The most European city in the Ukraine

Lviv Travel Blog

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Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
We got into Lviv last night and rewarded ourselves with a shower and a short nap. We then walked across town to John's hotel to meet him for dinner. The city has a very European feel to it (except for the large soviet-style residential blocks on the outskirts of the city, that we saw as we flew in). It actually looks like an older and shabbier version of the Warsaw town centre, but that was recreated after being destroyed in WWII, while this is the real deal. The streets and cobblestone, the buildings in the town centre are all 3-4 stories high, creating a wall along the sides of the wide boulevards.
Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
There are many pedestrian streets and squares, with sculptures and small parks, and the town was full of people eating and drinking at the many cafes and beer gardens. We had pizza at one cafe (where you picked your toppings on a touch screen) and then wandered around some more before finding a beer garden to have a drink at. Some guy from Chicago came up to us and started chatting, he had just got married and was at his wedding reception and really wanted to have a native English speaker to talk to (he spoke Ukrainian, so he could talk to all his wife's family, but it was a struggle). Lydia and I spoke briefly to the bridesmaid, but then we went back to our hotel for a good rest while John went in to watch Ukrainian wedding drinking games.


We spent today walking around Lviv, which is really a beautiful city with a vibrant outdoors cafe culture.

The streets of Lviv
Lviv is the cultural capital of western Ukraine. It was founded in 1256 by the Tuthenian King Danylo in honour of his son (Lev, which also means "lion", and there are 3000 statues of lions in the city to celebrate it). In 1349 it was invaded by Poland and became became Lwów (and a series of forts was built to protect against the Turks). It flourished until a series of sieges in the late 1600s, finally being pillaged in 1704 by Charles XII of Sweden. In 1772 Poland was partitioned, and the city became Lemberg, the capital of the Austrian Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (when all the Polish forts were destroyed). It remained part of the Austrian empire (with increasing Germanic cultural influence) until the demise of the Austro-Hungarian government after the first world war, in 1918. While Ukrainians were the majority in the surrounding country-side, the long cultural domination of Poles and Austrians made them the minority in the city, with the Polish population largest, creating resistance against the newly proclaimed Western Ukrainian People's Republic, which succeeded in bringing the region back under Polish control.
In the Armenian district, Lviv
It was only after conquest of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939 and the subsequent handover to the USSR under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that Lviv (renamed Lvov by the Russians) and western Ukraine were united with eastern Ukraine for the first time. The wars and purges eliminated much of the Jewish and Polish populations of Lviv and the western Ukraine, and the shorter time of Russian occupation gave fewer Russian immigrants, making Lviv the cultural centre of a rising sense of Ukrainian identity, with an ethnically homogenous people living in an architecturally and historically diverse city. The city was renamed Lviv in 1991 with Ukrainian independence, but we heard Lviv and Lvov (pronounced luh-viv and luh-vov) interchangeably.


We met John after breakfast on Prospekt Svobody, the main road running on the outskirts of the old town (much of which is pedestrian only, even though the streets are much broader than typical medieval towns), with a nice long park running down the middle of the road, full of statues (such as the Shevshenko Monument).

The Pharmacy Museum out the back of "Under the Black Eagle Pharmacy", open since 1775, Lviv
Lydia played with a pig called Mulja, that some lady was taking for a walk, and called the pigeons frumpy. We started our Lviv walk in ploshcha Rynok, the large market square dating back to the 14th century old town design (the town hall, built at the same time, was rebuilt in 1851). The square looks very European, with beautiful buildings, a tramline running through it and throngs of people sitting in cafes and standing around talking to each other. We then walked to the Roman Catholic Cathedral, which was built between 1370 and 1480 in a combination of Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque style (but was underwhelming, having more recently got a fresh layer of plaster over the whole building, thereby looking rather modern). More interesting was the Boyim chapel just behind it, which was built in 1671 as the burial chapel of Yuir Boyim, a wealthy Hungarian merchant and three generations of his family.
The grave of Ivan Franko (1857-1916), Lychakiv Cemetery, Lviv.
It is meant to be "the best example of mannerism style in central east Europe". From the outside the building looks rather short and shabby, but from the inside it is designed to look deceptively soaring, with a high dome roof above the small and cramped roof. There is a fresco of the last supper painted which has Judas portrayed as the devil, resulting in the archbishop Soikosvsky refusing to consecrate the building. There is also a disguised door hiding a secret passage from the chapel to their house.


