History and Culture in Lviv’s Old Town

The historic center of the city of Lviv, generally referred to simply as the ‘Old Town’, was declared by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site in December 1998, and visitors to this charming part of the city will soon agree that the Old Town is something worth preserving. Covering an area of around 7,400 acres Lviv’s historic center features a host of interesting attractions providing insight into the history and culture of the city, which was clearly heavily influenced by religion. The majority of the attractions in the Old Town are ancient churches, cathedrals and monasteries, many of which are superb examples of the architecture of the time, where Eastern European styles were blended with the styles of Germany and Italy.

Standing on the highest point of the city, Castle Hill, the partial ruins of Lviv High Castle remain as a reminder of a time when it was the city’s main defensive fort. Dating back to 1250, the castle was originally built out of wood, but was rebuilt and repaired many times before being abandoned in the mid-1800s. In 1869 an artificial mound was created on the site of the castle to commemorate the 300-year anniversary of the Union of Lublin – an agreement signed in Lublin, Poland, creating a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Today, there is a viewing platform on top of the mound, offering visitors a spectacular view of Lviv’s Old Town.

Constructed on St George Hill in around 1280, St George’s Cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt no less than three times. The cathedral as it stands today was completed in 1762 and became the mother church of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, before being absorbed into the Russian Orthodox Church in the Soviet era. With the historic political reformation known as perestroika (restructuring), the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church re-emerged and was accepted by the ruling authorities. It continues to have an important role in the UGCC, despite the fact that the seat of the Archbishop was moved to Kiev in 2005.

The lavishly decorated Lviv Theater of Opera and Ballet is one of the cultural centers located in the Old Town. The first stone for the construction was placed in June 1897, with the designer Zygmunt Gorgolewski overseeing the construction and decorating tasks. The design was very innovative for the times as it used a solid concrete base and foundations, redirecting the Poltva River underground. The theater opened on October 4, 1900 and continues to play a pivotal role on the cultural calendar of Lviv.

Other attractions in Lviv’s Old Town include Rynok Square, the Church of Assumption, the Armenian Church, the Latin Metropolitan Cathedral, the Jesuit Cathedral and Collegium, the Church of St Onuphrius, the Basilian Monastery and a 16th century arsenal building housing an armory museum.