A Summer House In the Middle Of Paradise – Rynok Square’s Eastern Side (Lviv: The History of One City Part 32)

Rynok Square is the touristic heart of Lviv. In the spring, summer and fall it is packed with thousands of visitors. Most arrive by walking up from Katedralna Square, approaching the southwestern side of Ploscha Rynok. Visitors are magnetically attracted to the towering presence of the Ratusha (Town Hall). From there they begin strolling around the western and southern side of the square, but a much better place to start a walking tour is at Rynok Square’s northeastern corner, with a walk down the eastern side. Here can be found four magnificent palaces, the iconic Black House and history covering a wide swath of Lviv’s glorious Renaissance, imperial and nationalist pasts. When the 16th century German traveler Martin Gruneweg referred to Lviv as “a summer-house in the middle of paradise” he may well have had the Eastern side of Rynok Square in mind.

The Black House - Rynok 04

The Black House – Rynok 04 (Credit: Юрій Кононенко)

The Black House – Appearance of Deception
Looking at the buildings on the eastern side for the first time, there is a noticeable aesthetic symmetry, despite their differences in color, size and shape, as though the structures were meant to be a cohesive whole. Much of this has to do with the Renaissance architectural style that is common among them. The most eye catching structure stands at Rynok 4, the iconic Black House. After many centuries of exposure to the wind and rain, the building’s sandstone brick façade has turned a grayish, charcoal black. This gives it an ominous appearance, as though there might be a medieval torture chamber inside.  Historically it was a much happier place, at one time home to Lviv’s first pharmacy. The facade also displays a sculptural composition of St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar. Who would have thought that the Black House correlates with the ideals of charity and benevolence? A sublime and revealing benevolence. While the exterior facade is distinct, within its interior the Black House has much in common with several other buildings on the eastern side of the square. The Black House is home to a branch of the Lviv History Museum. Uniquely, the museum’s exhibits are located in several buildings centered around the square, including five on the eastern side.

Korniakt Palace in Lviv

Korniakt Palace in Lviv (Credit: Maciej Szczepańczyk)

The Korniakt Palace/Royal Townhouse – The Past Comes To Life
The most famous branch of the museum can be found within the Korniakt Palace/Royal Townhouse at Rynok 6.  The structure itself contains examples of nearly every building style found in Lviv prior to the 20th century. From the Gothic vaulted ceiling of the cellar to Baroque elements in the attic, the Renaissance and Empire styles on the façade and the grand splendor of the reconstructed neo-Renaissance Italian Courtyard, the palace is a veritable house of architectural history. Its human history is no less fascinating. This was once the home of Lviv’s richest man, the Greek trader Konstanty Korniakt, who moved to the city and made a fortune dealing in wine, cloth and fur. He had the palace constructed upon the foundations of two buildings, this accounts for the fact that there are six windows on each level of the structure, rather than the usual three to be found on most of the townhouses surrounding the square.

The palace was a place fit for royalty, quite literally as it came into the ownership of Jakub Sobieski, father of famed Polish King John III Sobieski whose military prowess helped defeat the Turks at the siege of Vienna in 1683. King John III inherited the palace and spent many days in the maze like rooms sprawling across all three floors. These recall the era of Polish royalty with palatial furnishings in the King’s and Queen’s rooms. The refined and stately decoration of the Audience Hall was where the controversial Eternal Peace Treaty of 1686 was signed between Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In return for Russia agreeing to join the anti-Ottoman Turk alliance, Poland ceded left bank Ukraine (east of the Dneiper River) along with the city of Kiev to Russia. Poland kept control of right bank Ukraine (west of the Dnieper River). Today, over three hundred years later, echoes of this division still resound, in the vast political and cultural differences between eastern and western Ukraine. Within the walls of the Audience Hall history becomes present and palpable.

