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Romantic palaces in a romantic city
Natalya KOSMOLINSKA takes the readers on a guided tour to see some of the architectural landmarks of the city of Lviv. Lviv stands out among Ukrainian cities as a place that boasts impressive architecture with a romantic touch to it.
On this tour we’ll take a closer look primarily at palatsy — palaces and mansions that date from rather distant and so distant past. The word “palace” conjures up in my imagination images of fancy-dress balls, princes and princesses dancing, or almost flying above the floor, to the gentle music of waltzes; the chandeliers ablaze with lights, the hearts beating fast with a happy feeling that something very nice is going to happen…
Unfortunately, it seems that such kind of romantic moods, petals of dreams, arabesques of fantasies are all in the past. The realities of post-industrial society bring in a new version of things romantic — and it looks that this version is of a computer, “virtual” kind.
Palaces remain a part of our heritage; they are like magic mirrors, in which one can get glimpses of history. But in order to make out what the fleeting and dim images show, one has to have some historical facts handy to light the way, and rely on an inspiration conducive to intellectual adventures.
In the medieval times, the nobility lived in castles, and the city was inhabited by merchants, craftsmen, mercenaries, mendicant monks, beggars, and others. The center of the spiritual life was the cathedral, and the center of mundane affairs was the City Hall.
The castles of nobility or royalty were built on elevated places and were surrounded by thick defensive walls for protection against aggressiveness of the world.
Palaces, as places that suggested the wealth and pleasures of life, began to be built at the time when the Middle Ages were waning and the joys of the Renaissance were progressively more and more appreciated.
As some of the merchants rose in social status and acquired wealth, they wanted their living quarters to be palatial, with the interiors decorated as lavishly as they could afford it. In the center of the old section of Lviv — around Ploshcha Rynok (Market Square) and in its vicinity, almost every other building is a palace or a mansion. Time and people have not been too kind to the old architecture but the Bandinelli Palace at 2 Ploshcha Rynok and the Kornyakt Palace at 6 Ploshcha Rynok have been preserved quite in a decent state. Both palaces are museums now, and we know rather much about their history. Let’s trace their history in a general outline.
The Bandinelli Palace was built by the wealthy apothecary Jarosz Wedelski, but the name “Bandinelli” was given to it by one of the later owners of the Palace, the Italian merchant Roberto Bandinelli. He was a grandson of Baccio Bandinelli (1493– 1560), a Florentine sculptor, goldsmith and painter, whose constant efforts to outdo the great Michelangelo himself generally rebounded on his own head. It is not known for sure why and how his grandson came to live in Lviv, though his contemporaries gossiped that Roberto was a daredevil, and found his way to Lviv escaping from prosecution or retribution after a duel that he had fought, and that had caused a scandal. In Lviv, Bandinelli started a business which was quite new at that time in Europe — he provided postal services. In 1629 he considerably improved the postal service that had been started by another Italian, Domenico Monteluppi which was the first postal service in Eastern Europe.
In the soviet times, the palace was used as flats whose tenants introduced a lot of structural changes which eventually led to the collapse of the building. The Lviv history enthusiasts launched a campaign to have the palace restored, and the palace was indeed partially rebuilt and partially restored to a condition that made it possible to house a museum in it — a branch of the Historical Museum of Lviv. It holds the collection of silver, and temporary exhibitions are shown in its halls. The ground floor is planned to be given to the Museum of Postal Services.
Close to the Bandinelli Palace we find another Renaissance palace — it used to belong to the Kornyakt family. Kostyantyn Kornyakt was a wine trader and was elevated to nobility by the Polish king Sigismund II August for his loyal service in the capacity of a royal secretary. The next king, Stephen Bathory (1575– 86) allowed Kornyakt, by his special decree, to build a palace at Ploshcha Rynok with six windows — a privilege which, in accordance with the Magdeburg Law could be obtained only by a special royal permission granted for distinguished services (no money could buy such a privilege). The Italian architects Petro from Barbona and Paolo from Rome were commissioned to do the design for the palace. The Italian Courtyard (or the Venetian Courtyard) as it is called, is an architectural gem and a major tourist attraction. In the eighteenth century, Shakespeare’s plays were performed there on a makeshift stage. I do not think there is another architectural landmark in Ukraine that can rival the Kornyakt Palace and its Italian Courtyard in splendor — except, probably the palace in Livadia, Crimea, that used to belong to the Russian Emperor Nicholas II.
