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| Home | Travel | Things to do | Lyubcha Castle

Lyubcha Castle

On a man-made hill near the Neman River, in the vicinity of the town of Novogrudok there lie the ruins of the castle, which was once a residence of the most powerful dynasty of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The castle featured the elements of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. It was repeatedly destroyed, rebuilt, and ruined again. Now it has gotten a chance at restoration and a new lease on life.

History of Lyubcha Castle

The place called Lyubech (Lyubch, Lyubcha) has been known for many centuries. It belonged to King Mindouh, the first ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was in the possession of Grand Dukes Hedymin, Alhierd, Jahaila, Keistut, Vitaut, Casimir and Alexander, was re-gifted more than once, requisitioned  and bought back again by the noble families... By the beginning of the 16th century, Lyubcha grew into an important center of the region.

Interestingly, one of the most wide-spread versions of the name of the town and the castle is associated with the romantic story from Mindouh’s life. Once, crossing the Neman, he encountered a beautiful village girl Marta who he later married. Hence the name Lyubcha (lyubit means to love in Russian): the place where love was born.

The history of the residence of the influential families in Lyubcha goes back more than 400 years. At the end of the 16th century, the town, which received the Magdeburg Rights and its own coat of arms in 1590, was rapidly growing. To defend the town, the then owner, Jan Kiszka, a famous nobleman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, had a castle built. A hill was arranged on the left bank of the Neman River, rising almost seven meters above the flood plain.

The castle was completed by 1581, as evidenced by a weather vane with the date and the Kiszka coat of arms found on the site. It was originally built of wood, except for the entrance tower, which was made of stone. The plan of the castle was a rectangle measuring 64 by 87 meters with four corner towers. It was surrounded on three sides by a 30-meter wide and 7 to 10-meter deep moat and on the fourth side - by the Neman River. After Jan Kiszka's death, the castle passed on to his brother Stanisław, who gave it as a dowry to his daughter Anna Kiszka.

The next owner of Lyubcha was Krzysztof Radziwił, Anna Kiszka's husband. He decided to have the castle rebuilt to make it more defendable. All towers, walls, other buildings on the grounds were built in stone.

The main tower (Bramnaya, or Gate) was turned into a powerful fortification with four firing levels: the first one had eight cannon loopholes, the second one had 12 cannon loopholes, and the third one had eight.  Under the roof, along the entire perimeter of the octagonal part of the tower, there were musket loopholes. The tower also had a dungeon, a bathhouse and a bell place under the roof.

For many decades, Lyubcha Castle served as one of the residences of the Radziwills, the most powerful dynasty of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Unfortunately, during the war in 1659, the castle in Lyubcha was captured and severely damaged, with two towers destroyed completely. The citadel lost its defensive role... Later on, the castle was damaged in fires and was rebuilt more than once.

During the 19th century, the castle often changed hands. In the 1890s, it was purchased from Maria Hohenlohe (Wittgenstein) by brothers from the noble family of Falz-Fein. At that time, on the site of the old manor house, the family built a two-storey snow-white palace in the style of English neo-Gothic. Loopholes on the surviving towers were replaced with windows.

In 1904 Baroness Lydia von Peuker (née Falz-Fein) bought the estate from her brothers. Her son from the first marriage, Nicolas Nabokov, spent his childhood in Lyubcha. He became a famous composer, the author of the ballets for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, the founder of American classical ballet, the inspirer of several major music festivals in Europe. His cousin, Vladimir Nabokov, became a famous writer.

The First and Second World Wars left their marks on the Lyubcha residence. The Gothic palace was almost destroyed. Only the towers remained of the fortifications.

After the Great Patriotic War, a school was built on the site of the former mansion. In 1964, it housed a local history museum, which saved the residence from complete oblivion. In the 1980s, archaeologists began excavations.

Lyubcha Castle today

In 2003, Lyubcha native Ivan Pechinsky, a former military officer, businessman and keen historian, launched a project together with other enthusiasts to restore this landmark. He established a charitable foundation which has been working to revive the ancient residence of magnates for many years already.

Lyubcha Castle has become the first historic complex in Belarus to be restored by volunteers with the help of the charitable foundation, partners and sponsors. Every warm season volunteers from among students, scientists and other specialists come here to carry out the necessary restoration work.

Plans are in place to restore the castle according to the 1654 design. So far, the two towers and the wall between them have been restored in full. The outbuilding and the former palace (school) will be restored later. Now, restoration works are underway on the interior of the towers, and also the third tower, the Northern or Watch Tower, which foundation survived to the present day.

With renovations in full swing, the castle is available for viewing only from the outside. In front of the main entrance there is a gate, probably built in the early 20th century under the Falz-Fein family. There are poster boards with information about Lyubcha Castle, the history of the town, and other attractions of the region.

The defensive ditch at Lyubcha Castle, dug out centuries ago, is the country’s only ditch of the kind surviving to the present day.

At the entrance to the castle tourists are sometimes welcomed by a guide dressed as a key-keeper, a person who centuries ago oversaw the household and undoubtedly knew every hidden corner. Visitors are also offered reenactment programs.

In autumn Lyubcha hosts the Radziwills’ Lyubchanski Shpatsyr (Radziwill's Lyubcha Stroll) festival featuring exhibition performances and workshops from the reenactment club, theatres, exhibitions, tasting of ancient local dishes.

How to get there and where to stay

Lyubcha is about 135-150km away from Minsk, depending on the route you choose. The fastest and most interesting route from the Belarusian capital is via P1 and E30/M1 highways (heading south-west towards Brest). At the turning with the sign to Mir Castle take the P64 and after reaching the town of Mir turn into P11. In Korelichi choose the N6190, go to Shchorsy, turn to N6325 and head towards Lyubcha.

Address: Lyubcha, Novogrudok District, Grodno Oblast, Belarus
Coordinates: 53.752008, 26.068939

You can stay in Minsk and take a trip to Lyubcha Castle within a day. There are also options to stay overnight in Novogrudok or Mir, where there are famous sights that are definitely worth seeing.

Attractions near Lyubcha Castle

Not far from Lyubcha there are many places, famous not only for their surviving architectural heritage, but also for the contribution of the locals to history and culture.

The road to Lyubcha from Minsk passes through the town of Mir, home to the castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and recognized as one of the most beautiful castles in Europe.

Novogrudok, the first capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the home town of the romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz, is located 25km away from Lyubcha Castle. This is the place where you can find the ruins of an ancient castle and many other interesting sights of different epochs.

Shchorsy, only 15km away from Lyubcha, is home to the surviving premises of the once luxurious estate of the last chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Count Joachim Litavor Khreptovich. He founded the famous Khreptovich Library, which existed from the second half of the 18th century to the early 20th century. This collection was considered one of the richest in Eastern Europe and comprised more than 20,000 books in different languages, including works by ancient authors, French and Italian classics, unique historical documents, manuscripts, geographical maps. Famous scientists and writers came to work here. Adam Mickiewicz wrote his poem Grazhina in Shchorsy.

In Lyubcha you can also visit the majestic Temple of the Holy Prophet Elijah. It was built in 1910-1914 on the site of an old dilapidated church. The church in pseudo-Russian style was designed in the form of a cross.

Great Patriotic War monuments in Belarus