The Genie & His Blue Bottle – Yuriy Kulchytsky: The Beginning of Coffee In Vienna & Lviv (Lviv: The History of One City Part 42)

Lviv gained many things from its association with Vienna while under Austrian rule. Among the most enduring have been Baroque and Secessionist architecture, railways, industrialization and a European cosmopolitanism that still permeates the city today. Many visitors to Lviv assume coffee and Viennese coffeehouse culture were also transmitted from the imperial capital. This is open to debate as a recently erected monument placed in Lviv’s Danylo Halyts’koho Square has drawn attention to a surprising story, that a son of western Ukraine first brought coffee to Austria. This took place almost a century before Habsburg Rule was extended to Galicia. The monument, dedicated in 2013, features Yuriy Kulchytsky. He was born in 1640 in a small village close to Sambir, approximately 80 kilometers southwest of Lviv. This is one of two famous monuments to Kulchytsky, the first of which was unveiled 130 years earlier in Vienna. It still stands today on a pediment above the corner of Kolchitskygasse and Favorittenstrasse. That monument, like the one in Lviv, features Kulchytsky in Turkish dress. This is ironic since he helped put an end to the Turkish presence in central Europe. Among his many professions, Kulchytsky was a soldier and spy who gained lasting fame by assisting in the defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683. At the same time many now believe that he brought lasting Turkish influence to Imperial Austria, via coffee.

The Genie and His Bottle - Yuriy Kolchytsky Monument in Lviv

The Genie and His Bottle – Yuriy Kolchytsky Monument in Lviv

Merchant, Linguist, Spy & Soldier – A Man For All Sieges
Yuriy Kulchytsky is one of the great forgotten characters of European history. Born into the lower ranks of the nobility, historians are not quite sure whether he was ethnically Ruthenian or Polish. What cannot be disputed is Kulchytsky’s gift as a linguist and merchant. After taking an interest in Turkish customs and culture, he learned to speak the language. This, along with his proficiency in German, Hungarian, Serbian, Romanian, Ruthenian and Polish made him a force to be reckoned with in trade. He spent time in Turkish ruled Belgrade working for the Austrian Oriental Company. Turkish suspicion that he might be a spy led him to resettle in Vienna where he opened his own trading company in 1678. Five years later, he rendered invaluable service to the Austrians during the siege of Vienna. Kulchytsky managed to disguise himself as Turkish in order to get through the Ottoman lines. He gained an audience with Charles Duke of Lorraine, where he secured a promise that help would be sent to lift the siege. He also was able to supply critical information on the enemy camp’s size and strength.

Kulchytsky then snuck back into Vienna where he informed city leaders that help would soon arrive. This news kept them from surrendering. Sure enough, a devastating attack by allied forces led by Polish King and erstwhile Lviv resident Jan Sobieski lifted the siege. The defeated Turks fled the area in chaos. Among the many items they abandoned were several hundred bags of coffee beans. As the story goes the Austrians had no idea what these were used for. Kulchytsky explained that the Turks ground coffee from the beans to make an energizing drink. From this serendipitous start it is believed that coffee came to Vienna. Kulchyytsky was the genie opening a new bottle.

Mister Coffee - Yuriy Kulchytsky

Mister Coffee – Yuriy Kulchytsky

The Discovery Of Coffee – Kulchytsky & Everything After
For his efforts in lending assistance to the Austrian cause, Kulchytsky was rewarded with a large monetary reward and a house in the Leopoldstadt section of Vienna. Kulchytsky then started the very first Viennese coffee house, known as the “Hof zur Blauen Flasche” (House under the Blue Bottle). Historians debate the veracity of this claim. Some say an Armenian merchant was the first to open a coffee house in the city. Others state that not only did Kulchytsky bring coffee to Vienna, but he also added an invigorating twist when he experimented by adding sugar and milk to it. Another of Kulchytsky’s reputed innovations was a delicious pastry shaped in the form of a Turkish crescent. Kulchytsky never forgot his roots though, as he is said to have reverted to dressing in Ruthenian folk costume while serving Vienna’s elite at his highly successful coffeehouse.

Monument to Yuriy Kulchytsky in Vienna

Monument to Yuriy Kulchytsky in Vienna

Whether this is all true or not is seems beside the point. Kulchytsky certainly had much to do with the popularization of coffee in Vienna. His knowledge and transmission of this Turkish concoction to central Europe would later be transmitted by the Austrians to Galicia in the late 18th century. In another paradoxical twist it was not an Austrian, but an ethnic Pole who opened the first coffeehouse in Lviv in 1802. Its owner was the confectioner Jakub Lewandowski. He could have scarcely picked a better spot as it occupied the ground floor of the Scholz-Wolfowicz House on the western side of Rynok Square.  From that start, coffeehouse culture exploded across Lviv, a legacy of Austrian rule that remains today.

Under the Blue Bottle - Kulchytsky serves up coffee and culture

Under the Blue Bottle – Kulchytsky serves up coffee and culture

Contemplating The Truth– Under The Blue Bottle
It has been said to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. When it comes to coffee in Lviv and Vienna, the truth is defined by the vagaries and complexities of history. Who would think that a Polonized Ruthenian nobleman, who once was a trader in Ottoman Turkish ruled lands in the Balkans, would end up helping to save Vienna and in the process cultivate the city’s love for coffee? Who would believe that the first coffeehouse in Lviv was opened by an ethnic Pole, rather than an ethnic German? Are these facts and stories just legends? Is this historical fact or is the truth to be found somewhere in between. Perhaps the truth will one day become apparent, but it could hardly be more interesting. In the meantime, one of the best places to ponder the roots of coffee in Lviv is at Rus’ka 4 just beyond the southeastern corner of Rynok Square. The name of the coffeehouse, Pid Synioyu Plyashkoyu, literally translated means “Under the Blue Bottle.”

The Ability To Bring A Man Back To Life – Johann Georg Pinsel: A Recognition (Lviv: The History of One City Part 41)

We have all heard the stories of artists, musicians and writers who toiled in obscurity, barely able to eke out an existence while alive. Only after they were dead did fame finally arrive as there work received acclaim, but by then it was too late. They were never able to enjoy the recognition which would have been so justly deserved. No one ever mentions the opposite of this situation. What about those artists who during their lifetime were able to gain wealth and fame while enjoying the respect of peers? Only after their death did they then fade into oblivion. This happened even though their artistic work continued to be studied and revered. Such cases are rarely talked about, though they certainly exist. A fine example of such a phenomenon is Johann Georg Pinsel. For those few who have heard his name, Pinsel is known for his sacral sculptures in what is today western Ukraine. The Johann Georg Pinsel Museum of Lviv Sacral Baroque Sculpture features many of his original sculptures. This is a good place to learn about Pinsel’s work, but not the best. The most outstanding examples of his sculpture are not to be found in a museum, but on the exterior of St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv. It would seem that being featured at such a prominent architectural site would make Pinsel’s work well known. This is not the case, as an examination of what is known of Pinsel’s life makes clear.

Column with a statue of the Virgin Mary by Johann Georg Pinsel in Horodenka, Ukraine

Column with a statue of the Virgin Mary by Johann Georg Pinsel in Horodenka, Ukraine (Credit: Olexa Yur)

From Resurrection To Recognition  – The Second Life of Pinsel
Pinsel’s biography is filled with gaps. What is known only came to light during the last one-hundred and ten years. This was due to the work of Polish and Ukrainian scholars who had the ability to bring this master artist back to life. At the start of the 20th century Pinsel was almost entirely unknown. Then in 1906 his name was first connected with the sculptures now attributed to him on the portal of St. George’s Cathedral. In the late 1930’s more documentation came to light in the form of receipts showing payment to Pinsel for specific works. Then in 1993 information was uncovered about Pinsel’s immediate family along with his date of death. There is certainly the possibility that more details will come to light, but at this time the unknown outweighs the known when it comes to Pinsel’s life.