In the seventeenth century the palace was purchased for the Polish King Jan III Sobieski (ruled 1674–1696) and the palace, naturally, became a royal residence. In 1686, it was in this palace that a peace treaty was signed between Poland and Russia (Sobieski fought against Tatars, Cossacks, Russians and Turks; in 1683 he relieved Vienna of the Turkish siege and drove the Turks away; he was acclaimed as hero of Christendom). In September 1908, when the 225th anniversary of the defeat inflicted by Sobieski on the Turks at Vienna, was celebrated, a memorial museum was opened in the Kornyakt Palace, which was turned into a National Museum named after King Jan III. In the soviet times, it was reorganized into the Historical Museum; some of the halls of the museum — known as the Royal Halls — were furnished with authentic furniture of the 18th– 19th centuries.
There is a section of Ploshcha Rynok, next door to the Kornyakt Palace, which, starting from the fourteenth century, used to be in the possession of the Catholic archbishops of Lviv. The Lithuanian Grand Duke and Polish King Jagiello and his wife Jadwiga in the end of the fourteenth century, and later Polish Kings Jan Casimir and Wladislaw IV on their visits to Lviv stayed in the palace that still stands. When Hetman Sienjawski celebrated the marriage of his daughter Sofia in 1724, he put pipes into four windows on the first floor through which good Hungarian wine freely flowed into vessels proffered by the thirsty and rejoicing populace.
There are several palaces to be seen in the vicinity of Ploshcha Rynok as well. Probably the palace that in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries belonged to the family of Counts Dzeduszickis is the most remarkable among them. This palace boasts the oldest mechanical — that is, not powered by electricity — elevator in Europe which was made in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1870, Count Volodymyr Dzeduszicki, a zoologist, ethnographer and archeologist, opened a natural history museum in his palace, and in 1890 presented it, together with his library and the palace itself, to the city of Lviv. Unfortunately, the palace and the museum in it are closed — repairs have been dragging on there for years.
At 18 Vynnychenko Street (formerly the place was called Hubernatorski Valy — Governor’s Walls, and it did have defensive walls built in ancient times), a palace was built as a gubernatorial residence; these days the palace is used by the local administration for its sittings. In the same street there is a palace that was built for Roman Catholic archbishops.
Most of the nobility preferred to build their palaces not in the confined space of the old city but outside its limits. Alas, most of the palaces that belonged to the families of Zelonkis, Gadzeviczis, Bekerskis, Viszneveckis, Szeptyckis and many others were either pulled down during the city’s development and expansion, or rebuilt and changed beyond recognition. One of such palaces, at 2 Bibliotechna Street, has survived though. It was built in the seventeenth century and was used for some time as an arsenal by Hetman Seniwski. The representation of the horse on its facade dates from the times of the Counts Czartoriskis who had stables and a riding hall built at the palace in the eighteenth century. At present, the palace houses a library — an art books section of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
The most lavishly designed and decorated palaces in Lviv date from the nineteenth century when there was an influx of nobles coming to Lviv from their country estates. Ostentation was the order of the day. The best known palaces among this category used to belong to the Counts Potockis (at 15 Kopernik Street). Alfred II Potocki was viceroy of Halychyna and Lodomeriya in 1875–1883, and being an admirer of the times and style of the French King Louis XIV, the Sun King, he commissioned a French architect, Luois d’Overnu, to do the design of a palace for him. The count did not live to see his palace finished and the construction was completed under his son Roman.
The palace was spared any damage during World War I, but in the fall of 1919 it did get hit — but not by an artillery shell or a bomb but by a plane. A military parade was held in Lviv to celebrate victories of Poland in its war against Soviet Russia. A US-built plane that was to fly over the city suddenly took a nosedive, the pilot lost control of the plane and it fell right on the roof of the Potocki Palace. The damage caused by the crash was not too great but it started a fire and the palace was completely gutted by fire. The Potockis were paid compensation by the Polish government and later the palace was restored. The Potockis had an excellent collection of art works and rarities and ancient weapons which was estimated in 1939 to be worth a very considerable sum of money.
