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Lviv City Guide

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Province: Lviv Oblast

Population: 735,000
Area: 171km²
Altitude: 324m above sea level
Motto: Lviv open to the world


The very definition of Ukrainian, where the nation’s language and culture survived and thrived under almost constant occupation, Lviv is a charming city, just 70km from the Polish border, with a coffee-house culture more akin to Austria and Hungary. And while other cityscapes were whitewashed by Soviet rule, Lviv’s colour continued to shine through. The narrow-gauge tramways are not as visible as they once were – in the past two decades nine of the 11 lines have been abandoned – but they retain a presence, trundling along in their green livery.

A jaunt up to the city’s highest point, Zamkova Hora (Castle Hill) is revealing, and looking down on the UNESCO World Heritage site the epitaph ‘the Florence of the east’ is hard to discredit. Some 80km south of the city, the Carpathian mountains may be a touch too far to see but you may get a glimpse of the coniferous forest that dominate parts of the surrounding region, camouflage for the significant mineral wealth that lies below.

Since it was founded as a hilltop fort on Zamkova Hora in 1256, Lviv has been saddled with as many names as rulers. Initially known as City of Lev in honour of King Danylo Halytskyi’s son, it became Lwow when Poland took command and then Lemberg as it was swallowed up by the Austrian Empire between 1772 and 1918. The Russians know it as Lvov which like most of the names is a derivative of lion, the city symbol. It is one of the few constants in Lviv and has been on the coat of arms since the 13th century, accompanied at various times by a crown, the papal emblem, a hammer and sickle and the Virtuti Militari – a medal awarded by Poland for its heroic 1918 defence.

Under Poland until World War Two, the Nazis invaded in 1941 and by the time the Soviets drove them out three years later half a million had died in either the ghetto or nearby concentration camps. The Yalta Conference integrated Lviv into the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. The rise of Ukrainian nationalism in the city played a major role in securing independence in 1991 and political activism continues to run through Leopolitans’ veins.

With its UNESCO World Heritage-listed centre, Lviv has long been the bait dangled for potential tourists to Ukraine – and with cheap flights to nearby Krakow on the rise, they are starting to come. It is more of a growing trickle than a deluge, so banking and money trading remain an important part of the economy.

• Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, writer (1836-95) – utopian thinker whose work, including the novel Venus in Furs, has been widely translated; the term masochism is derived from his name.

• Ivan Franko, writer (1856–1916) – writer, poet and prominent public figure who translated William Shakespeare, Calderón de la Barca, Dante, Victor Hugo and Goethe into Ukrainian.

• Paul Muni, actor (1895–1967) – emigrated to US aged seven and won an Oscar for his performance in 1936′s The Story of Louis Pasteur.

• Stanisław Lem, writer (1921-2006) – a Polish science fiction, philosophical and satirical author whose works, including Solaris, have been translated into 41 languages.

• Emanuel Ax, pianist (b1949) – multiple Grammy-winning musician and widely considered to be one of the best living classical pianists.

• Ruslana, singer (b1973) – winner of the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest with Wild Dances.

If anywhere sums up Lviv it is the beautiful Ploshcha Rynok (Market Square). Rebuilt after fire in the 16th century it provides a cobbled moat for the town hall, with elaborate fountains featuring Greek gods on all four corners. Its parameters are marked by 40-50 three and four-storey buildings, all with stunning facades and ornate cornices but look closer and you may notice that few houses have more than three windows on each floor – three were free; four were heavily taxed.

There are ten churches within a 200m radius of Ploshcha Rynok (and over 80 in the city as a whole), chief among them the catholic cathedral. Unlike most it comes complete with a cannonball, which somehow failed to breech its walls during one battle. To the south, the Arsenal Museum displays a few weapons that probably would have done the job but for the more prosaic there are statues of poets Taras Shevchenko and Adam Michiewicz on Prospekt Svobody (Freedom Avenue).

Just around the corner from Michiewicz along vulytsya Kopernyka is the birthplace of a somewhat less revered son, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – the original masochist. It should be added that much of what inspired Venus in Furs occurred far beyond Lviv’s city limits, limits that can be viewed from Vysoky Zamok (High Castle), the cradle of the city and at 409m its highest vantage point.