No one is quite sure exactly when or where Pinsel was born. Due to his name it is likely that he was of German or Czech origin. Born sometime in the early 18th century, Pinsel must have had the schooling, apprenticeship and talent necessary to learn the fine art of Baroque sculpture.  Sometime around the mid-18th century he moved to what was then the southeastern region of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Pinsel’s artistic abilities brought him to the attention of Mikolaj Bazyli Potocki, one of the wealthiest Polish nobles. Mikolaj Potocki was a starosta, an administrator of Polish crown lands in the region. Pinsel worked in Potocki’s court as a master sculptor in Buchach (known by its Polish name Buczacz at the time). Soon thereafter, he produced carvings to adorn the Buchach Town Hall (Potocki was the building’s benefactor) which still stands today. He also completed sculptures and bas-reliefs for churches in the town and surrounding area. Pinsel worked in both wood and stone. He was a master at what is known as the Baroque plastic arts, a sort of Slavic Michaelangelo.  His skill was such that he started a new tradition of Baroque-Rococo sculpture in the region. This was taught at a school he founded in Buchach that trained at least forty sculptors in learning his techniques.

"Samson tearing the Lion’s Mouth" by Johann George Pinsel

“Samson tearing the Lion’s Mouth” by Johann George Pinsel

The Passion Of Pinsel – Sacred Senses
Pinsel’s emotionally expressive and dynamic style can be seen in his works that still exist today. The sculptures have a charisma all their own, communicating profound senses of anguish, passion and the entire range of human emotions. Some of his finest stylistic examples include “St. George slaying the Dragon” atop the portal of St. George’s Cathedral and a piece that displays “Samson tearing the Lion’s Mouth.” Some scholars have likened Pinsel’s style to a synthesis of the Italian Renaissance fused with the northern European Gothic. The emotiveness of Pinsel’s sculptures is without precedent. He achieved a level of artistry rarely seen in the farther reaches of Eastern Europe, before or since his time. The 20th century rediscovery of Pinsel along with the fall of the Iron Curtain led to greater recognition of his works. Religious art, such as his sacral sculpture, was no longer a taboo subject.

Pinsel once again garnered attention in both Ukraine and the west. In 1996 the museum showcasing many of his works along with other artists was opened in an architectural monument, the Church of Poor Clares in Lviv. Thirty-two works of Pinsel, which had been saved from the destructive clutches of the Soviet atheistic regime, were put on display. Even greater things were to come, as twenty of his sculptures were displayed at the Louvre in Paris during late autumn and winter of 2012-2013. This was the first time that an artist associated with Ukraine was given an exhibition at the world’s most famous art museum. Despite this surge of recognition, few are still aware of Pinsel’s sculptures. His achievements have been lost to the wider art world. Ukraine is seen as a backwater to aficionados of European Baroque art. This ignorance, while unfortunate is likely to endure.

St. Leo and St. Athanasius by Johann Georg Pinsel at the entrance to St. George's Cathedral in Lviv

St. Leo and St. Athanasius by Johann Georg Pinsel at the entrance to St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv (Credit: Alex Zelenko)

The Test Of Time – An Uncompleted Pinsel
Will there ever be a complete picture of who Johann Georg Pinsel actually was or what his motivations were? Despite many devoted years of research and investigation there are as many questions as answers about Pinsel’s life and work. Yet it must be remembered that at the advent of the 20th century virtually nothing was known about the man. The famous sculptures outside St. George’s Cathedral were said to be the work of a nameless, faceless entity. In 1906 the name of their creator was discovered, one of the finest masters of Baroque Plastic Arts in Europe had resurfaced. His celebrity has ebbed and flowed ever since then, but his artistic achievement has stood the test of time, if only the same could be said for his biography.

Like Life Itself – St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv: The Architecture of Belief (Lviv: The History of One City Part 40)

During each of my three visits to Lviv, I have found myself at St. George’s Cathedral. One would imagine that by this point the cathedral would have exhausted my curiosity. On the contrary, I am planning to go there again on my next visit. The more I have read about the church, the more fascinated I have become with its architectural and spiritual importance, both to the Ukrainian nation and to the individual. It is more than a church, it is a national shrine, but it also works on the deepest of personal levels. I became intimately aware of the latter during my first visit to the Cathedral in 2011.

St. George's Cathedral in Lviv

Illuminating – St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv (Credit: Rbrechko)

Three Hills Above Lviv
There are three famous hills in Lviv, each known for being the site of a memorable building. As the city was set out along the Poltva River valley, these hills flanked that valley. The most well-known of these was a hill on the eastern side of the river that was once the setting of High Castle, the princely residence and fortification which towered over medieval Lviv. Today there are only scant ruins and faint traces in the earth where the castle once stood. On the western side of the river valley, the Austrian Habsburg rulers built a fortification known as the Citadel in the mid-19th century. This site would later become infamous for its role during World War II as the scene of an internment camp where as many as 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war starved to death. Today one of the Citadel buildings houses a luxury hotel, while the others are derelict.

Not too far away from the Citadel stands St. George’s Hill. This prominence is home to the most important Ukrainian structure in the city, St. George’s Cathedral. It was once the administrative and still is the spiritual home of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The cathedral is a bastion of the Ukrainian nation and one of the premier architectural wonders in Lviv. It stands above much of the city, on a 321 meter high hill. The cathedral’s placement on this hill has made it a prominent symbol of the enduring faith of the Ukrainian people who call this land and its most famous city home.

Portal to St. George's Cathedral

Portal to St. George’s Cathedral (Credit: Klymenkoy)

The Ascent To St. George’s
Making my way up St. George’s Hill and to the cathedral for the first time was not very simple. It was a good twenty minute walk from Lviv’s Old Town, a fair distance away from the city’s main attractions. The church was built far outside the old medieval city walls. Despite being an outlier, the cathedral was placed in a prominent spot, atop one of the highest hills in the city. Its lack of protection, distance from the city and strategic setting meant it would become a target in wartime. This led to the first church on the site being destroyed by Polish forces in 1340. When I first walked up St. George’s Hill I did not immediately recognize its prime position. The city has grown up around it, so much that the surrounding development serves as a distraction from its unique hilltop setting. Only when I made the final ascent to the Cathedral did I realize that St. George’s was at the pinnacle of a hill.

I entered the complex through a gate displaying allegorical figures from the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches. It immediately became apparent that St. George’s was only one of the architectural wonders located on the site. An ensemble of buildings stood before me. These included the Metropolitan’s Palace, where no less a personage than Pope John Paul II stayed in 2001, along with the Curia, which houses the administration and a monastery. The complex also contains a garden and bell tower. Due to its golden dome, eye popping yellow exterior and rococo architecture, I sensed a festive aura. As I got closer this changed to a more serious and subdued feeling. Above the entrance I noticed a sculpture of St. George slaying the legendary dragon. Flanking either side of the portal were sculptures of Saints Leo – the namesake of Lviv – and Athanasius – the great champion of Catholic belief. This was an inkling of the reverential symbolism to come.

