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Olyka's church in 1856 - and in September-2005

The medieval town of Olyka in the Volyn region has always been renowned for its independent character. In the middle of the 16th century Olyka received the Magdeburg rights, and by the 19th century it had become one of Volyn’s richest cities. Coincidentally, both the first love of Marcel Proust and a relative of John F. Kennedy (though not a blood relative) are connected with the town of Olyka. Already curious? Here is Olyka’s story.

The Radziwill's Nest

In the times of the Halytsko-Volynske Principality, nearby modern Olyka was the embattled city of Chemeryn, known for its developed trade. Over the course of time the centre of life gradually transferred to modern Olyka. The newly-founded town was named after the Olycha River, and in 1433 had its first registered owner. In 1460 the subsequent Lord of Olyka, Lutsk warden Petro Bilyi, built the Petropavlivska (St. Peter and Paul) church. Then as a dowry for his granddaughter Hanna it was given to the head of the mighty Radziwill family. This is how Olyka became the property of Lithuanian princes for 400 years.


The Radziwills, whose coat of arms bears the motto “The Lord is Our Counsel”, did much for the development of Olyka.


The city grew under their rule - and in 1564 it even received the Magdeburg rights (a set of laws regulating the degree of internal autonomy within cities and villages) and soon became mightier and richer than Lutsk (the Volyn region’s current capital).

In 1638 St. Trinity Collegium (equivalent to today’s colleges) was founded in the city and logic, rhetoric, grammar, theology and fundamentals of sciences were taught there.


Unfortunatelly the old town-hall didn't survived the wars of XX century.

There is a legend about the royal love-story in Olyka, connected with the names of the last Polish king Stanislas II Augustus and a Polish princess that was the owners of the village of Chemeryn near Olyka. The mavsoleum of this princess stands in the old Olyka cemetary.


Even in the 20th century Olyka was prized by rich gentlemen. Thus, for the sake of its manors  and against his parents’ will, Mykhailo Ferdinand Radziwill married beautiful Maria Benardaki on the eve of World War I. By the way, she had been Marcel Proust’s first love since childhood and the inspiration for Gilberta in his“In Search of Lost Time” novels.


The old city’s walls recall the awful fires of 1803 and 1823 and events of the war of 1812, when the palace was turned into a military hospital. Olyka, deprived of an attentive owner, began to decay and collapse. In 1838 the buildings of the college and seminary fell, and in 1870 the 17th century town hall, filled with invaluable town archives, burnt. But the Radziwills restored their family heirloom each time.

From the Palace to the Madhouse

Even today you can find the descendants of Janusz Radziwill, the last pre-communists high ranking representative authority in Olyka, who was arrested by the Bolsheviks in 1939.  His son Edmund and his wife opened a kindergarten, a hospital and a dairy farm here in the years between the two wars. In 1959 their son Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill became a relative of John F. Kennedy himself by marrying Caroline Lee Bouvier (best known as Lee Radziwill), the younger sister of the late former First Lady Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy Onassis.


Now the castle has new owners: Volyn’s Hospital No. 2 is now located here. Though you will not see a magnate’s palace inside, all are free to stroll across the castle’s flower-filled yard and view the three-storied palace with its gates, corner citadels and castle moats; all of which make the castle still an interesting sightseeing location.

Churches of Olyka

Interior of St. Trinity Church

Near the fortress is Volyn’s beautiful St. Trinity Church (1635-40), built by Italian architects Benedetto Molli and Giovanni Maliverna. The church is richly decorated with sculptures of saints and engravings by the famous sculptor Ampeli from Lviv. In the old cemetery the region’s oldest cathedral sleeps – Petropavlivskyi (St. Peter and St. Paul Church, 1460). The entrance to Olyka is protected by the Lutsk gate decorated with brick ornamentation – the only undestroyed fragment of this strong ancient city’s fortifications. Near the gate, on the small hill a baroque Stritenska Church stands (1784). This church has a unique dome. And in the centre of the town one can find a neat wooden church (19th c.). Tourist also can visit a local historical museum (Hrushevsky str., 13) and an old romantic Polish cemetary.


We could describe this small town’s wonderful monuments forever. But it is better to see this gem with your own eyes and to enjoy Olyka’s slumber as it dreams still of restoration to its former grandeur.

Getting There



UIA offers direct daily flights to Kyiv from most of Western Europe’s largest cities. Buy tickets online at www.flyUIA.com. For more information, call us in Kyiv on (+380 44) 461-5050. KyivStar or UMC cellular service subscribers can dial 566.


From Kyiv take a train to Lutsk or Rivne. Then from one of these cities travel to Olyka by car or by bus (the village is situated 9 km away on the Rivne-Lutsk highway).


© Blacky

© Panorama Magazine


Castle plan
Napoleon Orda. Olyka
Napoleon Orda. Olyka. 1874
Road to Olyka
Belfry of Trynity Church
Castle courtyard
At the beginning of XX c.
Radziwill's palace
A saint
St. Trinity Church
St. Trinity Church. A detail
Stritenska Church
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