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The Palpable Aura of the Past
The city of Lviv in Western Ukraine with its long history, its multilayered culture, to which contributions have been made by various ethnic communities that peacefully coexisted in Lviv, is a major tourist attraction. Natalia KOSMOLINSKA, a native of Lviv, presents her own view of the city.
Roman Shyshak, Romko Malko, Maryna Gudzevata, Mykola Ivashchenko
I find that taking strolls through an old town is a sort of an enthusiastic hunt for obtaining historical information and for getting esthetical pleasure.
Tourists walk the old streets, go past the old buildings, witnesses of history, look at the architecture that has frozen the time in its bricks, concrete and metal — and travel back in time.
The architectural and historical landmarks and monuments of old towns are creations of architects, stone masons, sculptors and artists whose talents, skills and imagination make it possible for us to look back in time and discern in the mists of the past many succeeding generations of those who lived in those old buildings — be it some royal personages or rank and file citizens, and of those who walked the paved streets, with walls pierced by windows and decorated with stucco work and other decorative elements. The roofs above their heads smiled to the sun and protected the dwellers from snow and run.
Time does not stand still and new generations come to live in new buildings erected in new architectural styles but the old parts of towns continue to preserve their charm in the labyrinths of their narrow streets, in the sheltered courtyards, and make you feel the presence of those who used to live behind those old walls, who rejoiced and suffered, who dreamed and who lost all hope, who declared love and who shouted in anger — there are traces of hidden life everywhere in the historical quarters!
Lviv can be called a city at the crossroads. It was indeed built as a trade hub on the routes that connected Europe and Asia. Lviv prospered in good times and declined in turbulent times. But Providence kept Lviv from being too damaged by those who came to rule it in its long history — Tartars, Turks, Swedes, Nazi Germans or soviet communists.
People of various ethnicities, who lived in Lviv, made their cultural contributions to this city, and today’s Lviv has benefited a lot from its multicultural legacy. Tourists, be they Poles, Germans, Armenians, Jews, Tartars, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Italians, Greeks, Turks, Czechs, Austrians, Swedes and others, all of them will find something that will make them feel linked to something in Lviv’s past.
It is worth coming to know Lviv by visiting the places that marked its growth, proceeding from the earliest times to more recent times. The high hill, Vysoky Zamok, can be a good starting point. Unfortunately, the earliest historical core of Lviv was mostly built of wood, and wood does not last too long, particularly in a city that is developing fast. There are several stone churches though — survivors of olden times — St John the Baptist’s, St Mykolay’s, the Church of the Virgin Mary Snizhna, the Church of Paraskeva Pyatnytsya, and the Monastery of St Onufriy.
The central parts of early Lviv were inhabited by the rulers and nobles, and the suburbs were settled by Ukrainians who were mostly craftsmen, traders, employees of all sorts and workers.
The old parts of towns attract both those who walk the streets and keep enthusing at the opening sights, crying out “Wow” at every step, but without actually trying to get the feel of the old times, and those people who walk the narrow streets to get submerged into the past. Some of the streets reflect the realities and personalities of the past — for example, Danylo Halytsky Street is named after Danylo the King, Lviv’s thirteenth-century ruler; Pidmurna — Under the Wall — Street suggests that the place it runs across was once a neighborhood through which the city walls ran.
Leaving the medieval Lviv and moving to Lviv of the times of the Renaissance, we find ourselves in the part of town that is often referred to as “the town of Kazimir.” The fourteenth-century Polish king Kazimierz the Great had Lviv (Lwow) included into his vastly expanding state — and Lviv remained a Polish possession for almost five hundred years.
During the high tourist season you can hear Polish more often than Ukrainian spoken in “the town of Kazimir.” For the Poles, Lviv remains a place that is inextricably linked with their own history and visiting it is nostalgically colored.
Kazimierz the Great granted certain trade privileges to Lviv and the city flourished. It does not mean though that trade had not been a favorable occupation earlier — Hungarians, Germans, Armenians and Tartars had been involved in brisk trading long before the king’s economy-boosting measures.
A city of a hundred languages
A medieval chronicler wrote that Lviv “is a city of a hundred languages.” And to a large extent it was true — many languages could be heard within the walls of Lviv, as traders and travelers flocked to it from many parts of Europe and Asia.
Unfortunately, “the Gothic part” of Lviv was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1527. Only a Catholic church (locally known as “katedra”) in the vicinity of Rynok (Market) Square survived the conflagration, and an Armenian church which still stands impresses by its unusual and eclectic architecture all those who see it for the first time.
A number of Italian architects were invited to help rebuild the city after the fire, and they, and those who learned their trade from them, left their Italianate stamp on Lviv. In some parts of town, Italian tourists feel themselves quite at home, being surrounded by familiar architecture. Incidentally, it was the Italians who laid out the first ever park in Lviv — it happened as long ago as in 1600. Also, they should be given credit for setting up the post service and building the first post office — in 1629.