Fan zone: Prospekt Svobody (Freedom Avenue)
Lviv’s fan zone, located on a busy thoroughfare in the city, will open for the duration of the tournament from 12.00 to 00.00 local time on matchdays, 14.00 to 22.00 on non-matchdays. It is free to enter and will broadcast all 31 matches live, though at other times there will be plenty of entertainment such as football skill tests, five-a-side pitches, live concerts and DJ sets, as well as offer a full range of food and beverages.

To and from

Lviv’s diminutive International Airport has daily flights to Kyiv, Vienna and Warsaw but for cheaper options, there is a well-trodden path to Krakow airport just over the Polish border. The Main Bus Station is actually further from the city centre (8km) than the airport (6km) though unless you are heading to/from Kyiv (nine hours) or another Ukrainian city you may not need it. Bus Station No8 by the Central Train Station also has daily services to Kyiv and Warsaw (14 hours but quicker if you change). Trains are probably the quickest, simplest option with regular links to Kyiv (from 6.5 hours), Kharkiv (20 hours) and Moscow (25 hours).

Distances to other UEFA EURO 2012 venues
Warsaw – 385km
Kyiv – 540km
Poznan – 700km
Gdansk – 725km
Wroclaw – 620km
Kharkiv – 1,015km
Donetsk – 1,175km

In and around
Lviv’s narrow-gauge tramways date back to 1880 but, smoothed by a recent overhaul, there is no better way to travel the city’s hemmed-in roads. Trolleybuses have replaced trams on major thoroughfares, and they cost the same – 1 UAH. For the more adventurous there are marshrutky, an army of minibuses that have no fixed stops (you must shout/mime) but are cheap – 1.75 UAH per trip – fast and mostly reliable.

Lviv is the cradle of sport in the region, scene of the first ever football, ice hockey, basketball, water polo and rugby matches on then-Polish, now-Ukrainian territory.

It is the birthplace of Ukrainian and Polish football. The first documented match took place on 14 July 1894, a date considered the birth of the game in Ukraine. Seventeen years later the Polish Football Federation was founded there and the national team played their first three games in Lviv at the ground of Slavia (later Czarni) Lwów, Poland’s first professional football club, since 1903.

LKS Lechia Lwów swiftly followed suit in moving away from amateurism, and 12 months later LKS Pogoń Lwów did likewise. It was Pogoń that enjoyed the greater success, winning the Polish championship four times between 1922 and 1926. By the end of the decade a fourth Lviv side, Hasmonea Lwów, were also in the Polish First League.

The advent of the Second World War irrevocably changed Lviv’s footballing landscape. Czarni, the 1935 Polish Cup winners, were disbanded by the Soviet authorities, Lechia became FC Lokomotiv Lviv and Pogoń was disbanded after the mass emigration of Polish citizens.

Pogoń’s resettled officials became involved at other clubs, and Polonia Bytom, Odra Opole, Piast Gliwice and Pogoń Szczecin can all trace their lineage back to Lviv. The story did not finish there, however: in 2009 Pogoń Lwów was reborn as an amateur side for the Polish Diaspora.

FC Karpaty Lviv are the city’s biggest side now. Founded in 1963, they take their name from the Carpathian mountains and scaled a notable peak by becoming the only team from outside the top flight to win the USSR Cup in 1969. It is still their only major honour after two losing appearances in the Ukrainian Cup final. FC Lviv, founded in 2006, are back in the city after a spell based in nearby Dobromyl.

Footballing alumni
Former Poland coaches Kazimierz GórskiRyszard KoncewiczMichał Matyas and Wacław Kuchar all hail from the city and it was in Lviv that Kazimierz Hemerling translated and published the rules of game into Polish in 1904. The Ukrainian version followed two years later courtesy of Ivan Boberskiy. Former Arsenal FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv defender Oleh Luzhny hails from the city.

Did you know? 
A member of the Pogoń Lwów side that claimed four Polish titles, Wacław Kuchar was Polish champion at 800m, 110m hurdles, 400m hurdles, high jump and decathlon. He also won 22 national speed skating titles, played 23 times for Poland’s football team and scored better than a goal a game in a lengthy Pogoń career.

Football is No1, but Lviv holds its own in basketball, ice hockey, rugby union, water polo and futsal. Halychanka have been the team to beat in women’s handball for the past decade while the local chess school has churned out grandmasters for the past 60 years.