The Lviv Region, the largest in western Ukraine, was formed in 1939. It was reunited with the rest of Ukraine as part of the Molotov—Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Germany. Due to its geographic features, the area, which borders on Poland in the west, produces a remarkable diversity of weather conditions. The plains of Male (Ukr. Little) Polissia in the north rise towards the undulating surface of the Podillia Upland and Roztochchia in the south-west, which grows into the Pre-Carpathian spurs and finally the Carpathians. The absolute altitudes in that direction gradually grow to reach a four-fold difference.
A special natural attraction of the area is the Roztochchia, Europe’s key water divide, which is the source of rivers flowing either into the Black Sea in the south or the Baltic Sea in the north. It is here that one of the most important waterways of the country, the Dniester, starts. The beauty of the Dniester River valley can only be rivalled by the spellbinding landscapes of the other rivers of the area, the Zakhidnyy (Western) Buh, Stryi and Styr.
The first known settlements on the Zakhidnyy Buh appeared in Later Paleolithic era (ca 20,000 years ago). The 9th—10th c.c. saw the formation of the Halych Principality, and, in 1199, the Halych-Volyn Principality. After the devastating Mongol invasions in the 13th с., the principality had to accept suzerainty to the Golden Horde and was held under tribute.
In the 14th c., the battle for the control over these lands among Lithuania, Hungary and Poland was finally won by Poland, which governed for almost 4 centuries to come. After the 1772 Partition of Poland the area passed to Austria. Between the two world wars, the region was once again under the re-emergent Poland until it passed to Ukraine in 1939.
Lvivschyna is abundant in architectural relics of all times and styles. It retains the castles of Rzeczpospolita Kings, homes of the nobility, alongside an array of the 16th—20th c.c. Catholic, Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Jewish temples.
Lviv lies on the Poltva and Zubr rivers. It was founded on the Roztochchia Ridge in mid-1200s by Prince Danylo of Halych, who gave it his son’s name. Atop the hill stands an old fortress known as Vysoky Zamok (High Castle). The first record of the settlement dates back to 1256, and it became the principality’s capital in 1272. These events are commemorated in the ruins of the castle and the city’s oldest 13th-c. St. Nicholas Church.
In 1349, Polish King Casimir III, aided by the Hungarians, overcame Halych resistance and seized Lviv. He ordered a new Lviv to be built and named it Leopolis. In 1356, the settlement acquired the status of a city. Soon Leopolis became a trade and craft centre with almost 30 workshops. The city was inhabited by Ruthenians, Poles, Germans, Armenians and Jews, who by the 16th c. constituted a quarter of the city’s population. The Armenian Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Cathedral is the remembrance of the Armenian presence in the area, while the Jewish 1582 ‘Golden Rose’ synagogue is rather a reminder of the Nazi holocaust. The Late Middle Ages left their trace in numerous remarkable buildings forming the unique architecture of the city centre. In 1998, Lviv’s central section became a UNESCO world heritage site.
The old city was mostly built before the First Partition of Poland, in accordance with Western European standards of planning, with a market square surrounded by living quarters, temples and fortifications stretching for 50 ha. In 1527 Leopolis was reduced to ashes by a raging fire, and in 1540 the municipal council ruled it that all buildings in the inner circle should be built exclusively of stone. The fortifications were completed by the 15th c. to withstand dozens of sieges for three centuries. Occasionally the city community had to pay tribute to the aggressor and only once was Leopolis seized by the Swedish King Charles XII, in 1704.
Rynok square, set up in the 14th c., complies with the medieval city planning standards. The architectural surrounding belongs to the late 16th — early 17th c.c. The central part of the square is occupied by the Town Hall. It was constructed here in the late 14th c., a tower was added in 1835. On all sides, Rynok is surrounded by 44 terraced houses that once belonged to merchants and prominent citizens. The most famous of these is the Chorna Kamyanytsia (house made of black stone), which was built in 1589 by Italian master-masons.
After the 1772 Partition of Poland, Leopolis was given the Austro-Hungarian name of Lemberg and became the capital of a province. The city underwent significant changes, with a number of remarkable buildings erected in the Viennese classic style, e.g. the 1840 Skarbek Theatre (now Mariya Zankovetska Theatre), 1881 Halych Seim (now I. Franko University main building), the 1900 S. Krushelnytska Opera and Ballet House, the Lviv railroad terminal (1903) and many others. Together with the older buildings, all these form an architectural marvel which has been captivating the visitors for many years.
Drohobych is the second largest city of Lvivschyna. First mentioned in 14th c., it was then the Princes’ residence of the Drohobych Starosstvo. In 1392, the building of the main attraction of the area, St. Bartolommeo Church with its defensive tower, began. Due to the salt industry, Drohobych developed fast and soon became one of the main cities of the region.
During 17th c. two marvellous chapels were built: St. George (Yura) and the True Cross. True Cross Chapel was significantly rebuilt in 1661, whereas St. Yura was brought in pieces from another settlement to its present location. The churches have managed to preserve 17th—18th c.c. mural polychromes and a unique iconostas (St. Yura Chapel).
Today’s Lvivshyna is a land of the Princes’ and Magnates’ mansions, the most famous of which are situated in Olesk, Zhovkva, Zolochevo, Pidhirytsia and Svirzha.
We know from the first written record of the Olesk Castle (1327) that there had already been a fortress with mighty walls on the hill prior to that time. The fortress, on the border between Lithuania and Poland, was a long-desired target for both countries. In the 16th c., the castle was rebuilt into a mansion, where two Polish kings, Jan III Sobieski (1629) and Michaf Korybut Wisniowiecki (1639) were born. The mansion was restored in 1965—75 to house a museum, which features creative arts, saved from the destroyed churches, castles and palaces of Western Ukraine.
There are a lot of areas of natural beauty in Lvivschyna, including the Roztochchia Nature Reserve (1984), and the Yavorivskyy (1998) and Skolivski Beskydy (1999) national parks.