Svobody Strasse – Viennese Lviv: Ramparts, Promenades & Prospekts (Lviv: The History of One City Part 47)

In the late 18th century the nerve center of Lviv began to shift. Rynok Square which had once been the city’s commercial and cultural heart slowly lost its centrality to city life. The elegant baroque tenement houses that proscribed its boundaries were still just as beautiful as they had ever been, but the merchants and guilds that had called them home for centuries, exercising power from their immaculately adorned halls, could only watch helplessly as Austrian officials began to remake the city into a Habsburg one. Most of the city walls which had ringed the old town, segregating the haves from the have-nots, were torn down. Now the city’s expansion could radiate outward, the limits of Lviv (Lemberg to the Austrians) were seemingly limitless, the barriers to growth both physical and mercantile were disbanded. The city was administratively restructured into five districts. The insular, monopolistic special interests that had held the reins of power for so long were disbanded or fell under Imperial control in just a few years.

The Austrians had a new “enlightened” vision of what Lviv must become. This meant remaking the city in their image. Building projects would now be approved and administered by a centralized bureaucracy. A new center for the city would rise in the area that today is Prospekt Svobody. This area had formerly been used as a city garden and park like green space. Now it would become the chief rival to Rynok Square (Ploscha Rynok), a public space for a growing city, a place for the masses to socialize and speculate, a city that would reflect imperial ambitions. The reach of the Austrian empire would now be extended into the forlorn frontier of Europe.

Lviv's main promenade in 1853 - before the Poltva River was covered

Lviv’s main promenade in 1853 – before the Poltva River was covered

Promenading the Poltva
The main focal point for Lviv’s makeover was where the Poltva River ran adjacent to the western side of the city walls. In 1776, a scant four years after Austria took control of the city, these walls were torn down.  This area was known as the Hetman’s Ramparts, their destruction opened up new possibilities to expand the city. The ensuing rubble was used to fill in a large defensive embankment that had guarded the area near Saints Peter and Paul Garrison (former Jesuit) Church. This new beginning was not without its problems. The backfill used to fill the embankment proved to be highly unstable and prone to collapse. Such a major public thoroughfare demanded safety and stability. With characteristic Teutonic efficiency the Austrians managed to overcome this problem. Smooth, parallel streets were placed along the eastern and western banks of the Poltva. A promenade akin to the glacis in Vienna was constructed. It was given a thoroughly Austrian name, Karl Ludwig Strasse.  Lviv was being westernized, as the Austrians attempted to bring order and structure to what they saw as a quasi-Oriental outpost.

A series of arched bridges soon spanned the Poltva and poplar trees were planted to line the promenade. Lviv now had its own mini Ringstrasse, with it would come a sense of belonging to something greater than weary, downtrodden Galicia. This all sounds positively romantic. It is easy to imagine women in long, colorful dresses covered in floral patterns, strolling along the promenade twirling pastel parasols. While they walk arm and arm with their husbands dressed in their Sunday best suits, carrying brass tipped canes and sporting bowler hats. There was much of this, but the truth was also quite literally messy. The Poltva was fetid, teeming with sewage. The smell could be overwhelming and created a less than healthy environment.  Commercial businesses in the area were filled with speculators. Loan sharks and confidence men proliferated.

Postcard of the promenade in 1905 - present-day Prospekt Svobody

Postcard of the promenade in 1905 – present-day Prospekt Svobody

Falling Upward: Lviv Unlike Itself
Both the comforts and vices of modernity were on full display.  A new city was born as the center of economic and social gravity moved close to the banks of the Poltva. The promenade became the throbbing heart of what was fast becoming a modern city, one whose population would come to be measured in the hundreds of thousands. In 1871, one side of Karl Ludwig Strasse was renamed Hetmańska, in honor of the Polish Great Crown Hetman Stanislaw Jablonowski, while the other side retained its name. Near the end of the 19th century the Poltva would be covered. It was not so much a river anymore as a culvert. The initial reason for the siting of the city was now hidden by concrete. Nature, in the form of flower beds and several species of trees were added to the urban landscape. In one sense, the promenade was nature made over in man’s image. Grand buildings, such as the Skarbek Theater (Maria Zankovetska Theater) and the Museum of Industry (Museum of Ethnography and Arts and Crafts), were constructed.