Interior of St. George's Cathedral

Interior of St. George’s Cathedral (Credit: Антон Супруненко)

The Architecture Of Belief
Entering the church, my senses were overwhelmed by the smell of burning incense. I was astonished by the charismatic nature of the interior’s iconography. Spending my formative years in the dour and comparatively austere Presbyterian Church did not prepare me for the sensuality of spiritualism that pervades Uniate churches, such as St. George’s. The rituals, the allegorical meanings inscribed on the altar, the devotion etched on the expressive faces of the many women who filled the church on this weekday morning was astonishing. Everything in the Cathedral was meant to reveal deeper meanings, from its design in the shape of a Greek Cross, to the four-tiered iconostasis and the wonder working icon of the Virgin Mary covered in silver plating, St. George’s lends itself to greater contemplation and meditation. One could not help but feel reverential. Here was the architecture of belief. A deep and penetrating stillness overwhelmed me. I felt that my role here was as an observer, documenting in my memory this shattering sensory experience. My idea of a church had always been as a house of worship, nothing more and nothing less. Yet the magnetic symbolism of St. George’s gave me a new and mind altering perspective, a spiritual formulation of something deep in the human soul. The church was eternal and timeless, like life itself.

Each time I have returned to St. George’s Cathedral a sense of peacefulness takes hold of me as soon as that architectural ensemble comes into view. On top of a hill, overlooking a shimmering city, in a beaming cathedral, that is where the eternal lives on. For me St. George’s has become more than a cathedral. It is an architectural representation of a feeling, a deep and abiding sense of faith, a faith that can be found not so much in religion, but in the spiritual experience of being human.


Metternich In Lviv – “How Happy I Am To Leave This Place” (Lviv: The History of One City Part 39)

“I cannot tell you, my dear, how happy I am to leave this place; I am dreadfully weary of it. All my life I shall remember the month of October 1823.” – Prince Klemens Von Metternich, private letter to his wife, written from Lviv on October 21, 1823

To get sick in a foreign country is an experience that I do not wish upon any traveler. There is nothing that can bring about such a longing for home and the comfort of familiar surroundings as illness in a faraway land. Waiting to get better demands an excruciating patience. The illness abates only with rest and the passing of time. Sickness warps the traveler’s perspective, prejudicing opinion against the place where they are inconveniently situated. The course of suffering runs ever so slowly. I know this from personal experience. My opinion of Riga, Latvia has never recovered from a terrible cold I caught while visiting the city. It was likely brought on by flying from a warm and dry autumn climate in Kiev to a wet, cold and blustery Riga. I woke up on the first morning of my visit with a throat so sore that I could barely swallow. I made my way to a pharmacy for what would turn out to be a thrice daily cocktail of Robitussin and Tylenol. For several nights I awoke with cold shivers followed by drenching sweats. Congestion, an endlessly runny nose and a dull, relentless headache are my most enduring memories of Riga. Another memory concerns melancholy walks through the old town while nursing cough syrup and trying to appreciate the beauty and history of the largest city in the Baltic region. It was not to be. I longed for the familiarity of home. Sleeping in my own bed was a nagging desire, an unrequited dream among those nightmarish restless evenings spent in a hostel. I missed my mother terribly. There was no one to take care of me other than me.

Prince Klemens Von Metternich

Superiority Complex – Prince Klemens Von Metternich (Credit: Thomas Lawrence)

Laid Low In Lviv – Metternich Takes To The Bed
Why do I bring this experience up? After all this is an article concerning Lviv. I have never been sick in Lviv, one of the many reasons I hold warm thoughts and feelings for it. If I had been taken with illness there, perhaps my attitude toward the city would have been irreparably altered. To be sick in Lviv, I cannot quite imagine. That is until I came across the experiences of a famous Austrian laid low there by illness. In the autumn of 1823, Prince Klemens von Metternich, the statesman par excellence of his time was waylaid by a bout of rheumatic fever in Lemberg (as Lviv was officially known at the time) for nearly a month. During this time Metternich’s opinion of the city deteriorated. His state of mind can best be summed up as hypochondria infused with a healthy dose of crass egotism. His health would eventually recover, but it is doubtful that his opinion of the city ever did.

In 1823 Metternich was making his first trip across Galicia. This was not a familiarization visit, but a diplomatic trip. He was traveling to Czernowitz in the Bukovina where he was to join Emperor Franz at a meeting with Russian Tsar Alexander I. Franz was trying to convince the Tsar to negotiate peace with the Ottoman Turks and avert a Russo-Turkish war. This bit of international diplomacy would take place without Metternich. The master diplomat never made it beyond Lviv. He arrived in the city after midnight on September 28th in a state of ill health. This became the main subject of a series of letters he wrote to his wife over the next four weeks.
September 28th – Lviv – “Here I awoke with one of those rheumatic feverish attacks which keep me in bed for two or three days without rhyme or reason. The doctor does not think my pulse bad, but I am in a continual perspiration. Today I am better that is to say, I perspire less. I shall, however, remain in bed for three days, to prevent a return of the malady. I can tell you nothing of Lemberg, for I have seen nothing”

Metternich would only see a very limited amount of Lemberg over the coming month. His opinion of the city was influenced by his illness from the very start. He spent much of his time bed ridden. When the local aristocracy invited him to attend a social gathering, his sickness became a convenient excuse to not venture forth. An element of snobbish condescension was detectable in his attitude.

September 29th“I remain in bed, however, for two days; first to make sure of my recovery, and then to avoid being overdone with audiences, presentations, and fetes of every kind. (Countess) Potocki made a point of my passing the Rubicon. I only just escaped having to get up from my bed to be present at the ball, by means of the most vigorous protestations.”

It can be inferred from Metternich’s own words that he could have attended the ball, but he had little interest in Lviv’s high society. Meeting and greeting local notables was not why he had traveled the to empire’s eastern fringes. The only reason he ended up in Lviv was due to rheumatic fever. Sickness had stranded him in the city and sickness would make him a veritable prisoner to the house he occupied throughout the visit. He also seemed to suffer from hypochondria.

October 2nd – “I have not written to you for the last two days, for I have nothing to say but to complain of annoyances here… You can understand how this accident annoys me. My illness is nothing, and I must take it patiently, for it seems to be part of my nature periodically to pass through these crises. I only suffer from annoyance, for I have not even any fever; but business weighs upon me, body and mind. No one else can do what has to be done, and this thought is in itself enough to cause fever.”

Metternich’s self-centered nature manifested itself in egotism. How could diplomatic compromise be achieved if he was not present in Czernowitz? Everything depended on him or so he wanted to believe. He scarcely mentions Lviv because he is so self-involved. He has greater matters to worry about. Peace or war depended on him or so he wanted to believe. What did that have to do with Lviv?
October 10th“I was fortunate enough to fall into the hands of a straightforward, practical physician. I feel that he at once seized on the peculiarities of my nature, and especially on the singularities and anomalies caused by so trying a life. My illness was partly from cold and partly the consequence of the anxieties of the Congress. Now, to cure the first of these maladies is very possible, but I defy any physician in the world to cure the second; so that my nervous system fell into a state of febrile agitation.”

Reading passages such as these is painful. Metternich craved power, enforced imperial absolutism, yet here he complains of how his role places an immense burden on his health and welfare. He sees everything through the prism of his personality. The reader is also left to wonder, where is Lviv?

October 17th“I am quite myself again now. My illness was one of those tiresome affections, catarrhal or rheumatic, which always send me to bed for ten days or a fortnight. In the usual state of things the incon- venience (for it is not a real illness) would have passed off as on former occasions. But just imagine my situation. Alone the only man knowing anything of the business in bed at Lemberg, and the two Emperors tete a tete at Czernowitz. Two results only possible, immediate war between Russia and the Porte or immediate peace; and I, holding peace in my hands, and alone knowing the means of securing peace, ill in bed ! I swear to you that no common strength of mind and will was needed to keep me from giving way. I did not succumb morally, but my physique received a terrible shock. I was fifteen nights without sleeping, and I was on the brink of a nervous fever. Now I have told you everything. I am still weak, but as my appetite is returning I shall soon regain my strength. Heaven has protected me in the midst of these troubles and anxieties.”