The winged lion of St Mark holding a book with the coat of arms of Venice on it (it can be seen on the building that used to belong to the Veneration consul Antonio Massari) is another piece of palpable and visible Italian presence in Lviv.
The courtyard, known as “Italian,” is reported to be the most popular haunts both among the locals and visitors.
The general decline of Poland by the end of the eighteenth century affected Lviv too — the old mighty fortifications were in ruins, monasteries and churches, which used to be taken a very good care of, were in a state of progressive dilapidation; the maintenance of dwellings was neglected, walls cracked, paint peeled, the streets turned into pigsties.
Poland itself, exhausted by internal strife, intrigues and external wars, succumbed to the outside pressures and was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Lviv found itself included into the Austrian Empire. Austrian troops marched into Lviv in September 1772. The city was made capital of a newly created province, Halychyna (Galicia) and lost its old name, becoming Lemberg.
When the Austrian ruler Joseph II paid his first visit to Lviv-Lemberg, his carriage got stuck in mud in the center of the city. But it did not take the Austrian authorities and good management too much time to put things into order, and the conditions of life in the new province began to improve. The city was spruced up, new parks and gardens were laid, old ruins were cleared up and repairs were made. A special department was set up to look after repairs and new construction. The population of Lviv-Lemberg began to grow and by the early 1830s it was in excess of 75,000, more than ever before. Chroniclers claimed that “the city has bloomed.”
Under Austria, the city expanded onto the other side of the River Poltva. The streets were wider, the apartment buildings were more comfortable. Buildings to house City Hall, university, technical schools, stock exchange, hotels, banks and casinos were built.
Many prominent cultural figures, artists, poets, writers and musicians either lived in Lviv-Lemberg or stayed in it for long stretches of time.
Lviv-Lemberg had a thriving Jewish community that was destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War. The ruins of synagogues, the vestiges of a Jewish cemetery that had been the place of burial for 500 years, places that during WWII were the Jewish ghetto and concentration camp are visited by German tourists in their bid for atonement and forgiveness. And the Jewish tourists, of course, go there to pay homage to the martyred dead.
There is little that reminds the tourists of today of the Jewish past except for occasional mezuzah in the doorways (niches into which the Orthodox Jews placed pieces of paper with prayers) and Stars of David that still can be seen on the wall of the building that used to be a Jewish hospital. The ruins of the Turey Zahav (Golden Rose) Synagogue are marked with a memorial plaque.
Tourists of all ethnicities
But Lviv of today offers a lot to tourists of all ethnicities. Its authentic atmosphere can be enjoyed and experienced regardless of one’s ethnic or racial background. Tourists from Zurich, for example, admire Lviv’s blocks of buildings in the early-twentieth century Sezzession style of which there are only four buildings left in Zurich itself.
Lviv was careful not to damage by the new housing developments the marvels of the old times. German tourists from German towns that were badly damaged in WWII, find what to relate to in Lviv as well.
The central parts of Lviv were built up before WWII and now occupy quite a significant territory. You can take leisurely walks imbibing the atmosphere of Lviv’s authentic spirit, with no intrusions from the new housing developments to mar the view.
Lviv has been compared to Krakow, Vienna, Budapest, and even Rome, with modifiers “little” added to the names of these great cities.
Lviv is indeed a thoroughly European town, and has a lot that relates it to the rest of Europe. At the same time, it remains to be a town in which cultural contributions from the west and east merged to produce a unique mixture of cultures and styles.
No wonder the central parts of Lviv have been put on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and for tourists coming to Lviv, this fact plays a significant role. It is the best tourists-luring advertising one could ever imagine.
It will not be amiss to mention that Lviv has a tourist infrastructure that provides guests not only with places to stay at and all sorts of amenities, but with such useful things as the names of streets and other places written in Latin characters. At numerous cafes, coffee shops and restaurants, waiters can speak Polish and English.
The silhouettes of the old section of Lviv (from left to right): the Church of the Carmelite Monastery; the Church of the Holy Eucharist that used to belong to the Dominican community, and Kornyakt Vezha (Tower).
A statue of the grieving Christ in Gethsemane, asking God to let him avoid crucifixion, sits atop the dome of the Chapel of the Boims. The Chapel was a burial place of the members of the Hungarian patrician family.
At one of the many festivals that Lviv hosts every year.
Ruska Street in the historical neighborhood of Lviv which has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
One of the many cafes that spill onto the sidewalks with the advent of spring.
In the coffee house called Hasova Lampa (Gas Lamp).
The Kryivka is one of the knaipas that is particularly popular with tourists; knaipa is a German borrowed word for cafe’.