Lviv, as the administrative center for the quixotically named Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, was transformed into a showpiece for the Austrian provincial administration. Here was a vision of Habsburg grandeur that happily promoted imperial interests. This was a representation of industriousness with a human face, an imposition of the Habsburgs enlightened self-interest. Here is what the empire did for its citizens, now all they had to do was believe. On a more troubling note, the new center of Lviv could hopefully obscure the dire poverty and endemic hand to mouth subsistence that was the miserable lot for the overriding majority of the province’s citizens. A smoke and mirror substitute for broad prosperity.

Early 20th century photo of the main promenade in Lviv

Early 20th century photo of the main promenade in Lviv

Center Staged – Where The Heart Beats Strongest 
The destruction of the western side of the Old City Walls and that area’s successful conversion, from ramparts to a public promenade and commercial center, can be seen in the fact that in present day Lviv this is still the city’s heart. It is where locals and tourists intermingle. It is a place where pedestrian and automobile traffic competes most fiercely, thousands jostle each day for urban elbow room. It is a public space where the multitudes come to stroll, while just a stone’s throw away business and commerce carries on. It is the place where Lviv’s major protests have taken place on multiple occasions over the past 25 years, where its citizens have found the courage to confront the Soviet legacy. Prospekt Svobody today, like Karl Ludwig Strasse during the 19th century, is Lviv at its most modern and European, filled with energy and possibility, freedom and dynamism.

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.

For Love Or Your Life – The Jalonek Murder in Lviv for the Hand of Anna Wilczek (Lviv: The History of One City Part 31)

The house at Rynok Square 3 is often overlooked, sandwiched as it is between the rich splendor of the Baldinelli Palace and the brooding, iconic Black House. Rynok 3 was first owned by Lviv’s most powerful lawmaker, the city councilor Wilczek, hence the building’s name, House of the Wilczek Family. This house would become his beautiful daughter Anna’s wedding dowry, but it only happened after an unforgettable explosion of emotions and violence between two men who could not contain their passion for her.

House of the Wilczek Family

House of the Wilczek Family at Rynok 3 in Lviv (Credit: Aeou)

Shall We Dance – Two Men & A Beautiful Woman
Urbano della Rippa Ubaldini was part of a wave of Italians who came to Lviv during the 16th and 17th centuries. Many of these men were traders. Due to their wealth and connections they were highly influential in city affairs and were able to acquire citizenship. Ubaldini, a Florentine had come to Lviv for another reason as well, he was an exile. He had been involved in a plot against the powerful Medici family back in Italy. Though he was a relation of the pope, Ubaldini’s life was not safe in Tuscany. Thus he fled eastward, first to Krakow and then on to Lviv.  Ironically, this would also later be the same exile trajectory of Roberto Baldinelli, who would own the palace at Rynok Square 2. No matter how far these men moved abroad, they could not escape trouble. In Ubaldini’s case the trouble  would be romantic, rather than political. A wedding party would be the unlikely setting for Ubaldini’s latest brush with controversy.

Anna Wilczek was just 18 years old and already she was known for her remarkable beauty. Not yet engaged, she was one of the most sought after women in the city. She had drawn the romantic attentions of Ubaldini and a Polish gentleman, Pawel Jalonek. Their dueling passions for Anna collided in dramatic fashion at a wedding party in the year 1580. Almost simultaneously both men asked Anna to dance. She was said to have paused for just a moment and then chose Ubaldini. This was too much for Jalonek to handle. Acting on a combination of wounded pride and crestfallen desire, he reactively slapped Ubaldini. The Florentine then went him one better, stabbing Jalonek with a dagger. The Pole reeled from the blow. Bleeding profusely, he was taken away for urgent medical care. It would do no good, Jalonek was soon dead.

