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The ancient city of Halych, once capital of a powerful state



Volodymyr DIDUKH explores the history of the ancient city of Halych in Western Ukraine and takes a look at some of its architectural landmarks.


Halych was the capital of the Halytsko-Volynsky state in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This state emerged in 1199 when the Grand Duke Roman Mstyslavych brought together the Halytske and Volynske Principalities, which, in their turn, were part of the once unified state, Kyivan Rus-Ukraine. The historical Halych was situated about 5 kilometres south of the present-day town of Halych in Ivano-Frankivska Oblast.


Some facts

from Halytsko-Volynsky history

It will be probably reasonable enough to say a few words about the state of which Halych was the capital for some time before we proceed to the story of this city.

Halytske and Voynske Principalties were fragments of the once powerful state of Kyivan Rus, which began to disintegrate after the death of its greatest ruler Yaroslav the Wise in the mid-eleventh century. Roman Mstyslavych, who brought these two principalities together into the Halytsko-Volynsky state, took upon himself to restore the unity of Kyivan Rus, and in 1203 he joined Kyiv and its lands to his state. But in 1205 he died and the newly-founded state entered a period of internal strife and temporary disintegration. The neighbouring states of Hungary and Poland were not slow in trying to use the unstable situation in the Halytsko-Volynsky Principality to their advantage and sent troops to gain by force as much territory as possible. Resistance to the external pressure resulted in the expulsion of the invaders in 1221, but it was only under the Grand Duke  and later king  Danylo Romanovych that the unity of Halytske and Volynske Principalities in one state was fully restored in 1238. In the same year, Danylo routed a force of German nights who attempted an invasion.

Danylo then set out to expand his state and again included Kyiv into his lands but in 1240 Kyiv was captured and raised to the ground by the devastating Mongol invasion. The Mongols proceeded westward and brought ruin and death to Danylos lands. In spite of great human and material losses, the Halytsko-Volynsky state survived and even found enough strength to beat off the renewed aggression from Hungary and Poland which decided that Danylo was too weakened by the Mongols to fight back. In the battle at Yaroslav on August 17 1245, Danylo, aided by Vasylko Romanovych, defeated the Polish and Hungarian army, reinforced by the forces of the Halytsko-Volynsky rebellious boyars. The unity of the Halytsko-Volynsky state was once again reaffirmed.

In 1245 Danylo went to the Golden Horde, and though he recognized the Golden Horde khans supremacy, he was in turn recognized as the sole ruler of the Halytsko-Volynsky Principality. In the 1250s he conducted a number of military operations against the Golden Horde, which made his state virtually independent of the Mongols. In 1253 he was crowned as king. Danylo died in 1264 and was buried in his new capital Kholm.

Several decades later, with no ruler being capable and strong enough to maintain the unity of the Halytsko-Volynsky sate and preserve its independence, the Halytsko-Volynsky state ceased to exist after it was overrun by Poland.


Back to Halych

The first written mention of Halych in chronicles dates to 1141. When it acquired the status of the capital city, it soon grew to be one of the biggest and most important cities in the lands of what used to be the Kyivan Rus state. In 1241, Halych was burned down by the invading Mongols; in 1349 it was captured by Poland; after the division of Poland at the end of eighteenth century, Halych and a big chunk of the western Ukrainian territory found itself under Austria. After a brief period of the Ukrainian independence in 19171919, Halych and the western Ukrainian lands were part of Poland until 1939.

The archaeological excavations of the late nineteenth century revealed that Halych, the capital of the Halytsko-Volynsky Principality, had been located not at the place that the small town of Halych occupied, but five kilometres to the south at the site where the village of Krylos was located, on the right bank of the River Lukva. The fortified part (dytynets) of Halych was situated on Kryloska Hora (Krylos Hill), where ruins of the fortifications dating from the eleventh-thirteenth centuries can still be seen.

