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17 March, 2011  ▪  Iryna Kolodiychyk

Cinnamony Drohobych

In this Western Ukrainian city, visitors can enjoy beautiful medieval and Art Nouveau architecture without the crowds and clamor


The winter months, when L’viv Oblast tends to be sunny and clear this last climate-changing decade, are the best time to visit this small city. Here you can feast your eyes on leafless avenues of Art Nouveau buildings in the city’s center or listen to the startled cawing of flocks of crows as they migrate from tree to tree in the parks, as though drawn from some Gothic fairytale.

Medieval salt-maker

The earliest settlement took shape here when salt began to be produced from salt brine found in underground caves in the area about 1,000 years ago. The most popular legend about the origins of the name Drohobych is that Bych, the original prince’s seat, was torched by Polovtsian raiders nearly 900 years ago and not far from the burned ruins, the residents founded a second Bych, Druhiy Bych, or Drohobych as it is now. A letter from Pope Boniface IX to Przemyszl Bishop Erich in 1392 mentions the city as one of Europe’s salt-making centers.

In the times of Kyivan Rus’, the Great Salt Road went through Drohobych, the route for locally-made salt to be transported to the rest of Europe. Indeed, Europe’s oldest salt-making company still operates in Drohobych. The old salt works are located next to two wooden churches: the 16th century Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross with its sharp Gothic spires and the 15th-17th century Church of Sviatoho Yura, with its rounded domes.

One place worth visiting is the studio of Lev Skop, a noted icon painter, restorer, and professor from the L’viv Academy of Fine Arts. More than anyone else, this silver-haired man is an endless, accessible font of knowledge about Ukrainian wooden architecture and Halychian medieval icon painting. Skop has been busy restoring local icons for nearly 25 years.

Worshiping equally

The layout of Drohobych follows the pattern of many medieval cities in Europe: a town hall and city administration in the center, with the houses of artisans and merchants clustered around it, and churches of various denominations in its corners. This pattern established the equality of all ethno-religious communities in the city. The Drohobych town hall overlooks the city and has an ancient clock with four faces, oriented toward the cardinal points.

The walls of Sviatiy Bartolomei Cathedral, standing in one of the corners of the old city, tell the story of Drohobych. The marble decoration on the door with its two swords is a reminder of the local men who fell at the Battle of Grunwald. Inside the church stands a monument to Kateryna Ramultova, wife of one owner of the local salt works. Erected in 1572, it is the most significant monument here. Contemporary postcards of Drohobych feature the Cathedral with its belfry and the monument to Yuriy Drohobych, a medieval scholar, rector of the Bologna Academy in Italy, and one of the city’s most renowned residents. 

In the opposite corner of the square stands the brick Sviata Triytsia or Holy Trinity Church. Built in 1690 as a Roman Catholic cathedral, it was purchased by the local Ukrainian community from the Austrian government in 1808 for a Greek Catholic parish and school. In soviet times, it was handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church, but when Ukraine became independent, it was returned to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

An old cemetery located about a mile away from the Sviata Triytsia Church was founded on May 3, 1790, according to scholars. The first thing that catches your eye here is the burial vault of a Polish couple, Karl and Karolina Nachlik. Alongside the graves of many other wealthy and educated Poles is a common grave for OUN and UPA members and individual graves of others who fought for the Ukrainian state.

Shades of Cinnamon

Its warm brown facades lend Drohobych the aura of a city built of cinnamon. Several early 20th-century sepia-colored buildings on vulytsia Lesi Ukrainky are now part of the Drohobych Pedagogical University. Yet another shade is added by old villas built in the interwar period, some of which are covered in boards halfway up that have turned dark brown over time. At the end of the street is the Main Drohobych Synagogue, also built in Art Nouveau style. This monumental building stood abandoned, its windows shattered for a time, but in the past few years donors from around the world helped roof it and it now serves as a gallery for contemporary art exhibits and projects.

A majestic reddish-brown brick building at the beginning of vul. Striyska was built under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and once housed a district court, a prison and the tax police. After September 1939, it was used by the NKVD, who set up a prison and a torture chamber in its basement. Thousands of people went through this inferno and were eventually buried in the yard. In 1989–1990, excavations directed by the Memorial Society revealed the remains of nearly 500 people here. They were reburied at the Drohobych Pole Skorboty or Field of Sorrow. Strewn with the excavated bones of the murdered, Ploshcha Rynok, the market square, was a terrifying testament to the inhumanity of the soviet government. From time to time you can still see people in black gowns here, but these days they are physics and math students rather than judges.

Artistic shades

In early 2001, some frescos made by Bruno Schulz, a world-famous Jewish painter and modernist writer, were found in an old building in Drohobych. Schulz’s best-known literary work is “Cinnamon Shops,” a collection of short stories about his childhood years and his family, who lived in downtown Drohobych between the wars. Unfortunately, most of the original frescos were smuggled out of Ukraine and are now in Jerusalem. But this did not take away from Drohobych’s aura as the city of Schulz or the Art Nouveau town. It sees a constant flow of Schulz fans, primarily from Poland and Israel, as well as literary buffs who relish his mystical stories. All come here to see with their own eyes the place they have read so much about. A Bruno Schulz Museum was opened in one of the rooms of Drohobych University where he taught drawing between the wars.

Ivan Franko is another great writer whose name is linked to Drohobych. He referred to the city and the vicinity in works such as “Boa Constrictor” and “Perekhresni stezhky” (Crossed Paths). Literary tourists will also enjoy a trip to the picturesque village of Nahuievychi, 10 kilometers from Drohobych, where the Ivan Franko Museum and Franko’s father’s house are located. And when you drop in to the local coffee house for dinner, don’t forget to try some of the famed local dish, Drohobych kovbasa.

A word about locals

Like other cities in Halychyna, Drohobych was populated by Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews before WWII, as well as by Hungarians and Germans, in smaller numbers. Since then, the population has become more homogeneous and largely Ukrainian. Several Polish associations and a small Jewish community are active to this day.

How to get there and where to stay

There is regular minibus service between L’viv and Drohobych. The centrally-located Tustan Hotel at vul. Shevchenka 1 offers inexpensive one- and two-person rooms starting at UAH 150 per night. Situated on the outskirts of Drohobych, the Lymon Hotel at vul. Kozlovskoho 1 charges UAH 100–400 per night, complete with restaurant, parking, sauna, swimming pool, and fitness room.


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