The city of Lviv, located in the westernmost part of Ukraine, is small enough to explore on foot and magnificent enough to be worth seeing.
Lviv, a city that is bustling with activity 24 hours, reverberates with the sounds of life, and is a center of culture and art. I am in Rynok Square on a cool morning, and I am overcome by the music being played by a street musician. The folk song emitting from the bandura, a traditional Ukrainian instrument, makes the centuries-old square even more mystical. Rynok means “marketplace” in Ukrainian. This square, established at the end of the 14th century, is surrounded by buildings, each in a different style; there are fountains that include mythological figures like Diana, Neptune, and Amphitrite, restaurants, and open-air cafés. All these give a unique European air to the square.
Rynok, the attraction center of Lviv, despite its touristic atmosphere, is a square that is part of the city’s regular life. The Lviv City Hall, which stands at a point overlooking the square, is home to the Rathaus Tower, which provides a view of the domes and red-tiled roofs that form Lviv’s delicate skyline. The tower, which demands dedication from those who want to climb its 408 steps, presents different aspects of the city, from the clouds down to the streets.
It is necessary to keep up with the dynamism that the young generation has brought to Lviv. Close to 100 festivals are held here each year, ranging from jazz to chocolate. The very idea that whatever time of year you visit the city you will find yourself in the midst of a festival is entertaining in itself. On an ordinary Lviv day, I go to look at antiques goods blouses decorated with traditional motifs, and knitted socks in the flea market not far from Rynok. Immediately next door is the opera house. I buy a ticket for the first show at the Lviv National Opera, just like a local. The opera house, designed by the Polish architect Zygmunt Gorgolweski, reflects different architectural styles like Baroque, Renaissance, and Classicism, and is Lviv’s most famous art center. Instead of joining a guided tour to view the building, with its amazing facades and interior decoration it is better to take up the invitation of the dance and music and join the magnificent audience.
All of the Ukraine is proud of the Ukrainian author Taras Shevchenko -more particularly, all of Lviv loves this writer. The Taras Shevchenko Monument, which is south of the opera building, was built with donations from the people. A little further away is the Adam Mickiewicz Monument and along Svobody Avenue one comes across many of the city’s most symbolic works. The wide squares around the memorials and the sculptures in the extensive parks are characteristic elements of the city’s ambiance. The lion sculptures that can be seen throughout the city are the symbol of Lviv. The name of the city means “lion”; some lions are embossed, others greet us guarding doors, but all are references to the city’s name.
It is amazing that dozens of museums and historical churches are located in one small city. The Baroque St. George’s Cathedral, built on a hill that overlooks the city, the Church of St. Andrew, built in the 17th century, with its fascinating frescos, the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul in the historical center of the city, the magnificent Jesuit Church –these are only a few of the sacred edifices. The Black House on Rynok Square is one of the symbolic structures of the region and at the same time is a museum displaying objects and documents concerned with the social history of the city. In order to get a feel for village life in Ukraine, it is necessary to go to the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life, a few kilometers outside the city. This museum, with the ducks on the lake, the copies of traditional village houses, and the real architectural elements brought from the Carpathian Mountains, is close enough to the city, but immersed in an atmosphere which is away from urban life and at one with nature. One can see traditional Ukrainian musical instruments up close in this area, which forms the most expansive open-air museum in Europe. If you are lucky, the musicologist who is on duty at the museum will help you experience traditional instruments like the bandura, the trembita, and the buhay.
The open-air markets of Lviv present a great opportunity to join in daily life. You can even go to the flower market and make a bouquet of pink and white roses just for fun, or bouquets from daisies or hydrangeas, all accompanied by the rhythm of the elderly accordionist. Here you can buy local cheeses or honey that smells of the flowers of the Carpathian Mountains to take home with you.
Lviv, being a crossroad, has a cuisine that is a synthesis of tastes adopted from other regions. In the restaurants, where the décor exhibits different concepts, you can try borsch, vareniki, or pampushka –all staples of Ukrainian culture. There are also cuisines from around the world, including Hungarian and Italian flavors. You can enter a restaurant that looks like a military vault using a password or eat in a location decorated with antiques objects.
Lviv’s cobblestone streets, the street tram, the factory where you can watch chocolate being made, the untouched architecture, and the continuous music being played warms a person in this cold climate. When you leave, the scent of chocolate and the pleasant melodies will accompany you.