History of the city

Lviv history is as colorful and amazing as a city itself. It is filled with interesting events and outstanding figures. Today Lviv is more than 760 years old and it has lots of stories to tell you! City situated on the crossing of two profitable trade routes developed and flourished rapidly and became one of main trade centers of medieval Europe. Afterwards while being a part of different countries, Lviv borrowed some parts of culture and knowledge from invaders. Later on it transformed not only to an architectural gem, but also to the modern capital of scientific, spiritual and artistic life.

Lviv under many powers

From 1256 till today - Who Ruled Lviv and Whom the City Belonged to.

1256 – 1340 – Lviv as a part of Halychyna-Volyn Principality 

1340 – 1349 – Lviv under the rule of boyar oligarchy of Dmytro Detko from Przemysl and Danylo from Ostrov

1353 – Lviv under the rule of Lithuanian Prince Lubart Gedyminowicz 

1372 – 1378 – Lviv under the rule of Governor Wladyslaw Opolczyk, practically under Hungarian protectorate

1378 – 1387 – Lviv under the Hungarian rule 

1387 – 1772 – Lviv under the rule of Rzeczpospolita

1772 – 1918 – Lviv under the rule of the Austrian Empire 

1914 – 1915 – Lviv under the rule of Tsar’s Russia

1918 – Lviv under the rule of the West-Ukrainian People’s Republic 

1918 – 1939 – Lviv under the Polish rule

1939 – 1941 – Lviv under the rule of the USSR 

1941 – 1944 – Lviv under the rule of Nazi Germany

1944 – 1991 – Lviv under the rule of the USSR 

From 1991 – Lviv as a part of independent Ukrainian state

The Old Lviv

Situated just like Rome on seven hills, among the woods, in the valley of the Poltva River, Lviv was always noted for both an advantageous strategic position and an exceptionally beautiful landscape

Once a powerful prince of Halychyna-Volyn Principality Danylo Halytsky traveled through these parts. He stopped here for a moment and realized that he would stay here forever. Burgomaster Bartlomiej Zimorowic, the most distinguished chronicler of Lviv, described this event in the following words: “Seeing at the very border of his domain a hill which was advantageous in military terms, protected down below by a circle of forest-covered valleys and the very steepness which could hold the enemy back, he immediately ordered that a fortress be built here and decided to move his residence to this place”. The High Castle was to be guarded by a large military unit which would protect the treasures stored there.  

In 1248, with the aim of strengthening international dynastic connections, Danylo Halytsky had his son Lev married to Princess Constance, the daughter of King of Hungary Bela IV, and granted the city, which was named Lviv after his son, to the newly married couple. Constance was a Catholic and often yearned after her home land and her religion. Lev decided to make his beloved wife a present in the form of the Catholic Church of John the Baptist, constructed in the Roman style.

Under the Castle Hill stood the prince’s palace and the prince’s court Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas. 750 years ago life was at full swing in the Old Rynok Square. Merchants from both Europe and Asia came here: Europeans dealt in cloth, leather, silver and weapons, Greeks and Armenians – in silk, eastern roots and wine.  

In the 70s of the 13th century Ukrainian Prince Lev Danylovych moved the capital of his powerful state, whose borders reached as far as the Vistula River and the Black Sea, from Halych to Lviv. But the historical Fortune turned her back on the Halychyna-Volyn Principality: weakened by constant raids by Mongol-Tatars and intestine strife, it became an easy prey for the Kingdom of Poland.

Lviv_High_Castle_(Engraving).jpg

The City Conquered by Poland. The German Lviv

King of Poland Kazimierz III took advantage of the Principalit's weakness and managed to conquer Lviv twice, in 1340 and 1349. Several decades later our city fell under the rule of its western neighbours for long centuries to come.

After Lviv became a part of Poland, King Kazimierz did not remain indifferent to the High Castle – this, as a chronicler wrote, “uniquely shaped hill in the Sarmatian land, and built on this sky-high hill a tall stone castle resembling a lute”

Now it is hard to say what made Kazimierz move the city centre from the Old Rynok Square to the swampy plain of the Poltva River. One of the possible reasons is of topographic nature: the old city had no prospects of growth since it was surrounded by hills and woods. But most likely Kazimierz III, being an experience politician, wanted to create in this new location a completely new city which would unconditionally obey the Polish state – and there would be no place left for the subdued Ukrainians in such a city.

