In the first couple months of the full-scale war (after being displaced from Lviv and living in Poland), searching for sunflowers in the architectural detail of Kraków became a way to soothe my soul, to find solidarity with Ukraine during those highly uncertain and volatile times. Each time I would find one I would be reminded of Ukraine and of the flower’s deep symbolism of resistance, unity, and hope.
The Sunflower as a Symbol of Ukraine, of Resistance and Support
In the early days of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, a video went viral of a Ukrainian woman telling armed Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil: “Take these seeds so sunflowers grow here when you die.” Since then, the sunflower — a long-time national symbol of Ukraine — has become a global symbol of resistance and of solidarity with Ukraine and its citizens.
Sunflowers are commonly found in the countryside of Ukraine — where they have been grown since the mid-18th century. Not only are they grown for their beauty in people’s yards, but also on vast fields for their oil, helping fuel the national economy: in 2021 Ukraine was the world’s largest source of sunflower oil.
Throughout Ukraine’s history, the flower has also been used as a symbol of peace. For example, on the summer of 1996, sunflowers were planted by officials at the Pervomaysk missile base in southern Ukraine to mark the removal of nuclear weapons from the country. More recently, on January 22, 2023, sunflowers were used in New York to commemorate the National Day of Unity (1918), which celebrates the birth of modern Ukraine. On that day, 333 sunflowers were installed to represent the 333 days since Ukraine is at war with Russia.
“As long as sunflowers take root in Ukrainian soil, so will the Ukrainian people.”
The Sunflower as a Motif in Secession Architecture of Lviv and Kraków
At the beginning of the 20th century, the architecture of both Lviv and Kraków was dominated by Secession (Art Nouveau). While each city had its own characteristics of the style, the primary influences were shared and inspired largely by the Vienna Secession.
Secession is characterized by curving lines and shapes inspired by natural forms. A common feature is the floral ornament. In both cities, inspiration for such decoration was inspired primarily by plants found in the region, such as the chestnut, maple, poppies, lilies, thistle — and the sunflower.
The ornaments were incorporated in various parts of the buildings, from moldings on the facades to painted majolica and the intricate metalwork of doors and fences.
Below I have collected images of sun motifs I found in Lviv before and after the start of the full-scale war as well as those I found in Kraków during the onset of the war.
Sunflower Motifs in Lviv
My favorite example of sunflowers incorporated into the architectural detail of a building in Lviv is this beautiful portal. It is one of my favorite doors to photograph in Lviv — I must have dozens of shots of it from over the years.
Sunflowers can also be found in ironwork, such as that which is found on doors.
A sunflower can be found as a finial on an old fence behind the house of Lviv-Kraków architect Jan Sas-Zubrycki. Only one remains today, and it is rusting quite severely (the first picture I took in the summer of 2013, the second in February 2021.)
Sunflower Motifs in Kraków
Sunflower Houses in Kraków
Kraków, just as Lviv, has a sunflower house. In fact, it has three very similar ones.
Sunflower House No. 1
In the first example, the most lavish one of the three, the sunflower can be found on the façade, on the balcony ironwork, and on the window sill plant holders.
Sunflower House No. 2
Sunflower House No. 3
Sunflower Façade Detail
Here is another tenement with many sunflowers, but in a different style from the ones above. On this one sunflowers can be found on the cornice and on the balcony brackets.
Zakopane Style House with Sunflowers
This Zakopane Style inspired building also uses the sunflower motif at the top of the pilasters.
Façade and Portal Detail
Sunflowers can also be found in the metalwork used to decorate windows and fences in Kraków.
More about the sunflower motif in architecture here: The Sunflower Motif. Or about the Rebirth of Hope
By Areta Kovalska