Interior of former Archbishops Palace at Rynok 9

Living space – Interior of former Archbishops Palace at Rynok 9 (Credit: Aeou)

Former Archbishop’s Palace – A Poisoned Situation
Of the nine buildings that line the east side of Rynok Square, four are now residential, including the former Archbishop’s Palace at Rynok 9. With 68 rooms it is easy to see why the palace is now used as residences. Though the building was constructed during the Renaissance, its façade is covered with a rather bland neoclassical décor, a product of a mid-19th century reconstruction. Like the Korniakt Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace was also built on the foundations of two buildings, thus it also has six windows on each of its upper levels. While the architecture is interesting, the human stories that took place at the palace are nothing short of fascinating. This is a place where the past and present intersect in everyday life. Imagine what it must be like for those who make Rynok 9 their home today. An individual or family goes to bed each night in the same place where Polish Kings Sigismund III Vasa and Wladislaw IV once slept. Residences also inhabit the area where King Michael I was poisoned to death in 1673. This well planned conspiracy was carried out by his erstwhile supporters. It led to fatal food poisoning. After he died, King Michael’s remains were parceled out to places near and far with his heart buried in Warsaw, his body in Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral and his bowels within the walls of the nearby Latin Cathedral, a few hundred meters from where he had expired. What other tales, past and present, lurk within the walls of the former Archbishop’s Palace that might serve to stimulate the imagination.

Lubomirski Palace - Rynok 10

Lubomirski Palace – Rynok 10 (Credit: Kugel)

Lubomirski Palace – The Art of Possibility
The final building along the eastern side of Rynok Square is most certainly a product of the imagination. The Lubomirski Palace was where successive owners imagined and reimagined the palace for their own imperial, national or provincial needs. The palace’s namesake was a powerful Polish noble, Stanislaw Lubomirski. He commissioned a two decade long overhaul of the existing structure during the mid-18th century that recreated it as a Baroque magnate’s palace. The partition of Poland in 1772 changed the buildings history. For the next fifty years the palace served as a residence for the Austrian governors of Galicia.  In 1868 the Prosvita society was founded in Lviv to promote Ukrainian language and culture. Soon thereafter the Society purchased the palace where efforts were undertaken to raise Ukrainian national consciousness. Prosvita was a key player in the slow, fitful progression of Ukraine’s movement toward statehood. The movement reached a false summit on June 30, 1941 when at the former palace Yaroslav Stetsko proclaimed a Ukrainian state. It would soon be shut down by the Nazis. A new era of tyrannical totalitarianism would take hold. This was just the start as the Soviet would eventually occupy the city and attempt to transform its history, but Rynok Square’s architectural wonders would outlive another empire.

Eastern Side of Rynok Square

Looking down from the Ratusha (City Hall) at Eastern Side of Rynok Square (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

Bringing It Back To Life – Rynok Square
Ukrainians would have to wait until 1991 for an independent Ukraine. The nation is now home to the heritage symbolized and memorialized by the remarkable buildings that line the eastern side of Rynok Square.  Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical architecture is alive in these structures, as are the stories of the multiple cultures that have infused Rynok Square with so much of its beauty and history.

A Towering Presence: Konstanty Korniakt’s Achievement (Lviv: The Story of a City In Ukraine #4)

It seems that every great Eastern European city has a certain architectural landmark associated with it. There is Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate, Krakow with Wawel Castle, Prague’s Charles Bridge and Budapest’s with the shimmering Hungarian Parliament. The same can be said for Lviv, the only problem is there are multiple landmarks to choose from, both notable and noticeable. These include the grandiose Opera House, a handful of spectacular churches and the Austro-Hungarian era train station. These buildings all leave a lasting impression, but there is one structure that literally towers above the rest. This is the Korniakt Tower attached to the northern façade of the Dormition (or Assumption) Church. At 66 meters it is the tallest building in the Lviv’s Old Town area. The tower can take hold of wandering eyes, drawing them upward, skyward towards its apex, a cupola and four cornered obelisk. The tower brings together elements of the two most memorable architectural styles of the Old Town, Renaissance and Baroque.

The Korniakt Tower and Dormition Church in Lviv

The Korniakt Tower and Dormition Church in Lviv (Credit: Jan Melich)

The Wealth of Migrations – Lviv as an Economic Hub
The Korniakt Tower has stood the test of time, not only stylistically, but also physically. Though it suffered badly following a late 18th century fire, having to undergo substantial restoration, the tower has survived every trial of its structural integrity, whether from below (earthquakes), above (as a target for lightning strikes) or at ground level (numerous fires). The tower’s legacy has been lasting. That must have been what the man who commissioned it had in mind. Rightfully the tower goes by his name, a name that uniquely does not derive from any of the major ethnic groups that have dominated Lviv’s history. Konstanty Korniakt was neither a Pole, Ukrainian or Jewish and certainly not Russian or German, he was born and bred from an entirely different stock, Greek. Yet it was not so much Korniakt’s ethnicity, but the social class from which he came, the merchants, left a lasting mark on Lviv’s history.

