Silver horseshoe with golden crosses
[b]Volunteers restore Lyubcha Castle, surrounded by legends [/b]Everyone agrees that action was needed. For a long time, the 16th century castle in the village of Lyubcha (in Novogrudok district) was empty. During WWII, it was largely destroyed, as Lyubcha area was the epicentre of the partisan struggle against the Nazi fascists. This picturesque place on the Nieman River has kept its memory of those old events. A tall iron obelisk with a star stands on the road leading to the castle, bearing the names of those who died liberating their Motherland. The castle itself remembers the fighting from those years. However, it has survived. People have insisted that something should be done, giving it a roof to protect it from the wind and rain. Eventually, Ivan Pechinsky said, “I’ll do it!”
Everyone agrees that action was needed. For a long time, the 16th century castle in the village of Lyubcha (in Novogrudok district) was empty. During WWII, it was largely destroyed, as Lyubcha area was the epicentre of the partisan struggle against the Nazi fascists. This picturesque place on the Nieman River has kept its memory of those old events. A tall iron obelisk with a star stands on the road leading to the castle, bearing the names of those who died liberating their Motherland. The castle itself remembers the fighting from those years. However, it has survived. People have insisted that something should be done, giving it a roof to protect it from the wind and rain. Eventually, Ivan Pechinsky said, “I’ll do it!”
Many hands make light work
“I was born in Lyubcha,” says Mr. Pechinsky, the Chairman of Lyubcha Castle Public Fund, established to save the architectural treasure. “One day, I climbed the castle hill and realised that only two towers were still standing from the whole castle. They were ruins…”
From 1983 to 1986, a project was developed to restore the 100 year old building and there were even plans to build a sanatorium nearby. The combination of sanatorium and castle, on the picturesque bank of the River Nieman, was to inspire further development. However, time passed and the idea remained on paper.
Mr. Pechinsky is not a wealthy business-man, so the natural issue of money was acute. Happily, interested people were found and donations began arriving. Now, some large telecommunication and construction companies, in addition to banks, are providing funding. It took several years to restore one tower and Mr. Pechinsky now plans to start reconstruction on the other side of the castle, helped by like-minded people.
Every summer, twenty people work at the voluntary camp, restoring the castle. In just a few years, about 600 volunteers have participated, each coming of their own volition. Some come to see what’s happening on the site and become enraptured by the local mood of romance, staying for a while. Mr. Pechinsky is pleased to say that those who join his team tend to stay for at least a week — or even the whole summer.
‘Many hands make light work’ says the proverb. I visited Lyubcha in April — on the International Day of Monuments and Historical Sights. Volunteers were there for the ninth ‘subbotnik’ in a row [voluntary events to help a social project]. Mr. Pechinsky is also assisted by the Culture Ministry’s Department for the Protection of Historical-Cultural Heritage and Restoration. Ivan Yarmots, the Chairman of Lyubcha Village Executive Committee, is among those interested.
Lyubcha Castle’s restoration has now transformed into a nationwide activity.
Success mixed with egg whites
“To restore the Uglovaya (Corner) tower, we worked through the night, by lamp light,” explains Ivan. It seems there are no obstacles which cannot be overcome. “When we were short of bricks, we went to neighbouring yards and collected unused construction materials and dismantled fireplaces from neglected houses. We needed old bricks — similar to those from which the castle was built. Logically, if the castle was destroyed in the past, then people took its ruins for their own needs. We are now returning these to their original use.”
The bricks suit the reconstruction of the so-called ‘Fachwerk’. Many buildings in Belarus follow this style, as they do in northern Europe, Germany, Holland and England. The idea is that the frame of the building is braced with oak crossbars and inter-filled with bricks and limestone cement. We have depictions of this construction in archive documents relating to Lyubcha Castle, which was one of the first ‘Fachwerk’ constructions in modern Belarus.
Additionally, this castle was one of the first to use the old technique of sgraffito — on the Uglovaya tower’s upper cornice. This is where two layers of plaster are affixed, each a different colour. When the top layer is washed away in some places, a two-tone effect is revealed. It hasn’t been easy to recreate the sgraffito at Lyubcha. “We experimented and there were mistakes,” recalls Mr. Pechinsky. “Later, I calculated it was taking one person 15 days to cover one metre. We had to cover 36 metres in all.”
Lilia Usoskaya, a chemist-technologist from the Centre of Regeneration of Historical-Cultural Landscapes and Territories, shows me a delicate decoration of lilies on the upper storey of the tower, saying, “We didn’t use modern chemical mixtures but prepared the plaster as our ancestors did in the past — mixing it with egg whites.”
Lyubcha Castle isn’t the only local restoration project. A wonderful park is nearby — planted by a former owner. The Falts-Feins family also founded the globally known Ukrainian reserve of Aksania Nova: it’s the only feather-grass steppe in Europe never to have been ploughed. A zoo is operational there, showcasing birds and animals from almost every corner of the globe. In Lyubcha, 35 black walnut trees and 300 limes have been recently planted to help restore the park to its former glory.
Weathercock in the wind of time
In the 19th century, the Falts-Feins built their neo-Gothic-style castle, with graceful towers at the corners, near the old 16th century towers. Today, only memories remain of that original building.
Meanwhile, the Uglovaya tower is almost ready to welcome its first guests. A weathercock has been placed on its tiled roof — an exact copy of that which was found fifty years ago, in the attic, by Mikhail Karpovich. Today, Mr. Karpovich heads the Lyubcha People’s Museum. The original weathercock was made in 1581 — as confirmed by the date forged in the metal.
Those visiting this ancient fortress should know about its past as well as its present. Magnate Kishki began building the castle in Lyubcha, making the place famous in the late 16th century. This inspired the award of an emblem for the village — a silver horseshoe decorated with three golden crosses. At that time, Protestantism was wide-spread, supported by the Kishki family. Lyubcha became a capital of this religious movement. Some time later, the famous Radziwills — from Lithuanian Birёai — became interested in the beautiful city on the River Nieman, buying it from the Kishkis, including the castle. The Radziwills finished works on the castle and presented a new emblem to the town — depicting a knight protecting the castle.
The Radziwills from Birёai were followers of Swiss theologian Jean Calvin and founded a Calvin printing hose in Lyubcha, publishing over 50 religious and secular books between 1612 and1655. The Radziwills were also military men and were honoured for their bravery in battle, fighting Cossack Ataman Ivan Zolotorenko, who captured Lyubcha in 1655 and destroyed the castle. As a result, the fortress lay in neglect. Later, Lyubcha was owned by the Russian Wittgenstein counts. However, the castle was only restored when the Falts-Feins took over, repairing the old towers and placing chimes on the entry tower.
From 1910-1914, St. Elias (Ilyinskaya) Church was built, stretching its white towers towards the Heavens. It still stands proudly today, while the castle’s towers invite us to enter once more.
By Viktar Korbut