Sapegi Palace, which is located in Ruzhany in Brest Region, is being brought back to life with the restoration of the east wing now complete. A museum was opened in late January and the west wing will be undergoing reconstruction this year
You can touch the bricks, close your eyes and interrogate silent witnesses about how the palace — the residence of the famous Belarusian Sapegi family — looked originally. Who came to visit? Which wines did the hosts prefer? Who were the guests of honour at their balls?
Ruslan Kniga, Director of the Ruzhany Sapegi Palace Museum, interrupts my attempts to penetrate into ancient times and invites me in. The young director is a historian by education and comes from Pruzhany District. Until his appointment, he worked for Pruzhany District Executive Committee as a specialist in the protection of historical and cultural heritage.
Ruslan opens a massive door and we find ourselves in the east wing. Just two years ago it was in ruins, but now its interior truly resembles a medieval palace, with a massive dark ceiling, metal chandeliers, windows with metal bolts and a pine staircase. Lace curtains and drapes, as well as chairs and armchairs, were especially made to order for the palace. The atmosphere and interior perfectly fit the epoch. After such an introduction, one hopes to see something truly exceptional — a certain large goblet, known as ‘Ivan’, for example, which was used by the Sapegi family to serve King Sigismund I. But that goblet, which was at Ruzhany for over two centuries, was taken to Russia just like most of the local area’s treasures.
“At present, we can’t boast original artefacts,” notes Ruslan. “Precious items connected to the Sapegi family are now in Russia, Poland, Lithuania and France. Our neighbours are not in a hurry to part with these rarities. Some small items from the palace, found in Soviet times, are in the possession of local residents who don’t tend to return them either. Anyway, we’re negotiating with individuals and conducting searches in the archives.”
According to the reproduction of an ancient map on one of the museum’s walls, Rozhana (the town’s name until Soviet times) is located almost in the centre of Europe. Kovel in Ukraine and Slowatycze in Poland appear to be nearby towns. In fact, they are hundreds of kilometres away — but we mustn’t judge the medieval mapmakers too harshly. In any case, Ruzhany has always enjoyed a favourable geographical location.
As I looked at the reproductions depicting members of the prominent Sapegi family, Ruslan continued, “These are temporary copies. Grodno painters make portraits in oil.” At present, the most important exhibit is a model of the 18th century palace, created by students at Brest’s Technical University. Another original is a recent Lithuanian work dedicated to the Sapegi.
Ruzhany elders call themselves ‘litviny’. Their neighbours are Belarusians, Poles, Jews and Gypsies and evidence of their various faiths is immediately evident, with a Catholic church, an Orthodox church and a synagogue standing close to each other in the centre of Ruzhany. Unfortunately, the synagogue is crumbling while scaffolding surrounds St. Peter and Paul Church. The pearl of Ruzhany square is St. Trinity Catholic Church, built in 1617 by the Sapegi. With the permission of the local Roman Catholic priest, Janusz, Ruslan and I were allowed to view the church’s artefacts. The historian directed my attention to the depiction of the ‘Lis’ coat of arms (the Sapegi family coat of arms) and to one of the ancient seats, which depicts a coat of arms of the Karpiński family. “It’s likely to have been brought from the Catholic church in Lyskovo. The church there was destroyed but the grave of Franciszek Karpiński, a 19th century poet and playwright, was preserved in the courtyard,” notes Ruslan.
Ruslan is assured that Ruzhany’s sights will attract tourists, who will be able to visit Ruzhany Palace, the Catholic and Orthodox churches, a synagogue, the Pruzhany ‘palatsyk’ — a museum-estate in Pruzhany — and ancient Lyskovo, with its ruins of Catholic churches and several mounds. Kościuszko’s estate and the Puslowski Kossovo Palace, which is also undergoing reconstruction, are not far from Ruzhany. This ‘golden ring’ may grow with the addition of the Ruzhansky children’s sanatorium at Lake Papernya, where many Russians — potential tourists — come to rest.
The Chairman of the Ruzhany District Executive Committee, Alexander Yurkevich, is a major force behind the restoration of the ‘Belarusian Versailles’ as the palace is known because of its beauty — even in ruins — and because of its architectural similarity to the French palace. He encouraged small businesses to develop the area around the palace and a hotel, cafes and shops will soon open. A souvenir shop is already in operation, housed in the east wing and mainly offering local crafts. Nearly all of the souvenirs carry images of the palace or of the Sapegi coat of arms, in other words have a clear reference to the history of the place.
Once restored, the west wing will be used for wedding ceremonies. In addition, artists will have an opportunity to exhibit their works, poets will be able to organise readings and actors will have an opportunity to perform here. All of these projects should be brought to fruition very soon …
Meanwhile, there is still a lot of work to do on the palace itself. A sculpture will soon be installed over the gates as in the time of the Sapegis. The question is, which figure will grace the arch? A broken pedestal can be seen in one of Napoleon Orda’s engravings, while architect Jan Becker’s design has a female statue pointing to the Carthusian Monastery in Bereza, where a family vault of the Sapegi family is located. The original coat of arms has been taken down from the gates in order to be restored and has been temporarily replaced with a copy. Curiously, the ancient coat of arms was made from a conifer (probably a fur tree), rather than from bog oak, as was previously thought.
By Valentina Kozlovich
Dreams coming true
[b]Sapegi Palace, which is located in Ruzhany in Brest Region, is being brought back to life with the restoration of the east wing now complete. A museum was opened in late January and the west wing will be undergoing reconstruction this year[/b]You can touch the bricks, close your eyes and interrogate silent witnesses about how the palace — the residence of the famous Belarusian Sapegi family — looked originally. Who came to visit? Which wines did the hosts prefer? Who were the guests of honour at their balls?