Lviv, an Ancient European City
This fascinating locale has been influenced by many cultures over the centuries. It is currently a modern tourist location with a lot to offer.
In 1256, King Daniel of Galicia (1201– 1264) established the city of Lviv in the west of present-day Ukraine and named it after his son. Today, Lviv is a major western Ukrainian city and on the main traffic route from Kiev and Central and Eastern Europe to the ports along the Black Sea and Baltic Sea. This advantagous geographical position has promoted the local economic development and cultural integration. Lviv—the Ensemble of the Historic Centre, home to a myriad of places of historic interest, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. Lviv was the first place in the Ukraine to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List after the country’s independence and has played an irreplaceable symbolic role for the country. The city’s political and commercial status has attracted many ethnic groups with different cultural and religious traditions, which have blended together and left behind a diverse historical legacy in the city. Various architectural styles can be seen in Lviv, such as Western European, Mediterranean, Gothic, Baroque, Byzantine and Art Nouveau styles, representing different stages of European architecture. Lviv is thus honoured as the allembracing “little Europe.”
Lviv has a history of more than 700 years and was sometimes an ill-fated city. It
was trapped in warfare due to its role as a transport corridor. The city was also divided into different spheres of influence ruled by different countries, such as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (16th–18th centuries), Austria-hungary (1867–1918), Ottoman Empire (1290–1922), Sweden and the Soviet Union. During the process, different nationalities brought about their own national culture, art, traditions and religions to Lviv, allowing the city to absorb the cultures from Central and Eastern Europe and from Western European countries. Today, this historical and cultural city is very leisurely and is a good travel destination. It attracts tourists from all over the world and is a favourite destination of Ukrainians also.
For hundreds of years, Lviv was successively controlled by many rulers but remained undaunted in the face of historical turbulence. Lviv came under attack in its south during World War II (1939–1945), but the historic buildings in its centre survived and have been much better preserved compared with the rest of the city. Lviv’s Historic Centre is not large. It is, however, like a bottle of aged red wine, giving off an intoxicating aroma. The centre is like a painting depicting all of Lviv’s history, glories, and its rise and fall in front of visitors’ eyes. Today, the city is full of leisurely elements on its streets, such as vendors, cafes, souvenir shops, specialty restaurants and so on. Every corner is permeated by an ancient and romantic atmosphere. It is a confident city, and locals take pride in the charm of their traditional culture.
The layout of Lviv’s Historic Centre has hardly changed since the 15th century. Most of its old walls have been torn down. Those that have been preserved show what the city was like. Visitors who come here do not want to miss a single detail of it. The centuries-old works of architecture, with their shadows reflected on the narrow streets, and the flagstone roads that are very smooth as a result of traffic over the years form a fantastic, ancient European city. It has experienced many vicissitudes over the course of time. Lviv combines history and modernity in an interesting way. Farmers from the countryside come to the city to sell their handmade pottery, while smartphone shops in medieval buildings beside them sell the latest models.
The Market Square is in the middle of the Historic Centre and has witnessed the city’s long history. The Market Square can be traced back to the 14th century. It was burned to ashes as a result of two big fires in 1527 and 1556. All of the modern buildings that can be seen today were built after the 16th century. In 2010, UNESCO designated Lviv as an ancient, European capital and allocated funds to restore its ancient buildings. Many ancient buildings in the Historic Centre bear nameplates indicating when they were made and related information.
Market Square, Heart of the Century-old City
The Market Square at the centre of Lviv’s Historic Centre was built in the Middle Ages (a. AD 476–1453). City Hall is in the heart of this area. Distinctive buildings around the square were built in the 16th century, where the upper class lived for generations. The Lviv History Museum, a 16th-century Renaissance building, lies at the northeast of the square. Another museum featuring medieval furniture and pottery is nearby. The building that is now the Lviv Pharmacy Museum was originally built in 1735. It is
across the street from the History Museum. The Boim Chapel is to the east side of the History Museum. It is a good example of 18th century Baroque architecture. The Latin Cathedral is at the southwest corner of the square. It belongs to the Lviv Roman Catholic Archbishops and was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. The palace is now the headquarters of Ukrainian Catholicism, a spiritual pillar for Ukrainians.
