True Baroque Isn’t About Bad Taste
Exploring 17–18th-century buildings in Lviv, Ukraine
So, Baroque… I always associated this style with the corrupt politicians’ perverted taste and billionaires’ villas with overwhelming golden decoration. Recently, I tried to understand Baroque again, and it turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
Baroque flourished in the 17–18th centuries. It emerged owing to Catholic Church and served as its “brand identity.” Striving to compete with Protestantism, Catholics employed emotion in architecture to better appeal to a broader audience. Baroque was the first European style to spread globally (unlike its predecessors: Romanesque, Gothic, or Renaissance).
You can easily recognize Baroque architecture by:
- curved facades;
- rich embellishments (including vases and statues);
- frontons that look like wedding cakes;
- cartouches (ornate frames with rolled-up ends);
- large and lavish domes.
Let’s start our journey and see some magnificent buildings!
17th century — Early Modern Period
Time of Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and William Shakespeare. Europeans started colonizing the Americas. Electricity, ice cream, the telescope, and the microscope were invented. Ukrainian Cossacks, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, rose against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which possessed much of the Ukrainian land, and besieged Lviv. Historians consider the Cossack state to be a precursor of independent Ukraine.
1. Bernardine Church and Monastery (1600–1630)
Bernardine Church illustrates a switch from aristocratic and geometrical Renaissance to fancy and extravagant Baroque. Almost the entire building belongs to Mannerism — the culmination of the Renaissance style right before the Baroque boom.
Bernardine monks came to Lviv in the 15th century, but Moldovans plundered their initial monastery on this place. The current complex stood behind the city walls and, surrounded by its own fortification, created a powerful defensive point on the south-east.
After the Second World War, the church was closed by the Soviets and fell into disrepair until Ukraine’s independence.
2. Church and Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene (1600–1630)
Dominican monks built their church and monastery simultaneously with the Bernardines. Despite the initial prevalence of the Renaissance features, this church was rebuilt in the Baroque style in 1758, after Swedish invaders had looted and damaged it.
In the following centuries, the church underwent several minor changes, including the balcony, Neo-Baroque tower helmets, and a clock on the southern tower (1889).
Before the Second World War, the church was equipped with an organ by the famous Rieger workshop. The Soviets plundered the temple after the war but left the organ and altar untouched. Since 1969, the building has been housing the organ concert hall of Lviv Philharmonic.
3. Church of the Poor Clares (1607, 1748)
Bernardine nuns (a.k.a. Poor Clares) arrived in Lviv in the 15th century and settled behind the city walls. Their initial church was small and suffered from wars throughout the 17th century. The reconstruction of 1748 extended the building and transformed it into Baroque.
Poor Clares’ Church was used as a tobacco warehouse, hospital, and customs under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Such misuse damaged the frescoes but saved the building from modifications, except for only the Neo-Baroque tower added in the course of the 1939 restoration.
Nowadays, the church is part of the Lviv Art Gallery and exhibits wooden sculptures by Johann Georg Pinsel, a prominent Galician sculptor.
4. Carmelite Church and Monastery (1634–1642)
The Barefoot Carmelite monks came to Lviv in the early 17th century and acquired the plot on a hill at the eastern defensive wall.
Despite being well-fortified, the church was damaged first by the Cossacks and then by Swedes. The facade underwent a redesign in the 19th century but still retains much of its original design. Also, the church is adorned with 300-year-old frescoes and a black marble altar.
After the Second World War, hobos occupied the abandoned monastery, and the garden became a hippies’ place, “The Holy Garden Republic.”
5. Royal Arsenal (1639–1646)
Royal Arsenal replaced the so-called Small Arsenal and included a foundry and military workshops. King Wladyslaw IV Vasa covered two-thirds of the construction cost, hence the building name.
Rectangular layout made the arsenal a dreadful trap for soldiers who would break into its courtyard.
The arsenal was serving its original purpose till 1769. It was converted into the state archive in 1927 and plays this role nowadays. Although the building has a Renaissance character, its southern fronton is undeniably Baroque.
6. Church of Our Lady (1642–1693)
The construction of this church was delayed because of the Swedish and Russian invasion in the mid-17th century, which irreparably weakened the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Many details of the church’s design were patterned after the Santa Susanna Church (Rome). When the Austro-Hungarian Empire took Lviv and Carmelites left the city in 1792, the building was turned into a warehouse. In Soviet times, it accommodated a metrology office.
