Lviv is a city unique not only in Ukraine, but, as a result of its history, perhaps all of Europe. It’s history is ancient, with archeological records predating Danylo Halytskyi, who named the city for his son Lev. Being at the crossroads of empires, it never stayed as a part of one country for long. From the ancient Principality of Halych-Volhynia, to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to Poland and its Commonwealth, to Austria and its Hungarian partner-state, Interwar Poland, and finally, the Soviet Union before becoming the lead city in the separation of Ukraine from Moscow.
The buildings and cobblestones of the streets have managed to survive better than many of the surrounding cities, as the Soviets took the city before the Germans could lay waste to it. As a result, a visitor can feel the air of a central European city much better than many of the cities in westward neighboring Poland. The charming array of museums (including its renowned art gallery, history museum, and national museum, as well as the newer Arsenal Museum and Beer Brewer’s Museum), its imposing art nouveau-style train station (built in 1904, back when the city, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was called Lemburg), and vistas from the city’s High Castle and Market Square Tower all await exploration.
Lviv from Gaibor on Vimeo.
Outside the city center, Shevchenkivski Hai provides an outdoor tour of over 120 examples of western Ukrainian early architecture, a perfect introduction to the region’s cultural history. The number of day trips available to interesting sights from this western Ukrainian hub can boggle the mind. These options vary from exploration into the Volhynian farmlands to the north (immortalized in the Jewish heritage tour that serves as the storyline for the film and book “Everything is Illuminated”), to tours into the Carpathian mountains to the south, a region blossoming with ancient sights newly restored.
However, Lviv is unique for more than just architecture and location. This, after all, the only city in which you will find the “playboy of the Ukrainian piedmont,” the “batiar.”
At one time the Hungarian word for “highwayman” (remembering, of course, that this city was in the Hungarian part of what became the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the term “batiar” emerged during the Napoleonic era as a police slang term for “deserter” or conscription “dodger.” Usually from wealthy families, these sorts carried the air of a dandy, but having fled under sometimes not particularly honorable conditions, they were usually without the ready cash to fund such a lifestyle or image. However, they were typically pleasant, humorous, incurably romantic, often capable of pigeon English, and despite not being particularly committed to the defense of country, were still nonetheless chivalrous.
Since 2008, when the city declared what had been International Workers’ Day on May 1 to be Batiar Day, Lviv has embraced the more glamorous parts of this ideal and image. Indeed, if you run across a person so well-dressed that they might be mistaken for wearing a theater costume, carrying a walking stick he calls a “lyaska”, chances are the person is a modern-day batiar. Buy this person a drink, and you may be in for an evening of fun.