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Ancient Lviv celebrates its anniversary
Natalya KOSMOLINSKA witnessed the celebrations of the 750th anniversary of Lviv and found them, as well as thousands upon thousands of others, impressive and inspiring.
For most of the old cities it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish the exact date of their foundation. Usually, it is the first written mention in some chronicles that provides the starting point. But in most cases, the city mentioned must have existed for some time before it was “noticed” by the chroniclers.
In the soviet times, the Day of the City was fixed on the date when this particular city was “liberated by the Soviet Army from the Nazi invaders” in the Second World War. In independent Ukraine, the Day of the City is often determined by the patron saint’s day. For Lviv, it is St George — Yury in Ukrainian — whose feast is celebrated in May.
The restoration and reconstruction work of Ploshcha Rynok in the centre of the city and of the adjacent streets that had been begun some time ago, had not been completed by May, no matter how hard the workers and architects tried. Neither was this work brought to an end before September when the city was to celebrate its 750th anniversary — but it was brought to such a stage that the celebrations could go ahead as planned.
Lviv was inundated by guests and tourists from all over Ukraine. I had an impression that millions of people had come to participate in the celebrations — but, of course, the real figure was much lower.
On the Anniversary Day the Stare Misto — Old Town was crowded so much by ten o’clock in the morning that it turned into a veritable Babel! In fact, Lviv was compared to Babel before — one of the early chroniclers wrote that it was “a city of a hundred tongues and of hundreds of peoples.”
The city authorities did really try hard to provide lavish entertainment in addition to the usual official speeches — rock and jazz bands, Ukrainian traditional music, Cossack shows, craftsmen demonstrating their crafts and art to the public, untold number of kiosks selling souvenirs, drinks and food. The centre of the city was packed with the eager humanity so tight that movement through the crowds turned into a strenuous physical exercise. Jazz and beer seemed to be the dominant features that day.
I found it unfortunate that the mock knights’ tournaments and shows were given a place a long way from the centre, in the open-air folk architecture museum Shevchenkivsky Hay. It was definitely a more convenient place for holding a knights’ tournament than the centre would have been but it seemed to me that the centre of the city lacked somewhat in the bright colours and in people wearing bizarre or unusual clothes. It has to be admitted though that the director of the celebration events Serhiy Proskurnya provided a masquerade touch to the centre too — actors from Lviv theatres joined the crowds, wearing the costumes and dresses of the ninetieth century, and if you wanted to have your picture taken with one of them at your side, you were welcome. The actors were strolling along, laughing and joking, and as I watched them — ladies in long dresses and gentlemen with walking sticks and wearing top hats, all elegant and carefree — I sort of felt as though I had been transported by the time machine into the past. And I may tell you that these nineteenth-century people looked uncannily natural in the streets of the twenty-first century Lviv.
The International Theatre Festivals Zoloty Lev (Golden Lion), with its shows performed right in the street, provided their own special touch to the celebrations.
But the highlight of the first day was literally a light show performed by Gert Hoff. The places on the balconies that provided the best view were “booked” weeks in advance, and the square in front of the Opera House, the focal point of the laser show, was filled with expectant crowds since early morning. The medieval centre of Lviv proved to be too small for the twenty-first century entertainment. Nobody can really say with any precision how many people gathered to see the show, but the police spokesman later said that over a thousand policemen were stationed at strategic places “to protect law and order.” The side streets leading to the centre were clogged and it looked no one would be able to get out of — or into — the houses that line those streets in case of emergency.
The laser show was indeed very impressive and on a grand scale. Nothing of the sort had ever been seen in Lviv in its almost eight-hundred year history. The Opera House seemed to change shape in the laser beams trained on it. Unfortunately, because of some technical problems, the central event of the show, when the replica of the Opera House “made” only of the laser light was to rise off the ground, did not take place, but this failure did not spoil in any way the impression the laser light and music produced on the spectators. Besides, the festivities continued into the small hours — rock shows, the Folk and Jazz Festival Flyuhery Lvova (Weathercocks of Lviv), and other musical and theatrical events were in full swing.
The organizers must be given credit not only for all this entertainment that they provided, but also for efficiency and good work. The city was tidied up before the next morning festivities picked up again. The International Festival of Retro Cars, the Street Film Festival KinoLev, an exhibition of monumental sculpture, the Art and Literature Festival NaLIT, the Retro Dress Contest, the Honey Fest, the Retro Song Fest, the opening of the Museum of Glass, the Martial Arts Show, plus so much more filled the next day of celebrations. The climax of the second day came when Goran Bregovic, the musician and composer of world fame, entertained the capacity crowds with his superb performance.
I am sure that those who came to Lviv for the first time would want to come again to sample more of Lviv’s rich culture; those who had been to Lviv before, discovered something new for themselves; the inhabitants of Lviv thoroughly enjoyed the things that had never been seen or heard before — and everybody seemed to be very happy to be able to let themselves go. I suspect that some of those who live in the centre complained and grumbled about too many people and too much noise — but their grumbling was not heard amidst the cheers and music.
The celebrations amply showed that Lviv had a great tourist potential — and that people were eager for “spectacles and entertainment, and carefree, good time.”
Comment: According to the Mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadovy, the city did not spend a single kopeck on organizing and carrying out the events of the celebration — all the costs were born by the sponsors and organizers; the city coffers were swelled thanks to the influx of tourists; besides, Lviv benefited by restoration and repair work which prettified the city.
Photos by Oleksandr NOVYTSKY
The laser show which was held in the center of Lviv
Among the participants of the celebrations were
The pop star Ruslana.