Only after matters are settled to his satisfaction in Czernowitz does Metternich’s health recover in earnest. This also leads him out into the city where he casts a critical eye. His impressions are influenced as much by prejudice as experience.

Lviv's Ratusha (Town Hall)

Lviv’s Ratusha (Town Hall) – as it looked when Metternich stayed in the city for a month in 1823 (Credit: Jerzy Głogowski)

October 21st – “I have never seen people so in love with their native town as they are here. The road to the right is said to give a view like that of Naples; that to the left is like the Briihl near Vienna. A nearer view shows a town in a hole, and this hole wants both water and trees. The town is half fine and half ugly. There are many houses in it better constructed than those in Vienna, for there is some architectural style about them; then intervals either empty or crowded with barracks. The Eastern aspect begins to make its appearance.”

He compares Lviv to Vienna. The provincial city has a bit of architecture to recommend it, but this is corrupted by its more unsightly areas, which are blamed on the “Eastern aspect.” He infers that the city is Oriental in design, a byword for backwardness. Metternich also condescends about the locals for their love of the city. It is rather obvious that he feels superior to this provincial outpost. Yet it was the same outpost where he could have died. That thought probably crossed Metternich’s mind during his self-imposed quarantine. Such fears would have made him loath Lviv. This would be his last letter to home from Lviv, less than a week later he was gone from the city.

Lviv two decades after Metternich's visit

The unloved city – detailed painting of Lviv two decades after Metternich’s visit (Credit: А.Гаттон)

Goodbye With Extreme Prejudice
For Metternich, Lviv was little more than a setting for his illness. In the end his visit there only served to confirm his prejudices about the east. This place was not for him, it was backward, provincial and irritating. Much of his attitude toward Lviv was undoubtedly due to his sickness, but it was also a stinging indictment of his elitism. Metternich was better than Lviv or so he thought. He escaped from the city with his health and prejudices intact. He was never to return.


Mozart In Lviv – Grasping For Greatness, Discovering Love (Lviv: The History of One City Part 38)

There is an odd symmetry to the fact that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life and music is most often identified with Vienna and Austria, while his son, Franz Xaver Mozart’s musical career took place in the obscurity of Galicia and Lviv. The son headed off to the most far flung region of the Habsburg Empire, in an effort to both escape and try to live up to his father’s legacy. This was a leap of liberation and desperation.  When he arrived in Galicia, the province had been part of the empire for less than forty years. It was a cultural netherworld, just the place for a Mozart of lesser talents to try and find his own way. Far from the refined music scene and critical hothouse of Vienna, Franz Xaver went in search of artistic brilliance. What he found was paradoxical, artistic failure and the love of his life.

Franz Xaver Mozart in 1825

Franz Xaver Mozart in 1825 – he spent much of his adult life in Lviv (Credit: Karl Gottlieb Schweikart)

A Failure of Epic Expectations
When Franz Xaver Mozart was four months old his father died. He would have no memory of the man who bequeathed to the world some of the greatest music ever written. A bit of the father’s musical talent was passed on to his youngest child, but no one could ever match the elder Mozart’s creative genius. That certainly did not stop the son from devoting a much of his life to trying. His efforts would only meet with limited success. Despite his creative limitations, Franz Xaver was groomed from an early age by his mother Constanze to follow in his father’s footsteps. His early musical training came from none other than the great composer Joseph Haydn. At the tender age of six he was on stage in Prague for his first performance, singing the aria from his father’s opera The Magic Flute. When he was fourteen, he gave a piano recital in Vienna in honor of Haydn on the famous composer’s birthday. While the performance was successful, one review offered a prescient warning that “may he (Franz Xaver) not forget that for now the name Mozart will inspire leniency, in the future it will entail great expectations.”

At some point during his formative years, Constanze Mozart had Franz Xaver’s name changed to that of his father. Henceforth he would also be known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Junior. The weight of carrying his father’s name and legacy forward was an incredible burden for a young man with limited gifts. He was musically talented, but not a genius. As long as he lived in Vienna, the son was destined to be forever compared with his father. In an attempt to allow his own creative instincts to flourish, Franz Xaver decided to try his luck in the farthest reaches of the Imperial lands. At the age of seventeen he moved to the remote village of Podkamien (Pidkamin, Ukraine), in the empire’s poorest province, Galicia. He accepted a job offer teaching piano to the daughters of a wealthy Polish noble. The pay was excellent with a nice salary, in addition to food and lodging. He was now far from the glittering refinement and critical focus of the Imperial capital, but he was also far removed from the newest musical trends, such as the emergence of Romanticism.

Franz Xaver spent four hours each day teaching and the rest of his time stultified by the repressive creative environment of a rural backwater. He alluded to this in a letter written to a friend a year after his arrival. Franz Xaver stated that, “he would perhaps not feel so much the comical contrast between Vienna and a desolate Polish village, if I did not have to be completely deprived of the pleasure of seeing my friends, of hearing good music and of reading the journals and intellectual productions that deal with my own art…” It was not long before he was on the move again to another rural locale in Galicia. This time he gained employment teaching music to the daughters of a leading Habsburg provincial official in the town of Burshtyn. The outcome was much the same, with Franz Xaver mired in a creative stupor. This led him to uproot once again. In 1813 he moved to Lviv, the largest city by far in eastern Galicia. Culturally it was no Vienna, but did offer a more vibrant artistic scene. Franz Xaver would spend most of the next twenty-five years of his life in Lviv.

Franz Xaver Mozart

Franz Xaver Mozart – also known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Jr.

Threesome – Marriages & Affairs of Convenience
During his time in Lviv, Mozart’s life had less to do with music and everything to do with romance. Franz Xaver’s entire life was proscribed by two needs, trying to emulate his father’s musical genius and staying as close as possible to the love of his life, Josephine. He met the latter after being hired by her husband, Ludwig Cajetan von Baroni-Cavalcabò, to give piano lessons to their daughters. Baroni-Cavalcabo, the Habsburg Government’s Chief Councillor in Lviv, was much older than his wife and their marriage was one of social convenience. Franz-Xaver and the beautiful Josephine fell deeply in love. They spent many hours alone rehearsing for musical performances that were to be hosted by the family. Their affection grew through the years and Franz-Xaver stayed as close to her as possible. He kept an apartment close to the present day location of the Les Kurbas Theater, at the time just west of the still uncovered Poltva River. The only extended periods he spent away from her were two attempts at making a fortune on concert tours. In this way he hoped to provide Josephine with a lifestyle and social standing that would allow the couple to marry. It was not to be. His musical ability lacked the genius of his father.

Franz Xaver’s need to stay near Josephine in Lviv, inadvertently led to the stagnation of his artistic development. While the new era of Romanticism was blossoming in Vienna, Franz Xaver was stuck in the past, trying to recreate his father’s magic. While his creative struggles with music usually led to mediocrity, he did have a notable success in Lviv’s musical development. He spent several years conducting a successful choral group with hundreds of amateur singers known as the Brotherhood of St. Cecilia. This eventually led to the creation of Lviv’s first music school. A Mozart had made a name for himself in Lviv, unfortunately few would remember it then or now. The one thing Franz Xaver took away from the city was his love for Josephine, which continued up to the very end of his life. As for his legacy in Lviv, it began to dissipate as soon as he left. A small plaque on the wall at St. Yura’s Cathedral is the only thing commemorating his time in the city.

Grave of Franz Xaver Mozart

Grave of Franz Xaver Mozart in Karlovy Vary Czech Republic – there are no monuments or memorials to Mozart in Lviv (Credit: Juandev)

Deathbed Impressions – Soul Mates
Franz Xaver would spend the last weeks of his life at the spa town of Karlovy Vary in Bohemia, hoping to find a cure for what would turn out to be a fatal stomach ailment. When his condition worsened, Josephine traveled to Karlovy Vary so she could be at his bedside. She was the one person who always thought of him, remembered him and was with him in his final hours. Franz Xaver’s quest to become a famous composer and performer had met with failure, but through that quest he found something deeper and more meaningful. In Lviv he had found Josephine and together they had found love.

