Today Halych is a small city and the administrative center of the Halytsky Raion (district) of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast (province). It lies 26 km north of the oblast capital, Ivano-Frankivsk. Halych's population is estimated at 4,600.
The city's name, though spelled identically "Галич" in modern East Slavic languages, is pronounced Halych in Ukrainian and Galich in Russian. The Russian transliteration should not be confused with Galich, Russia. In Polish the name is rendered "Halicz"; in the Yiddish language, "העליטש" ("Helitsh" or "Heylitsh"); in Latin, "Galic"; in Hungarian, "Halics."
The origin of the Slavic toponym "Halych" is uncertain. Historians formerly believed it was Celtic, related to many similar place names found across Europe such as "Galaţi" (Romania), "Gaul" (France) and "Galicia" (Spain). Another version postulates "hals," "salt," at the root of "Halych," as the salt trade was a substantial economic factor in the medieval history of Halych. Max Vasmer and modern Slavists generally agree that "Halych" is an adjective derived from the East Slavic word for "jackdaw," "halka." This bird features in the town's coat of arms (but not in the Árpád coat of arms, when Corvinus is a raven).
Local folk legend would have it that the name "Halych" comes from a legendary "Prince Halychyna," the first ruler of these lands. In fact, a kurgan referred to by locals as "Halychyna's tomb," excavated in 1996, contained a ritual cremation site and a bronze weapon and gold disc that could have belonged to a noble leader.
Written mention of Halych by Slavic chronicles dates back to 1138. Most comprehensive records about Halych are found in the Hypatian Codex of the Primary Chronicle. In 1141 Prince (knyaz) Volodymyrko Volodarovych (1104–1152) who united the competing principalities of Przemyśl, Zvenyhorod and Terebovlya into the state of Halychyna transferred his capital from Zvenyhorod, to Halych making it the seat of his Rurikid dynasty and considerably expanding the settlement.
Interestingly, local officials attribute the first written mention of Halych to the year 896. The opinion is supported by a record found in Gesta Hungarorum, court chronicles of the Hungarian king Béla III (dated by beginning of 13 century though). The chronicles describe a stay of Hungarian tribes led by Prince Álmos in Halych on their way through Slavic land to Pannonia. The claim is not supported by serious scholars. Similarly, another curious date for the first written mention, 290 AD (with a reference to "Getica" by Goth Jordanes) is not accepted by majority.
The first dynasty of Halych, descending from Vladimir of Novgorod, culminated in Yaroslav Osmomysl (1153–1187) before going extinct in 1199. The same year Roman the Great founded the new Rurikid dynasty, uniting Halychyna and Volhynia into the more powerful principality of Halych-Volhynia. The Mongols under Batu Khan took the capital in 1241, when the famous King Danylo was its ruler. Thereafter the town steadily declined, eventually ceding supremacy to the newly-founded Lviv.
The excavations of 1933-42 (Jaroslaw Pasternak), 1951-52 (Karger M.K., Aulikh V.), and 1955 uncovered remains of houses, workshops, fortifications, and ten churches built of white stone. Pasternak's excavations established that ancient Halych originated on the spot of today's village Krylos (located 5 km north of modern Halych) as early as the 10th century. In 1936 Pasternak also discovered remains of an eleventh to twelfth century three-apse cathedral with burial tomb of Prince Yaroslav Osmomysl in it. The cathedral is ascribed to the Cathedral of the Dormition previously known only from Chronicles, known to have been a sepulchre of the earliest Halychian princes. The sheer size (37,5 by 32,4 m) of the cathedral (the second largest mediaeval church on the territory of present-day Ukraine, smaller only to St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev), suggests that ancient Halych was the seat of a diocese. Most likely the cathedral was built in 1157 and destroyed in 1241 by hordes of Batyi Khan, then rebuilt again and last time mentioned in 1576.
It is believed that the early Halychian architectural style, thoroughly permeated with Romanesque influences from the West, had been transferred further north-east. The builders of temples in Halych are believed to have also been responsible for the extant Pereslavl Cathedral and Church of Intercession upon Nerl. The foundations of the Assumption Cathedral (1157) are still to be seen. The only surviving medieval church is that of Saint Pantaleon, originally constructed at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, but much rebuilt in the 17th century and controversially reconstructed in the 1990s. The archaeological excavations (1989-2005 under direction of Yuri Lukomsky) at the terrains of Krylos and Halych continue.
Gradually, old Halych depopulated to the point that its only mid-14th century inhabitants were the Metropolitan of Halych and his staff. The present-day town is situated 5 km away from the ancient capital of Halychyna, on the spot where the old town's riverport used to be located and where prince Lubart of Lithuania constructed his wooden castle in 1367.
Its main historical monument is the church dedicated to the Nativity of Mary. Originally built at the turn of the 14th and 15th century, it was restored in 1825. Also of interest is an equestrian monument to Danylo of Halych, opened in 2003 to mark the 750th anniversary of that prince's coronation as the king of Ruthenia.
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