The Polish King decided to develop Lviv using the most advanced construction technologies of the time. Unwilling to trust either Ukrainians or his own Polish people, he invited craftsmen and builders from Germany. Thus in the 14th and 15th centuries Lviv became virtually a German city. Even the deeds of Lviv Magistrate were written in Saxon dialect of the German language. Records of the city’s expenditures and taxes collected in the 15th century testify to the fact that Germans formed the majority of Lviv’s population. At that time, Gothic architecture was predominant in the city. 

But the year of 1527 brought the most terrible fire in the entire city’s history: the German Gothic Lviv which was similar in appearance to modern Tallinn or Gdansk was burned to the ground. In despair, the inhabitants wanted to leave the city, but later changed their minds and decided to rebuild it. The new Lviv of the second half of the 16th century was a completely different Renaissance city built by Italians. Architects from the Northern Italy, invited to Lviv by the Magistrate, managed to create wonderful examples of Renaissance architecture which combined Italian features with local construction trends.

The Trade Mission of Lviv

Throughout its history Lviv has always been a large trade centre and, for some time, the most well-known Eastern European city in the entire Europe. There was only one city of Eastern Europe marked on the French geographical map of 1492, and it was Leopolis.

Lviv owes its exceptional trade mission to its geographical location at the optimal intersection point of roads leading from the East to the West and back. Outstanding merchant talents were cherished among the people of Lviv from the beginning of time. Almost every citizen of Lviv was a natural-born merchant genius. The people of Lviv were noted for their experience, wit, courage, energy, and incessant aspiration for enrichment. In the 14th-15th centuries merchants were mostly citizens of German and Armenian origin.

Traditionally, precious fabrics, carpets, valuable roots, spices and fruits were transported from the East to Europe through Lviv, while clothes, weapons, silver and gold jewellery, and leather found their way from the West to the East.

In 1379 Lviv obtained the so-called right of storage. It meant that all merchants who were not from Lviv and transported any goods from the East or West through Lviv were obliged to put their goods up for sale in the city for two weeks. What they hadn’t sold, they could carry further. Of course, the deft merchants of Lviv bought these goods up at dumping prices, thus becoming wealthier themselves and making the city wealthier, too. The Magistrate of Lviv did its best to assist it citizens. Only members of the city’s community had the right to freely purchase goods from visiting merchants and sell these goods at stores. Foreign merchants were forbidden to perform trade transactions between themselves under the threat of confiscation of their entire stock.

    The Whimsical Fortune

    The trade power of Lviv elevated its significance as the most important Eastern European city. However, in the late 15th century the Fortune stopped smiling on Lviv: the Turkish Empire expanded to the West, conquering Crimea and the Balkans.

    The trade routes were severed, bringing a disaster to entire generations of Lviv merchants. The Archbishop of Lviv practically mourned over the state of the city in his letter to the King: “The people of the city have lost their wealth and turned into beggars. Those who were affluent yesterday, even the patricians, are now begging for a piece of bread or await their death in hospitals”. The fate dealt its final blow when the terrible fire of 1527 destroyed almost the entire city.

    But the people of Lviv were not the ones to give in to despair. Before the Turkish expansion, our merchants provided the entire Europe with red and black caviar as well as rare salmon fish brought through Genoese and Venetian colonies above the Black and Azov Seas. After losing these sources of profit, the people of Lviv started to breed fish themselves in rivers and ponds. This fish – fresh, salted and dried – became one of Lviv’s main exports to Europe, and a trademark of the city. Foreign merchants remarked: “Pike from Lviv is eaten in Vienna, despite the fact that Danube, which is quite rich in fish, flows right there under the seven bridges… Lviv pike deserves the highest praise, it can be compared to that caught at one time between the two bridges in Tiber and highly valued by the Romans”.

