Park Life in a Garden City

  • Park Life in a Garden City
  • Park Life in a Garden City
Issue 1, May 2008.

There are few major cities in the whole of Central Europe which find themselves as far from a coastline or meaningful river bank as Lviv. The city’s water supply woes are the stuff of local legend, and with a downtown area constructed almost entirely from the kind of stone slams that can heat up under the summer sun like kilns, it can often feel like the city is literally sweltering once the hot season begins in earnest. Luckily, there is a local ntidote in the shape of Lviv’s lush and plentiful parkland, which has stood the test of time and reflects both a cultured past and a continuing appreciation for the civilised  pleasure  of a good, old fashioned stroll.


Striysky Park Parkova Str. (main entrance), Striyska Str. (3 entrances)


At the turn of the twentieth century Striysky park (see photo, left, featuring Lviv model Anna Shtein of OK’S agency) was widely considered to be among the most picturesque urban parks in all Europe, and today it remains most beautiful in Lviv. Some 150 years ago the land that forms today’s park lay on the very outskirts of town and was dominated by steep gullies. In 1876 the city council decided to arrange a park on the site. The design for the park was the work of outstanding landscape architect Arnold Ruhring. He can be credited with creating the manmade lake that is today home to Lviv’s celebrated swans. The iconic gateway into Striysky Park dates from a later era; it was the work of G. Shvetsky-Venetskys and appeared in 1952. Close by the swan’s little pond you will find a green house boasting a wide variety of rather undernourished-looking tropical plants, while in the surrounding parkland are more attractive plants and trees. In total the park numbers over 200 species in its collection. The centre-piece of the park remains its monument to Polish hero J. Kilnski, and in a bygone age the park also bore his name. In 1894 the Habsburg empire’s Regional Exhibition was hosted here, necessitating the construction of 130 fairground stands and numerous pavilions. The park’s curious, manmade castle ruins date back to preparations for the big trade fair, while intrepid explorers will also find a monument erected to mark the grand opening of the Exhibition. In many respects this nineteenth century trade fair was like an earlier incarnation of the current Euro 2012 investment boom, and is thought to have greatly contributed to the cultural and economic development of Lviv. Specially for the event Lviv saw the arrival of one of Europe’s first electric tram lines. The Lviv tram network still runs close to the park. However, only three of the pavilions of 1894 are still standing, and all feature a high degree of later modification. The former Soviet Palace of Arts today houses the Lviv Polytechnic University’s swimming pool, while the Reclawice panorama building was converted into a gymnasium after 1945, with the panorama itself moved to Wroclaw. Beginning in 1922 the park annually hosted what were dubbed as Eastern Auctions. These hugely popular trade fairs attracted plenty of wellknown European consumer goods companies, making them a place to catch the latest trends during the inter-war period. In the early 1930s kids could be found here playing yoyo while their parents marveled at the wonders of instant soup. The first ever Lviv radio station tower was erected in the park in 1930. One of the most popular radio programmes of the time was a show presented by two Lviv humourists Tontso and Scheptso. Lviv citizens loved tuning in to hear about the adventures of a wide range of exotic and ridiculous characters. Striysky park was a popular social haunt in the inter-war years, and it remains a favourite for those who have fond memories of Polish Lwow. Luckily, little has changed here since Lwow became today’s Lviv. 


 Ivan Franko Park Universytetska Str., Lystopadovoho Chynu Str.