During the Second World War the advancing units of the invading Fascist Italians established their headquarters in the palace; there were rumors that Mussolini himself secretly visited Lviv and stayed in the Potocki Palace. After the war, the palace was used as premises for a research center; later it turned into Palats Shchastya, Palace of Happiness — in the soviet parlance it meant the central marriage registry office. In 2001, the palace was given to the Lviv Art Gallery to house some of its collections there. At present, the collection of the European arts of the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries is exhibited in the palace.
The ground floor of the palace is particularly impressive. The Red and White Halls, and the Stone Salon are used as venues on solemn occasions of official and private meetings, art presentations, and concerts. The recently restored chapel will hold an ancient Byzantine icon, known as Lviv Mother of God. For some time it was thought the icon had been lost but later it was recovered. The museum exhibits are displayed on the second floor. The pride of the collection is the painting The Money Lender by the seventeenth-century French artist Georges de La Tour.
At 40a Kopernik Street we find a palace that used to belong to the Princes Sapegas. Adam Sapega, a scion of an ancient Lithuanian-Ruski princely family, promoted and financed the construction of rail roads in Halychyna. His contemporaries called him “a magic treasure chest”. His palace was built in the second half of the nineteenth century in an eclectic neo-Baroque style. The facade is decorated with refined stone carving.
If we proceed along the same street, we find still another palace at 42 Kopernik Street. It used to belong to the Counts Belskis. At present, it houses the Budynok Vchytelya —Teachers’ Center and a Polish theater as well. The palace that used to belong to the Counts Golukhovskis is situated several blocks away at 16 Lystopadovoho Chynu Street. Its former owner, Count Agenor Golukhovski, was governor of Halychyna, a man of rigidly conservative views; he was remembered for causing a great controversy in the then local community by his attempt to forcefully introduce the Latin script for the Ukrainian language. Strangely enough, the idea has not died completely.
The Potockis’ Francophile attitudes caused a fashion for everything French to develop, particularly in architectural design. One of the palaces that bears the imprint of this French fashion is the one that used to be owned by the Semensky family (at 19 Pekarska Street). The palace has a monumental open-work wrought-iron gate, a cour d’honeur (inner court), wings for the servants and stables. The palace’s architectural style resembles that of Baroque palaces in the vicinity of Paris. One of the local legends has it that at the spot where the palace now stands there had lived highway robbers who not only robbed but killed the defenseless people who happened to wander dangerously close to this den of robbers. But they caused God’s wrath by their atrocities and a bolt of lighting hit their house and the murderers were burned to ashes.
The same street takes us to a romantic neo-Gothic style palace that used to belong to the Turkuli-Camello family. The main facade with a large terrace faces the park rather than the street. The owners must have wanted to be thus isolated from the noise and bustle of a big city, preferring to be exposed to the quiet of their park rather than to the rumble of traffic in the street.
These days, most of the palaces in Lviv are used as offices, galleries, libraries or theatres. So you will not see the festive lights in their windows in the evenings, or hear the music, or watch the gilded carriages arrive at their gates. Their glory is in the past. Only the Potocki Palace continues to maintain a sort of “high life”. On the New Year’s Eve, intellectual elite of Halychyna gathers at the palace for a fancy-dress party marked by an evident retro style. These parties, Mezha roky (The Year’s End) were initiated and started by the magazine “I” that targets the intellectuals and intelligentsia. Thanks to the magazine, new rituals and traditions are being developed, new myths are created, and new patterns are woven into the tapestry of time, linking the past with the present and the future.
Among all the palaces of Lviv it is only
the Potocki Palace that continues to maintain
a sort of “high life” — on the New Year’s Eve,
intellectual elite of Halychyna gathers
at the palace for a fancy-dress party,
Mezha roky (The Year’s End), marked by
an evident retro style.
Arguably the best known inner yard in Lviv —
the Italian Courtyard of the Kornyakt Palace.
Italian architects Petro from Barbona and Paolo
from Rome designed Kornyakt palac
in the magnificent Renaissance style.
Semensky Palace resembles Baroque palaces
in the vicinity of Paris.
Stone carving on the facade of the Sapegas Palace
is its particularly attractive feature.
This palace used to belong to
the Turkuli-Camello family.
This palace that used to belong to the Synivskis,
now houses the Vasyl Stefanyk National Library.
In the background behind the riders —
the Kornyakt Palace that houses
the Historical Museum of Lviv.[Prev][Contents][Next]