    The other important item of Lviv export was wax. The city’s authorities vigilantly controlled the quality of this product and awarded it the trademark with the city’s coat of arms – a small lion. The importance of wax quality for Lviv can be easily seen in the fact that its counterfeiting was punishable by death. The wax from Lviv was known all over Europe. It was even brought as far as England and Spain.

    The forests around Lviv were extremely rich in fur-bearing animals. Wolf and lynx furs and elk skins were highly valued in Europe and especially in the East. Sable furs were in particular demand. During the single year of 1588, Lviv merchant Jarosz Wedelski exported 30 thousand (!) sable furs, while craftsman Dmytro did the same with 3 thousand of self-made hats.

    Fedorov, the First Printer

    Book printing played an extremely important role in the development of the Ukrainian culture and the struggle of Ukrainians for their rights. It was in Lviv that Ivan Fedorov (also known here as Fedorovych) printed the first Ukrainian book.

    Most likely he came from somewhere on the Ukrainian-Belorussian border, having obtained education and learnt his profession in European universities. In 1564, when Fedorov lived in Moscow, he printed the first book in Russia – “The Apostle” – but was forced to flee persecution and chose to come to Lviv: “…all the wicked, the worst of the worst was after me. But with God’s grace I came to the blessed city called Lviv. And, having said my prayers, I started the work dedicated to God, spreading the God-inspired dogmas”.

    The Height of Lviv Prosperity

    In early 17th century Lviv became the largest city of Ukraine in terms of population, which doubled that of Kyiv. The trade power of Lviv was being restored.

    In 1606 a merchant from Gdansk named Martin Groeneweg described Lviv in the following way: “All cattle driven from Podillya and Moldavia to Italy goes through this city. I have travelled through half the Europe, I’ve been to the most famous cities of the world, but nowhere have I seen so much bread. There’s a lot of beer and honey here, too, and not just local, but also imported. Wine is brought from Moldavia, Hungary and Greece. Sometimes you can see over a thousand barrels of wine stacked in Rynok Square. In this city, like in the Market of Venice, you can meet people from all over the world in their national clothing: Cossacks in large furry hats, Russians in white hats, Turks in white turbans, Germans, Italians, Spaniards in short clothes. Whatever language you speak, you’ll find it here. The city lies far from the sea, but when you see a crowd of Cretans, Turks, Greeks and Italians gathered around barrels of malmsey in Rynok Square, still dressed for sea voyage, you might think that there’s a port right outside the city gates”.

    Lviv counsellor Johann Alnpeck wrote about the city of that time: “Lviv supplies the entire Kingdom of Poland with various silk fabrics, carpets and odoriferous roots in sufficient quantities. Here one can find everything for human consumption. Besides, food prices are incredibly low here, attracting many people of different nationalities to the city…”

    Lviv was considered to be the largest wine storehouse in Europe. Thousands of barrels of wines from Greece, Cyprus, Sicily and Spain, which were collectively called “malmsey” at the time, were stored in Rynok Square and other places. Later the wine was distributed through the countries of Europe and the East. A chronicler of that time remarked that any citizen of Lviv – be it a merchant, a doctor, a pharmacist or a craftsman – either traded in malmsey or sold it in a tavern.

    But good times tend to be followed by not-so-good times. In the late 17th and especially the early 18th century Lviv declined again. Sieges, wars, breakdown of the Polish state and demands of the new historical era again put Lviv in the category of insignificant and non-influential cities for some time.

    The Sieges of Lviv

    Among its numerous historical achievements, Lviv can boast the fact that for three and a half centuries no adversary could conquer the city. During that time Lviv survived about a hundred sieges.

    Lviv lived through sieges by Turks, Tatars, Moldavians, Cossacks and Russian troops. At times, the enemy’s forces were dozens or even hundreds of times larger than the defenders’, but the attackers failed to take the stronghold of the King’s city. 

    One of the first known sieges of Lviv occurred in 1286. A Tatar Khan called Telebuha surrounded the city and sent his ambassadors to Lviv to negotiate the city’s surrender. As the old legend goes, before showing the city to Tatar ambassadors, women rolled scores of empty barrels into the streets and set them upside down. Then they swept the remains of wheat, flour and grain from their closets and covered the tops of empty barrels with them, making the barrels look like they were full. In addition to that, they let all remaining poultry and cattle out of the pens to run squealing and shrieking through the streets.