Local historians like to claim that this centrally located city park is the oldest of its kind in Ukraine. Some of the majestic oak trees which lend the park its elegance are certainly among the oldest in the country, and legend has it they can be traced back to the sixteenth century, when a Polish magnate named Jan Sholts-Wolfovych is said to have spent the princely sum of 1600 zlotys creating the first parkland on the site of today’s Ivan Franko park. Sholts-Wolfovych’s daughter married an Italian named Antonio Massari who at the time was serving as the bassador of the Venetian Republic to Lviv, and the park passed over to the diplomat, who rearranged it in a manner more in keeping with his Italian tastes. In the early seventeenth century the Jesuit order took possession of the park and the surrounding land, founding a brewery here in 1715. During the period of rule from Vienna when Lviv was part of the Habsburg empire the park passed over to the state and was used for trade fairs. Unfortunately, by the end of the eighteenth century the park was in a state of disrepair with much of the territory overgrown. In 1799 the Austrian government sold the park to local entrepreneur Jan Hocht, who set about rearranging the landscaping in the French manner and also constructed a casino house on the exact spot where the Ivan Franko university stands today. Mr. Hocht appears to have been quite a socialite and is remembered for having built a summer theatre in the park and organizing festive gatherings (called ‘festiny’) which featured firework demonstrations. It was also Mr. Hocht, who first introduced carrousels, fountains and cozy summerhouses into the park’s design. One structure from this period with striking Doric columns still stands. Such was the esteem in which Lviv residents held their park that when Austrian Emperor Franz I visited Lviv in 1817 a gala banquet in his honour was hosted at the park’s famous casino building. In 1855 the park once more passed into the possession of the city authorities, and as a result it has come to be considered as one of the oldest municipal parks in all of Europe. Well known Lviv gardener K. Bauer was the man now charged with taking care of the park. Bauer adopted an English approach to landscaping the park, following the fashion of the day and many of the trees planted in this period are still standing today. In total the park can boast over 50 different types of tree, but the vast majority remain a selection of oaks, hornbeams, lindens, maples and spruces. Disaster struck at the end of the nineteenth century, when a storm devastated the park and left behind what eyewitnesses describe as hundreds of upturned trees. In 1919, following the return of Polish rule to Lviv, the park was renamed in honour of Polish national hero T.Kostyushko, but the majority of Lviv citizens continued in the old habit of referring to the park by its historic name of Jesuit Gardens. Ironically, many of today’s older Lviv citizens now insist on referring to the park as Kostyushko Park. The Polish link also extends to Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, who enjoyed strolling here with his father and wrote fondly of his recollections, which were coloured by ice-cream sellers and men with their wheels of fortune inviting passersby to try their luck at winning a cigar case or a pocket mirror. During the Soviet period the Ivan Franko park was one of prominent Lviv composer and professor Stanislaw Lyudkevytch’s favourite places. Legend has it that on one dark night when he was accosted by a thief in the park, he addressed him formally as “Mr. Robber.” The statue to national hero Ivan Franko has stood at the foot of the park that bears his name since 1964. It is made of granite and faces the university which also bears the great writer’s name. At the height of the Brezhnev era the park was home to a cinema named Park which was a popular hangout for Soviet youth, while local bigwigs flocked to the tables of the restaurant Fren Forest, also located within the park. Today the park is as popular as ever, with children’s playgrounds littering the secluded and peaceful pathways.


Zalizni VodyPark  (V.Stusa Str.)   


This is one of the oldest parks in Lviv and dates back to 1905. Zalizni Vody Park covers a territory of some 19.5 hectares. The park was originally built up around the former garden Zalizna Voda (Iron water), linking land on Snopkinska Street with Novy Lviv. However, it was in the 1930s that the park really took off, as Lvivites seemed to notice for the first time the great potential of this splendid territory located on two hills and with the river Poltva running between them. The whole area became famous for its numerous natural springs with their high iron concentration. The mineral water these springs produced was thought to be highly curative and scientists from Lviv University conducted much research into the beneficial qualities of the park’s water. Lviv historian Ivan Krypjakevich mentions in numerous works that Lviv citizens liked to camp out in the park for the entire day with their picnic baskets and mineral water flasks. A small lake in the immediate neighborhood of the park was also a popular bathing option on hot summer’s days, with an inviting restaurant situated nearby. By the second decade of the twentieth century the lake boasted separate changing rooms for men and women. Eventually the Polish authorities decided to build up the bathing potential of the park and constructed a swimming baths on the site of the original lake. Dynamo swimming pool still stands on this spot, and still receives its water supply from the park itself. The park’s greenery includes many beech trees and with its numerous paths it remains a favorite among many Lvivites. Rumour has it that the current city authorities are considering capitalizing on the park’s spa resort potential by building a modern resort on the site. We shall have to wait and see.


