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Lviv is a little known city - a pity, because it is charming and boasts churches, palaces and museums equally interesting to those that thousands visit in Prague and Cracow. In fact they were built and designed by many of the same architects. Why is it so little known? For fifty years it was hidden behind the same Iron Curtain as its better known counterparts. However, when the curtain fell away from other cities, it still stayed partly in place around Lviv. Ukraine has still not ridden itself of the bureaucratic barriers that it inherited from the Soviet Union. Americans and other westerners must still obtain visas to visit. Having said that - let's take a virtual tour of the charming city, which, from an architectural and cultural standpoint, has more in common with Vienna than with Kiev . A quick review of its history reveals the reason. Founded in the 13th. century by Prince Danylo of Galicia (Halicz), a hundred years later all Ruthenia came under the control of the Polish kings. Lvov (Lwów), as it was then called, became one of the important cities of the Polish-Lithuanian Alliance. During this period many of the churches, the Bernardine monastery and other graceful Baroque style buildings were erected. In the first partition of Poland in 1772, all of Malopolska and Galicia were taken by Austria. Then the town was renamed Lemberg. After the Ausgleich of 1867, the city prospered as the semi-autonomous capital of Galicia with strong Polish presence, but also growing Ukrainian organizations. The city grew rapidly, and many of the downtown buildings, including the town-hall, the university and the George Hotel, date back to this period. An imposing avenue, Prospekt Svobody (Freedom Boulevard), runs from the Viennese style Opera House southward to Mitskevicha Square with its monument to the Polish poet. Chess players occupy the tree lined pedestrian mall down its middle, which is the best place to watch people promenading weekends and evenings. The buildings lining the main artery are all from the Austrian era. Two of the old palaces house important museums. The National Museum should be visited to see the collection of Icons, a fragment of the ancient city walls connects to it . The Ethnographic Museum contains a large collection of Pisanky (Easter eggs) as well as Ukrainian costumes and embroidery. The center of old Lviv is the eight block square area east of the Boulevard with Rynok (Market Square) at its center. Surrounded by graceful 3 and 4-story mansions from the 16-th to 18-th centuries, their facades decorated with sculptures, unfortunately most are in a poor state of repair, in the center is the late 19-th century Town Hall with its tower. At the corners of the Market Square there are fountains decorated with statues of Greek gods and goddesses. Three of the largest mansions, on the east side of the square, together form the History Museum. Lviv has almost as many beautiful churches as Cracow. A few steps from Neptune's fountain on the south-west corner of the Rynok you come to the Roman Catholic Cathedral (Katolitsky Sobor), an awesome edifice with huge decorated columns and dark frescoes. It possesses nine altars in four naves. Just outside, on Staroyevreys'ka vulytsia (Old Jewish Street), you must see Lviv's most exquisite architectural masterpiece, the small Boim Chapel. Built in 1609 by a rich Hungarian merchant family, it is in Renaissance style with a richly sculpted facade and ornate interior. Before the Soviet takeover, Lviv had four cathedrals - Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian. The Armenian Cathedral , built in the 14th. C., has been closed for many years and is in poor condition. It may be seen one block north of the Market Square on Virmenska St. Head east one block to Pidvalna Street. and the 18th.C. Rococo Dominican Church with its huge green dome, now converted into the Museum of Religion.. Go inside to see several lovely sculptures of the old gentry. Just south of it you will find the sumptuous Orthodox Assumption Church (Uspenska Tserkva) with the 66-meter-high (215 feet) Kornyakt bell-tower. This church is full of ancient icons, but photography is not allowed, you can only admire them. Continue further south, past the Armory (the Military Museum), then west again on Valovy (Walls) Street to the Greek Catholic church of St. Andrew's. This large complex was originally the Roman Catholic Bernardine Monastery. There is a massive gold and black granite altar. When the monastery was built, in the 17th. C. it was adjacent to and incorporated part of the old city walls, which are still there today. Note the covered gallery that leads along the top of the wall. By now you will be hungry. Go west past the fruit and vegetable stalls of the Hapitska market place to the imposing, ornate, late 19th. century, George Hotel - Lviv's most prestigious, but reasonably priced. It is located at the corner of Mitskevicha Square and Shevchenko Boulevard. Along the latter you will find a number of restaurants. In the hotel, English speaking personnel of the service bureau can provide information and may make reservations for you. St.George is the Greek-Catholic Cathedral, built in the 18th.C. An imposing late-Rococo style edifice with a statue of St.George slaying the dragon on top, it dominates the skyline next to Ivan Franko Park, a few blocks west of Mitskevicha Square. In the crypt there is a collection of ancient icons. The park looks down on the University, the oldest in Ukraine. Further south, on another of Lviv's seven hills, lies Strijsky Park, Lviv's largest, with swans swimming in its ponds, flower gardens and lovely shaded walks. Go north east from the Opera, or take a bus, to Lviv's highest hill Zamkova Hora (Castle Hill). Polish King Casimir erected a castle here in the 14th. C., but, damaged by several sieges, it was torn down 200 years ago. Today it is a park with panoramic views of the whole city. Below it nestles the oldest part of the city Podzamcze (Under the Castle) and Lviv's oldest churches - the quaint Church of St. John the Baptist, and St. Nicholas with two green cupolas, both dating back to the 13th. C., all that remains of the very early days of the city. This is also the area in which most of the Jewish population lived, before it was exterminated by the Nazis. The Old Market Place (Staryi Rynok) offers little of interest to the tourist. Cemeteries are not usual fare for the tourist, but Lviv's Lychakivsky Cemetery (reached by tram #7) is an exception. The many beautiful statues to Polish noblemen and Ukrainian heroes and artists are worth the visit to this park like setting.

...Courtesy of Brama Travel