    After the Tatar ambassadors saw this, they came back to Telebuha and sadly told him that the city had so much poultry and livestock that it could easily endure even a long siege. According to the chronicler, the Khan, infuriated with this news, “stood under the city walls for two more weeks without taking military action, and if he caught any people who ventured outside the besieged city, he stripped them naked and let them go. And many people froze to death like that, since it was a very cold winter”.

    Khmelnytsky's cossacks at the City Walls

    One of the most severe and controversial sieges of Lviv was the first siege by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1648.

    Even now there is a dispute in the intellectual circles as to who really Khmelnytsky was for Lviv: a liberator from the Polish rule or a savage conqueror from the East who wanted to plunder the European city and wipe out its population.

    It was the year of 1648. The war of liberation of the Ukrainian people from the Polish rule was gaining intensity. The Polish nobility had recently suffered a crushing defeat under Pilyavtsy. A huge force consisting of Cossack and Tatar troops as well as armed peasants appeared under Lviv’s walls, intent on plundering the city. Some Tatars and Cossacks even brought as many as ten horses each. They thought they’d load the loot they had dreamt about on those horses.

    Those living in the outskirts sought refuge behind the city walls, women and children hid in churches and monasteries, and the rest of Lviv’s citizens who stayed in the city decided to defend it to the end. Cossacks and Tatars burned and pillaged the city’s outskirts. Cossacks used the buildings outside the walls to fire upon the city with deadly accuracy. To deprive them of this opportunity, the defenders decided upon a desperate step – to burn the outskirts. When hundreds of buildings were set on fire at night, it appeared as if people found themselves right in the middle of hell. In the morning, nothing but charred ruins lay on all four sides of Lviv. Khmelnytsky was starting to realize that taking the city will be no trivial feat. Even the fact that someone from the outskirts showed the Cossacks the water pipe that ran from Poltva to the city didn’t help much. The pipe was blocked, and, according to the chronicler, people behind the city walls “were forced to drink water with sewage”.

    Khmelnytsky turned from the siege to the reasonable tactics of negotiations. For several days Lviv hosted the ambassadors – Ukrainian colonel Holovatsky and Tatar transport driver Piris-Aha. The people of Lviv showered the experts with gifts: silver sabres decorated with rubies, golden belts and several thousand zlotys. Of course, after such a reception the ambassadors convinced Khmelnytsky and Tuhai-Bei that the city is very poor and cannot pay much. In the end, the ransom cost Lviv several times less than the amount the city could actually pay in money and goods.  

    Cossacks appeared under Lviv’s walls once more in 1655, when Khmelnitsky with the aid of a large Russian army failed to conquer the city the second time.

    Lviv panorama

    Turks, Tatars and Swedes at the City Gates

    In 1672 Turkish Sultan Mehmet IV, having conquered the entire Podillya, charged his vassal Kapudan-Pasha and his ally Hetman Petro Doroshenko with the task of conquering Lviv.

    In the autumn of that year Lviv was surrounded by the largest army in its entire history, numbering 230 thousand people. Polish active forces – the dragoons that were sent by the King to defend the city – were quick to flee the danger, since they didn’t believe it was possible to confront such a huge military force.

    Virtually all nobles and wealthy citizens left Lviv, but Burgomaster Bartlomiej Zimorowic swore in the rest of the people of Lviv. They took an oath not to leave the city under any circumstances, and to take their stand till the end. There were a little over a thousand of them. But the miracle happened: the enemy who outnumbered the defenders by 230 to one still failed to breach the city walls. Kapudan-Pasha agreed for a ransom of 80 thousand Thalers, out of which Lviv could pay only 5 thousand. The Turks took ten hostages, including two Ukrainians, and intended to hold them until the city paid the ransom in full. The entire city saw them off to slavery with tears of gratitude in their eyes. Citizen of Lviv Jakiv Nyrka joined the hostages on his own volition. For seven long years they stayed in Turkish captivity, until the city was able to pay the amount in full. Not all of them came back alive.