Lycharkivsky Park   (Lychakivska Str., Pasichna Str., 44., Cheremshyny Str.)   


At the very end of Lychakivska street, which sometimes seems so long that it stretches to the very ends of the earth, you will find the small but utterly charming Lychakivsky park. This park offers panoramic views of Western Lviv. It contains a monument dedicated to the war victims of the twentieth century and a monument to Polish national hero Bartosz Glawacki which dates back to 1906. It is also the home to the many Lviv legends concerning Devil’s Mill. In the middle of the nineteenth century a Lviv businessman is said to have built a windmill on one of the hills within the park. At the time there were no trees at all growing on the hill and the businessman decided to use this to his advantage by constructing a windmill. Unfortunately, the winds on this barren hilltop blew in often violently opposing directions, leading to regular damage to the mill. After some time the businessman grew tired of all the constant repair works and gave up, leaving the windmill abandoned. With the mill now standing as a ghostly presence on the hilltop rumours began to circulate that the Devil himself was living in the windmill. Local citizens began to give the area a wide berth, but one Lviv miller found himself close to the deserted building one night after an evening of local beer. He later claimed that he had been tricked into entering the mill by a well dressed, good-looking businessman who later revealed himself as the Devil incarnate. The miller was forced to get the old windmill into working order by sunrise, a task which with supreme effort he managed to achieve. To his horror, the miller, now suitably sober, noticed that the millstones were grinding human bones. “OK, you have fulfilled your task”, said the Devil. “Now you are free to go, but don’t forget that some day in the future I will pay you for your work”. Years passed and eventually the Devil kept his promise.A devastating drought struck Lviv and forced all the watermills in the area out of business. By some strange twist of fate which nobody at the time could understand, the only mill to remain in business was that of the Devil’s miller. He became very rich as a result but remained haunted by his experience and wracked with guilt. In 1884 the ruins of the infamous Devil’s windmill were finally pulled down and the area planted with numerous trees.



Vysoki Zamok Park (High Castle Park) M. Kryvonosa Str.


Lvivites pride themselves on their urban greenery, much nowhere in Lviv is as celebrated Vysoki Zamok, which literally translates as High Castle. The High Castle in question was actually built by the Polish King Kazimierz III, and was a heavily fortified bastion located on a steep hill, towering over the surrounding countryside at a height of 300 metres. It remained inaccessible and unconquerable for a grand total of more than 300 years. It was only in 1648 that the High Castle was seized for the first time, by the Cossacks of Maxym Kryvonis. In 1672 the Turks captured it almost without a fight. Finally in the 1870s the fortress was dismantled, with a segment of its southern wall being preserved which can still be seen today. Strolling parties making their way up the hill today will inevitably pass the remains of the castle wall which stood here in the epoch of king Danylo Halytsky. It is still guarded by a four hundred year old lion monument. The park itself was first opened to the public in 1853. One of the more unusual attractions of the park is an artificial cave which is guarded by impassive stone lion statues bearing the coats of arms of two ancient and noble Lviv families. No visit to today’s Lviv is thought complete without a hike up to the Soviet-era viewing platform at the very peak of the sloping park domains. The platform offers stunning views of the Lviv downtown panorama. From here you can feast on views which have been compared to Florence in Italy and which give the visitor a flavour of the city’s renaissance heritage. School leavers love to gather here to watch the sun rise on their first day of summer holiday freedom, while romantic couples come up to hold hands and share a bottle of champagne. In 1957 the imposing Lviv broadcast tower was erected here, and in recent years the city council have taken the welcome step of illuminating the tower in the evenings.


 Bohdan Khmelnitskiy Culture and Recreation Park (Vitovskoho Str.)