All of the buildings on Market Square are clustered around City Hall, which of course is door No. 1 in the area’s address system. A tall bell tower lies behind the hall, which was built in 1318 and restored in 1827 after being destroyed by fire. People can enjoy a panoramic view of the Historic Centre after ascending the 350-step spiral staircase leading to the top of the 60-m bell tower. Houses of different heights, churches of varied sizes and criss-crossing roads can be seen from the top of the tower, revealing the rhythm of the city. People can also get a view of the lush mountains in the distance.
The Lviv History Museum is the No. 4 building in the area. It is a distinctive, allblack building and often referred to as the “Black House.” There are a few all-black buildings in the Historic Centre. Only Boim Chapel a short distance away is on a par with it. Built between 1588 and 1589, what is now the Lviv History Museum was transformed into a history museum in 1929. It is in fact made up of buildings No. 4, 6 and 24. Building No. 6 was built in the 16th century and used to be the residence of King John III Sobieski (reign: 1674–1696) of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, also known as “Lion of Lechistan (another name for Poland).” Furniture and scenes from when the king moved in are on display on the second floor of the building. The Lviv History Museum also has an inconspicuous Italian courtyard, which was built by an architect for a wealthy businessman in Lviv. The deep and elegant courtyard is one of Lviv’s few Italian-style buildings. Building No. 24 was where Peter the Great lived and is the oldest structure in the city of Lviv. Some historical materials are on display there, providing a more detailed understanding of the history of western Ukraine. Many small, featured museums are also worth a visit. The Museum of Medieval Furniture is a collection of medieval European furniture, offering a fascinating experience for visitors.
The Lviv Pharmacy Museum is a combination of antiquity and modernity. It features antique cash registers as well as modern, electronic equivalents, symbolising the fact that the city integrates history and modernity. The pharmacy in the front is still in operation while the museum in the back features ancient, European books about medicine, various types of medicine, pharmaceutical tools and medicine containers from various historical periods. A merchant from Venice and consul of the Republic of Venice in Lviv used to live nearby. In the past, a pharmacy license was a key to wealth and power in the city. Pharmacists could become wealthy merchants, aristocrats and councillors. The owners of many stately houses on the Market Square acquired wealth via bulk trades between areas along the Aegean Sea and the Baltic Sea. Later, they built a series of buildings that have been handed down for generations.
Walking along wide, pedestrian streets and through Taras Shevchenko Square, the Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet comes into view. Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861) was a famous Ukrainian poet, artist and humanitarian. His literary works are regarded as the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and even the modern Ukrainian language. Shevchenko has also left many masterpieces of fine arts. His statues are found in almost every city in Ukraine, and many universities are also named after him.
The Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet built in 1900 is perhaps the most striking historical monument in the Historic Centre. This Baroque-style opera and ballet theatre has long been the landmark structure of Lviv and features a magnificent, dignified and elegant appearance. In the eyes of the Lviv people, the Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet rivals the world-famous Vienna State Opera and the Bolshoi Theatre. The corinthian order from ancient Greece is applied to its front elevation, which is also decorated with niches, pilasters, railings, cornices, statues and reliefs. There are comical and tragic sculptures above the front door to each side, respectively, and statues of Muses in the middle. Three large bronze figures stand on top of the building, each symbolising glory, poetry and music, also respectively. The luxurious decorations inside and outside the Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet represent European painting and sculpture from the late 19th century.
In 1895, Zygmunt Gorgolewski (1845– 1903), then President of the Lviv Advanced Industrial and Technological College, stood out among many famous European architects and became the architect and designer of the Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. A theatre of opera and ballet is said to be the embodiment of an
ancient city’s culture and soul. As a centre for economic and cultural integration in the Ukraine and even Eastern Europe in general, the Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet is highly regarded in the country. Opera and ballet are the core of European performing arts. They particularly thrived in the classical period and were enjoyed by nobles. More and more people have been able to enjoy classical art as society has been liberalised. As a result, opera houses and ballet theatres have become popular throughout Europe. In September 2006, the main celebration activities for the 750th anniversary of the founding of Lviv were held around the Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet.
