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The old city of Zhovkva lies near the foot of one of the steep ledges belonging to the hilly range of Roztochya – Mount Haray which rises 150 meters above the adjacent plain of Lesser Polissya.

The Old Slavonic Vynnyky, the medieval Zhovkva, Nesterov of the Soviet times, and Zhovkva again… The city often changed its name, and every historical epoch introduced some characteristic features to its image. In 1951 the Soviet regime went as far as renaming Zhovkva to Nesterov in honor of a Russian pilot who was killed here in September 1914. Nesterov was famous for being the first one to perform the so-called “loop” in his airplane. 



Basilian Monastery

One of the arguments behind the Soviet renaming was that the city bore the name of its founder – great Polish magnate Hetman Stanislaw Zolkiewski. He practically founded and almost completely built Zhovkva. This is the history that cannot be refuted. Besides, Stanislaw Zolkiewski was the descendant of a polonized Ukrainian family that came from the old nobility of Halychyna. His father, also called Stanislaw, spoke Ukrainian, but the son became polonized and accepted the Latin religion under the strong pressure of political and economic factors. But in any case in 1991 the historical name of Zhovkva was finally restored.


The predecessor of Zhovkva – the settlement of Vynnyky – was first mentioned in the chronicles in 1242. At that time the local population was chiefly engaged in wine production, hence the name. In the 17th century Stanislaw Zolkiewski became the owner of all surrounding lands. Wishing to preserve his ancestral roots and become famous he persuaded the King to grant him the right to name the city after himself. As any medieval city, Zhovkva was built like a fortress. Moreover, it was constructed on the geopolitical ground that was especially notorious for constant threat of war.



The construction of Zhovkva Castle began at the turn of the 16th century. It is known that in 1606 Crown Hetman Stanislaw Zolkiewski already founded the beautiful Menagerie Park, where chamois and deer lived in open-air cages, at the foot of the mountain next to the castle. Luxurious hunts were the favourite pastime of all owners of the castle.



It is from this castle that Zolkiewski launched his attack against Moscow in 1610. After returning victorious the next year he wrote the book “The Start and Progress of the Moscow War”. Later a magnificent castle with impregnable walls emerged here. Four gates led to it: Glynsk (Krakow) Gate, Lviv Gate, the Jewish Gate, and the Menagerie Gate. 

Grandiose construction works with an original architectural plan that incorporated the Western-European concepts of the ideal city of that time were completed in Zhovkva in an exceptionally short space of time. By the Royal Privilege of 1603 the city was granted the Magdeburg Rights and assigned the name of Zhovkva.



Zhovkva reached the height of its prosperity, glory and affluence in the second part of the 17th century when it became the favourite residence of King of Poland Jan III Sobieski – a famous military commander who was the man of wealth and owned hundreds of villages and dozens of towns. The city of Zhovkva which he inherited maternally became the centre of the vast lands that were his property.



At that time there was a trend to build cities after Italian schemes of so-called “perfect” Renaissance cities. This trend was promoted by Italian architects, many of whom worked in Halychyna and, in particular, in Zhovkva. The city was one of the first implementations of the “perfect city” concept in Ukraine. The general composition and layout of the city and the type of its development are in full accordance with the principles of Italian Renaissance urbanism. Exceptionally large sums of money were invested into the city development, with involvement of the best architects, builders and artists.



During the 17th century some public buildings and churches were rebuilt and new ones were constructed. The relatively small city boasted six monasteries, four cathedrals, five churches and a large synagogue. The castle was built up and decorated especially richly. A wonderful park in Italian style was founded on the pond’s shores, with several hundred of rare trees, a greenhouse, open-air cages and majestic bath-houses on the water. The Royal Summer Palace surrounded by a large forest-type park was erected on Haray Mountain. Immense united armies of European states headed by Jan III Sobieski set out on victorious campaigns against Vienna from the city walls.


The small Zhovkva which barely had fifteen hundred residents in the 17th century acquired the fame of one of Europe’s most finely built private city-residences. The city prospered. It was visited by many foreign merchants, while the merchants of Zhovkva brought their goods for sale to Lviv, Stanislav, Drohobych and even Hungary, from which they returned with wine, tobacco and copper. Beer from Zhovkva was famous in the 17th century. It was even purchased by Lviv’s nobility for royal receptions.



Guilds of craftsmen flourished in the favourable atmosphere of patronage. Artistic traditions were established and quickly reached their height. Many prominent painters and sculptors of European fame together with dozens of artists and carvers known for their innovative achievements created an entire school which is known as Zhovkva School of Painting and Woodcarving.


Zhovkva Town Hall

During the cataclysms of the last two centuries Zhovkva lost everything that could be plundered, burnt down or destroyed. Later rebuilding and restoration was no match for the previous achievements both in terms of artistic value and scale. But remaining relics of the past centuries that either survived relatively intact or were disfigured continue to impress all visitors of the city. In terms of architecture Zhovkva is undoubtedly the second most prominent city of Halychyna after Lviv.  



The primary place of interest here is the Castle. It has been restored, and now everyone can walk through its wooden galleries. Next to the castle is Rynok Square – the traditional centre of social and commercial life of the city. Its territory is surrounded by two-storeyed residential buildings which are the monuments of medieval architecture.

The City Hall designed by Lviv architect B. Viktor and constructed in 1932 is located near the castle. Next to it, there are reconstructed medieval casemates erected in the 17th century. The predecessor of the modern City Hall stood in the middle of Rynok Square and was dismantled due to its emergency condition in 1832.



Further on we can see the high walls with loopholes surrounding the complex of the 17th-century – Dominical Monastery. The Cathedral in Early Baroque style was erected in 1655 after the pattern of Neapolitan churches. Its construction was financed by Teofilia Sobieska. The cells appeared here in 1754-1792. Liturgies of local Greek Catholics are now performed here.



The next object of interest is the Basilian Monastery of late 17th – early 20th century. The relics of St. Parthenios whose feast is observed in late September/early October are kept here. The church is majestic, with its roof somewhat similar to flower petals and its extremely spacious interior richly decorated with paintings. The tidiness and picturesqueness of the church’s courtyard is astonishing. The minster was constructed in 1612 and other buildings appeared later.



The Parochial Roman-Catholic Cathedral is also well worth seeing. It was built in the early 17th century by well-known Lviv architects the Benevolent and the Lucky. The cathedral’s interior is richly decorated. It was a kind of a necropolis for magnate families of Sobieski and Zolkiewski. Because of this the church is sometimes called “the Little Wawel”. Famous is the cathedral’s belfry which is slightly inclined and appears to be “falling” just like the tower in Pisa.

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