    In 1675, three years after the unsuccessful siege of the city by the Turkish Sultan’s troops, a large Tatar army set off for Lviv. King Jan III Sobieski hurried to Lviv with his army. Queen Marysienka also came here with her entire court. For a long time she knelt down and prayed for the salvation of the city in the Cathedral and the Jesuit Church – and not in vain. According to English historian Connor and French historian Salvandi, Lysenytski Fields near Lviv saw a quick military victory the likes of which had been hardly known in the world’s history before. Talented commander Jan Sobieski routed almost 50 thousand of well-armed Tatars and Turks with just seven thousand of his own troops. The remains of the Tatar army fled home in shame. And in 1695 Hetman StanisЕ‚aw Jablonowski defeated the Tatars near Lviv once and for all. After that they never dared appear under the city walls.

    But eventually, for the first time in centuries, Lviv was taken by an enemy. It happened in 1704. Dressed in a private soldier’s uniform, the 23-year-old King of Sweden Karl XII leading several hundred of his men managed to do what hundreds of thousands of Tatars, Turks, Moldavians and Cossacks could not do for centuries.

    On September 6, 1704, in the dead of the night, the Swedes took the Discalced Carmelites Monastery. Right at that time City Commandant Franciszek Galetski was fast asleep mere dozens of meters from what was happening in the Gunpowder Tower. Upon hearing screams and gunshots he gave the order to hold the line, while fleeing himself to the other end of the city – the Jesuit Collegium.

    Several hundred Swedish dragoons led by General Stenbock decided not to wait for artillery and infantry and attacked the city gates, which were left unlocked and unguarded. In several minutes, having easily overcome the resistance of Hungarians from the hired royal infantry, the Swedes were already in the City Hall, whose clock showed eight in the morning. During the assault a defender from Kornyakta Tower shot the hat off the Swedish King’s head. But there was little consolation in this. For the first time in almost four hundred years Lviv was taken by an enemy. This event signalled the coming of new times – and these times were not so favourable for Lviv.

    Lviv panorama

    Under the Austrian Rule

    It was inevitable that the general crisis of the Polish state in the 18th century was reflected in Lviv's status. Constant sieges, frequent epidemics and fires lead to a considerable diminution of the city's population.

    The ultimate loss of its dominating position as a large trade city standing at the intersection of strategically important routes practically ruined Lviv. The Polish state became so weak that three powerful European countries – Austria, Prussia and Russia – decided to simply divide its territory among them. In September 1772 the Austrian Empire’s troops entered Lviv, and for the next century and a half the city found itself under the rule of one of the European powers. 

    The reforms introduced by the new authorities resulted in positive changes in the state structure, as well as in education and culture. Adhering to the principles of enlightened absolutism, Emperor Joseph II carried out a church reform. All monasteries of Lviv which could not prove that they were actually involved in educational, social, medical or charitable activities were closed. Their premises were used for barracks, hospitals, prisons and educational institutions. During Emperor Joseph’s reform, a number of Ukrainian churches in the old part of the city – Pidzamcha – were destroyed. 

    Dismantling of the city walls which had played their historical role long ago was started in 1777. The city was expanding, new buildings were being erected, new streets and squares were appearing. In the late 18th – first half of 19th century the architectural style of Classicism became predominant in residential and civil construction.

    Cultural life flourished in Lviv under the Austrian rule. Two theatres of European importance were built here: Skarbkivski (M. Zankovetska) Theatre and Grand City (Opera and Ballet) Theatre. The University was reorganized, and publishing business was developing in Lviv. In 1870 Lviv was granted the right of local self-government. It became a truly European city. An Austrian journalist who paid a visit to Lviv could not find any differences between our city and the major cities of Europe: the buildings were the same, the stores and coffee-houses were the same, the way of life and traditions were the same. In Austrian Lviv technical and scientific inventions were born, and the most advanced technologies of the time were implemented. It was one of the first cities in the Empire to see gas (and later electrical) street lighting, motor transport, and telephone communications. In 1894 the first electrical tram was launched in Lviv, long before this happened in Vienna. Later the best railway station in the Empire was constructed here. 