Comtesse de Keller

A love like this – Comtesse de Keller (Credit: Alexandre Cabanel)


An Hour & A World Apart – Return To Lviv (On The Trail Of The Golden Horseshoe Tour Part Six)

The Golden Horseshoe Tour was all but over except for the drive back to Lviv. I was looking forward to a smooth and relaxing ride back to the city. What was I thinking? My expectations of Ukrainian highways had improved after we took the E40 from Lviv to Olesko, a recently resurfaced road in excellent condition. The same could not be said for the highway we returned on, the H02, the main route between Lviv and Ternopil. Our bus driver did his best to navigate the small craters pockmarking the highway. The shock absorbers on the bus were of little use as the vehicle bounced and slammed around the entire way back. There were a few brief and baffling respites, where the pavement was suddenly smooth for a kilometer. I noticed that such areas looked to have been totally repaved. It was as though the embezzlers of transport funds had decided to steal only 90% of the road improvement money. Maybe they had a bit of shame, then again it was probably the best way not to get caught stealing. The few smooth stretches of blacktop were evidence of a barely concealed cover up. Of course I was making assumptions, but no honest politician could inflict such a road on their constituents. And this was in Lviv Oblast, which was one of the best run provinces in Ukraine. I shuddered to think what the roads must be like in the rural eastern areas of Ukraine.

On The Road - The Lion Awaits in Lviv

On The Road – The Lion Awaits in Lviv

Beyond The Most Dangerous Place In The World –  Back To Normal
Several times I noticed that quaint symbol of rural backwardness, the horse drawn wagon cart, plying side roads. There was one memorable and terrifying scene that involved a cart crossing the main highway we were traveling along. Traffic was moving along at well over 100 kph, despite the severe road induced jolts. On the edge of a small village, a wagon cart was stopped while waiting to cross a road that bisected the highway. As soon as there was a small opening in traffic, the wagon driver lashed his whip furiously, urging the horses forward. They frantically went into action, making a furious dash across the road, while the driver continued cracking his whip. The wagon made it across in time, but if anything had gone wrong, the resulting accident would have been deadly.  It was an unforgettable scene of crazed courage.  Fortunately our bus driver navigated all the unexpected road hazards with skill. I marveled at his ability to stay calm despite the nerve wracking obstacles he was forced to deal with.

A feeling of sadness swept over me at the tail end of the Golden Horseshoe Tour. Everything I had looked forward to with this tour had come to an end. I would likely never pass this way again. This was a part of the world relatively difficult for me to access, due to time and travel constraints. What I had seen and learned on this tour today was already becoming part of the past. Soon this experience would be little more than a memory. What would I remember? What would I take away? While the castles were fascinating, my most memorable experience was going on a tour where I was unable to verbally communicate with anyone. This had allowed me to take notice of the countryside, villages and highways, the state of this land at a unique moment in time. My awareness of the surrounding area was heightened. For many years I had been fascinated by western Ukraine, an area that I had studied as part of the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. It had been known for misery and starvation, but it was now almost a century since the empire’s collapse and the catastrophe of two World Wars. An argument could be made that during the first half of the 20th century, this land had been the most dangerous place in the world. Today, the countryside looked surprisingly normal. The past was just that, past. Life and death moved on.

Back to normal - in Lviv and western Ukraine

Back to normal – in Lviv and western Ukraine (Credit: Jan Melich)

The Land Of Getting By – On The Downside
I knew there was poverty all around here, but it was rural poverty which is deceptively benign. Even the poorest usually live in houses. They still have their gardens out back and chickens running wild in the yard. Poverty out here can lead to alcoholism, but also to self-sufficiency. This was the land of getting by, of headscarves and kerchiefs, horse drawn wagon carts and stray dogs. Rural western Ukraine looked much the same as rural Romania and more prosperous than the countryside of Bulgaria. It may not have been rich, it may not have been part of the European Union, but it was Eastern European for sure. Time moved forward here, but at a very slow and deliberate pace. The endemic corruption in Ukraine that I had read so much about, it was only noticeable here by the quality of the roads. People went about their business like anywhere else in Europe.

As for my fellow tour participants, the young man beside me had warmed up significantly, at one point offering up his window seat so I could get a better vantage point on the countryside. By the end of the ride back I was getting a few nods and half smiles out of him. We had the shared experience of being pariahs or at least feeling that way. The tour guide performed a minor miracle by not talking much on the way back even though she did not look a bit fatigued. Every hair was in place, the deep black eyes still burning holes in whatever was in her line of sight. Her facial expression belied an incredible intensity. Despite being unable to understand a word she said, I knew she took her work seriously. She looked ready and willing to do the tour all over again that very day if the situation had demanded it. The same could not be said for the passengers, a melancholic silence had descended upon the bus. This was different from the reverential silence everyone had displayed at the beginning of the tour. The journey was nearing its end. Now it was back to Lviv, back to home or work and in my case back to a few more days of vacation. Everyone was on the downside, with their thoughts fixed on the future. Our day together was now as much a part of history as what we had seen and learned about on the tour.

The Road Is Always Open - Lviv

The Road Is Always Open – Lviv (Credit: Lidiya Vezdenko)

Looking Forward, Looking Backward – The Difference Between Us
As soon as we got into Lviv, a restless stirring began in anticipation of the final stop. People collected their belongings, kids squirmed in their seats and the bus inched its way through the late afternoon traffic. Lviv looked vaguely familiar, but felt very different. The bus halted at the curb just outside the old City Arsenal, the doors flew open. As I made my way to the exit, I turned around one last time to look at everyone and thought to myself, I will never see these people again. Then suddenly I was standing on the corner of a busy street. Lviv was the same city as before, but my perspective had changed. The Golden Horseshoe Tour, with its castles and sleepy countryside had little in common with Lviv. I had never noticed just how much energy was in the city, until I had experienced the surrounding rural hinterland. The contrast between the two was stark. The city at rush hour was moving with energy and dynamism, people were everywhere. The countryside had been stagnant and backward looking. Both places were in the same nation, the same region, the same oblast. They were only an hour and a world apart.

Lviv: A Stranger Following (On The Trail Of The Golden Horseshoe: Part One)

It is a surreal feeling to come face to face with your past. A past that you hardly remember and really have no reason to recall. On a day that was supposed to be all about something new, I found myself confronted with someone I had briefly met four years before. It was a sunny and crisp autumn morning last November in Lviv as I stood outside a building at 2 Cathedral Square (Ploscha Katedralna). This was supposed to be the meeting place for the Golden Horseshoe Tour. A guided tour that would take me to visit Olesko, Pidhirtsi and Zolochiv castles in western Ukraine. The building I stood in front of was not yet open, no one else was around and it was almost 8:00 a.m. I started to get a little worried since it was already the tail end of the shoulder season for castle tours. Perhaps no one else had signed up. The tour might have been canceled, but how was I to know. Then slowly a woman began to walk toward me. Her hair and clothing was a bit disheveled and she had a sleepy eyed, languid look. There was something about her that was strangely familiar. An odd sense of déjà vu came over me. I had seen this woman before, but where. Slowly it began to dawn on me.