This Soviet-era park was founded in the 1950s on the site of the old Striysky cemetery, which had closed down in 1893. Today it is made up of 26 hectares. The main park entrance ( from Vitovskoho str.), is an iconic arched colonnade which was built in 1952 and is thought to be a classical example of late Stalinist social space design. In 1996 in the middle of one of the park’s central alleys a monument to Cossack hero Bohdan Khmelnitskiy was erected. The park remains one of the best organized and regulated green zones in the entire city. Inside the park you will find Romantic nightclub, Youth Stadium (built in 1968), and a small and inoffensive funfair. Real lovers of extreme Soviet entertainment should take their chances on the park’s Khrushchev-commissioned Ferris wheel, which is one of the few from its era still in working order.


Pohulyanka Park ( Vakhnyanyna Str.) 


Founded in 1930, the name of the park probably has its roots in the local term for going for a stroll, which in Ukrainian actually has two meanings: to go for a walk and to have fun in general. Pohulanka park first appeared as a result of plans to extend the existing Lviv University Botanical Gardens. In 1911 the university bought a plot of land that had previously belonged to Count Ignacy Cetner, who is said to have been a keen gardener fascinated by botany. By the turn of the twentieth century an impressive collection of rare plant life had been established, and university authorities rearranged the existing park while building an additional selection of green houses for tropical and subtropical plants. In 1949 this plot was expanded to include a further 100 hectares including a neighbouring beech tree forest, which resulted in the creation of the present day Pohulanka park. In the park’s picturesque valley you will find the source of the Pasika stream as well as a cascade of manmade ponds. The park is popular with sportsmen and particularly cyclists, with regular competitive events held here.

 Znesinnya Park Lychakivska Str., M. Kryvonosa Str. (Shevchenkivskyy Hay, 1 Chernecha Hora Str.)  

This is one of the largest parks in terms of sheer landmass in all Lviv, encompassing a territory of close to 780 hectares. Thanks to its hilly landscape the park is ideal for all kinds of outdoor sports including cycling, skiing and hiking. Indeed, it was actually used as a training camp for the Soviet team prior to the 1980 Winter Olympics! As well as sporting excellence, the park has lately become a focus for summer camps were a host of different organisations invite guests to get back in touch with nature and participate in team-building exercises.

Citadel  (Drahomanova Str., Kopernika Str.)  

  This little spot is situated in the city centre at the end of Kotsuybinsky Street on Citadel Hill. The Citadel in question is an interesting example of Lviv’s nineteenth century fortifications, and is the work of architects Ch. Ressing and J. Vondrushka, who were commissioned by the Habsburg authorities. The final plan was presentedin 1850 and construction works took a further five years, with the fortress eventually operational in 1856. Today the once mighty military structure continues to dominate the approaches to the city centre, but is no longer a home to soldiers, housing a business centre instead.

Since 1993 Shevchenkivskiy Gai and its fabulous open air museum of old Ukrainian folk architecture has been part of Znesinnya park. In the eighteenth century it was owned by the wealthy Longchamps de Berier Lviv family. In 1780 the owner arranged to hold an open-air reception in honour of the visiting Emperor Josef II, which led to the park being called Kaiserwald. In 1930 a wooden church dating back to 1763 was moved to the park from the village of Kryvki in Lviv region, marking the beginning of the park’s impressive architectural ensemble. Today the open-air museum is housed in an area of 50 hectares and is organised along ethnographical principles.

There are few major cities in the whole of Central Europe which find themselves as far from a coastline or meaningful river bank as Lviv. The city’s water supply woes are the stuff of local legend, and with a downtown area constructed almost entirely from the kind of stone slams that can heat up under the summer sun like kilns, it can often feel like the city is literally sweltering once the hot season begins in earnest. Luckily, there is a local ntidote in the shape of Lviv’s lush and plentiful parkland, which has stood the test of time and reflects both a cultured past and a continuing appreciation for the civilised  pleasure  of a good, old fashioned stroll.