The first time when I heard about Chernivtsi, Ukraine was in May, during my trip to Iran. I was relaxing in the yard of my beautiful hotel in Kashan, reading a book “Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe” by Anne Applebaum and one of the chapters was about this city.
The whole book was really interesting but after reading the part about Chernivtsi I started googling it right away and was literally awestruck how beautiful this place seems to looks and how interesting it sounds. How come I haven’t heard of it before??? Needless to say 3 months later I visited Chernivtsi, Ukraine.
After exploring (and being impressed with) Kamyanets-Podilsky I caught a bus and 2 hours later found myself in Chernivtsi. After a longish walk down the main street I got to the center and knew from the very beginning I’m gonna like this place.
It was a beautiful summer day, cars and trolleybuses rumbled down the cobbled streets and the architecture around me was the one I like the most – from the golden age of the Habsburg empire. Chernivtsi enchanted me and there was nothing that could spoil this feeling.
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Chernivtsi, Ukraine – an unknown pearl of the Austrian empire
It is believed that the area of Chernivtsi was already inhabited in the time of the Neolithic era but it wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that the city got its splendor. That’s when it was annexed to the Austrian Habsburg empire and became the capital of the Bukovina region (soon after it was promoted to the Duchy of Bukovina, one of the 15th crown-lands in the empire).
It was the golden era of Chernivtsi, the city received Magdeburg rights and numerous wealthy and smart people (merchants, craftsmen or entrepreneurs) were invited to help developing the place. Chernivtsi has become a typical Central European city of this time, with stunning architecture and rich cultural life. It was and still is called “Little Vienna” as it just resembles the capital of Austria so much!
After the First World War Bukovina together with Chernivtsi was under the Romanian rule only to become part of USSR in 1940 and eventually independent Ukraine in 1991. These days it’s one of the most important cities in Western Ukraine and together with Lviv they make a cultural hub of the country.
When I entered the main pedestrian street of the city – Kobylyanska – I was literally speechless. It was just stunning, a perfect showroom of the best that Central Europe has to offer.
My hostel was located across the yard from the street and every time when I left the gate I had this wow moment. It was incredible! Pastel buildings, rich in ornaments, numerous cafes and lots of flowers – it looked like from some kind of painting! And it was just the beginning to what Chernivtsi has to offer!
Chernivtsi University – one of the most beautiful in the world!
It was obvious to me where I will start discovering Chernivtsi – at the University! While everyone is impressed with university buildings in UK or the US the one in Chernivtsi is equally amazing and is even listed on UNESCO World Heritage List.
The complex was designed by the Czech architect Joseph Hlavka and first it served as the Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans. The university itself was founded in 1875 but it moved to the current location 80 years later.
I thought I will have the place to myself, it was Sunday afternoon after all, but it was busier than ever. Apparently the university grounds are the major hot spot for wedding sessions as there were at least 10 newly married couple with their whole huge entourage, doing photo shoots.
I still managed to sneak in inside to find a quiet corner to enjoy the atmosphere and the pleasant coolness. I’m sure Harry Potter would easily swap Hogwarts to Chernivtsi University, it’s just so majestic, charming and beautiful!
Walking around Chernivtsi, Ukraine
Chernivtsi, as well as the rest of the places I visited in Ukraine, felt really safe. I’ve been in this amazing city for 2 days and I spent the majority of this time just wandering aimlessly around, taking random streets left and right and falling under their charm over and over again. It was just the pure pleasure and the best way I could discover the place.
Kobylyanska street was beyond any competition but every single corner of the city was interesting and picture worthy (that would explain why I took so many of them…), with magnificent houses of different styles and with rich ornaments.
The theater was built at the very beginning of 20th century by the company that have done almost 50 similar buildings in 12 European countries, all of them being part of the Austrian Empire back then. But the whole Theater Square is one of the most beautiful places in Chernivtsi.
Surrounded by spectacular buildings in different styles (Baroque, Renaissance or Eclectic) and of different purpose (Jewish National House or Trade and Crafts Chamber) it makes a perfect place to just sit on a bench and enjoy the look and vibe of the city. The nearby Central Square with the pretty town hall is the heart of the city.
But everywhere I went, I just loved it. The whole city was kind of covered in dust – maybe those were the hot summer days or maybe Chernivtsi had its peak already behind. It felt like the time has stopped there. But it was fine, gave the place even more charm (like it’s even possible…).
This Ukrainian city is one of the most multicultural places I’ve yet encountered during my travels. Back in the Austrian Empire Chernivtsi was inhabited by Ukrainians, Romanians, Poles, Jews, Germans or Russians. They’ve created an unique blend that remnants of still can be seen and felt in Chernivtsi, even if these days the majority of the people are Ukrainians (80%).
When walking along Kobylyanska street look down as there’s the name “Chernivtsi” written on the pavement in 5 or 6 languages, showing how diverse the city was. At the end of the same street, next to each other stand a Polish and a German House, few steps down the Virmenska street there’s an Armenian Catholic Church (now an Organ Hall). A little bit further a Greek Catholic church and an old wooden Orthodox church, dating back to the year 1607, can be found. The former synagogue close to the town hall now serves as the cinema.
But the best history lesson of multicultural Chernivtsi can be seen at the complex of cemeteries on Zelena street. On one side of the road there’s a Jewish cemetery, on the other – a Catholic one. Both are really huge and a mix of languages, when I was wandering around I’ve found inscriptions in Hebrew, German, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish or Romanian…
The Jewish cemetery itself is a home to some 50.000 graves! At the entrance there’s an old abandoned synagogue with the bricked entrance yet with a hole that lets you get inside. I spent at least half an hour there, and not only because I wanted to hide from the sunshine. It was such a spiritual place.
The old Hebrew signs were faded, partly painted over but still you could feel a strong power coming from the spot! For me the cemeteries were probably the most important place in Chernivtsi, the one that gave me the chance to really understand the place!
Cafes in Chernivtsi
After so much walking around and exploring Chernivtsi in such a hot day I deserved some chill out time more than ever. And, as a perfect Central European city from Habsburg Empire, Chernivtsi has a really decent cafe culture. I couldn’t be happier and that was the moment when the city won my heart, big time.
Wherever I go I always try to find some local cafes, to feel the atmosphere of the place and to do some people watching. In Chernivtsi there were just too many places to choose from and each of them was really awesome! I’ve visited 3 or 4 cafes and really enjoyed them all but my favorite one was Grand Cafe on Kobylyanska Street.
On my 3rd day I had to get up early to catch my bus to Chisinau, Moldova. During my stay streets of Chernivtsi were full of people, walking around and enjoying long and hot summer days. But then, barely at dusk, the city was almost empty and that’s when it looked truly magical.
There’re only few places where I have a really hard time leaving (Prague, Yerevan, Sarajevo, Lviv or Tbilisi) and only the thought that I will be back stops me from sobbing. To my great surprise I had the same feelings when I was leaving Chernivtsi. From the moment I departed I keep thinking about the return there….
And fun fact for the end: did you know that Mila Kunis, the actress, was born and spent her childhood in Chernivtsi? ;)
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