Lviv is the largest city in western Ukraine and the seventh-largest city in the country overall, with a population of 724,314 (2020 est.) . Lviv is one of the main cultural centres of Ukraine.
But the main reason for its development was its location at the intersection of natural trade routes—the north–south route from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea (Kholm–Halych) and the east–west route (Cracow–Kyiv). Because of its location Lviv became an important commercial and cultural intermediary between Western and Eastern Europe, a role assumed from the declining cities of Zvenyhorod, Halych, and Kholm. Lviv’s influence fluctuated between national and regional, according to historical events, particularly the power of Galicia. Its western location, far from the usual invasion routes of the Tatars, assured it a more peaceful development than Kyiv’s. Nevertheless, it was the principal arena of Polish-Ukrainian conflict.
The oldest part of Lviv lies in the depression of the Poltva River, which cuts into the Podolian Upland. The plain, 3–4 km wide and 260–270 m above sea level, was once a peat bog. It narrows to 1 km toward the north and slides between the Podolian Upland and Roztochia to the Buh Depression. The northern side of the depression along the Poltva River is hemmed in by the western part of the Holohory, which separates it from the Buh Depression with a thin ridge 100–150 m above the depressions running from the Chortivska Cliff (414 m) in the east to Vysokyi Zamok (413 m) in the northwest. Built of chalk marls and Miocene sand, sandstone, and limestone dissected by wooded ravines, the ridge is the most scenic part of Lviv. In the northwest it is continued by the somewhat lower, forested Roztochia from Kortumivka Hill (374 m) west of the Poltva River to Lysa Hill (380 m) near Briukhovychi.
Lviv was founded in the mid-13th century by Prince Danylo Romanovych near Zvenyhorod, which had been razed by the Tatars, and named after his son Lev Danylovych. Excavations on Vysokyi Zamok have shown that the site was settled in the 10th century. The city is first mentioned in the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle under the year 1256. The chronicle goes on to recount how the Tatar khan, Burundai, ordered the castle to be destroyed in 1259, and how Khan Telebuh attacked Lviv in 1263 and 1287. In the 1260s, during the reign of Prince Lev Danylovych, Lviv became the capital of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia; it remained its capital until the end (1340s). As Kyiv declined, Lviv rose to national stature.
At first Lviv covered a small area (later the Zhovkva suburb) on the right bank of the Poltva River and consisted of three parts: the ditynets or stronghold on Lysa Hill (today the western plateau of Vysokyi Zamok), the inner town at the foot of the ditynets, and the outer town, the least fortified suburb, stretching as far as the Poltva River. The population was 2,000 to 3,000. Besides Ukrainians it included Germans, Armenians, Tatars, Poles, Karaites, Hungarians, and Jews. The names of some streets, such as Virmenska and Tatarska, as well as of Stare Okopyshche (the Old Jewish cemetery) date back to medieval times. There were 10 Orthodox churches, 3 Armenian churches, and 2 Catholic churches.