The Crossroads of Cultures

Posted on August 20, 2012 in Cities

For visitors from Rome or Athens, Lviv might seem like a young upstart. But those from modern conurbations will be delighted by its intimate cobbled streets and its centuries-old buildings and churches, some of which are nearly a milennium old.

The city was first mentioned in chronicles in the 13th century. The name of the city, Lviv, is derived from Prince Lev, who got the city as a gift from his father, King Danylo Halytskiy. And “Lev,” of course, means “lion,” its English version being “Leo.”

Panoramic view of Lviv. Ukraine The Dominican Church. Lviv. Ukraine Danylo Halytsky Monument. Lviv. Ukraine

Situated close to Ukraine’s border with Western Europe, Lviv has welcomed many peoples and religions over the centuries, giving it a more cosmopolitan air than other cities in Ukraine that are far larger. These immigrants originally settled here to trade between East and West, bringing Lviv considerable wealth and a major role in the history of Eastern Europe. But its convenient location also made Lviv the target of invaders. Today, Lviv is still a veritable Babylon, with its mix of Ukrainian, Polish, German, Greek, Russian, Armenian, and Jewish influences — all of which have left their mark on the local culture, cuisine and language.

Perhaps this is also why Lviv is the gourmet capital of Ukraine today. Wherever you turn, there is a delightful coffee house, called knaipa in the local dialect, serving not only some of the best coffee in Ukraine — no international chains here — but also freshly-baked pastries and handmade chocolates. Elegant, once-decaying mansions have been converted into intimate haute-cuisine restaurants. Popular concept restaurants manage not to forget that their guests come, not just to be entertained, but to be fed great food. The secret ingredients of authentic dishes have been preserved and offer the visitor an delectable visual and gastronomic experience.

Lviv Handmade Chocolate. Ukraine Lviv Handmade Chocolate. Ukraine Kryjivka Restaurant. Lviv. Ukraine

At the foot of Ploshcha Svobody, the long pedestrian boulevard in the heart of Lviv, and visible all the way to its end, stands the Lviv Opera House, an imposing façade, even at half-scale. It was erected at the beginning of the 20th century by Lviv architects in colleboration with its Polish designer, Zygmunt Gorgolewski. The beautifully decorated main hall is worth the price of admission just to gaze at, as is the marvelous mirror hall, which once contained a standing buffet for intermissions. Today, this hall is a stop on many excursions and is often used for private receptions and banquets.

Lviv National Academic theatre of opera and ballet after Solomiya Krushelnytska. Ukraine Musical fountain. Lviv. Ukraine Prospekt Svobody. Lviv. Ukraine

Of course, when walking through the heart of Lviv, no one should miss Ploshcha Rynok, the old market square, the only one of its kind in Europe through which a tram runs. The most interesting building here is the Ratusha, from “Rathaus” in German—the heart of municipal democracy. Its tower offers a panoramic vista of the most beautiful part of the city. The 45 houses around the Square are some of the best examples of the Renaissance style in the post-soviet region. Each has its own history of wealthy, famous and successful people who once to live there. Lviv’s oldest pharmacy, Royal Palace and Archbishop’s Residence complement the architecture of the square. Try guessing why the Black House turned black and why there is no house numbered 13!

Lviv City Hall. Ukraine Ploshcha Rynok — heart of Lviv. Ukraine Dormition Church, Lviv. Ukraine

Then there is the Jewish quarter, whose residents always had a strong influence on the cultural and commercial life of Lviv. You can see the places where synagogues once stood and feel the life of the medieval Jewish community. Further on is vulytsia Virmenska or Armenian Street, which was once the hub of the Armenian quarter. Today, it boasts nearly a dozen cafés in which Lviv’s bohemians love to entertain each other. Inside the Armenian Cathedral you will find incredible murals by Jan Henryk de Rosen who also worked on a summer residence for the Pope. There is also a small quarter where Ruthenian-Ukrainians lived. Don’t miss the Assumption Church with its Korniakt Tower and Chapel of The Three Holy Hierarchs.