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Old Town Lviv

Lviv, metropolis and arguably the primary city of Western Ukraine, is occassionally referred to as the “Little Paris of Ukraine”. The city earns this nickname by virtue of a distinctly Western atmosphere, a rich cultural scene, a long history and an eclectiv mixture of classic architectural styles. These attributes, along with easy accessibility from neighboring countries, have greatly aided in the city becoming one of the premier Ukrainian travel destinations. Most visitors are drawn to the historic city center area, where most of Lviv’s sights are located in close proximity.  

Lviv Old Town

In 1998, Lviv’s historic center has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Additionally, it has been a state historic sanctuary ever since 1975, with the designated area covering in excess of 1.2 million sqm, encompassing the entire medieval section of the city and more. Within this section, there are several hundred historic buildings.

The centerpiece of the Old Town is the Market Square (“Ploshcha Rynok”). After King Casimir III of Poland had conquered Lviv in 1340, he ordered that the town was moved to another spot farther south. In the blueprint for the new place, the market square was the designated central point, from where several streets would radiate to create the central part of the town. The market square’s four corners are marked by statues, each one representing a Greek mythological figure: Neptun, god of the sea; Adonis, demi-god of beauty; Diana, goddess of the moon and Amphitrite, Poseidon’s wife.

Around the square, many fine examples of architectural masterpieces of different style can be found. The southern side is marked by Lviv’s Town Hall, a building with a distinct clock tower. The structure in place there now has been completed in 1835, but there have been a number of previous versions in this place, going back to the 14th century. For a small fee, it is possible to climb the stairs inside the clock tower, standing 61 meters tall, which will open up a great view of the historic old town below.  Also on the southern side,  the narrow building with the number 14, the Venetian House or Massari House, is notable as it was originally constructed in the late 16th century for the Venice ambassador. Continuing to the western side of the square, visitors will notice a picturesque, richly ornated building at number 23; the renaissance-style Scholz-Wolf House built in 1570, which used to be the residence of Polish poet Szymon Szymonowic. Another renaissance building is located at number 28, this one is adorned with a total of 20 lion statues.

Lviv Black HouseMore historic buildings in various architectural styles can be found on the northern side, but even more so on the eastern side, which contains probably the most photographed, colorful row of houses of Lviv. At number 2, the Bandinelli Palace, another 16th century-structure, used to host the first post office in town and later became a meeting point of contemporary writers. Just a few steps away, a narrow and not particularly inviting building ranks among the most famous of Lviv. The Black House is indeed black today, although it was originally lighter in color. The facade darkened over time by oxidation processes. The uppermost of the building, which used to be the location of a pharmacy and later of the Lviv Historical Museum, was added to it in 1884. It now belongs to the municipal museum. Also nearby, at number 6, a building constructed in 1580 for a Greek merchant draws many tourists. Referred to as either the “Palace of the Korniakts” or as King John Sobieski Palace, it was joined with a neighboring building to become a palace-style townhouse for the Polish-Lithuanian King in the 17th century. Today, the Gothic architecture structure houses a part of the exhibition of the Lviv History Museum. Another royal residence can be found at number 9, known as the Archbishop’s Palace. Indeed, the building had been constructed by the Roman Catholic church and it was used to serve as a guest residence for Polish kings, a number of which made use of the opportunity. The governors of the Austrian rule over Galicia in turn had their residence at the house with number 10, the Lubomirski Palace until 1821. More than a hundred years later, in 1941, the house once again came into the spotlight when the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists declared Ukrainian statehood here, which was struck down shortly thereafter upon the advance of German troops.

While the Market Square serves as a central point of the Lviv Old Town, there are many more attractions spread out in the central part of the city. Among these are the Armenian Church with a notable interior and lovely surroundings in the cobblestoned Armenian street, the large basilica near Market Square called the Latin Cathedral and the Church of St. Andrew, which used to be the Bernardine monastery. Further, there is St. George’s Cathedral, a major church for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic denomination also known as St. Yura, which is famous for its beautiful exterior architecture. Situated on a hill above the city, St. George’s was completed in 1760 and unites both Ukrainian and Western design elements in its architecture. A number of dignitaries of the church have been buried in its tombs. The baroque building opposite the cathedral used to serve as the residence of the church’s metropolitans. Also notable is the Dormition Church (Ruska street), in particular for the Korniakt Tower. This tower, built in the second half of the 16th century, stands 65 meters tall and forms the entrance to the church. Its construction was paid for by Konstanty Korniakt, a wealthy merchant of Greek descent who also commissioned the Korniakt Palace or Sobieski Palace at Market Square. The entire core area of Lviv’s old town was protected by fortifications in the Middle Ages, which were serviced from three arsenals. The oldest of these is the Lviv Arsenal (Pidvalna Street), built in the 1550s. The historic building, located in an area with countless restaurants and smaller eateries, today hosts an armory museum where a collection of historic weapons is on display along with a small number of artworks.

The best view of the old town area can be had from a spot the residents refer to as the High Castle, although there hasn’t been an actual castle there for centuries. Located on top of the castle hill and thereby forming the highest point of the city, there area nowadays only a few ruins remaining of the castle originally built in 1250 and finally demolished for good in 1869. There is now a tall TV tower on the hill as well as an observation platform. In the area below the castle, a part of town that’s usually referred to as “Pidzamche”, there a few more historic church buildings set up by various congregations. To get to the top of the hill, visitors should take the opportunity and walk uphill - it’s not too strenuous and the trail leads through a nice park area. 

 

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