Merchants such as Korniakt were creators of the wealth that made Lviv one of the great medieval European trading centers. There was a long tradition of mercantilism in Lviv hundreds of years before Korniakt’s arrival. Merchants created the wealth that made the city powerful, but they could not have done so without two key laws. The first was the Magdeburg rights granted to the city by a Polish king. These were special privileges that allowed urban communities to regulate trade to the benefit of local merchants. The Magdeburg rights fed into a second legal instrument, the so called “law of storage.” This banal sounding phrase was actually critical to making Lviv an economic powerhouse.  It required all merchants traveling the trade routes through Lviv to be quartered in the city for two weeks. They then had to offer their goods for sale to the city’s merchants. Having first choice on these goods placed Lviv’s trading place at a considerable advantage. Because of these privileges Lviv became a trading hub for among other things furs, wine, honey and wax. The merchants made fortunes. This in turn attracted traders from a wider geographical area to the city. Armenians, Germans and Greeks made Lviv their home.

Konstanty Korniakt - a man of great wealth and even greater devotion

Konstanty Korniakt – a man of great wealth and even greater devotion

The Outsider On The Inside – A Man of Wealth and Devotion
Konstanty Korniakt was born far away from western Ukraine (what was then the eastern reaches of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) on the island of Crete, he eventually made his way to Wallachia, in what is now present day Romania. There he collected customs duties and royal tolls for the Moldavian Hospodar (Lord) Alexandru Lapusneanu. Lapusneanu was the founder of the first Dormition Church in Lviv, which would succumb to fire. In 1560 Korniakt moved to Lviv where he boosted his already substantial wealth through involvement with international trade. He was the city’s wealthiest man at the time, but not the most trusted one. Local officials eyed Korniakt with suspicion and attempted to exclude him from city affairs. Because of his wealth Korniakt enjoyed the favor of the Polish king, Sigismund II Augustus, who also borrowed money from him. The upshot of this relationship resulted in Korniakt being given an official title of nobility, increasing his power and prestige. Befitting his outsider status, in a city ruled by officials of the Roman Catholic faith, Korniakt was instead an ardent follower of the Orthodox religion. He was a stanch supporter of the rights of the Ruthenian Catholic community. Korniakt’s devotion led him to support the construction of a great architectural wonder.

The same year that Korniakt received his title of nobility, a terribly destructive fire torched the Jewish section of the town and the first version of the Dormition Church along with it. As would happen so many times in Lviv’s ill-fated history with fires, rebuilding on the site began almost immediately. In 1572 construction started on the tower (also referred to as a belfry). About the same time, work on a magnificent palace for Korniakt on Rynok Square also commenced. The tower was designed and built by Italian masters Pietro Barbone and Paolo Romanus. Today visitors rightfully marvel at its beauty without realizing that the tower was built as much for protection as for spiritual devotion. In wartime it would act as a strongpoint when the city was under siege. The initial version of the tower built entirely in Renaissance style took six years to complete. It had three stories and a tent shaped roof that also consisted of three stages. It was grievously damaged in the Tatar siege of Lviv in 1695. This led to a restoration where Baroque elements such as a helmet and four pyramids surrounding a lantern now crowned the top of the tower. With these additions Baroque and Renaissance were now connected in a symbiotic structural continuity. Later the tower was attached to a second version of the Dormition Church, completing a harmonious architectural ensemble. A Renaissance masterpiece in its own right, especially its elaborately covered façade, unfortunately the Church often gets overlooked – as do other buildings in the immediate area – due to the towering presence of the Korniakt Tower.

The Korniakt Tower

Above all others – The Korniakt Tower soars above its surroundings (Credit: Богдан Репетило)

Living Proof – Korniakt’s Afterlife
It is interesting to consider the legacy of Konstanty Korniakt. For all of his fabulous wealth, scarcely anyone would remember him today if not for the tower that bears his name. He used some of his wealth to create, an object of reverence, a towering symbol not of money, but of devotion. The Korniakt name is spoken thousands of time daily by Lvivians and visitors alike. This is the only way anyone remember this man or his money. No one cares that he was once the richest man in Lviv, because there was and always will be another richest man in Lviv. Wealth and power are ephemeral, but great art and architecture are timeless, the one true thing that can defeat time and live on forever. The old cliché states that when it comes to money, you can’t take it with you. That is true. Yet a man can leave something behind. The Korniakt Tower is living proof.