Townhouses in Lviv's Rynok Square

Townhouses in Lviv’s Rynok Square – cast in a different light (Credit: Бахтина Дарья)

Time Changes Everything – Except For Memories
The tour I had signed up for was organized by Old City Hostel, the place I had stayed at on my first trip to Lviv in September 2011. The same sleepy eyed woman had been working behind the front desk when I checked in at midnight on a foggy autumn evening four years before. Other than a taxi driver, she was the first person I had met in Lviv and the first one that spoke English, albeit quite badly. What made her memorable was her perpetual dreamy eyed look, as though she could fall asleep at any moment. Her only other memorable trait was a smoking habit. Four years had passed and she was still holding a cigarette. Why did I remember her? Other than being one of the first people I met in the city, there was really nothing else notable about her. Two chance encounters usually are nothing more than a quirky coincidence, but this case was different. An uncanny feeling came over me. A sense of “I cannot believe I am back here four years later.”

Had anything really changed during the intervening years? Of course it had, but at that moment time seemed frozen. We recognize the passing of time not by looking in a mirror, but by looking at someone we have not seen in years. In this case, that truism was reversed. Seeing this woman again made me feel like time had not passed at all. It was a disturbing feeling. Between these two chance encounters my life had been filled with unique experiences, but as far as my visits to Lviv went, little seemed to have changed. When she made it over to the building I told her what I was there for, she unlocked the door and told me to wait outside. Her English was still relatively poor. She looked like she had just crawled out of bed. Inside the building she made a quick phone call, then came back outside and told me to follow her. But to where? “Just come with me” I was told and was soon to find out.

Olesko Castle

Olesko Castle – the first of three castles on the Golden Horseshoe Tour (Credit: Mykola Swarnyk)

From The Outside In – A Stranger Following
Anytime I am in a foreign country and someone tells me to follow them, I immediately get suspicious. Visions of thugs pummeling me in vacant alleys immediately come to mind. Whether this paranoia is logical or not is beside the point. Paranoia is not logical, traveling in a country where you can hardly speak a word of the language nor read the alphabet is not logical. Following strangers who give you few indications of where you are going is not logical. Now putting your trust in another person you hardly know may seem logical to some, but it is certainly not common. When traveling in western Ukraine, I am not looking for a near death experience I am looking for an adventure. Most importantly, I am not looking to get robbed. After all, getting robbed at eight in the morning would make for a very bad start to the day. In this case, there really looked to be no chance of that, but one never knows.

Pidhirtsi Castle

Pidhirtsi Castle – the first of three castles on the Golden Horseshoe Tour (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

The sun was out, birds were chirping, Rynok Square was coming to life as I dutifully followed this woman. She did not so much walk, as aimlessly wander. Attempts at conversation were futile. We proceeded northward from the square down Krakivska Street until we came to the mesmerizingly unpronounceable Knyazya Yaroslava Osmomysla Square. There stood a man outside a large bus with slightly tinted windows. The woman said a few words to him in Ukrainian. He looked at me, nodded his head toward the open door of the bus and said “Get in.” Where was everyone else? I soon found out as I walked up the steps into the bus, there were at least thirty Ukrainians staring straight at me. I have scarcely felt more foreign in my life. There was only one open seat left. Thankfully it was close to the front. I felt everyone’s eyeballs move with me as I made my way forward. While taking an aisle seat, I noticed that the teenage boy who would be in the window seat beside me, moved as close as he could get to the window pane. His head was resting on the pane of glass. The poor lad looked scared and miserable. He was going to spend a whole day sitting beside a strange foreigner. We were now inseparably linked, both in the dreaded position of being outsiders.

Zolochiv Castle

Zolochiv Castle – the thrid and final castle on the Golden Horseshoe Tour (Credit: Natari)

Down An Unknown Road
The strange thing is that in these moments, I feel most alive. To be heading off down an unknown road, with people I have never met, to look at castles I know little to nothing about, this is what I live for.  As the bus began to pull away from the curb, I realized that this was going to be a day to remember, a day spent on the trail of the Golden Horseshoe.


Bogdan the One-Eyed in Lviv & in History – From Medieval Moldavia With Lust & Luck (Lviv: The History of One City Part 37)

They don’t make despots the way they used to. While doing research on the Bernadine Church (Greek Catholic Church of St. Andrew) in Lviv, I stumbled upon a fascinating piece of information. In 1509 the monastery – which stood on the site of the present day church – was pillaged by none other than Bogdan III, the One Eyed. That fact is a bit ambiguous though. To say that Mr. One-Eyed pillaged the monastery is not quite correct. It would be more accurate to say that the army under his command did the pillaging, though Bogdan III’s decision to allow it was the single biggest factor in making the theft and plunder possible. During the 15th and 16th centuries Lviv suffered through many sieges and was sacked on multiple occasions. Such incidents brought foreign characters to the city, the likes of which the burghers, merchants and citizens of the city had rarely if ever seen. No wonder the Old City was surrounded with such thick walls. These offered protection from dreaded invaders such as Bogdan the One-Eyed, a man remembered more for his looks than his actions.

Bogdan III the One-Eyed - fresco found in St. Nicolae Domnesc Church in Iasi, Romania

Bogdan III the One-Eyed – fresco found in St. Nicolae Domnesc Church in Iasi, Romania

Blind Luck – Of Martial and Marital Disputes
Just who was Bogdan III the One-Eyed?  He was from Moldavia, a principality between the eastern Carpathian Mountains and the Dneister River, an area that is today part of northeastern Romania and the nation of Moldova.  From 1504 to 1517 he was the Voivode of Moldavia. . Voivode is a Slavic title, denoting a military or political leader. Bodgan the One-Eyed was both. He was from a long line of leaders known as the House of Bogdan-Musat that had ruled Moldavia since the mid-14th century. First in the line was none other than Bogdan the Good. The line produced a range of Voivodes who had Good, Great, Younger and even Locust attached to their names. The house was finished off quite poetically by a Terrible. Such names most often note how someone was seen retrospectively, rather than at the time. This was not the case with Bogdan III the One-Eyed. As his name implied, he was blind in one eye. This was also why he went by the name of Bogdan the Blind. Such a handicap was seen as a bad omen if it was a congenital defect. This would usually disqualify the person from ruling. The opposite was true with Bogdan. He had likely suffered his disability in one of the numerous battles he fought in. This likely made him more revered as a leader in a martial society.

The genesis of Bogdan’s invasion of southern Poland and resulting occupation of Lviv was a marital rather than a martial dispute. Twice Bogdan had asked for the hand of Elisabeth, sister of the Polish King Alexander the Jagiellonian, in marriage. Twice he was denied. This despite promises of territory to the Poles. Bogdan was unable to take no for an answer. He led his forces on raids into Polish territory. This led to an agreement between Alexander and Bogdan. In exchange for favorable treatment of Roman Catholicism in the religiously Orthodox Moldavia, Bogdan would wed Elisabeth. Unfortunately for Bogdan, Alexander died before the marriage could take place. The next Polish King, Sigismund the Old, refused to honor the agreement. This sent Bogdan on the warpath, a journey that eventually led him into Lviv and then deeper into Polish territory. Near the great fortress of Khotyn on the Dneister River in the autumn of 1509, Bogdan’s forces were dealt a devastating defeat. A negotiated peace was signed at the beginning of 1510. This gave the Moldavians some economic and political benefits. In return Bogdan dropped his marriage claims.

Putna Monastery - burial place of Bogdan III the One-Eyed

Putna Monastery – burial place of Bogdan III the One-Eyed (Credit: Petr Sporer)

The Ugly Truth – Bogdan the Plunderer & Dealmaker
A fresco of Bogdan that once adorned the walls of St. Nicolae Domnesc Church in the city of Iasi (located in present  day northeastern Romania) does lend credence to the belief that he was not exactly handsome.  The fresco portrays him with a scruffy face, adorned with an outsized mustache and a disfigured left eye. He would have been a frightening prospect to a woman of Polish royalty. Rumors of his less than desirable looks were the main reason his offer of marriage had been canceled. One shudders to think what the citizens of Lviv must have felt when he and his army breached the city walls. The rampaging Moldavians led by a disfigured warrior. Bogdan certainly looked the part of a man who would command his force to plunder the Bernadine Monastery. In his defense, it must be stated that much of what is said about Bogdan’s reputed ugliness comes from Polish chroniclers, an inherently biased source. The old saying goes that there is someone for everyone. Historically this has been especially true if one has power, money or leads an army. Bogdan may have been unable to marry Elisabeth, but during his lifetime he had no less than three wives.

