In 1802 count Stanislaw Potocki presented a park to his fondly loved spouse Sofia, a woman of rare beauty and talent. Greek by origin, descending from Turkey, she has managed to become accepted and favored in European courts; Sofia has gained many powerful patrons and owned an unofficial title of the European beauty number one. The Polish magnate Stanislaw Potocki and Sofia fall in love with each other and made a long and difficult life journey. It has involved divorces on both parties to become a married couple, with bearing 5 children together, Potocki’s financial loss putting him on the edge of bankruptcy, plus dramatic political situation for the count in general.
Undoubtedly, it was a power of love that inspired Stanislaw to make such an unusual gift to his wife. Sofia wanted to have an estate in the Crimea with a park like the Radzivill’s Arcadia which she has once visited and mentioned in her letter to Potocki. The count could not afford an estate in the Crimea, though has chosen his favorite hunting place as a ground for the park instead. It was near Uman in the gully of a river that has got name of Kamianka upon the works completion. A friend of Potocki, a talented Polish military engineer, Captain Ludwig Metzel started building the park in 1896. More than 5 years have passed before the Sofiyivka turned into a charming and romantic gift. Main workers in Sofiyivka construction were serfs from Uman. There was also employed a gardener Olive from Germany to contribute into the park’s development in the best European gardening tradition of the end of the 18th century. It was the park with fountains and ponds, waterfalls and bridges, grottoes and massive granite rocks, a dam, and even an island. There were planted rare and exotic trees ordered from Italy, Germany, and the Crimea. Intrinsic to the 18th century, antique Greek motives threaded through many garden compositions, reflecting in marble sculptures and busts. Imagine how vibrant with color of May flowers were the park meadows on the day when this landscaping masterpiece was presented to Sofia!
The park was planned to become not only the most beautiful but also the biggest one in Europe. And though count Potocki passed away soon after, Metzel has been continuing for almost a decade the implementation of his friend’s idea of expanding and building Sofiyivka.
Due to difficult financial situation, Sofia has attempted to sell the park to Alexander I but did not succeed. When Polish poem “Sophiowka” written by S.Trembetski was translated in Paris into French to promote Uman in Europe, the hostess of the park has already become incurably ill. She passed away in 1822 leaving Sophiyivka to her son Alexander. The latter had not much of interest in it, and eventually Potocki’s estates, including the park, were sequestered by the Russian government after the Polish uprising.
Tsarina’s Garden was a new unofficial name for Sofiyivka; it referred to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna as a hostess of the beautiful park. These times have become the next flourishing period for Sofiyivka. Formerly the park had small Potocki’s summer house and conservatory only. There have appeared new buildings such as gothic towers, pergolas, pavilions; park grounds were expanded and main entrance broadened and paved to match the Royal court style.
However, in 1859 the park has become by the Nicholas’ I decree a home for the School of Horticulture, which was moved there from Odessa. In the early Soviet times Sofiyivka has turned into a national reserve and stays such nowadays. With the ongoing maintenance, Sofiyivka looks wonderfully and attracts many visitors. Age has brought grandeur to the trees, enhancing human made beauty. Granite boulders, covered with moss and baked in sun, frame the most handsome garden structure composed by Metzel long ago. Some objects in the park have been reconstructed though there are plenty of originals in Sofiyivka that have undergone renovation only. Sofiyivka is among the top destinations in Ukraine for CIS and foreign visitors alike.