7. St. Casimir Church (1656–1664)
The initial wooden church burnt when the Cossack troops took Lviv High Castle by storm in 1648. The new stone temple was built for the Catholic Reformists, a branch of the Bernardines. Despite the church’s minimalism, its fronton has a distinct Baroque shape.
In 1783 the Austrian authorities turned it into a hospital, and now the building belongs to Lviv State University of Internal Affairs.
8. St. Lawrence Church — Bonifratrzy Hospital (1659, 1687)
Initially, a local farmer hung the St. Lawrence icon on an oak. Soon the icon was replaced with a wooden chapel, and the chapel, in its turn, with a stone church. Then King Jan III Sobieski granted the building to the Bonifratrzy Order, and they added a hospital and monastery.
The Austrian authorities abolished the monastery in 1783. Nowadays, the building is a facility of the Military Clinical Center.
9. Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (before 1660)
This church was built on Glyniany Tract, a medieval road that turned into modern Lychakivska Street. The temple was first mentioned in 1648; there is evidence that a stone chapel had stood here earlier.
The church was rebuilt in 1660 and had a bell tower, but a redesign in the following century shaped its present-day appearance. One can still recognize the original defensive character; for example, windows are located 6 meters above the floor level.
10. St. Anthony Church (1669–1765)
The first wooden church and monastery appeared on this site in 1630, but they burnt to ashes during the Lviv Siege and were later rebuilt.
Unlike the majority of religious buildings, St. Anthony Church stayed open during the Soviet period. After Ukraine had become independent, Franciscans turned back to the temple.
11. St. Anne Church (1673)
The first chapel on this place was built in 1507, but the temple encountered total destruction thrice in a row.
Only around 1670, the Augustinian brothers took over the church, rebuilt it, and added a monastery. In the 19th century, St. Anne Church got a new tower with a clock.
There was a competition for new church design in 1911, but the First World War interrupted it. So, instead of cardinal changes, only the Neo-Baroque tower top was added. After the Second World War, the Soviets plundered the church and turned it into a ticket office and furniture store.
12. Residential estates of the 16-17th century
Bielski House, Google Maps. This elegant house was built in 1569 for a local administrative officer named Kaiser. Two centuries later, the new owner, lady Bielski, ordered to rebuild it in the Rococo style — the most elaborate and theatrical form of Baroque.
Kilianista House, Google Maps. This building is named after one of the first owners, apothecary Kilianista. Although the house was built in the 1630s, its Baroque design developed in the 18th century. The ground floor has been used as a coffee shop since ancient times.
Abrek House, Google Maps. The first mentions of a house on this site date back to the 14th century. It belonged to a noble family of German origin, the Abreks. By 1764, the house had become dilapidated and was rebuilt in the Baroque style by clockmaker Kaminski. Abrek House is colloquially known as “the house with the all-seeing eye.”
18th century — Age of Enlightenment
A wave of revolutions challenged the monarchical rule and slave trade. George Washington became the first president of the United States of America. Mozart and Beethoven composed their masterpieces; Voltaire proclaimed Enlightenment ideas; Adam Smith established modern economics. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which contained ethnic Ukrainian lands, broke up. Ukraine was divided between the Austrian Empire and the Russian Empire, which repressed national expression and crushed the Cossack state.
13. Bell Tower of the Holy Spirit Church (1729–1750)
The Dominican nunnery and church were founded here in 1729; they were finished and adorned with a Baroque tower in a couple of decades.
When Lviv came under Austrian rule, the building turned into a Greek Catholic seminary; many influential Ruthenian (Ukrainian) writers and public figures studied here.
In the Second World War, a German pilot aimed at the post office, but his aerial bomb hit the church instead; only the tower remained intact.
14. St. Martin Church (1736)
Carmelites’ wooden church had been standing here since 1630, but it burnt to ashes during the Lviv Siege. In 1736, a new stone temple was built, with a hospital for war veterans.
The Soviet regime turned the church into a warehouse, and it was restored only recently.
15. Trinitarian Church (1739–1745)
The Trinitarian monks came to Lviv from Spain in 1685. They set up a temporary monastery in the city but soon received money and a plot in the suburb for a permanent building: first wooden, then stone. After the Trinitarian Order had been abolished, Jesuits took over the church, and today it belongs to the Orthodox.
The church’s lavish Rococo interior is adorned with a 420-year-old altarpiece moved here from the Latin Cathedral — Lviv’s oldest temple.
16. St. George Cathedral (1744–1762)
A church and fortress had been occupying St. George Hill since the 13th century but were destroyed by the Polish King.
