пятница, 12 декабря 2008 г.

Legends of Lypky villas

    Moody autumn is the best time to walk around the city, to recall its past times and legends. Strolling around the most prestigious district in Kyiv, Lypky, is especially pleasant on weekends, when the streets are quiet and there is much less traffic. Previously, this territory was occupied by the lime trees and mulberry gardens of Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery. When streets were laid here in the first half of the 19th century, the new district derived its name from the word “lypa” – Ukrainian for “lime tree.” Only the richest merchants and aristocrats could afford to build their villas here. These masterpieces of architecture impressed common people with luxury and became quickly surrounded by gossip.

      Probably the best way to start your walk is at the entrance to Khreshchatyk metro station. There are several of them, but you need the one that opens onto Instytutska Street. Take the second turn on your right and you’ll find yourself at Bankova street, where the Presidential Administration is located. Right away you’ll see the first of the most interesting buildings of Lypky. It is all grey, decorated with different fantastic creatures – mythic nereids on dolphins, frogs, lizards, the heads of elephants and rhinoceroses. The House with Chimeras, as it was called by Kyivans, was built in 1903 by famous architect Vladyslav Horodetskiy for his own use.

The House with Chimeras
     People like to say that the famous architect built the house dedicated to sea creatures in memory of his drowned daughter. In truth, this is no more than a beautiful legend. The architect’s daughter, Helena, outlived her father and died in Switzerland. It probably was Horodetskiy’s own hobby that induced him to seat all those creatures on the building. He was an experienced hunter, or “sportsman,” as it was called at the time. He hunted in Ukrainian Polissya, the Caspian steppe, in the Alps and the Siberian taiga. After finishing the House with Chimeras, he fulfilled his old dream and went hunting in Africa in 1911, a luxury affordable by the likes of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt or Count Stanislav Pototskiy. As people told, after this voyage, Horodetskiy would stroll down Khreshchatyk with a tamed monkey or trained giraffe. It is, of course, another fable.

     The real fact, however, is that the legendary architect was one of the first people in Kyiv to own a car. Horodetskiy’s firm was very profitable, and apart from luxurious building projects, it made the first sewers in Kyiv. He was also a stockholder of “FOR” cement plant, which gave him cement for free just to advertise new building materials. Could there be better advertising than such a masterpiece as the House with Chimeras? Another fact is that the architect bet his colleague that it is possible to build a house on a steep hill. And he won. You can also bet a tourist that in Kyiv there is a house with three floors on one side and six on the other. It might be hard to believe, but the House with Chimeras is a "living" proof.

     Horodetskiy moved to a new house when he was 40 years old. He said to the impressed guests at the first reception: “I understand that the building looks a bit wild, but nobody who walks through will stay indifferent.” The architect lived in only one of its apartments and rented out the rest. To have fresh milk for his morning coffee, he even built a cowshed. He placed it in such a way that the bad smell couldn't reach the living rooms and wouldn't bother guests. Today, the House with Chimeras is used for official presidential receptions while Mariyinskiy Palace is being reconstructed.

The House of Grieving Widow
     Flags of foreign countries from time to time appear on the front of the building on 23 Lyuteranska Street. Honorable guests stay there while visiting Kyiv. The building doesn’t strike you as something special from the first glance. But if you look up its front you’ll see a bass-relief of a woman’s face. There are small holes in the apple of her eyes. The rain and snow falls in special holes in the back of her head and flows out like tears from her eyes. Due to this, the building is called The House of Grieving Widow.

     Historian Dmytro Malakhov recalls a legend from his childhood about the building. People said there was a train carriage in the yard where the master invited his guests to stay at night. There were bed linen and tea glasses like in a real train. The carriage could even shake, imitating a moving train. Another story says that there was a room designed like a train compartment in the building. The master of the house wanted to have such a room because that’s how he met his beloved wife – on a train. When he tragically died, his wife built a house with a crying woman on the front. In reality the room with the compartment really exists, but it’s located in the house of Kovalyovskiy’s family on the next street. The House of the Grieving Widow was built by a merchant of the second guild, Serhiy Arshavskiy, in 1907. He lived peacefully with his family and planted a couple of paradise trees in the yard. Why the crying bass-relief appeared on the house of a happy family, even historians can’t tell.

Chocolate House
     Now the merchant of the first guild, Semen Mohylyovtsev, from the neighboring Shovkovychna street, was the one who really lived a lonely life. Go up on Lyuteranska, take a turn on your left and you will see his brown two-floored villa under the number 17 built in 1899 by architect Volodymyr Nikolayev’s project. Kyivans could not believe that such a rich entrepreneur and patron, member of the city council, director of the city credit association and head of Kyiv's stock exchange committee didn’t have a wife and made up a legend that he was fall in love with a rich married woman from another city and built a house for their romantic meetings. Wether it was mere coincidence or fate, after Mohylyovtsev died, in 1960s-80s his villa was used as a Wedding Palace (a common name for administrations were marriages were registered in Soviet times).

     Due to its rich brown color, the building became known as Chocolate House. “It really smells like chocolate when you stand near the house,” – a friend of mine said after we went past the Chocolate House together. Indeed, it is said that you can feel a taste of cocoa in your mouth if you watch the brown front of the house for a while. Since 1989, Chocolate House has been closed for restoration. So we can judge about the interior only from photos. The building had a Gothic dining room, Baroque cabinets and rooms in modern, Moorish and Russian styles. It was decorated with stained-glass windows, marble window sills, carved doors, and painted walls. It was one of the richest villas in the city. It desperately needs restoration, but for the last twenty years, the city administration has been unable to find money for it.
Oksana Faryna for "Kyiv Post"
Photo: Olena Pavlova

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