Posted in Photography, Travel, Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian history

Lviv, Ukraine (Львів, Україна)

Copyright Jorge Láscar

Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine, was named for King Lev I of Galicia–Volhynia, also Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 1228–1301). The city was known as Lvihorod (Lev’s City) in Ancient Ruthenian. Well-known other names include Lemberg (German and Yiddish), L’vov (Russian), and Lwów (Polish).

The first inhabitants were White Croats who arrived in the fifth century of the Common Era. Several other Slavic tribes moved in and fought for control during the next few centuries. The battle for ownership was settled in 981, when Grand Prince Vladimir the Great annexed the area to Kyivan Rus and built a castle.

When Galicia was created in 1084, the settlements which became the nucleus of Lviv were included in the territory.

Copyright Lestat (Jan Mehlich)

The city was officially founded in 1256. According to tradition, its founder was King Daniel of Galicia, who named it after his son Lev, but other chronicles claim King Lev himself was the founder.  Still other sources cite it as a joint effort.

In 1259 or 1261, under threat of Tatar invasion, Daniel and Lev were forced to destroy the wooden castle on Castle Mountain. Galicia then became a vassal of the Golden Horde. Because the ancient capital of Halych had been destroyed by Mongols in 1241, commingled with a growing Polish threat, Lev moved the capital of Galicia–Volhynia to Lviv in 1272.

The city quickly developed after this.

Dominican Church, Copyright Maksym Kozlenko

Dominican Church interior, Copyright Robin Schuil

Lviv soon attracted many merchants from Armenia and the German lands, and gained even more population when a lot of Poles immigrated from Kraków to escape famine.

In 1340, Lviv became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. That same year, King Casimir III of Poland invaded and burnt the new castle. Dmytro Dedko, Lord of Ruthenia, repulsed the invasion, but after his 1349 death, Casimir returned and claimed Lviv as his own.

As part of the Kingdom of Poland, the Ukrainian population were subject to constant pressure to convert to Catholicism and adopt Polish language and customs.

26-28 Prospekt Shevchenka, Copyright Aeou

Lviv received Magdeburg rights in 1365, providing the city with some internal autonomy. In 1387, Galicia–Volhynia was briefly occupied by Hungary, but after Queen Jadwiga of Poland invaded, the area was annexed to the Polish Crown.

By 1630, Lviv had a population of 25,000–30,000. Merchants and artisans from all over Europe flocked to the thriving city.

House of Scientists

In the mid-17th century, the Ukrainian lands were beset by a long period of constant uprisings and wars against the various foreign occupiers. Most of these uprising were led by Cossacks, but there were also several invasions by other countries.

Sweden invaded Poland in 1655 and succeeded in capturing most of the kingdom, and laid Lviv to siege. However, they were forced to retreat before they could capture the city.

Ottomans and Tatars attacked in 1672 and 1675, and there was also an invasion from Transylvania. Then Sweden attacked again in 1704, captured Lviv, and pillaged the city.

Church of the Dormition, Copyright Kugel

All Saints Church in the convent of Benedictines, Copyright Neovitaha777

After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Lviv was annexed to the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria and officially named Lemberg. Under Habsburg rule, cultural life and higher education thrived for the next few decades, and the population increased.

Ukrainians, Ruthenians, and Poles were all swept up in the revolutionary nationalist fervor sweeping Europe in 1848, which greatly alarmed the Austrian authorities. Among other draconian, cruel measures carried out, all demonstrations were put down, streets were barricaded, the town hall was set on fire, houses were searched, the city centre was bombarded, and martial law was declared.

Black House, Copyright Aeou

Black House closeup, Copyright Maksym Kozlenko

With the Austro–Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Habsburgs agreed to split their empire with the Kingdom of Hungary, ending the 18-year military dictatorship and absolute rule following the 1848 revolution. Lviv became the capital of Galicia and began rapidly developing under Polish nobles’ rule.

Along with much new construction came a much-needed sewer system, reinforced concrete, a railway, both horse-drawn and electric trams, surgical innovations, new technology, a theatre and opera house, and water mains. Legal emancipation was also granted to the Jewish community in 1870.

Lviv was a very important centre of the Ukrainian national revival.

Church of the Ascension, Copyright Neovitaha777

Kiselka family mausoleum in Lychakiv Cemetery, Copyright Aeou

During WWI, Lviv was initially captured by the Russians, but retaken by Austria–Hungary a year later. After the war, Lviv became the capital of the short-lived West Ukrainian People’s Republic. During this time, the Polish–Ukrainian War raged, as each ethnic group fought for control. When the Polish majority captured Lviv in November 1918, they looted and burnt the Jewish and Ukrainian quarters (including a pogrom), shut down all Ukrainian cultural institutes and societies, arrested and fired Ukrainians, and forced Ukrainians to work on Greek Catholic religious holidays.

St. John Chrysostom Church, Copyright Aeou

Sts. Cosmas and Damian Church, Copyright Крістіна Федорович

In July 1919, Lviv became part of Poland. When the new borders were finalized in 1923, 40,000 Ukrainians protested.

As Lwów, the city was a major centre of culture, science, and education in Poland, second only to Warsaw. It earned the nickname Little Paris. Though Ukrainians were only 15% of the population and faced a lot of discrimination, they nevertheless cultivated a great cultural and national renaissance during the interwar years.

Citadel, Copyright Сергій Криниця (Haidamac) (Serhiy Krynytsya)

Powder Tower, Copyright Prymasal

Lviv was occupied by the USSR from 1939–41, a period of repression and mass deportations to Siberia. The Nazis took control on 30 June 1941. Many Ukrainians welcomed them as liberators, but soon realized their new occupiers were just as bad as the Soviets.

Lviv’s Jewish community, which was the third-largest in Europe and increased in size due to war refugees, lost thousands of people in pogroms during the early days of the Nazi occupation. The survivors were put into a ghetto and later deported to Bełżec or Janowska. Only a few hundred remained by the time the Soviets liberated the city.

Jad Charuzim Society and Synagogue, Copyright Demmarcos

Jakob Glanzer Shul, Copyright Aeou

Remains of the Golden Rose Synagogue, Copyright Aeou

After the war, Lviv became part of Soviet Ukraine. Due to population transfer, the city quickly gained a Ukrainian majority.

Today the city is one of Ukraine’s most important cultural, educational, political, and economic centres, and is renowned for its beautiful architecture.

Church of St. George, Copyright Demmarcos


Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

2 thoughts on “Lviv, Ukraine (Львів, Україна)

  1. The Black House is spectacular! Your last sentence — “Today the city is one of Ukraine’s most important cultural, educational, political, and economic centres, and is renowned for its beautiful architecture.” — do you know if that area has been destroyed by Russian troops?


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