It is a tribute to the artistic quality of the sculptures and tombstones at Lviv’s Lychakiv Cemetery that the viewer is gripped more by fascination than by fear
Lychakiv Cemetery was created in 1786 following an edict from Austrian authorities that all cemeteries must be moved outside of the city limits (mainly to prevent the spread of diseases). Ironically, the cemetery has become an inseparable part of the city, symbolizing its conflicted multi-ethnic history. A visit to Lviv is not complete without a visit to Lychakiv.
Prehistory – Lychakiv cemetery was situated on a plateau originally known as “the sands.” The first dead were buried on the site in 1567 as the result of a plague. These burials predated the formal cemetery by over two hundred years.
Crossings – every Christian sect and ethnic group (with the exception of Jews) was buried in the cemetery. Roman Catholic Poles, Greek Catholic Ukrainians, Armenian Christians and Orthodox Russians among others.
Up until the mid-19th century the development of the cemetery was not formally planned or structured. When Lychakiv underwent its third expansion in 1856 paths and alleyways were laid by the plans of botanist Karl Bauer. Lychakiv was still a cemetery, but with many attributes of a park.
Lychakiv by the numbers – over 300,000 burials in 86 plots laid out across 105 acres (42 hectares). These statistics are telling, but pale in comparison to the fact that every death remains an individual tragedy.
Lychakiv’s sculptures expose the charismatic nature of grief.
It is said that only the most notable citizens of Lviv, Lvov, Lemberg and Lwow were buried in Lychakiv. Judging by the fact that there are over 2,000 burial and 500 monumental sculptures, one might be led to believe that the city’s population was nothing more than a majority of notables.
The Soviet era (1944 – 1991) was detrimental to Lychakiv. Tombs of aristocratic families were desecrated, while parts of the cemetery, especially Polish monuments and gravestones were neglected or vandalized.
Cracks in the facade – the most poignant monuments are often the smallest ones. Despair can found in the details.
The nationals – Lviv is known as “the most Ukrainian city in Ukraine.” Yet a minority of Lychakiv’s monuments and sculptures are Ukrainian in origin. It is ironic that the historically mistreated Ukrainian population are now keepers of the cemetery.
In 1990 Lychakiv Cemetery was recognized as a historical and cultural monument of national significance. While the recognition was warranted, no designation has ever really been needed for visitors to experience the sublime spirituality that pervades Europe’s most astonishing necropolis.
All photos taken by the author on the morning of October 31st, 2015 at Lychaviv Cemetery, Lviv