Lviv's Ghost Signs

I love ghost signs. These messages from the past are one of my favorite parts of the urban landscape. I get overly excited every time I discover a new one.

Ghost signs (aka fading ads or brick ads) are old hand-painted signs that were painted directly on the walls of buildings. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, advertisements were painted onto walls by skilled sign painters. As new types of ads have all but replaced the old art of sign painting, sign painting is a vanishing occupation. These ads are typically faded as most date to before the 1960s, and many have survived much longer than that. There is a lot of information on ghost signs in western Europe and the US, so I will move on to the ghost signs of Eastern Europe, particularly of L’viv and Galicia.

I’d say ghost signs in Galicia differ quite a bit from those in western Europe and the US. I have noticed that in the West, ghost signs are most often found on the sides of brick buildings and advertise a brand of a product, while in Ukraine most (at least most of the ones that are still around) were painted on the front of stores to advertise what products were for sale. Most examples still visible advertise food items like cheese, butter, tea, etc. Others include shoes, hats, school supplies, footwear. 

this lovely one was recently uncovered. it's advertising typewriters
"Cheese, eggs, dairy products, daily"
school supplies
Another interesting feature of L'viv's hand-painted signs is the presence of painted stripes, usually black and yellow, but sometimes red and white, black and white. I’ve had a difficult time trying to learn the function of these stripes, but on one blog I was told that the stripes designated stores in Austrian times (L'viv was part of the Austrian empire until 1918) that were allowed to be run by Ukrainians and Jews. 

L’viv ghost signs are usually in Polish, Yiddish, and German – almost never in Ukrainian
Milk house: each side of this building has signs in a different language: Yiddish, German, and Polish.

about 6 months ago it was repainted

"butter, eggs, cheese"
one of the only signs with Ukrainian (цукор)

Also another difference worth mentioning is the history of the region in compared to Western Europe, in particular the Soviet history. The majority of hand-painted signs were plastered or painted over when the Soviets took power. I think one reason was to eliminate the presence of any language other than Russian from the urban landscape (until 1939-ish, signs were generally in Polish, German, or Yiddish, and very few in Ukrainian). And the other major reason is likely because most of these stores or brands or whatever was being advertised ceased to exist. So for almost 50 years most of these signs were hidden under layers of paint. An interesting phenomenon is how these signs are being uncovered. As Lviv is changing, the buildings renovated, many of these signs are being discovered. Unfortunately, most of them are only exposed to the public for just a few hours until they are repainted and lost again. (But fortunately, some are preserved)

the signs on this old store front were only exposed for a few hours last summer during the process of renovating the building

an example of a ghost sign that is long gone under a fresh layer of paint

recently uncovered ghost signs. luckily, the owners of the new cafe didn't paint over them

Also, plaster and paint is crumbling from many buildings, so one can find many parts of signs, a few letters, a few words. But in addition to time and weather, there are also curious people who take it into their own hands (literally) to liberate these signs and reclaim the pre-Soviet history – de-Sovietizing the landscape, as I like to call it. 

after (obowie=shoes in Polish)

after (lody means ice cream in Polish)

Another interesting phenomenon (which is also fairly common in ghost signs in Europe and the States) is multiple-layered ghost signs, that is, when even older signs are visible under the newer layers of paint.

possibly my favorite ghost sign in Lviv. and it's extra ghosty because there are ghosts of hats visible under the top layer of paint.

And I'll end this post with another one of my favorites. But it is starting to crumble: the barrels on the right side are almost all gone now :(

Another post on Lviv's ghost signs can be found here.


  1. This is an awesome collection! Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a lovely collection and interesting observations on the particular features of signs from the former Soviet Union. I'll add a link to the ghostsigns blog.

  3. These must all be in the Polish part of Lviv - I don't see any signs in Ukrainian (Cyrillic).

    1. These signs are from times when Lviv had large Polish and Jewish populations and when it was either under the Austrian Empire (1772-1918) or under Poland (1918-1939). Partly due to the fact that Ukrainians made up a relatively small part of the population, and partly due the fact that the Ukrainian language was oppressed (especially during the interwar period), there were very, very few signs in Ukrainian. The only ones in Cyrillic that I found are located on the old Ruthenian (Ukrainian) street.

  4. I have just discovered your blog and also recommended it to my friends with whom we have visited Lviv together. I also like very much these signs on the walls of the city, and systematically photographed as many of them as I could during my visits to Lviv; what’s more, the first one (the typewriter ad) was uncovered by me on 6 April 2012 :) In my blog ( I am just working on a map of Lviv localizing the ones I have found, and will refer to your site as the best source about them on the web.

    1. I found that typewriter ad fairly soon after you uncovered it and was so excited to see it. Good work, it's a very nice sign :) I have also photographed as many signs as I have been able to find, and my collection is much larger than what I have posted in this blog. But in this post I included some of the best and most intact ones.

  5. Fourth from top is Herbatniki "biscuits" and under Lody is "woda sodowa. I'm really amazed of this blog. I found here some of my favourites places in Przemyśl. All the best from Poland.

  6. Hi Areta: Nice pic collection. On what street is the milk house -- milch halle?? Thanks - Tom

    1. The milk house is on the corner of Tyktora and Lesya Kurbasa Streets.

  7. I love the fact that you focused on the goal, rather than the peripheral things! Please share something on Lviv National Medical University also i want to study mbbs there.


  8. You have discussed an interesting topic that everybody should know. Very well explained with examples. I have found a similar
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