    But despite the liberalization of political and social life under the sceptre of Habsburgs, the Ukrainians continued to fight for their spiritual and political freedom. In 1837 progressive-minded young scientists Markiyan Shashkevych, Ivan Vahylevych and Yakiv Holovatsky published “Rusalka Dnistrova” – a book that was written in the language of simple people. This was a bold challenge and an action against national oppression of the Ukrainians. The book was banned by censors, almost all printed copies were destroyed, and persecution of the authors was started. During the Spring of Nations of 1848 the Supreme Ruthenian Council in Lviv proclaimed rebirth and conciliarism of the Ukrainian nation. In general, the relatively liberal policy of the Austrian Empire with the inevitable tinge of the primordial principle “divide et impera” (divide and rule) did facilitate the preservation of Ukrainian identity unseen in any of the other regions of Ukraine under the rule of any powers in any times.

    Krayova exhibition 1894 Krayova exhibition 1894

    Back to Poland

    After the Austrian Empire's defeat in World War I, according to the will of victorious European powers, Lviv once again fell under the Polish rule.

    Despite the fact that the action for independence taken by the Ukrainians in November 1918, the creation of the West-Ukrainian People’s Republic, and the unification with the Great Ukraine suffered a defeat in the end, they did establish a basis for Ukrainian independence and conciliarism. The reign of Polish authoritarian regime in Lviv during 1919-1939 only served to intensify the resistance of the Ukrainians and consolidate them in the fight for their rights.

    Pragmatic and strict constructivism replaced the “golden age” of Austrian secession of early 20th century in local building style. The territory of Lviv was considerably expanded at the expense of several suburban districts. The city’s population grew from 210 thousand in 1910 to over 300 thousand right before World War II.

    Under the Rule of the Soviet Totalitarianism

    In September 1939, as a result of collusion between Stalin and Nazi Germany, Lviv became a part of the Soviet empire.

    Unification of the Ukrainian people in a single state and partial Ukrainization of education and culture was outweighed by mass totalitarian repressions against the Western Ukrainians unseen before in history. Tens of thousands of people from Halychyna were sent to concentration camps and exiled to Siberia.

    Resistance of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army against the Soviet regime lasted until late 50s. In 60s and 70s Lviv became the scene of several widely known trials of dissidents – Vyatcheslav Chornovil, Bohdan Horyn, Ivan Hel, Iryna and Ihor Kalynets. They all contributed to Ukraine eventually gaining independence.

    Soviet buildings

    The Times of Ukrainian Independence

    The Times of Ukrainian Independence
    Being an indisputable capital of Ukrainian culture, spirituality and national identity, Lviv has always played a major role in the development of democracy and struggle for Ukraine's independence.

    All state-creating processes related to gaining and consolidating the independence of Ukraine originated in Lviv. It was here that the first mass actions in support of independence were taken; the participants of these actions were persecuted and beaten by special police units.

    On September 17, 1989 Lviv became the site of the largest demonstration in support of revival of Ukraine’s independence and the Greek Catholic Church of the time. One hundred thousand people participated in it. The life chain of conciliarism between Lviv and Kyiv on January 21, 1990, when millions of Ukrainians joined their hands, was a landmark on the way to the rebirth of the Ukrainian state. On April 3, 1990 a blue and yellow state flag was hoisted above Lviv City Hall. When the Act on State Independence of Ukraine was passed on August 24, 1991, the following day hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Lviv celebrating this event.

    In 1999 Lviv became a sort of  capital of Central and Eastern Europe. It was the only city in the entire history of Ukraine to simultaneously receive the heads of nine states during the Summit of Heads of Eastern and Central European States. 

    Lviv has always been and still remains the detonator of nation-creating and democratic processes in the Ukrainian state. Our city became the main stronghold of the Orange Revolution in November-December 2004, when Ukraine was in the focus of attention of the entire world. Seventy percent of Lviv’s people took part in the actions aimed at defending the democracy in Lviv, and every third resident of the city stood his ground in Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv. In autumn of 2006 Lviv celebrated its 750th anniversary.