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Lviv  the city of many architectural styles, coffee houses and ancient spirits



Oles ILCHENKO presents reflections on the city of Lviv and Serhiy Tarasov enhances them with his photographs in the story that follows


Once, the king of the Lands of Halych and Volyn named Danylo, went on a tour of his possessions, accompanied by his son Lev. When they were crossing the Poltva River, the king looked around and exclaimed in admiration, My son, look at that hill! It would be a shame not to build a castle on it, and a town around it! And then I would name it after you, and give it to you as a present!

This is what one of the popular legends says about the foundation of Lviv, one of the major cities of Ukraine, and one of the most beautiful too.


The charm of Lviv

Among the cities of Ukraine Lviv stands out as a place of impressive architectural landmarks of many architectural styles and epochs. But it is not so much the architecture that makes it special  it is the atmosphere, the aura of the city that distinguishes it from any other place. It would be hard to give a rational explanation of what creates this atmosphere, even if all the possible contributions to it are enumerated. You have to take a walk through the narrow and twisting streets of Lviv, to feel the old cobble stones beneath your feet, to breathe the air of the city, to see what in the medieval and Renaissance times used to be the quarters of Italian, Jewish and Armenian traders and merchants, to start feeling that special charm that Lviv exudes. To add to the first impressions, it would be worthwhile to spend some time in the quiet of an old Polish church, to listen to the choir singing in an old Ukrainian Orthodox church, to have a cup of excellent coffee in one of the Lviv coffeehouses, famous for the excellence of coffee, to visit the Lychakiv cemetery famous for its tombs and monuments which are veritable works of art, to talk to and socialize with people, and witness their gallantry, and civility.

In its long history Lviv has seen many wars and many invaders  Tartars, Poles, Lithuanians, Turks, Austrians and others tried to establish their rule over Lviv. Attempts were made to destroy the Ukrainian spirit in the city. Even its name was changed to hide its Ukrainian roots  Leopolis, Levensburg, Lemberg, Lvuv, Lvov, but it obstinately remained Lviv.

When the Ukrainian lands in which Lviv was a major city were under the domination of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, it was made the official regional centre of the provinces of Halytsiya and Lodomeria. When between the First and Second World Wars, Lviv and the lands around it were part of Poland, the city was a major cultural centre, known for its bohemian style of life.

Lvivs culture absorbed many influences; many religions co-existed in Lviv peacefully in the atmosphere of religious tolerance. Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance palazzos, buildings in the Sezession style or in ascetic modernistic constructivist style create a rich visual feast. The very sky above the city, the stars that shine on it, inspire the people who live here to look for and create beauty. There is no trade or skill that cannot be developed here, wrote a seventeenth-century chronicler, Bartolomiy Zymorovych.

It was in Lviv that the first Ukrainian newspaper, Gazette de Leopol, began to be published in 1776. Lviv was a place that inspired the creativeness of Ukrainian and Polish artists, scholars and writers. Ivan Franko, the prominent Ukrainian author of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century; Adam Mickiewisz, one of the best Polish poets of the nineteenth century; Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author whose works described human behaviour which later was given the name of masochism; Rudolf Weigle, the scientist who created the anti-typhus vaccine; Sholem-Aleichem, the classic of Jewish literature in Yidish; Stanislav Lyudkevych, the remarkable composer, Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science-fiction writer of wide fame; Mykhailo Hrushevsky, the historian and first president of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic  all of them were either born or lived in Lviv.


The place that belongs to Lev

Archaeological evidence and chronicles suggest that the first settlements in the territory of the present-day city of Lviv date to the eleventh century. There may be some truth in the legend, with which we began our story, too. Under Danylo, a castle was built which later developed into a city. The word Lviv does mean the place that belongs to Lev. In its turn, the word lev in Ukrainian is not only a mans name but also the lion. No wonder that are many representations of the lion to be found in Lviv.

The city prospered in the thirteenth and in the first half of the fourteenth centuries but the wars and fires of the second half of the fourteenth century wiped out all of the citys architectural landmarks of the earlier times.

Judging by the churches that existed in Lviv in the fourteenth century  at least two catholic churches, two Armenian churches and a dozen or more Orthodox churches, the population of Lviv was rather mixed, but the Orthodox Christians predominated. The later chronicles say that there were Armenian, Polish, German, Hungarian, Tartar, Jewish, Rumanian, and Italian communities in Lviv. There was even a small Arabic (Saracens) community there. But the Ukrainian were always in majority.

In the medieval times Lviv was famous for its jewellers, craftsmen, blacksmiths and weapon makers. Their products were taken to be sold as far in the east as in Moscow, and as far in the west as in Venice. The earliest craftsmens guild is known to have existed in the late fourteenth century. In fact, it was not an all-male guild  several of its members were women. The wares produced in Lviv and Lvivs craftsmen were well known in Kyiv and Warsaw. The local school of painting, in spite of south European influences, was easily distinguishable for its many original futures. Over the centuries, Lviv accumulated a lot of art treasures which now can be seen in its many museums.