Churches, Holy Places of Art in Lviv
Lviv has a complex religious culture and is an important religious centre in Ukraine. The city is the Roman Catholic centre of Ukraine and was the centre of Uniatism in the country before August 21, 2005 also. About 35 percent of the city’s religious buildings are Uniatian, 11.5 percent belong to the Uktrain’s autonomous Orthodox church, nine percent belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox-kyiv Religious District and the Roman Catholicism of Latin etiquette have six percent.
Saint George’s Cathedral is affiliated with Ukrainian Catholicism and was originally built in the 13th century. This wooden cathedral was destroyed by the Polish king in 1340 and rebuilt in the mid-18th century. The new structure looks gorgeous and distinctive. It features delicate carvings; quietly, elegant colour; a strong, Western European style and local Ukrainian flavour.
The Armenian Cathedral is located around the Market Square and was built in the 14th century. Unlike the other simple, Armenian churches, it boasts colourful frescoes and dazzling glass paintings inside, which are worth seeing. Since its completion, the Armenian Cathedral has undergone many repairs and additions, gradually becoming what it looks like today. Before the Age of Sail (a. 16th–mid-18th centuries), the Armenians controlled overland trade between Europe and Asia. Many of them were artisans. They began to excel in the construction industry. When Lviv began to flourish, it became a multi-ethnic, multi-religious settlement that attracted Germans, Armenians and people from other nationalities. Today, there are still many Armenian settlements in western cities in Ukraine, such as Lviv and Kamianets-podilskyi.
The Latin Cathedral lies at the southwest corner of the Market Square. It was originally a wooden, Roman Catholic cathedral originally built in the mid-14th century. It was lost in a fire only six years later. In 1360, King Casimir III of Poland (reign: 1333–1370) rebuilt the church that can be seen today. It was renovated several times in the years that followed. The church looks simple from the exterior but features exquisite decorations inside, with a riot of colours on its ceiling in the frescoes in various shapes vividly depicting ancient stories from the Bible.
The Boim Chapel is not far from the Latin Cathedral. It has the same distinctively black look and elevation as the Lviv History Museum. The chapel is not large and serves as the graveyard and church of the Boim family. It is one of the most splendid and featured churches in Lviv. The chapel was built between 1609 and 1615 by the famous foreign businessman George Boim for his family in Lviv. Boim was a liquor merchant and became a citizen of Lviv after gaining huge wealth and success. He built this chapel at the site of his family’s cemetery with the approval of the mayor at the time. There are numerous sculptures and decorations on its outside and inside, all of which were created by famous artists. The Boim family were powerful economically. The chapel was a religious masterpiece during the Renaissance period. It has become a must-see site for tourists to Lviv.
The Church of Saint Olha and Elizabeth is the only Gothic style church in Lviv. Its towering spires make it conspicuous from a distance. Walking along the streets of Lviv’s Historical Centre, people can also get a view of the city’s antique tramcars, which have been in use for decades. Lviv’s trams began to be constructed in 1880 and were fully electrified in 1894. Today, there are about 220 tramcars from different periods in Lviv, which are slow but stable, safe and cheap. The city’s residents still use them often and they are a must-try attraction for tourists.
Lviv has three treasures: coffee, beer and chocolate. The city’s chocolate is well known throughout the world. Lviv exports handmade chocolate. It features a delicate taste and varied shapes. Many visitors to Lviv’s Historic Centre like to buy chocolate in the area. The chocolate shops are usually on the second floor of sidewalk cafes. The cafes provide a great place to sample coffee and enjoy the view. The city’s many cafes offers locals and visitors a chance to enjoy some leisure time in the afternoon and interact with each other.
A tramcar in Lviv
The Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet
Saint George’s Cathedral