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Sofiyivka Park

This picturesque spot is called a fairy tale corner of Ukraine-everything about it is sheer poetry, it is so exquisite and beautiful.

Wherever you look, you see something, distinctive or inimitable. There are the Elysian Fields, the English Park whose collection of plants comes from many countries of the world, and the Caucasian Hill which seems to carry you to sunny Georgia. One finds luxurious pavilions and pergolas, beautiful grottos and waterfalls, an underground waterway…

At every turn you are spellbound by the symphony of a stretch of water, by the singing of green strings among the trees and bushes. The views in Sofievka are always new, varying with the weather or time of day-morning, noon or evening.

Sofievka is beautiful in any season of the year. In springtime it is arrayed in pink and white blossoms and resounds with singing nightingales; on a hot summer day, the breezes waft fragrance of parched grasses over the oak groves while the pleasant coolness of shady alleys beckons you; in golden autumn when the red and yellow leaves are falling, the park is carpeted with silver by the morning frost. Sofievka is lovely in the winter silence, too, when the great frozen waterfall looks like a giant iceberg and the steep grey cliffs wear cap of snow.

The Main Alley, as you enter, is broad and shady. On the left, from spring through to autumn, you are reminded of a green jungle. This is where the Dubinka Oak Grove begins-here, under the spreading leafy crowns, twilight always reigns even on a sunny day. On the right, not far from the entrance, beautiful firs encircle the bend of the river. At first, the Main Alley appears endless for the bends are artfully concealed.
But suddenly, the green curtain opens before you the Flora Pavilion, named after the goddess of flowers.

In the entire park, this spot is especially lovely. From the Doric columns along the facade of the pavilion, a breathtaking view is revealed of the Lower Pool whose banks are faced with grey granite.

On the glassy water on the foreground arises a rock bearing the dark iron sculpture of a gigantic snake basking peacefully in the sunshine. A transparent column of water jets out of its wide mouth, spurting up to a height of 20 metres. The splash of its fall reminds you of hard rain beating down in a thunderstorm. And if a breeze blows across the pool, the resultant spray against the sun flashes with all the colours of the rainbow.

From the banks of the Lower Pool visitors may admire other sights in this green museum-the Caucasian Hill, Belvedere Cliff where a marble statue of Apollo stands-the ancient Greek god of arts. A little further on, a statue of the Greek dramaturgist Euripides, poses on a granite pedestal. Now the alley winds past the Terrace of the Muses towards another exquisite creation in the waterway system - the Great Cascade. It is best viewed from the decorative ironwork bridge crossing the pool or from Assembly Square. The rushing current moves through the green groves, forcing its way across all obstructions, foaming over the brink of a steep rock to fall 14.5 metres. On all sides of the cascade rock little rivulets dance merrily along bringing with them the intoxicating aromas of the forest. A bit further on, there is a new miracle: you hear the silvery bubbling of a stream pouring out from the base of a granite wall. It is a natural spring, crystal clear, and cool even in the heat of summer. The water is rich in curative mineral salts and falls into an urn ornamented with bronze snakes. The spring is called Hippocrene. In the Tempe Valley beside the cascade of the Three Tears, there is an interesting rock resembling a sleeping lion.

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And one should not miss visiting Thunder Grotto and listen to the sound of falling water from which the grotto takes its name. How exciting it is to travel by boat along the underground River Styx!

This is an artificial channel faced with bricks and granite, with daylight seeping through openings cut into the roof. It is almost to quarter of a kilometre long. The boat enters it from Dead Lake and comes out through the Amsterdam Lock into the Upper Pool. Then, before your eyes appear a marvellous panorama of the Island of Love bearing the famous Rose Pavilion built in Renaissance style. You will never forget your first impression of the Grotto of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, cut into the dam on the Upper Pool. It resembles an antique temple where there is a marble statue of Venus half concealed by a veil of water.

Built for the enjoyment of the young wife of the wealthy magnate Felix Potocki - the beautiful Grecian Sophia, work on the park was begun in the fall of 1796. It was directed by Ludwig Metzel, a Polish military engineer. He worked out a unique architectural ensemble that would harmonize with the landscape style of the park. The site was well chosen-the rising hills cut by ravines, the great masses of granite boulders along the banks of a swampy river and the presence of many different varieties of trees and bushes made it possible to create a waterway system with cascades, fountains and pools, to erect beautiful architectural compositions and sculptures in exquisite settings of exotic flora. Thus the ordinary pasture lands on the outskirts of Uman within six years were transformed into a place of romance and charm. The skill of the workers employed cannot fail to impress. The complicated ornamental work was all done by simple folk craftsmen-serfs. And the architect did not use a finished plan for composition of the park, but mainly relied upon personal intuition.

Thus, outstanding skill and imagination were demanded of the self-trained masters in working out the fine details. We regret that the names of the many highly talented masters are unknown to us. Documents in the archives merely slate that among the workers were a few peasants who lived in present-day Rodnikovka near Uman - Ivan and Ilya Vdovichenko, and Korniy Kuzmenko. On the average, the daily number of workers employed came to more than 800. And it was back-breaking work. We do not know how many lives it cost to build the park or how many were crippled while moving the granite boulders from place to place or while digging out the grottos and so on. Naturally, Sofievka Park did not always look as it does today. Its landscaped composition was improved upon after the demise of the Potockis when the park fell into the hands of other owners. For almost a quarter of a century (1836-1859) it was turned over to the military command for their quarters. During that time the Flora and Rose pavilions were built, the Great Cascade was reconstructed and the planting area greatly expanded. The park was enriched with new varieties of trees and bushes after it became the property of the Central College of Horticulture (1859-1917). Go for a stroll now through the picturesque places of the park. The best time is in the early morning when the sun turns the dew into sparkling diamonds in the clearings among the groves and in the Gribok Glade-the most beautiful nook in the park.

The park contains the most varied verdure of the world, so that the collection here is really unique.

At present, the kingdom of greenery has more than 670 different varieties and species of trees and shrubs. They have been brought from the Crimea and the Caucasus, from Siberia and the Urals, Central and Southern Europe, from Central Asia and the Far East, even from South America.

Of special interest is the large collection of trees found in the so-called English Park... It was laid out by the famous Russian horticulturist, Professor V. Pashkevich. He gathered a very rich collection, including the bilobate ginkgo. The nettle tree, both the western and southern varieties, is also represented. These trees are so solid and heavy that they sink in the water. The Turkish filbert comes from the Caucasus, Asia Minor and Balkans. It reaches a height of 30 metres, grows quickly, is frost and disease resistant, and can grow in places where the sun does not penetrate. Other trees in the park have curative properties, particularly the Manchurian Aralia and the shizandra. The green groves of Sofievka Park would not be half so attractive without the bushes that bloom in the spring and summer. The smoke tree and the beautiful pearl bush from Central Asia come into full flower during May. In June, the Japanese rosewood comes into bloom. And the jasmine during June and July. As for lilacs, the varieties are profuse: white, blue, deep crimson, Persian and Hungarian.

Wherever you go in the park, you are thrilled by bird song. The nightingale in spring is echoed by the throaty turtle-dove. And the cuckoo calls, according to a legend, foretelling the length of your life. There are white and black swans, exotic species of ducks and geese.

All who have visited the park are enraptured by its beauty, uniqueness and lyrical perfection of its landscaped compositions.