Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lviv, Ukraine: A Cultural City Guide

LVIV, Ukraine -- In the far west of Ukraine, just 40 miles from the Polish border, lies Lviv, a grand old dame of a city worthy of its Unesco World Heritage status.


Statue of Neptune in Rynok Square.

Not only is it Ukraine’s most cultural and elegant city, it’s also its most tourist friendly, where prices are considerably lower than in the capital, Kiev, yet standards of hospitality are surpassed.

Capital of the historic region of Galicia and founded in 1256 by King Danylo Halytski, Lviv has seen much turbulent history and been ruled by Poland, Sweden, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Miraculously, the city itself has come through remarkably unscathed.

Not so its citizens: in 1939, one in three of its inhabitants were Jewish; almost none survived.

Though Livivians of today are known for both their fervent nationalism and for their churchgoing, their city has an easy-going, almost frivolous air, filled with university students, embellished by its frothy confection of Renaissance, Baroque, Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau buildings and scented with aromas from its hundreds of Viennese style coffee houses.

We only had to step out from our hotel, the Opera, and stroll with the crowds along Lviv’s central spine, Svobody (Liberty) Avenue, to find out how relaxed the place is.

We began our exploration at the lavish Opera House and then wended our way to exquisite Rynok Square, centrepiece of the historic old town, where every entrancing building deserves close inspection (Lviv’s doors, balconies and stone carved façades are particularly absorbing).

On the way, we dipped into some of the dozens of churches and cathedrals, each a feast for the eye: the Greek Catholic churches of the Transfiguration (violet and blue, decorated with traditional embroidery) and of St Andrew (a riot of Baroque gilded carving); the Armenian Cathedral (austere and contemplative, founded in 1370); Latin Cathedral (soaring, with marvellous stained glass); and the Mannerist Boim Chapel, topped by an unusual depiction of The Sorrowful Christ, sitting moodily beneath his cross.

In Rynok Square, we entered Korniakt Palace (No 6, now a museum), whose Italian Courtyard is an almost impossibly romantic slice of pure Italian Renaissance, worthy of Romeo and Juliet. No 4, known as The Black House, also draws the eye, as does the wonderful old Pharmacy, still operating but also part of the Pharmacy Museum, on the corner of the square and Drukarksa St.

Off the square to the southeast lies Rus’ka St, heart of the former Jewish Quarter.

Round the corner, at 54 Staroyevreyska St are the faint vestiges (part of the northern wall) of the Golden Rose synagogue, a ghostly reminder of the tragedy and violence that took place in this district.

Nearby we came across Halytska Market, manned by sturdy farmers’ wives in headscarves.

Others stood on the pavement outside, offering plastic cups full of fraises des bois or perhaps home made yogurt, walnuts, herbs or a pair of kittens.

It made us long to explore the countryside around.

Instead we contented ourselves with a stroll to the Lychakivs’ke cemetery, reminiscent of Père Lachaise in Paris for its elaborate stone-carved monuments, its vast size and enigmatic air.

And then it was time for coffee and pastries - again.

Source: Travel

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