The Forgotten Boot Scrapers of Lviv

Many years ago I started noticing strange-looking metal objects near certain doors in Lviv. I didn’t give them much thought until I saw one in Przemyśl, Poland, and my friend told me what it was: a boot scraper. Little did I know that this was the start of a new obsession.

Boot scrapers in cities hark back to a time when urban roads were dirt (think of all the mud) and horse-drawn carriages were the main means of transport (think of all the excrement). Consequently, the bottoms of people’s boots became very muddy and filthy. Solution: place iron boot scrapers near front doors of buildings for people to use to clean their boots before entering.

As today city roads are paved, boot scrapers have become obsolete. Yet they still remain scattered across historical districts of cities around the world—though most people no longer notice them, let alone realize what function they once served. (Boot scrapers are also found in the countryside, where they still haven’t become entirely obsolete.)

This unassuming contraption was once an important element of the sanitation infrastructure as well as of a unique piece of craftmanship. Boot scrapers were crafted in all shapes and sizes, with designs ranging from simple to intricate. They were placed in various locations either inside or outside a building’s entrance, and were either free-standing, set in a niche, or incorporated into a railing or fence.

In Lviv most boot scrapers are free-standing and located just to the side of a building’s front door. But I have also come across a few that are inside.

This was the first “strange-looking metal thing” I ever noticed:Since that first encounter, I’ve found them all over the city:collage of bootscrapers

Outside the Latin Cathedral (interesting example because there is also a handle)

Sometimes they are located indoors, either in the front entrance hall, in the carriage driveway, or near a building’s main stairwell:

It was quite a challenge trying to snap a picture of the next one. First of all, I needed to figure out the code to the door. And second, I encountered an angry barking dog, who did not want to let me take the picture. The boot scraper is located next to a staircase behind two swing doors at the end of the main hallway, and every time I tried to open the doors and walk inside, the dog would start barking and running down the stairs toward me. (Though I must admit it was a pretty small dog—but it was still scary!) So basically I had to take the picture through the window in the door, specifically through a part were some glass was missing.

I’m not entirely sure what this is, but it seems possible that it is a bootscraper.

Boot scrapers have become one of my favorite elements of architecture. I’m always on the look out for them, and have documented them in many cities, as can be seen via my “boot scrapers” tag.

No longer serving to remove mud and excrement from shoes, today boot scrapers are a key to urban history, a reminder of how different it once used to be to get around a city.

8 thoughts on “Prewar Painted Stripes in Lviv

  1. Thank you Areta for another important and timely blog post on the challenges and issues of Jewish heritage and recovery of memory. We are hopeful that soon the headstones used as basement steps in a courtyard in Lviv (Hałycka Płoszcza 15 / Galitskaya 15) will be recovered. The Lviv Volunteer Center is working behind the scenes to make this happen, with the support of the Lviv Jewish community and others.

  2. This is the part that blows my mind: “During periods of transition, the records occasionally show the use or mix of two languages—Church Slavonic and Latin, or Latin and Ukrainian…”
    SO COOL!
    Thanks, Areta!

  3. > The largest and best-preserved fragment of Lviv’s medieval defense structures is the Hlyniany Gate (1618)

    Areta, Hlyniany Gate and wall around it have been renovated.

    There used to be some residential building in its place (behind the now-demolished fire station in the foreground)

    Building, close-up

    The wall looked like this

  4. Any idea what the Yiddish is on the hat sign on the right? I can make out most of the letters, but my Yiddish isn’t good enough to fill in the blanks. I used to pass by that wall frequently on my way to a friends house, but he has moved since then. It’s still my favorite ghost sign, though 🙂

  5. Kudos to you, Aretha. I came across your blog from a repost from one of your diaspora Ukrainian language from Pre-war Galicia words versus accepted and widely used Post-war words for a long list of foods. I too grew up in the diaspora in Cleveland. I was in Lviv in November of this soon to be last year. Although Lviv is my Dad’s ancestral city, I had family from Central Ukraine and grew up hearing both dialects. I think the blog was from 2014 or 2015. I wanted to leave a comment on your new blog and commend you for the interesting sociolinguistic and cultural discussions you have initiated. Nice to see that you are now in the field doing your research first-hand.

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