It also turned out that ancient Halych had been a very big city  several kilometres in width and length. It was divided into three distinctive parts, the oldest of which was called Zoloty Tik. In the times of old, the name Zoloty Tik (Golden Gathering) was given to places where the rulers presided over court, where community meetings were held, or tournaments of knights were organized. Archaeologists did find a number of artefacts at the site of the Zoloty Tik section of Halych, which included a gold pendant decorated with enamel, silver earrings, bracelets and rings, a bronze trident (symbol of monarchic power) and chessmen, which were apparently of the Arab production. These finds suggest that Zoloty Tik of Halych was indeed a section of town where the nobility lived. Archaeological excavations of the early 1980s, conducted by the archaeologist from Lviv V. Aulikh, produced more evidence of vibrant everyday and cultural life in ancient Halych.

Craftsmen and lower classes lived in a separate part of town which was protected on its southern side by defensive walls and moats.

The fortifications of Halych were reconstructed in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries; in the seventeenth century, a new defensive wall was built with four towers. Halych boasted several churches, palaces and mansions which barely survived to our days  but enough to make Halych a tourist attraction.


Architectural and other landmarks

A large mound of earth can be seen at the south-west outskirts of what used to be the city of Halych at a place called Kachkiv. One of the chronicles mentions this mound in connection with the turbulent events of the early 13th century when Halych was fighting off the Hungarian incursions.

The prominent historian of the early twentieth century (and later the first president of Ukraine) Mikhailo Hrushevsky believed that the founder of Halych must have been buried somewhere in Halych or its vicinity. The search for the tomb began in the nineteenth century but brought no results. At the very end of the nineteenth century, archaeological digging began in the mound at Kachkiv and a number of artefacts was discovered  charred remains of a boat made of one piece of log; a dagger, arrowheads, three axes, gold decorations for a shield. These artefacts did suggest that a warrior or a ruler could have been buried there. These artefacts were dated to the tenth century AD.

From the chronicles it was known that Halych had a big church, the Uspensky Cathedral, in which one of the rulers of Halych, Yaroslav Osmomysl, was buried in 1187. It was also known from the chronicles that Danylo Romanovych was crowned in that cathedral.

No visible traces of the cathedral were preserved though, and it was only in July 1936 that the foundation of the church was discovered. The archaeological excavations were conducted then by Ya. Pasternak with the blessing of the Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky (who played an important role in the cultural life of Halychyna at that time).

Pasternak had been digging in Krylos (the place that used to be a fortified part of Halych) for two years before the spade of one of the workers struck upon a stone which proved to be a block from the foundation of the Uspensky Cathedral. Further digging revealed the full size of the foundation  32.5 metres by 37.5 metres, which made it only slightly smaller than the eleventh-century Holy Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv, the biggest church of the Kyivan Rus times.

Fragments of the building and of its architectural and sculptural decor unearthed later made it possible to get a general idea of what kind of church it was. The cathedral was decorated with frescos; its floors were covered with alabaster plates and ceramic tiles; the central dome was covered with lead, and other roofs with red tiles.

In 1937, Pasternaks excavations were uncovered  in the narthex of the church  a marble sarcophagus, which must have contained the remains of the Grand Duke Yaroslav Osmomysl. Two medieval copies of the Gospels  Halytske Yevanheliye of 1114 and Dobrylove Yevanheliye of 1164  which are believed to have been created in the Halytske Principality may indicate that there was a library at the cathedral and a scriptorium. The medieval chronicles also mention the School of Osmomysl which could have functioned at the Uspensky Cathedral too.

Not far from where the Uspensky Cathedral used to stand on Krylos Hill you can find several water springs whose water was  and is  believed to have curative properties. Pilgrims came to Halych from afar to worship in the Uspensky Cathedral and get some of the curative water. One of the springs, situated close to a place at which the Monastery of St Stepan used to stand, was known as The Eyes of Frantishek. According to legend, a blind boy named Frantishek had his eyes restored when the water from the wonder-working spring was applied to his eyes.


The Church of the Assumption

of the Virgin Mary

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was built in 1586. The initiator of the construction was Marko Shumlyansky, a scion of the boyar family. The careful examination of the church revealed that some of the stone blocs for the construction were taken from the Uspensky Cathedral, which must have been lying in ruins since the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century. Graffiti on these blocs were dated to the eleventh-thirteenth centuries and serve as another proof that these blocks must have come from the Uspensky Cathedral.

