Uzhhorod: "Border Town"
June 14, 2018
Can you imagine?
At a Philharmonia concert last night, the local orchestra played two of my favorite pieces: the complete incidental music to Midsummer Night’s Dream Op.61 by Felix Mendelssohn and after a brief intermission Anastasia Dziciak, a young Ukrainian pianist, performed the Piano Concerto in A minor Op.16 by Edvard Grieg. The price of admission was 50 Hryvnia (gryvna), or about $2.00 US!
The magnificent Philharmonia with its carved Moorish style façade is certainly the most impressive edifice in Uzhhorod. It lies in Theatric Square. Built in 1904, Philharmonia began life as the Uzhhorod Synagogue! Before World War Two, 85,000 Jews lived in the area.
Apparently, the best view of the town is from the battlements of the 15th Century Uzhhorod Castle. So, I climb the hill. On my left I pass the Greek Catholic Holy Cross Cathedral. On my right, I pass the Garden Square park with a statue of Maria-Theresa, the much-admired and only female ruler and last sovereign of the House of Habsburg.
I stroll the grounds of the medieval castle with its massive walls and thick bastions built to withstand Turkish assaults.
But on the way up the hill, I spotted an intriguing iron gate. And at the gate I met a group of art students, so I asked them about the iron design at the top. They cannot identify what to me is clearly a Menorah. “Papa Jan” encouraged the young art students to be aware of the “details” they encounter as they pursue their career. Later, at the castle museum, one of the directors confirmed that several Jewish families lived on that street.
One needs to be a specialist in European History to fully comprehend the past events of this “Border Town.” Over the centuries, Ukrainians and Jews and Hungarians and Austrians and Czechs and Slovaks and Gypsies, and Germans and Russians reigned and prospered and left their mark with the diversity of architecture and, of course, food.
On one of my strolls across the Pedestrian Bridge over the Uzh River and through a residential neighborhood, I stop at a bakery where they serve an excellent espresso accompanied by a delicious Czech pastry. Or, is the pastry Ukrainian? Or maybe Hungarian?
The Pedestrian Bridge connects the Theatric Square (Philharmonia) with the Square dedicated to Sándor Petőfi, an Hungarian revolutionary and Hungarian national poet.
Ah! The complex and convoluted European History!
By the way, the zh is Uzhhorod is pronounced as you would expect. But the second h, an individual h, is pronounced as a hard g as in the Ukrainian money Hryvnia. (‘gryvna”).
Of course, my Hungarian friends would completely disagree with the city’s designation. To them, Uzhhorod is known as Ungvár.