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St. Sophia’s Cathedral
Kyiv’s oldest church was built in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, who incidentally was laid to rest inside, to commemorate the site of the victory of Kyivan Rus over the Pechenegs (Asian nomadic tribes) and glorify Christianity. It was named after the famous St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Constantinople, and ‘Sofia’ also means ‘wisdom’ in Greek. This majestic 13-cupola sanctuary adjoined Yaroslav’s Palace and became a holy place of worship for Kyivites as well as a political and cultural centre. With its interior of rich frescoes and mosaics, many of which are still intact almost a millennium later, St. Sophia’s made a huge impression on the ordinary worshippers of Kyiv. A similar impression is felt by current visitors, so strong is the sense of history. Meetings with foreign diplomats and treaty negotiations were held here, and the church housed the first library and school in Kyivan Rus. The azure and white bell tower is 76m high and was finished in 1752, while the upper Ukrainian Baroque part and gilded cupola were added in 1852. Today the entire cathedral complex is protected by Ukraine as a national reserve and also receives support from UNESCO. The 18th-century refectory is now a museum and contains archaeological artifacts and architectural displays, such as model panoramas depicting Kyiv as it looked before being razed by Mongol invaders in 1240. It costs 1Hr just to enter the grounds next to the bell tower, but if it means this spiritual and cultural treasure is kept in good shape then we’re all for it. The kiosk selling tickets for the cathedral itself is straight ahead. And later when you exit don’t forget to take your postcard-perfect picture of Cossack leader Bohdan Khmelnyts’kiy on his horse.
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral
The Cathedral was built from 1862-1882 in a so called Russian pseudo-Byzantine style. The brilliant talent of V.Vasnetsov and M.Nesterov, the genius of M.Vrubel, the flying brush of V.Kotarbinskiy and other Europe-known artists turned the Kyiv St.Volodymyr Cathedral into a place of pilgrimage for aesthetes and a symbol of the new religious art. The wall-paintings of the Cathedral left a bright impression and a festive mod that could not be forgotten. The church belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox denomination.
St. Michael’s Cathedral
St. Michael’s is at the top of the funicular and also just opposite St. Sophia’s Cathedral. Originally built by Prince Sviatopolk in 1108, this cathedral was destroyed by the Soviet regime in the mid-1930s in keeping with their anti-religion programme. Its reconstruction was completed in May 2000. The sky blue exterior and glittering golden domes are certainly stunning, even though up close it all seems a bit too new and shiny for this ancient city. Another reminder, albeit a much smaller one, of the Communists’ inhuman policies is to the right as you exit the church grounds. This monument to the millions of Ukrainian victims of the Great Famine mentions only the years it took place: 1932-1933. Farther out in the square, the statues of Princess Olha, Apostle Andrew, St. Cyrill and St. Mephodius were also reconstructed in 1996.
St. Andrew’s Church
A short walk from Michael’s situated one more pearl of Kyiv – St. Andrew’s Church. Famous Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli was the mastermind behind this attractive Baroque church that greets the throngs at the top of Andriivs’kyi uzviz. Built in 1754, it’s one of the rare buildings in Kyiv that has managed to avoid serious damage or reconstruction. The elegant silhouette of its one large dome and five lesser cupolas are easily visible from Podil and beyond. Apostle Andrew, who was the first Christian to preach the gospel in Kyivan Rus, was said to have erected a cross on this very site. It was the wish of religiously-minded Russian Empress Elizabeth after her visit to Kyiv in 1744 that this church be built. It must be said that compared to the beautiful exterior, the interior is rather disappointing - too much loud red and gold colours and really not much to see. Console yourself with a stroll around the church’s perimeter, a walk which the famous Ukrainian writer Gogol also enjoyed.