Lviv History

According to the ancient chronicles Lviv was founded in 1256 by the Prince of Qalicia and Volyn Danylo Romanovych, who named the town in honour of his son Lev. The centre of old Lviv was on the site of today's Old Rynok Square. Situated on the crossroads of trade routes, Lviv grew fast, and soon became an important centre of commerce and crafts. Its location in the middle of Galicia-Volyn principality gave the town a considerable strategic value. In 1272 Prince Lev transferred the capital of the principality from Qalych to Lviv. In 1349 Lviv was captured by the Polish King Kazimierz HI, who ordered it to be moved more to the south. The new town was built to the plan of a traditional European settlement: a central square surrounded by living quarters and fortifications.

Not only merchants were attracted by the wealth of Lviv. In those days Tatars, Moldavians, Turks, rebellious Polish nobility were attacking Lviv, and the defences were a vital matter. Basically the system of fortifications was completed in 1445; it comprised the Higher and Lower Defence Walls with a ditch between them; a deep moat filled with water, which protected the town on the northern, eastern and southern sides; a defence rampart, 16 metres high; the High and Low Castles. The river and impassable swamps shielded Lviv from the west. However, with the advent of firearms, such fortifications could afford little protection, and they underwent drastic alterations. High walls were replaced by lower and thicker ones; in place of towers with narrow embrasures, designed mainly for archers, there appeared basteas (semicircular defence structures with an open space in place of a roof on the top), two of which have been preserved until the present day (in Pidvalna Street and in Brativ Rogatyntsiv Street); earthworks became very common. The last significant addition to the town defences was the Royal Arsenal, constructed in 1639-1669 (13 Pidvalna Street).

The High Castle, built by the Polish King Kazimierz III, heavily fortified and located on a steep hill, 300 metres high, remained inaccessible for more than 300 years. It was only in 1648 that the High Castle was seized for the first time, by the Cossacks of Maxym Kryvonis. In 1672 Turks captured it almost without a fight. Later, little was done to save the Castle from decay, and in the 1870s it was dismantled, with a segment of its southern wall being preserved.

The Lower Castle, famous for its beauty, rebuilt after 1565 to replace earlier wooden ones, was located on the site presently occupied by the national Museum and Maria Zankovetska Theatre. Here in 1537 King Sigismund I the Old signed the Order which put an end to the absolute monarchy in Poland. The Swedish King Karl XII stayed in the Lower Castle in 1704 after capturing the city. A royal residence, the Castle also served as a prison for Polish nobility.

The devastating fire of 1527 razed Lviv to the ground, leaving only two structures: the Town Hall and one other building; the survival of the latter was attributed to the protection of the Holy Virgin. So intense was the fire, that it destroyed even stone structures and melted church bells and artillery guns. Although the ban imposed on wooden construction in 1540 was not too strictly observed, the buildings which appeared later were largely built of stone. The most common type of building was a three-storeyed one, with three windows on each floor. The walls were covered with carpets, which later gave way to plaster. Furniture, mostly made of oak, solid, intricately carved and lavishly decorated; oriental carpets on the floor; kitchenware of silver and tin (which used to be almost as expensive as silver); glassware, often of coloured glass; clocks in bronze or gilded wood — these were to show the wealth of a house-owner. Paintings and books were not scarce in the town. Preference was given to Italian and Dutch painting; libraries with dozens or hundreds of volumes were quite common. The largest known library, with 1,200 books, belonged to John Alembek, the author of the first description of Lviv (1618), who died in 1636.

Without sanitation, the town was prone to epidemics. From the 14th to the 18th centuries 51 epidemics were recorded in Lviv. The largest toll was taken by the so called Black Years of 1620-1623, when two-thirds of the local population died. Food was plain as elsewhere in those days; the typical menu consisted of cereals and vegetables. Fish was very popular. Trade in salted fish was one of the main sources of income for the Lviv treasury, with quality control being stringent. Only two species of fish out of dozens produced were awarded a quality certificate. Oriental spices, extremely expensive in Europe (for example, black pepper cost twice as much as gold in Western Europe), were cheap and accessible in Lviv, which was one of the few cities enjoying the right to the exclusive storage of oriental goods, which meant that such goods were to be sold to the local people for prices set by Lviv. In case of non-compliance, the whole caravan was confiscated.

Local town people loved good drinks. Among the popular drinks in Lviv were gorilka mead. Wine was very common. In addition to wine which came from Greece, Spain, Italy and Hungary, the city was manufacturing its own wine: vineyards were planted on the site of today's Lysenko Street and Klepariv. But the favourite drink was beer, which in those days was exported even to Bavaria. It took six weeks to transport Lviv beer there, and it did not spoil. Hardly any modern drink would stand such a test. Disturbances were quelled in the city by local guards called "tsipaky". The name came from their main weapon, a military frail, in Ukrainian called "tsip". There were 24 of them. Although their formal task was to patrol the city gates at night, in fact, they acted as a city police force. In case of serious riots, four haiduks, personal guards of the town Burgomaster, intervened. Court decisions were carried out by an executioner, whose nickname, the Man Mot Too Kind, became his formal title. The job was not badly paid; however, very few volunteered to take that position, as the holder, together with his family, was doomed to general hatred and contempt.

Little is known about what Lviv cemeteries of 14th-18th centuries looked like. There were seven cemeteries located near the churches. The Catholics were buried next to the Catholic cathedrals; the cemeteries of the Assumption Church and of the Armenian Cathedral served as a burial ground for the Orthodox and for the Armenians, respectively. The Jewish cemetery, dating from the 14th century and destroyed by the Nazi in the beginning of the 1940s, occupied the site of the present Krakiwsky Market. The rich were buried in church basements; the poor — near the church. The tombstones, made of bronze, marble or alabaster, usually presented a sleeping man or woman. Such tombstones can be seen in the Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Jesuit and the Dominican Churches. The coffin carried a tomb portrait, which after the funeral was moved to the church. The collections of Lviv History Museum and of Lviv Picture Gallery contain about 10 such portraits by unknown masters, which still impress the viewer with their vivid colours and deep psychological insight. Cemeteries, located on 36 hectares of the enclosed space, presented a danger to the health of people, and in 1783, on the order of Joseph II, they were dismantled and moved outside the city's boundaries: only one — Lychakivsky cemetery — has been preserved until the present day.
The text from “Old Lviv Streets”, Lviv: Svit, 2001. ISBN 966-603-048-9

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