Lviv seems to have everything a visitor could possibly want. A diverse and fascinating history, an Old Town filled with delicious Renaissance and Baroque architecture, cobblestone streets, atmospheric alleyways, pedestrian only areas made for strolling and beautiful urban parks. What more could a tourist ask for? Well there is one blind spot amid all of the city’s historical, cultural and architectural glory. The great unseen happens to be a castle. Of course, there is famed Castle Hill, a lush green space rising above the Old Town. Unfortunately, hardly anything is left of the famed medieval castle that once figured so prominently in the city’s history. The scant ruins consist of a small portion of the south wall and a few humps in the ground. Even the most fertile imagination is unable to conjure much of an image from this residue of royalty.
A fine artistic panorama from the 17th century shows what Lviv (called by its Latin name Leopolis) looked like at the time. A detailed rendering of the Old Town is shown with Castle Hill in the background. Atop the hill soars High Castle, a grand spectacle crowning the highest point in Lviv. Sadly this image only serves to remind what has been lost to history. If it did still exist, it is easy to imagine visitors by the thousands snaking their way up Castle Hill for a visit. Alas, that will never happen, but all hope is not lost. There is a castle to be found in Lviv, quite unlike any other in Europe. A good distance away from Castle Hill, a spectacular discovery awaits those who venture further into the vast cityscape.
A Castle In Kastelivka – Joszef Sosnowski ‘s House
Kastelivka is one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in Lviv. Located in the southwestern part of the city, it is filled with wondrous structural concoctions, an exhibition of art nouveau architecture in all its varied iterations. Kastelivka became a trendy area during the latter part of the 19th century. Many of Lviv’s artisans and growing middle class moved into the district. An incredible array of villas and eclectic housing sprung up along it streets. The chief architects behind Kastelivka’s most famous houses were a Ukrainian by the name of Ivan Levynsky working with the famous Polish architect Julian Zachariewicz. These two men brought folk décor, the arts and crafts movement and indigenous forms to bear on their creations. For his part, Levynsky started a firm for construction and buildings materials. The materials company produced such materials as ceramic tiles to would adorn his buildings. He was also a father figure to other aspiring architects. This led him to a role as an adviser in the design of the one structure in Lviv that comes closest to a castle in form and fashion.
Standing at 50-52 General Chuprynky Street is the House-Castle (Joszef Sosnowski House). The main architect, a Pole by the name of Joszef Sosnowski designed the structure partly for himself. He received advice from Levynskyi. The building gives new meaning to the saying, “a man’s home is his castle.” One side – the house – was to be leased by a tenant, while the medieval style castle part would become the Sosnowski family’s home. Because of this, Sosnowski could allow his imagination to run wild and that is exactly what he did. What he created is both shocking and inviting, arresting and alluring, a paradoxical structure that looks part manor, part fortress, all in the midst of a neighborhood environment. Nothing to be found before or after it architecturally on General Chuprynky can quite prepare the viewer for what they are about to see. The building seems to just suddenly appear. The effect is disconcerting, so much so that it is difficult to imagine that the building’s main use is residential. The House-Castle imposes its presence on the immediate area to the point that its surroundings seem mundane by comparison.
A Fantastical Funhouse – Fortress, Castle, Palace, Home
Sosnowski’s architectural confection stretches the imagination. It is as though he set out to create the city’s most fantastical funhouse by assembling a range of dramatic styles all under one roof. He integrated Romanesque and Gothic styles in the design. Parts of the House-Castle, including the overhanging balcony, were derived from Venetian palazzo style. The castle tower with its crenellations is reminiscent of a crusader fortress. Who would have imagined that by standing on a sidewalk in an outer district of Lviv, a viewer could be transported to the battlements of Krak Des Chevaliers in western Syria. This is the stuff dreams are made of with one major difference. The House-Castle is now as it was then an unforgettable reality. Sosnowski made the impossible possible and in the process created a home unlike any other in Lviv. It has since been converted into many homes. The House-Castle is architecture at its most transformative.
The House-Castle can easily be viewed by taking a short 10 minute ride on Tram #2 from Rynok Square to the Hospital #5 tram stop. Better yet, it can be visited along with other hidden wonders on the “Lost Lviv” Kumpel-tour. Those looking for a more intimate experience are now able to enjoy it as an accommodation. A recent, seemingly innocuous advertisement on AirBNB stating “APARTMENT IN LVIV Wi-FI” revealed a remodeled and fully furnished apartment available for rent in the House-Castle for only $24 per night. While castle stays have become increasingly popular with tourists all across Europe, staying in the House-Castle would be an otherworldly experience. A visitor could become king for a day, a night or a week. A traditional touch of Lviv awaits arrivals at the entrance, a stone lion. An added bonus for those who stay for several nights is the opportunity to explore Kastelivka. This architecture rich district is filled with eclectic villas. The houses are expressive of a self-confident and booming Lviv at the turn of the 20th century, an imperial city expanding outward and upward, pushing the architectural and residential boundaries to the outer limits.