In 1676 Halych was raided by a Turkish-Tartar force in which many of its inhabitants were killed or led into captivity. During the raid, a lot of damage was done to the city. The Assumption Church was not spared either. In 1699 the local bishop Yosyf Shumlyansky began restoration of the church, which was completed in 1702. A defensive wall was built around the church as a protection against possible raids in the future. But no more raids came. Some damage was done to the church though during the First World War  the central dome was ruined in an artillery shelling and later, instead of the dome, the church got a new roofing.

In 2001, restoration work began which gave the church its original look  or rather its appearance before the damage of 1914. During the restoration, many more stone fragments of masonry, of architectural decor, and of frescos were found. All these fragments are believed to have come from the Uspensky Cathedral.

During the restoration, the Assumption Church was crowned with golden crosses; the iconostasis with icons painted by Anton Monastyrsky, an icon painter of the early twentieth century, was restored too and it gives the right Orthodox touch to the interior.


The Church of St Panteleymon

and an old castle

The ruins of an old castle in ancient Halych is another tourist attraction The castle is believed to have been built in the mid-fourteenth century, but the written mention in chronicles of the presence of a fortress in Halych dates from the year 1114. In all likelihood the castle was built at the site where an earlier fortress used to stand. Archaeological evidence suggests that originally it was made of wood, with stone construction gradually supplanting the wooden parts.

Work is currently being done to preserve whatever is left of the castle. In fact, it is planned to restore or rather rebuild some of the defensive walls and the Chapel of Catherine.

Not far from the village of Krylos, the site of ancient Halych, in the village of Shevchenkove on Vinohradna Hora (Hill of Grapes) you can see a church, the only surviving building from the twelfth century in that area. The Church of St Panteleymon was built in 1194, close to the place where the River Limnytsya empties into the River Dnister.

One of the first culture and history enthusiasts who examined the church in 1909 was Y. Pelensky. He discovered many graffiti on the walls of the church and dated them as having been made during several centuries, beginning from the early thirteenth and down to the seventeenth. One of the graffiti inscriptions located on a pilaster at the height of about five feet from the floor was incised into the stone with a sharp object. The contents of the inscription helped to establish the founder of the church  it was Roman Mstyslavych, who built this church in honour of his grandfather, Grand Duke Izyaslav of Kyiv whose Christian name was Panteleymon.

The church is of a cruciform shape in plan with a central dome above the crossing point of the transept and nave, typical of the twelfth-century churches in Ukraine. In 1998, the church was restored and given to the local Greek-Catholic community.


At Krylos Hill there stands a monument, Mech i Ralo  The Sword and the Plough. The monument is to remind tourists of the times when there once was a powerful Ukrainian state in that area which was ruled by an ambitious king, who wanted to unify all the Ukrainian states, and whose capital was a sprawling city. One cant help pondering the strange twists of history and of human destinies in it, but the monument is a good starting point for sightseeing tours. n


Photos by the author


Dragon on one of the walls
of the Church of St Panteleymon.


Icon of the Virgin Mary with Christ
Child from the times of Grand Duke
Yaroslav Osmomysl. 1187.


Barrow in which the founder
of Halych was believed to have
been buried in the 10th century.


Gospel from Halych that dates to 1144.


Iconostasis from the Church
of the Birth of Christ.


Uspenska Church, which is mentioned
in the chronicles as the place where Grand
Duke Yaroslav Osmomysl was buried in 1187.


Bronze icon of the Virgin Mary.


The water from the Knyazha
krynytsya Grand Dukes Spring
was believed to have curative properties.


A piece of a ceramic plate
from the floor of the Uspenska
Church. 12 century.


A symbolic monument to The Sword and The Plough
at Kryloska Hora-Krylos Mount in Halych which was
erected in commemoration of the historical events
in the times of the Halytsko-Volynsky State. 1987.


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