The present-day cathedral was ordered by Athanasius Sheptytsky, a religious leader and bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. He wanted the cathedral to became the mother church of Ukrainian Eastern-rite Catholics.
St. George Cathedral is a Baroque-Rococo masterpiece by an architect of German origin Bernard Meretyn and sculptor Johann Georg Pinsel, whose expressive figures of St. George the Dragon-Slayer, Pope St. Leo, and St. Athanasius adorn the main facade.
After the Second World War, Soviet authorities began persecuting Greek Catholics and nullified the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. It reemerged only in the 1990s and reclaimed the cathedral.
17. Church and Monastery of Sacramentines (1744–1780)
The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament came to Lviv in 1710; they rented an apartment near St. Anthony Church and taught noble young ladies there. In 1718 they got their own church made of wood and brick and later could afford a stone building.
Although the building retains many Baroque features, its main facade was redesigned at the beginning of the 20th century in the modernist style. The Soviets handed the complex over to the veterinary institute and repurposed it as a dormitory, gym, and club; the restoration started in the 1990s owing to the institute’s staff and philanthropists.
18. Dominican Church (1749–1764)
The Dominican Order arrived in Lviv in the 13th century, during the reign of the city’s founder, King Leo. Dominicans constructed a wooden church within the defensive walls, but it burnt down in the war. The new Gothic church built in the 14th century didn’t survive either. When its ceiling started cracking, it was replaced with the present-day Baroque temple.
Dominicans were lucky enough to survive the Austrian Empire times when many monasteries were closed.
In 1865, a Neo-Baroque bell tower was added, and on the edge of the 19th and 20th centuries, the church encountered controversial renovations. After the Second World War, the Soviets turned it into a museum of atheism.
19. Piarists’ Collegium (1760–1766)
The 18th century was called the Age of Enlightenment because hundreds of universities and academies were established in Europe. The Piarists, a Catholic order dedicated to educating youth, came to Lviv in 1718. At that time, the city’s main collegium belonged to the Jesuit Order, which hindered the Piarists from establishing theirs.
In several decades, the Piarists managed to get royal approval for their collegium, but it hadn’t functioned for a long time. Under Austrian rule, the building was repurposed as a tobacco factory and then turned into a hospital. Now it accommodates Lviv Regional Clinical Hospital.
The main collegium’s facade was inspired by the Lateran Basilica, the mother church of Roman Catholics. It’s a mix of Baroque and Classicism, the architectural style following Baroque.
20. Lubomirski Palace (the 1760s)
The palace was built for Polish Prince Stanislaw Lubomirski as his Lviv residence. When the Austrian Empire took control of Western Ukraine, the building was taken over by the Austrian governors of Galicia.
In the 19th century, Ukrainian cultural-educational society “Prosvita” bought Lubomirski Palace for its headquarters. Besides, the independence of Ukraine was proclaimed in this palace several days after Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union.
21. Residential estates of the 18th century
Krakivska St. 24, Google Maps. This house was built in the second half of the 18th century and was reconstructed twice in the same and next centuries. It combines the Baroque basis with a later layer of Historism.
Muratovich House, Google Maps. This house was built in the 1780s to replace two dilapidated buildings. It combines Rococo and Classicism features and bears the name of the first Armenian book printer in Lviv. Archeological excavations in the courtyard revealed traces of ancient wooden fortifications, meaning there was a settlement here before Lviv.
Ubaldini House, Google Maps. The first house on this site was built in the 15th century. It initially belonged to city councilor Wilczek and later to Italian merchant Ubaldini, who participated in the Pazzi conspiracy against the Duke of Florence and had to flee to Lviv.
The present-day building was erected in 1772 on top of the old foundation. The Baroque facade is embellished with the statues of Glory on the top and sea dragons and Atlanteans beneath the balcony.
22. Semensky-Levitsky Palace (before 1849)
Due to historical city plans, someone’s mansion existed here in the 18th century. But in 1849, earl Semensky replaced the older building with a gorgeous palace. And in 1877, his son, Semensky-Levitsky, redesigned the palace in the French Baroque style.
To be fair, this palace had appeared way beyond the time boundaries of the Baroque era, more than a century afterward — when Neoclassicism already thrived in Europe. So, it’s probably not quite “true Baroque.”
The palace accommodated a secondary school in the post-war years, and now it houses a specialized school for children with mental disabilities. Passers-by can observe the site through an ornate forged fence.
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