine and across Europe. This landmark is a source of pride to Radomyshl inhabitants, so when we ask the way to the castle, they are happy to point us in the right direction.
The Radomyshl Castle complex hit the headlines last year when well-known Ukrainian doctor, philanthropist and social activist Olha Bohomolets restored the 400-year-old paper mill from ruins to house her icon collection, becoming an integral part of the castle exhibition. This is still fresh in our minds when we approach the castle itself, where we see a picturesque redbrick building and lush green park around – the place is so beautiful it’s easy to see why the car park is so crowded!
As we drive in, we discover the complex also has two natural water cascades on the territory, created by the flow of the Myka River – the combination of water, the green garden and ancient architecture makes the place unforgettably charming.
Excursions are available here at any time – we join one of the groups to learn the castle was constructed back in 1612 as a paper mill by monks of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra to produce paper for scripture. It was the first paper factory in northern Ukraine and it is the monument to its founder – Archimandrite Yelysey Pletenetsky – that stands almost in the middle of the river in the park. As a nod to paper production, he holds a book and a candle while “sailing” in a boat.
Wars and Ukraine’s tumultuous history left deep scars on the paper factory – after its heyday of production in the 17th century, it lay abandoned and partially ruined for the two next centuries, until it was reconstructed in 1902 to serve as a mill. Throughout the years of flour-production, the ancient building became worn, while the surrounding territory was polluted with rubbish. It took four years of reconstruction and the removal of 60 tonnes of rubbish before Bohomolets could bring her dream to life – giving the castle complex a second life.
The Proof Is In The Paper
To prove the paper factory is fully-functional once more, we visit the “papirnya” (an old name for paper factory) – here Sashko, a young local is producing paper following the original methods employed in the 17th century: linen fibres are soaked in water for weeks making a muddy liquid; when it’s ready, a master deeps in a special frame scooping up the liquid pulp – the water drains leaving the textile particles on the frame. Then the frame is placed under an ancient press-machine squeezing out the remaining water, leaving a thin greyish sheet of wet paper. It is dried by being hung – just like laundry – and the result is a thick and smooth paper sheet which experts say is more durable and longer lasting than its modern relative.
Holding our handmade paper we head for the museum of home icons. For many years, Bohomolets has been collecting the icons from old xatas in Ukrainian villages to create this truly unique museum. The home icons were created by local masters in different regions of Ukraine to accompany most important events in a human’s life – a wedding, the birth of a child, or death – and were passed down through the generations.
Having taken in a lot of food for thought, we go down to the restaurant for some food for our bodies: just imagine how excited we are to be served borshch right from a huge cauldron steaming in the stove!
Making A Night Of It
The majority of tourists leave the castle complex after their excursions, but some, like ourselves, stay for the night. The atmosphere here is more than romantic and mysterious. Huge candles are lit in the concert hall and I regret I gave up piano lessons long ago; otherwise I would have tinkled the ivories a little myself to test the acoustics, as legendary Ukrainian singer Nina Matvienko did herself when she sang a capella in the hall one night.
Our room is designed in monk’s cell style and therefore is genuinely simple: it features rough wooden furniture, white-washed walls and candle-like lamps that genuinely make us feel like we’ve been transported back to the 17th century!
The next morning we are awoken by the sweet scent of herbal tea wafting up from downstairs where breakfast is served. We make the most of this early hour at the castle before tourists will flood it later in the day and take a boat for a romantic and tranquil trip through the park on the Myka River. With the beauty of Ukrainian nature, cattle wandering the fields and the redbrick castle looming, we feel we have been left with many a “happy thought” about this place.
Trinity Celebration Tour at Radomyshl Castle
Departure at 9.30 from Zhytomyrska metro station
Tickets: 350 –380hrv
by Kateryna Kyselyova