This park is a famous example of a lavish landscape-garden design and is built around themes from Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. It was commissioned by Polish Count Potocki as a birthday present for his wife Sofia in the late 1700s. Sofia was a great beauty in her day and is still a bit of a mystery. Was she really a Greek saved from slavery by the wealthy count, who had fallen in love when he first saw her? Well, the world may never know, but the park is a stunning creation and testament to such a romantic notion.
Uman is a small city located about halfway between Kyiv and Odesa, making it an accessible stopping-off point for travelers, even if only for the day. The city is reachable via bus and private car, with very limited train service from Cherkasy (the oblast center). Sofiyivsky Park has a new entrance on the Kyiv-Odesa highway (International Street) and an older, more elaborate entrance on Sadova Street in Uman. The park is open May through November from 9am to 6pm. An entrance fee is charged, but access is free for those entering prior to 9am and after 6pm. Extra fees are charged for tour guides (multiple languages spoken), minibus tours, rowboat rentals, and boat rides. Approximately 500,000 visitors travel here each year to see the park and experience a step back in time to a charming and leisurely lifestyle.
Sofiyivsky Park has fantastical lakes, fountains, grottos, gazebos, bridges, pavilions, statues and much more! Purchase a map at the entrance and plot out an itinerary, for the park covers over 385 acres and is crisscrossed by numerous paved walkways with few posted signs. The map allows visitors to target areas to see—all with intriguing names such as the Island of Love, Ionian Sea, Flora Pavilion, or Grotto of Apollo.
Noted for its incredible beauty, Sofiyivsky Park became one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine in 2007. However, Sofiyivsky is not simply an enchanting fairy-tale place to visit, the park is also part of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine. The park is officially designated as a dendrological park and engages in the research of tree and shrub cultivars and organizes conferences on dendrological, horticultural, and conservation topics. There are research institutions along with hotels and conference venues on site.
Sofiyivsky Park was a fabulous birthday gift centuries ago and truly remains impressive today! Travelers to Ukraine should definitely add it to their must-see list.
By Cheryl S. Pratt, a Peace Corps Volunteer. Text and opinions herein are the author’s only and do not reflect in any way the position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.