After his “marital” war disintegrated, Bogdan and the Poles became unlikely allies. The Moldavians faced the near danger of Tatar invasions. A year after Bogdan had made peace with the Poles he saw his state almost entirely overrun by the Tatars. The Poles fearing that there lands would suffer the same, provided troops to help the Moldavians fight off the invaders. Moldavia was a useful buffer state that could help protect Poland. Though the Tatars were thrown back, a couple of years later Bogdan was forced to pay financial tribute to the Ottoman Turks. He agreed to raise an army to fight with them when called upon and had to observe the Ottomans as overlords. In return Moldavia was given a high degree of autonomy. In 1517, Bogdan died. The fearsome, warring one –eyed Voivode was laid to rest at Putna Monastery, one of the most important religious sites in medieval Moldavia. His burial place can still be visited today.

Bogdan III the One-Eyed on a Moldovan postage stamp

Bogdan III the One-Eyed on a Moldovan postage stamp issued in 1997

Looking Back – A One Eyed Hero
In 1997, Moldova, one of the Europe’s newest nations issued a limited edition, commemorative stamp featuring a national hero, it featured Bogdan III the One-Eyed. The multi-colored portrait shows a handsome looking man with a full beard and flowing locks. His head is topped with a golden crown. Most conspicuously, both of Bogdan’s eyes are open and soft. Gone is any sign of disfigurement. The only hint of Bogdan’s historic handicap is in the presentation of his name as Bogdan Orbul or Bogdan Blind. For a man who had lost one eye and had such a difficult time seeing, he is looking pretty fine.

Creating A Hero – The Execution of Ivan Pidkova in Lviv’s Rynok Square (Lviv: The History of One City Part 36)

A man’s head is set atop several pieces of rock. He has a long drooping mustache which hangs down far enough to touch the pedestal. The name “Ivan” is mounted on the rock and below that is a horseshoe. Further down is a small cannon barrel with several balls. What is this? It is a unique monument that stands a block north of Rynok Square, in a small square just off Teatralna Street in Lviv. This monument commemorates Ivan Pidkova, a Cossack leader who was executed in the city on June 16, 1578. Unique for a public work of art in Lviv it was not commissioned by the city or state. The sculptor, Petro Kulyk, used his own funds to create the work, which was installed in 1981. Though the sculpture is located at Ivan Pidkova Square, it would have been more appropriately placed just one block away in Rynok Square, the actual site of Pidkoa’s execution. This would have made it more than just a work of passing public interest, but the execution site was already occupied by a sculpture of the sea goddess Amphitrite. While this classical sculpture and three other similar ones have become recognized landmarks adorning each side of Rynok Square, one cannot help but wonder if the Pidkova Monument had been placed on the execution site, how much more interest there would have been in one of the most fascinating events in the history of Lviv and Rynok Square.

Ivan Pidkova Monument in Lviv

Ivan Pidkova Monument in Lviv

Moldavian Machinations – Pidkova’s Rise To Power
Oddly enough for a national hero, Ivan Pidkova was neither from Ukraine nor was he an ethnic kinsman of the people. He was a Moldavian, born in Transnistria which is today part of the Moldovan nation. He gained fame as a brave soldier and fearless leader, known for his magnificent horsemanship and superhuman strength. The horseshoe that is mounted on the pedestal of the Pidkova Sculpture in Lviv symbolizes both of these traits. Legend states that he rode stallions so hard that their horseshoes would break. It was also said that he could break horseshoes in another, more impressive manner, with his bare hands. These feats helped him gain a leading position with the Zaporozhian Cossacks, who held sway in southern Ukraine and the country surrounding much of the Dniester River. As a well-respected warrior Pidkova saw an opportunity to take control of Moldavia from its weak and feckless leader, Peter VI the Lame, the Ottoman Turk’s vassal in Moldavia. To do this, Pidkova needed to show a connection to the princely families. Thus, he claimed to be the half-brother of John III the Terrible who was Voivode (ruler) of Moldavia from 1572 – 1574.

John had fought the Turks without mercy, but suffered a horrific death after surrendering to them. His arms and legs were tied by rope to four camels which were then sent to run in opposite directions. Thus he was drawn and quartered. Peter the Lame, who was installed as Voivode of Moldavia after John’s death, was compliant with Turkish wishes. This compliance came at the expense of the Moldavian peasantry. Ivan managed to force Peter from the throne with the help of another Cossack leader. Pidkova’s time as ruler was short lived, as the Turks managed to pressure the Polish King Stefan Bathory to remove him. Pidcova fled his homeland. He was arrested in Nemryiv (found today in central Ukraine), a city that had recently come under the control of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Turks demanded that Bathory execute the dangerous Pidkova. If the King disobeyed their wishes the Turks threatened to attack the Commonwealth. Pidkova was taken to Lviv where it was decided that he would be executed. This set the stage for an incredible scene that centered on Rynok Square in mid-June of 1571.

Ivan Pidkova

Ivan Pidkova

Swift & Brutal Fashion – A Warning To All
It is believed that Ivan Pidkova spent the last night of his life at Rynok Square. Sources state that Lviv’s city prison was in such a disgusting state of filth and grime, that the noble Cossack warrior was instead housed at Rynok 28, the Heppner House. Because it is one of the few Renaissance era mansions on the square that has remained almost totally unaltered it is possible stand in Rynok Square and reimagine Pidkova being ushered forth from the portal for his execution. On that late spring day, there were well over a thousand people in the square to witness the execution. These included four hundred of the King’s soldiers that were brought in to keep order due to fears of unrest by Lviv’s Ruthenian population. Pidkova and the Cossacks were heroes to this community. In a display of cowardice, King Bathory did not attend the execution since he feared for his personal safety. His decision made him terribly unpopular at the time.

The Heppner House at Rynok 28 in Lviv

The Heppner House at Rynok 28 in Lviv – where Ivan Pidcova spent his last night (Credit: Сергій Криниця – Haidamac)

At two o’clock in the afternoon, Pidkova mounted the scaffold along with the executioner who was scheduled to decapitate him. A first-hand account of Pidkova’s execution survives in the form of a report to the court of Florence by Filippo Talducci, a Florentine official. According to Talducci, Pidkova addressed the crowd in a final, defiant message that resounded as a warning to all. He said, “I was always fighting against the enemies of Christianity, and did all I could to prevent the infidels from threatening the Christian world. Your King, a supporter of the Pagan Khan gave the order that I should be executed, but this eventuality really is of no consequence to me. However you should all remember that what will happen to me will also in the very near future happen to you and your wealth, Your heads and those of your Kings will be delivered up to Constantinople.” This sent much of the crowd into expressions of anguish. After imbibing a glass of wine proffered from the crowd and asking for his personal rug to be brought so he could kneel upon it, Pidkova offered himself up for the fatal stroke. The blow was delivered in swift and brutal fashion, separating Pidkova’s head from the rest of his body. The crowd’s reaction was indignant as the entire square seemed to be on the verge of riot. Only the threat of military force kept the situation from getting out of hand. A head had been severed and thousands of hearts broken that day in Rynok Square. A great Cossack leader was now dead, but he would live on in a heroic afterlife.

