NUMBER 3 — VIRMENSKA (ARMENIAN) STREET
The Armenian community, one of the oldest in Lviv, had formed over a period of many years a centre for its national life in Lviv. Its unique architecture portrays the original spirit of this Eastern Christian culture Armenians, driven out of their motherland by the Mongol-Tatar invasion of the mid-13th century and having lost their sovereignty, found hospitable refuge in Halychyna. One of the most ancient Eastern Christian nations (Armenians had accepted Christianity several centuries earlier than European nations), the Armenians brought to Lviv a creative sense of search, their capital, and highly skilled jewellers, leather-dressers, and embroiderers. However, they were most proficient in the field of trading. Trade caravans from eastern countries to Europe were almost entirely under an Armenian monopoly. Armenians not only dealt in direct trade but also acted as interpreters through whom all foreign merchants in Lviv worked.
Each ethnic community occupied its own territory in ancient Lviv. Armenians settled outside the city walls in the northern part, near the central Rynok Square. Here was situated the seat of the Gregorian bishopric, which was subordinate only to the head of the Armenian Church, the Catholicos of all Armenians. The leader (viyt) and the board of elders governed secular life. To settle internal community problems Armenians used their own common law; for example, when an arsonist was caught red-handed, they had the right to throw him into the fire immediately. Armenians possessed their own school, hospitals, a library, and a theatre; the first Armenian printing shop was founded here in 1616. The architecture of the Armenian quarter is characteristic of the traditions of the time; for instance, many houses featured wide gates until the second half of the 18th century. Some of these have been preserved to the present day.
Due to its strong economic position the Armenian community maintained its confidence and managed to withstand the pressure and restrictions imposed by the municipal authorities for a long period of time. This city council, members of which were by-and-large wealthy Roman Catholic merchants, did not easily accept the Armenian competition, envied their wealth and connections with the East.
The Armenians in Lviv, cut off from their motherland, and being trade and business people, could not preserve their identity for long. Assimilation was the only way to retain their property and social status. In 1630 Armenian archbishop Mikolaj Torosowicz adopted Catholicism; however, the Armenian people would not benefit from this act: if in the middle of the 17th century over two thousand Armenians resided in Lviv, at the beginning of the 20th century there were only a few remained. Those who did, became Poles with polonized Armenian surnames. A new wave of Armenians came to Lviv after 1939, as the Russian totalitarian government came to power. Today, this community consists of Armenians who have come from various corners of the former Soviet Union.