Between legend and fact

more than a year ago
Richard’s Castle

15 Andreyesky Spusk St.

There is a myth in Kyiv that the city’s “medieval castle” once played host to English King Richard the Lionheart, who apparently visited the castle during the 12th century, either on his way to or way back from the Crusades. Alas, we are here to blow that rather lovely but utterly ludicrous myth apart.
The facts, you see, do not support the myth. In fact Richard’s Castle first appeared on Andreyesky Spusk Street only in 1902-1904, when the plot was owned by Kyiv contractor Dmitriy Orlov. It was he who ordered a construction engineer known as Krauss to build a house in English neo-Gothic style. Krauss’s design was astonishing, and the resulting house, a veritable castle with its pointed spires and embattlements, covered arcade-staircase and amazingly romantic courtyard, would have suited even the most pretentious English medieval king. In fact, the castle was originally designed to be an apartment house. At the beginning of the 20th century Kiev witnessed a construction boom: wooden, primarily single-storey houses were demolished and substituted by high-rise buildings and roomy apartments, which were available for rent; Orlov wanted a piece of this lucrative business. Fate, however, intervened. Orlov, who had various business interests in the Far East, was shot in 1911, and the castle sold shortly after. At once rumours began of the castle harbouring terrible secrets and – far worse – ghosts and ghouls. Tenants complained of dreadful noises from the chimneys and ventilation ducts that accompanied every wind, and before long the house’s notoriety spread throughout the city. So in fear of the alleged ghosts and terrifying sounds emanating from the house were Kyiv’s citizens that they wanted to tear the castle down. Luckily, one of the inhabitants of house was Stepan Timofeyevich Golubev, a professor at the Kyiv Theological Academy and a famous historian. He wasn’t so easily scared, and one day, after another sleepless night caused by mournful howling from the chimneys, slipped his arm into a chimney and found… an egg-shell! It was the shell – and the shell alone - that had caused the terrible sounds: air was passing through its tiny holes, while the shell worked as a resonator. We can only guess as to how it had gotten into the chimney, though an angry construction worker is the most likely explanation.

The House with Chimeras

10 Bankovaya St.
There is one really weird building in the very heart of Kyiv. No one can pass it by without staring at it. It is easy to find: travel by metro to Kreshchatik station and exit on to Institutskaya Street. You cannot confuse this house with any other building around it. Its magnificent facades and intricate staircase at the front door are decorated with fantastic sculptures of beasts and chimeras, which seem to be taken from the pointed roofs of Notre Dame in Paris. Concrete-made heads of rhinoceroses and elephants, crocodiles and antelopes are walled into this mysterious house. Nimble stone lizards scale the pillars. And there’s more. Elephants’ trunks are used as gutters, gigantic toads and sea monsters make up the the roof. Figures of women have chains, leaves and buds on their heads instead of hair. And just what is that gigantic python at the corner of the house meant to signify? Only the architect knows the answer, and he died long ago.
The house was built by Vladimir Gorodetskiy, an extremely talented Kyiv architect and equally extraordinary and mysterious personality, who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. Architecture was his vocation, but hunting was his primary passion, which benefited from most of his free time. Dreams about African savannas and its dwellers all came to life in fantastic images of the House with Chimeras. The architect built the house for himself as a present for his 40th birthday, in less than two years (in order to win a bet). It was also one of the first buildings in Kyiv to make use of cement, concrete and new technology. It soon became one of the city’s primary architectural sights, and remains so today. Every citizen of Kyiv knows it, and a sadder tale that goes with it: Gorodetskiy’s young daughter drowned in the Mediterranean shortly before building commenced, and the house was in fact built in her memory. Not that makes the demons which adorn the house easier to interpret…
22 Kreshchatic St.

One of the wings of the present-day Central Post Office was once inhabited by a bourgeois lady known as Diakova. One day, the city’s newspapers carried sensational stories claiming that one fine day cushions, blankets and bed-sheets started to fly all over her bedroom, while the furniture creaked and moved around on its own. Now, most of these happenings may be explained by the imagination of a dotty old spinster but… these evil forces were apparently also witnessed by the police. Law enforcement officers were bewildered by what they saw, so they sealed the apartment and moved Diakova to new premises. Back in those days nobody used the term “poltergeist”, but Diakova’s case is still considered as being the first officially documented ‘anomaly’ in Europe.
16 Luteranskaya St.

Currently you can see only ruins at this address. Yet they have rather mysterious story to tell.
At the end of the 19th century Kyiv merchant Sulima laid the foundations for a house, only to die before construction was completed. His potential heirs filed lawsuits against each other, and the house couldn't be finished for some time because of lengthy court disputes between its would-be owners. Eventually the house was completed, but not without incident: people claimed to be able to see a strange white figure at the windows of the top floor, while at night people could hear howls and crazed laughter from the attic. The house went on scaring people for decades until it was finally ruined in a fire.
Bald Mountain

If witches in Western Europe prefer gatherings on Walpurgis-night at the top of Broken Mountain in Germany, then Slavonic witches have since olden times taken a fancy to Bald Mountain in Kyiv. There are five “bald” hills in Kiev – all of them have deforested peaks. (A bald peak signals that in ancient times pagans cut down all trees and vegetation and established their temples there. Later, in Christian times these places were considered centres of evil forces).
Bald Mountain in Vydubichi is considered the most mystical place in Kyiv. The ill reputation of this place goes as far back as the times of Batu-Khaan. After capturing Kyiv, he ordered the death of all Kyiv’s residents, who were hiding the in Zverinets and Kitayev caves. The caves were bricked up. It is said that the restless souls of those who died in them still wander around.The hill has never been built on; It was believed that evil spirits lived here. Only at the end of the 19th century did the Tsarist Administration order the building of the Lysogorskiy Fort, a sign that it thought little of local superstitions. The fort was intended for the Russian artillery. However, the military men who guarded the fortifications, received strange instructions. For example, before mounting the guard, officers were recommended to “warn the soldier not to be confused by strange sounds. These are just the cries of birds, and the wind”. Neither were the fortifications ever used for defense. From 1906 the fort was instead used as a place for the hanging of condemned criminals. Those sentenced to death were brought here from the prison in Kosoy Kaponier. It was here that Dmitry Bogrov was executed for the assassination of Russia’s prime minister Stolypin. Though the condemned were met at the hill by a hangman and priest, their bodies were not allowed to be buried in Christian cemeteries. The hangmen buried their bodies not far from the gallows.


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