Amphitrite statue and fountain in Rynok Square

Amphitrite statue and fountain in Rynok Square – it was in this area that Ivan Pidkova was executed in 1571 (Credit: Petar Milošević)

A Heroic Afterlife
It is interesting to note that Pidkova, turned out to be wrong about a future Turkish occupation of Lviv. The Turks were unable to conquer Lviv, despite taking much of southern and eastern Europe. They put the city under siege during the 17th century, but were thrown back. What happened to Pidkova would not happen to Lviv’s merchants or the Polish-Lithuanian Kings, but the Turks did manage to ravage other areas of the Commonwealth. The memory of Pidkova may well have faded from history if not for the words of the man regarded as the founder of modern Ukrainian literature and one of Ukraine’s most famous heroes, Taras Shevchenko. One of the poems found in his first collection, Kobzar (Bard), is called Ivan Pidkova. It is a literary manifestation of Pidkova, in much the same way that the Kulyk sculpture is an artistic representation of the great Moldavian Cossack. As Shevchenko’s verse states:

He casts his glances here and there
Where exploits may be wrought.
He curled his long black whiskers,
He twirled his forelock free,
Then raised his cap — the vessels stopped:
“Death to the enemy!

Few have been braver in their time or better served by memory than Ivan Pidkova. A man whose life and legend still today, stalk two squares in Lviv.

Natural Instincts – Lviv’s Ivan Franko Park: A Land For All Seasons (Lviv: The History of One City Part 35)

One of the strangest and most enthralling aspects of travel happens to me long after a trip is over. I go back home and begin to research the place I just visited. This is where a sort of trip planning in reverse. It might be termed “trip learning.” Because I almost always travel in Eastern Europe, in countries where I do not know the language and sometimes not even the alphabet, I usually end up with several travel experiences where all I really know is the name of the site I was visiting and little else. Signs are unintelligible, the statues portray alien figures and the locals generally keep to themselves. For me, such places become a sensual rather than an intellectual experience.

I had one such experience at the most popular city park in Lviv. All I really knew at the time was that the park was named after Ivan Franko, a writer and great Ukrainian national hero. The park took up the better part of a sloping hillside with a series of nice walking paths, shaded by large, thick trees with broad canopies of fiery autumn leaves.  The atmosphere was calm, serene and quite lovely. The kind of place one could walk meditatively for hours, lost in thought, reflecting on life. Ivan Franko Park made enough of an impression that it slowly rematerialized in my memory after I returned home. That was when I began to do research in an effort to find out more about the park. I wondered whether there was any information available. What did I discover? A park that was more than just a place to relax and recreate, it was something of an outdoor institution for Lviv. A place that has a long and storied history, reflective of the city’s past.

Ivan Franko Park during late autumn

The seasons change & the park still remains – Ivan Franko Park during late autumn

A Renaissance Birth – The Start of Ukraine’s Oldest City Park
At just a five minute walk from the city center, Ivan Franko Park is the most popular green space in Lviv. Though surrounded by an urban environment, it offers a refuge where citizens can get away from the noise and bustle of modern Lviv. Beneath the venerable oaks, maples, chestnuts, elms, firs and linden trees, lovers embrace, citizens stroll and pensioners hold hands. The park acts as an urban oasis, a peaceful place to contemplate life and nature. Dating back to Renaissance times, it is the oldest city park in Ukraine and one of the oldest in Europe. It is almost impossible to imagine such a span of time here, because the place seems to stand outside of time, an eternal aesthetic pervades its sheltered pathways. This is deceptive, as Ivan Franko Park has underwent massive changes throughout its history. This makes it just as much a part of the city’s multicultural and conflicted past as the rest of Lviv.

Just as Lviv’s Old Town was built at the behest of its wealthiest citizens, so too was the land that would become Ivan Franko Park shaped by the preferences of the upper echelons of society. Before it caught the eye of one wealthy man, the land was a cornfield. This all began to change in the late 16th century when a Silesian émigré by the name of Jan Scholz-Wolf purchased the property, paying the exorbitant sum of 1,600 gold pieces to have the land turned into a park. This was one of his many holdings in the city. The most famous of these was a German Renaissance style residence that still can be seen today at 23 Rynok Square. Perhaps Scholz-Wolf wanted to create a park that his large family could enjoy. One of his twelve daughters – he also had twelve sons – married another resident of Rynok Square, the Venetian Consul, Antonio Massari, who was given ownership of the park. Massari oversaw its reconfiguration in Italian style. The Renaissance affected not only paintings and architecture, but also grounds. The Renaissance eventually went out of style in Lviv. What followed for this parkland turned out to be much worse. With the park a fair distance outside Lviv’s city walls, this meant that in times of war it was occupied by various marauding armies besieging the city. The location, as part of the Lviv Heights, made the park an excellent staging ground for the Moscow Artillery which shelled the city during Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s siege in 1655. Seventeen years later the Turks did the same thing again.

Ivan Franko Park in Lviv

The path to contemplation – Ivan Franko Park in Lviv

Nature Calls – A Park Finds Its Place
During periods of sustained peace in the 17th and 18th centuries the parkland was under the control of the Jesuit monastic order. Up until 1919, the park would be known as “Jesuit Gardens”, but in reality the order made it much more than that. Among their enterprises were brick works and a brewery. Peasants were brought in to cultivate the land. These profitable activities would likely have continued except for the reign of Habsburg Emperor Joseph II (1780 – 1790) who forcefully promulgated the enlightenment throughout the empire by confiscating the monastic properties. This included the Jesuit Gardens complex, which was then given to the citizens of Lviv. It soon fell into disrepair before being leased to an ethnic German entrepreneur, Joseph Hocht. Whereas the Jesuits saw the parkland’s purpose as encouraging good works, Hocht saw it as a form of entertainment. He arranged the grounds in French style, then added such forms of entertainment as a carousel, an open-air theater and constructed the two-story “Hocht Casino”, which hosted among other things masquerade balls. Hocht’s efforts first met with success, but soon his businesses foundered. Parts of the park slowly became submerged in a murky swamp due to poor drainage. Few realized at the time that the overgrown and dilapidated park was on the verge of realizing its true potential.

In the aftermath of the failed uprising of the Revolution of 1848, Lviv’s Habsburg administrators were searching for a way to build good will with Lviv’s citizenry. They hit upon the idea of recreating the park as a place of comfort, leisure and relaxation while it could also act as something of a botanical garden. In 1855, the accomplished Lviv botanist Karl Bauer began what would turn out to be the most successful and longest lasting makeover of the park. This time it was reorganized in an English style, with over fifty specimens of trees planted. Many of these trees still remain today. Rare plant species from such far flung regions as Asia and South America were given a home. The park slowly became what it still is today, a place of beauty, unrivaled nature and recreation for a growing urban middle class. This did not occur without several upheavals. Among these was a nasty storm in the late 19th century that uprooted many trees. The park was not immune to the tumultuous politics of the 20th century in Lviv. During interwar Polish rule, it was renamed for that nation’s exalted revolutionary hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko. The Soviet occupation from 1939 to 1941 greatly damaged the park’s flora. In response to the post-war Ukrainian ethnic majority in the city, there was a final renaming of the park for Ivan Franko, along with the erection of his statue there in 1964. Today that statue faces a world class university also named for Franko.

Ivan Franko - stands tallest at at Ivan Franko Park in Lviv

Ivan Franko – stands tallest at at Ivan Franko Park in Lviv

Urban Refuge – A People Find Their Place
Despite centuries of change, the park remains a repository of nature in one of Europe’s great cities. It is almost as though this land was set aside as much by fate as by man. Whether in Italian, French or English style, for devotion or contemplation, recreation or meditation, Ivan Franko Park has been and will continue to be Lviv’s urban natural refuge.