Sculpture at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv

Romantic pursuits – a sculpture at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv

Getting Off – Ubaldini’s Crime Without Punishment
Ubaldini was arrested and charged with murder. Controversy abounded. Was the Florentine really just defending himself? His retaliatory stab seemed totally out of proportion to the slap he had suffered. Both men had lost all control of themselves because of their passionate love for one woman. Anna Wilczek’s beauty and grace had brought hot blooded passions to the surface and led directly to murder. Would the punishment for Ubaldini fit his crime? This may have been the age of the Renaissance, but it was also pre-Enlightenment. Crimes were punished in the harshest of manners, executions were common. On the west side of Rynok Square men lost their heads not to love, but decapitation. Fortunately for Ubaldini there were many circumstances in his favor. Before he died, Jalonek was said to have forgiven Ubaldini for the violence he had inflicted on him. In addition, Ubaldini was a powerful and wealthy merchant. He had many defenders in both Lviv’s Italian and business communities. It is said that truth can set a person free, but wealth works even greater wonders.

There were a few other key persons supporting Ubaldini, most importantly Anna Wilczek. The fact that her father held the powerful position of city councilor cannot be overlooked. The story also won the hearts of many women in Lviv. There was something deeply romantic about this fight for the love of a woman. According to the local Lviv historian Ilko Lemko, “The wives of the Lviv judges did not give their husbands a moment’s peace – neither during the day or at night, and they even posted pickets at the Town Hall.” With all this in his favor, Ubaldini was soon a free man. It might be said that his acquittal was an inside job. He was beyond reproach and above the law. Freedom was not the only thing he won either as he would take the hand of Anna Wilczek in marriage. The couple moved into Rynok 3 where they lived in happiness and contentment while raising a family.

A Noble Love
Perhaps it was better that Pawel Jalonek suffered a mortal wound rather than have to see his beloved Anna with the man who had bested him. Some might say that a life is too much to give up for love, but there is something endearing about Jalonek. Jalonek lost all self-control in a moment of unrestrained pride fueled by passionate love. He did not just want to dance with Anna Wilczek, he wanted to win her heart and ultimately her hand in marriage. It was not to be, but that does not make his death, like his love, any less noble.

 

 

Collapse & Creation By Committee – Lviv’s Ratusha: A City & Its Lost Symbols

It is a truism in government that if you want to avoid getting something done than form a committee. And so it was regarding the state of Lviv’s Ratusha (Town Hall) in 1826. In that year, there was concern that the Ratusha – which stood in the middle of Ploscha Rynok (Market Square) – suffered from structural problems. A committee was formed to study the problem, which they did with chilling incompetence. Like so many committees, they came to the conclusion that doing next to nothing was the preferred option. They even went so far as to proclaim that the Ratusha was in good enough shape to last another hundred years. They were soon proved deadly wrong.

Calamity – An Icon Comes Crashing Down
The committee’s lone recommendation involved opting for minor, superficial upgrades to the exterior, a sort of architectural beautification project. Unfortunately, adding decoration to the facade turned out not to be the answer for more critical problems. Once that decision was made, the committee then started to haggle over the cost of the proposed cosmetic surgery. These proceedings were suddenly interrupted by a town official who rushed in to the meeting and informed the committee that the Ratusha had just collapsed. Several people had been killed, including the city’s beloved bugler. Lemberg (the official name of the city during that time as it was under Austrian rule) was in shock. The committee looked foolish and self-serving.

Model of the Lemberg Town Hall as it looked in 1826

Model of the Lemberg Town Hall as it looked in 1826 at the time of its collapse                (Model: Lviv History Museum; Image: zobacz zasady)

It is both ironic and telling that the officials had chosen not to hold their meeting in the town hall, which subsequently collapsed. Perhaps they had their own doubts about the structure’s foundational weaknesses, if so, than they had been complicit in a crime of willful neglect. What had caused the collapse? The Ratusha was basically three different buildings of varying dimensions that had been fused together into one. This seemingly unwieldy, yet quite elegant design, included a tower that had been added in the previous century. At its tip was a crowned lion set atop a dome, the tower underneath had a gallery of eight pillars shaped like lions. It was this tower which collapsed sending nine stone lions, along with the rest of the tower crashing 58 meters (190 feet) on to the square. Following this cataclysm, the remaining part of the Ratusha was deemed beyond repair.

