What is Interesting About the Lviv City Hall and the Main Square?

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It has been a long time ago when the Market Square in Lviv (Rynok in Ukrainian) was a place of a commercial market. The buildings around the square once witnessed busy market days, public gatherings and celebrations. The oldest of the buildings date back to the 15th century, but most were rebuilt after the big fire of 1527 which destroyed most of the Gothic buildings of Lviv. The Town Hall in the center of the Market Square is more recent and was built in the 19th century. Its predecessor did not survive after the old town hall tower collapsed of its own weight in 1826. Some residents of Lviv disliked the new tower and the town hall and called them an “ugly chimney”, but the structure is now one of the landmarks of Lviv. The weather-vane lion on the tower, when it fell to the ground, was an omen of bad things to come, as it was in 1672 when the Lion was blown to the ground in a storm, an event that was followed by 7 weeks of Turkish siege.

For a few years now the town hall tower has been open to the public and offers a great vantage point over the old town. As you probably guessed, in the Soviet era, the tower was closed to the public for fear that Western spies might use the view of the city to plot an attack. To get to the tower, go through the main entrance of the Town Hall between the two stone lions and go up the stairs to the ticket desk.

Over 400 steps to the roof of the Town Hall tower lift you 65 meters (213 feet) above ground going past the tower clock that was installed here in 1851 by the Austrian company Wilhelm Stiehl and has been serving Lviv since then by ringing every quarter of an hour. A legend says that after the mechanical clock was installed, the monk whose duty for many years was to ring the tower bell every 15 minutes was made redundant and had a heart attack. Some people say that since that time his ghost occasionally appears by the clock at night. Over the tower roof there are two bells of different size – the bigger one strikes on the hour and the smaller one every quarter hour. The writing on the large bell says in German: Sleep well, we shall wake you up.

Down below at ground level, 44 buildings make up the Market Square, and the four fountains at the square corners are decorated by the 18th century statues of the ancient Greek deities of Diana – goddess of hunting, wilderness and animals, Neptune – the ruler of the sea, Amphitrite – the queen of the sea, and Adonis – the handsome god of desire and manly good looks.

Expensive land in the city played a role in shaping these buildings most of which have a narrow front with three windows on each floor and stretch deep to the back with courtyards in the middle. Only the most distinguished residents were given exceptions, as the owner of Building #6, Kostantin Korniakt. who received a royal permit to have six windows instead of the usual three on each floor. In the 17th century the building was bought by the family of the famous Polish king Jan Sobieski and is now a part of the Lviv History Museum. The marvelous Italian courtyard houses a cafe.

Jan Sobieski played an important role in European history by defeating the Turkish army near Vienna in 1683. The battle marked the turning point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the Central European kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire. After the battle, the Austrians discovered many bags of coffee in the abandoned Turkish encampment. Using this captured stock, a Ukrainian named Franciszek Kulczycki opened the first coffeehouse in Vienna, where, according to legend, he added milk and honey to sweeten the bitter coffee, thereby inventing cappuccino. Today Lviv is know for its coffee culture and its abundance of cafes.

Building #9 was the residence of the Lithuanian king and for the next 400 years served as the residence of Lviv archbishops. #10 Rynok Square houses a very interesting Old Furniture and Porcelain Museum. The winged lion as the coat of arms of Venice over the entrance to #14 marks the place where the consul of Venice lived in the 17th century. #16 preserves remains of the brick Gothic arches at the first floor level, one of the few details reminding us of the original look of these buildings before the fire of 1527. The sculptured Baptism of Jesus decorates the corner building #23. The Russian tsar Peter the Great stayed in #24 on his visit to Poland. The tzar was unusually tall, but because of the high doorway could enter the building without stooping. #28 has preserved its original look since its reconstruction in the Renaissance style in the 17th century, and today is one of the best examples of the Renaissance architecture of Lviv. The Art Deco facade of building #31 was added in 1923. The pharmacy museum at the corner across from building #45 features an interior from two centuries ago and an exhibit of the first gas lamp in the world which was invented in Lviv. #2 is where the first post office was opened by an Italian merchant named Roberto Bandinelli. And building #4 with its stunning black facade, which is known as the Black Mansion, closes the circle around the Market Square.