When Yury II (Boleslav Mazovetsky), ruler of Lviv, the last from the dynasty of Romanovychy in Halychyna, died in 1340, the Polish King Casimir III included Lviv into his dominions. By 1387, the whole of Halychyna was in the Polish hands. The fire of 1381 destroyed most of Lvivs wooden houses. But the city rose from the ashes again, already in stone. By the mid-fifteenth century Lviv became a well-fortified place, with powerful defensive walls and towers. Church and housing construction boomed.

The early sixteenth century saw the beginning of book printing in Lviv. Ivan Fedorovych, the printer who fled from Moscow where his cultural innovations had met with the stiff conservative opposition, set up shop in Lviv, and two of the books he printed in 1574, Apostol, and Bukvar (ABC book) are extant. Since then, book printing and publishing has been a flourishing business in Lviv.

Another fire, in 1527, did a lot of damage to Lviv, but at the same time it ushered in a new era in Lvivs architecture. Renaissance and Baroque became the successive and dominant styles. The central square of the city, Rynok, was established as a market place where traders and merchants from the whole of Europe and from many Asian countries sold, bought and exchanged goods. The emergence of the first parks and gardens in Lviv also dates from the late sixteenth century.


Coffee in Lviv

The 1620s were marked by a series of epidemics which took a big toll in human life. A devastating fire of 1623 destroyed more than twelve hundred houses and great many churches. In 1672, Lviv was besieged by the troops of the Turkish Sultan Mohamed IV, and in the early eighteenth century, the city was captured by the troops of the Swedish King Charles XII.

Fires, epidermis and invasions dealt heavy blows to Lviv which began to lose its political and economic significance. In 1772, as a result of the partition of Poland, Lviv emerged as the centre of the Austrian provinces of Galicia and Lodomeria. The Austrian rule brought not only Austrian authorities and bureaucrats but also new styles in life and architecture. Rococo and then classicism were in vogue. The city went through a major reconstruction, which, unfortunately, led to the demolition of many architectural landmarks of the earlier times.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Lviv began its ascent to becoming one of the most prosperous cities in Eastern Europe, a transit centre of active trade with Viena, Odesa, Warsaw and other cities. By the end of the nineteenth century it had a population of 160, 000 people, a considerable number of whom were well-to-do. Rich mansions were built, parks were laid out; coffeehouses and knaipy (a specific Lviv combination of a restaurant and a club) mushroomed. The knaipy proprietors, waiters and attendants knew their patrons by name, and the other way round, the patrons addressed everybody by name too, and felt themselves at home. The small restaurants and coffeehouses became part of the Lviv scene, contributing to the creation of the Lviv spirit which has been living in the city ever since.

The early decades of the twentieth century with the First World War, the revolutions, the collapse of the three empires  Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German  were a most turbulent time for Europe, a time of great political and social upheavals, and Lviv was sucked into this maelstrom too. After a short period of Ukrainian independence, the eastern Ukraine was overrun by the Russian Bolsheviks, and the western Ukraine, Lviv included, once again became part of Poland.


New times

In 1939, after the partition of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Lviv and the whole of western Ukraine were included into the Soviet Union. Soviet-Nazi friendship proved to be short-lived and the war that followed did not spare Lviv.

The war and the Soviet secret police after the war decimated the population of Lviv. The KGB was remorseless and tireless in hunting down, arresting, imprisoning or executing Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists. But despite all the efforts to suppress the very spirit of Lviv, it survived, and the people of Lviv were in the first ranks of those who started the national-liberation movement of the late nineteen-eighties.

After the demise of the Soviet Union and with the emergence of independent Ukraine, Lviv began to revive as a cultural centre, a city of coffeehouses and intellectual life. Bu it is a slow revival. About 830 thousand people now live in Lviv, with about 200 thousand visiting it everyday. The central part of Lviv was put on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Much is being done to make Lviv once again a prosperous city. When there is a hope, there is a future.


Meanwhile, Lviv coffeehouses continue to make excellent coffee which you sip, reading a book or a newspaper, discussing hot political or intellectual issues, waiting out the rain, watching the stream of passers-by filing past, waiting for a date, or daydreaming.


Monument to the great nineteenth-century Polish poet
Adam Mickiewicz in the central square of Lviv.


In the old section of central Lviv.


The Church of St. Elizabeth (19031911,
architect T. Talowski) was built in commemoration
of the tragic death of Austrian empress.


Lviv Opera and Ballet Theatre
was built in 18971900 in the Viennese style.


Boims Chapel was built the 17th century
with the money donated by George Boim,
a Lviv merchant.


The building of an old Jewish
hospital in Lviv.


The lavishly decorated interior
of the Boims Chapel.


The interior of Church
of Transfiguration.


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