Lemberg Ratusha Collapses

An engraving of the Lemberg Ratusha’s Collapse in 1826

Monstrosity – A Huge & Hideous Chimney
The city officials in Lemberg were now tasked with the construction of a new Ratusha. Quite understandably public confidence in the city’s leadership was lacking at this point. It was here that another truism of government came into play, use a crisis as an opportunity. The city’s leadership took the opportunity to have the next Ratusha designed in a very different style than its predecessor. It took eight years to erect what was to be the new and supposedly improved town hall. Structurally the new building would turn out to be fine. After all it is still standing today, nearly two centuries later. Aesthetically though, the new Ratusha was lacking. Here was an opportunity to impose an Austrian influence upon the most celebrated public space in the city. The result was a huge structure of overbearing prominence at the center of the square, conspicuous by its girth rather than style.

The new Ratusha was done in Viennesse Classicist style, reflecting Austrian ideals. Soon citizens of Lemberg were heard to quip, that the new town hall was “a huge and hideous chimney.” Huge it was and still is today, with no less than nine floors and 146 rooms. The best that can still be said about its design is that it is really nothing special. Not good, not bad, just sort of there. Perhaps if the rest of Rynok Square and the historic center of Lemberg had not been so strikingly beautiful, no one would have much noticed. The best thing about the Ratusha as it stands today is the view from the top. After climbing an exhausting three hundred stairs, visitors get an incredible bird’s eye view of the city. It says something about the building’s aesthetics that it’s most memorable aspect comes from the top. There visitors are looking away from rather than at the building. From this vantage point, the Ratusha is hardly noticeable. Then again what would more could be expected from the same city leadership that had failed to anticipate the calamitous state of the previous Ratusha. They of course had been the main decision makers when it came to the new one.

Ratusha (Town Hall) in Lviv

Ratusha (Town Hall) in Lviv – locals once referred to it as a huge and hideous chimney (Credit: Lestat (Jan Mehlich) –

Sculptures Can Be Recreated – People & Personality Cannot
This version’s structural qualities have been problematic as well. In 1851, less than two decades after it had been erected, the new Ratusha’s clock tower collapsed. Fortunately, this did not mean the wholesale replacement of the entire structure. The clock tower was soon replaced. The newest version of the Ratusha has stood the test of time, as two World Wars, communism and fascism have failed to make much of a dent in the building. One of the nicer more noble adornments on the present Ratusha, are two lions holding shields set on each side of the entrance to the building. Having the lions only a few steps from the square ensures that there will be no repeat of lions crashing to their ruin, as happened one hundred eighty-eight years before. The lion is the symbol of Lviv and something of a legendary guardian of the city, but in this case the city has safeguarded its lions, at least those ones made of stone.

Lion holding a shield with the coat of arm of Lviv outside the Ratusha (Town Hall)

Lion holding a shield with the coat of arm of Lviv outside the Ratusha (Town Hall) –           (Credit: Бахтина Дарья)

The lions could be replicated in stone, but the flesh and blood bugler never returned to the Ratusha after the last one’s fatal fall in 1826. Historically the bugler’s role included watching the horizon from on high, in order to warn the city of any would be invaders. The bugler also kept watch for fires, sounding the alarm if one was spied. The bugler’s call had been part of the daily ritual of life, providing the sound of security each hour for decades on end. When the new Ratusha was completed, the bugler position was left vacant. As the years, turned into decades, the bugler was all but forgotten. Modernity made the bugler’s traditional role obsolete.

Lviv's Old Town as viewed from the tower at the top of the Ratusha (Town Hall)

Lviv’s Old Town as viewed from the tower at the top of the Ratusha (Town Hall)                 (Credit: Attila Varga)

Last Call of the Bugler – A City Loses A Symbol
In a sense the bugler was the last casualty of the fall of the old Ratusha. The bugler’s role was individual and superseded officialdom. The bugler never needed to form a committee while making split second decisions that might decide the life and death of the city. Instead a bugler relied on instinct to discern signs of danger. It is a pity that the city committee did not ask the bugler’s advice when they decided that the old Ratusha was in good repair. The bugler might have informed them otherwise, but then again, the committee might have to take action and be decisive, the very opposite of why committees are formed. In this case, as in so many others inaction and indecisiveness had fatal consequences.