Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sofia of Uman. A charmed life; a cursed life.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend the day at Sofiyivsky Park in Uman. The park is listed as one of the seven wonders of Ukraine, and is considered to be an outstanding example of European landscape garden design. Here is the story of Sofia, who inspired it.

Count Felix Pototsky began construction on what would later be known as Sofiyivka Park in 1798 as a gift to his new bride, the legendary beauty Sofia. Sofia had been born in Greece, then was sold into slavery by her parents while 12 years old. The Polish Ambassador to Turkey bought her as a gift for the Polish King Stanislaw August; however, while traveling back through Ukraine she met the son of the Polish army commander, Jozef Witte, who fell in love with the 15 year old and bought her from the ambassador. The newly married Madame Witte quickly became a celebrated society figure among the Polish gentry. She soon took up delivering diplomatic mail and was rumored to use the opportunity to spy for the Polish king as well as Catherine the Great.

Sofia eventually left her husband and two children but was soon remarried to the Polish Count Pototsky in Uman. He adored Sofia and designed the park as a memorial to her beauty and incorporated in it the mythology of ancient Greece. The 400 acre park has it's own Isle of Lesbos, a terrace of the Muses, red poppy Elysian fields, a Cretan labyrinth, and an underground stream called Styx. Long before the park was finished, the Count uncovered an affair between his son from his first marriage and Sofia. Brokenhearted, he grew seriously ill. Sofia supposedly spent two days on her knees begging for his forgiveness, but the count died without forgiving her. She finished the park herself during a brief affair with the Russian Count Potemkin, then lived out her days in melancholy. The fact that a freak earthquake pushed her graveyard out of the Uman churchyard has the locals convinced that she was a witch.

Please go to my photoblog "Life at the Edge of the World" for photos. There will be more photos on an ongoing basis.

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