We then visited the pharmacy museum, which was out the back of a working pharmacy called "Under the Black Eagle" which had been open since 1735. John was very interested in their condom selection, which included typical names such as "Romantic Love", "Lust" and so forth, along with the more disturbing "Forced".

Boyim chapel, 1671, Lviv
The building itself was built in 1613. The museum was surprisingly large, with a pill room with various old "medicines" (opium, arsenic, etc) and pill making machines, a herb room (including mandrake root), an odd set of stairs that wound around an inner courtyard (shared with a couple of families that lived in the same building) and up to the alchemy laboratory, complete with stuffed crocodiles, owls, blowfish, a human skull, and various glass equipment. Then down into the dungeons for the medieval laboratory and wine storage.


We then visited a number of different churches, the Armenian Cathedral, founded in 1363, the late 17th century Transfiguration Church, the impressive Dominican Church and Monastery with a small square out the back which had a second hand book fair (we bought a Ukrainian phrase book and a Soviet "learn to speak English" book with amusing chapters on American history) and a statue for the first man to bring the printing press to the Ukraine (after he was driven out of Russia by the Church).

Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
We saw the Royal Arsenal, built in 1639 to hold weaponry for war against the Turks (it now has city archives) along with remnants of the city walls and the Gunpowder Tower. We saw the Assumption Church and the Three Saints chapel (built between 1591 and 1629) with the 65m tall Kornyskt Bell Tower (built 1578 to 1591). We walked past the Bernadine Church and Monastery (built in the 17th century) and then had Japanese for lunch in a very trendy cafe on Prospekt Svobody.


After lunch we walked to Lychakiv Cemetery, an interesting walk past the main university. The cemetery is beautiful and overgrown, full of elaborate crypts, tombs and statues. We see the grave of Ivan Franko (1857-1916), who is considered a Ukrainian nationalist and freedom fighter for his subversive writings, which was topped by a large statue of a stone mason in action. We also found a graveyard for the veterans of a war fought in the 1860s (it took us a long time to work that out, as the graves were all in unison, but the dates of death varied greatly), but we couldn't think of what war Lviv would have been involved in at that time (added note - we were told later it was a Polish uprising against the Russians). The cemetery is not the original Lviv cemetery, that used to be in the centre of town, right next to the main drinking water wells, until the Austrians took over and moved it out of town for purposes of hygiene.


In the evening, Lydia had a nap while John and I drank a few beers in the beautiful weather outside. I read a few interesting chapters from the history book while John wrote in his diary. I'm not sure if it was written as a joke or by someone who new a few names and phrases but had no comprehension of American history. The first three quarters of the book is normal, with background on Russian and eastern European history, but the last section was comical, talking about Coulombs finding America as he fled from religious persecution. The section on the Ku Klux Klan was a good example "a group of Southerners who had nothing to wear but sheets with holes in them and always looked as if they had just come from a Halloween party. It was these Klux who introduced phonetic spelling and gave us such words as Kleenex, Krispies and Krazy Kat".


In the evening we met our group and then went out for dinner at a Medieval theme restaurant. Theme restaurants are the main stay in the Ukraine (I guess people stay at home if they just want Ukrainian food in a normal place). I ordered a potato and mushroom dish which ended up just being fries and lots of beer. John and I then talked into the early hours of the morning while Lydia went to sleep, only to be woken up at 2am by a tipsy Adrian.

genetravelling says:
I love your writing. So well-researched, thoughtful, informative and interesting.
Posted on: Sep 05, 2009
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Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
The streets of Lviv
The streets of Lviv
In the Armenian district, Lviv
In the Armenian district, Lviv
The Pharmacy Museum out the back o…
The Pharmacy Museum out the back …
The grave of Ivan Franko (1857-191…
The grave of Ivan Franko (1857-19…
Boyim chapel, 1671, Lviv
Boyim chapel, 1671, Lviv
Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
Ploshcha Rynok, Lviv
Lviv
photo by: Biedjee