(Replicated here from our 2001 page). According to the ancient chronicles Lviv was founded in 1256 by the Prince of Galicia and Volyn Danylo Romanovych, who named the town in honour of his son Lev. The center of old Lviv was on the site of today's Old Rynok Square.
Situated on the crossroads of trade routes, Lviv grew fast, and soon became an important center of commerce and crafts. Its location in the middle of Galicia-Volyn principality gave the town a considerable strategic value. In 1272 Prince Lev transferred the capital of the principality from Galych to Lviv. In 1349 the Polish King Kazimierz III, who ordered it to be moved more to the south, captured Lviv. The new town was built to the plan of a traditional European settlement: a central square surrounded by living quarters and fortifications.
Not only merchants were attracted by the wealth of Lviv. In those days Tatars, Moldavians, Turks, rebellious Polish nobility were attacking Lviv, and the defenses were a vital matter. Basically the system of fortifications was completed in 1445; it comprised the Higher and Lower Defense Walls with a ditch between them; a deep moat filled with water, which protected the town on the northern, eastern and southern sides; a defense rampart, 16 meters high; the High and Low Castles. The river and impassable swamps shielded Lviv from the west. However, with the advent of firearms, such fortifications could afford little protection, and they underwent drastic alterations.
The High Castle, built by the Polish King Kazimierz III, heavily fortified and located on a steep hill, 300 meters high, remained inaccessible for more than 300 years. It was only in 1648 that the Cossacks of Maxym Kryvonis seized the High Castle for the first time. In 1672 Turks captured it almost without a fight. Later, little was done to save the Castle from decay, and in the 1870s it was dismantled, with a segment of its southern wall being preserved.
The Lower Castle, famous for its beauty, rebuilt after 1565 to replace earlier wooden ones, was located on the site presently occupied by the National Museum and Maria Zankovetska Theatre. Here in 1537 King Sigismund I the Old signed the Order, which put an end to the absolute monarchy in Poland. The Swedish King Karl XII stayed in the Lower Castle in 1704 after capturing the city. A royal residence, the Castle also served as a prison for Polish nobility.
The devastating fire of 1527 razed Lviv to the ground, leaving only two structures: the Town Hall and one other building; the survival of the latter was attributed to the protection of the Holy Virgin. So intense was the fire, that it destroyed even stone structures and melted church bells and artillery guns.
Although the ban imposed on wooden construction in 1540 was not too strictly observed, the buildings which appeared later were largely built of stone. The most common type of building was a three-storied one, with three windows on each floor. The walls were covered with carpets, which later gave way to plaster. Furniture, mostly made of oak, solid, intricately carved and lavishly decorated; oriental carpets on the floor; kitchenware of silver and tin (which used to be almost as expensive as silver); glassware, often of colored glass; clocks in bronze or gilded wood - these were to show the wealth of a house-owner. Paintings and books were not scarce in the town.