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Seven wonders of Kyiv
It was no surprise that the all-Ukraine poll to determine seven natural and man-made wonders of Ukraine encouraged a poll in Kyiv to be held in order to find out which architectural landmarks Kyivans regarded to be Kyiv’s “seven wonders”. Oleksandr Bryhinets, head of the Kyiv Seven Wonders Organizing Committee, recently announced the results of the poll.
The Pechersk Lavra Monastery and the Holy Sophia Cathedral were the absolute leaders of the survey. Below are brief descriptions of “the seven wonders” of Kyiv.
Pechersk Lavra Monastery
The monastery dates from the eleventh century. It is believed to have been founded by the monks Antoniy and Feodosiy.
Soon after its foundation, the monastery became a major cultural center in addition to being a leading religious community in the land. Thanks to the monks’ pious efforts, Christianity was consolidated in the lands of Kyivan Rus.
The word “Lavra” (from the Greek word “laura” — “lane”) is an evidence of the monastery’s highest status among the Orthodox monasteries of Ukraine.
Throughout the ages, culture was upheld in the monastery, chronicles were written, icons and murals were painted, books were published, and new buildings were built.
At present, part of the monastery is a national cultural and historical reserve with several museums — Museum of Books; Museum of Applied and Decorative Arts; Museum of Treasures, to name but a few — functioning on its territory. The museums are housed in the buildings that date to the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Lavra reserve is a major tourist attraction in Kyiv and the monastery attracts an untold number of faithful pilgrims.
The cathedral was built in the first half of the eleventh century (chronicles mention two dates for the beginning of the construction of the church dedicated to Holy Sophia, or God’s Wisdom — 1017 and 1037). The initiator of the construction was the then ruler of Kyiv, Grand Duke Yaroslav the Wise.
The cathedral acquired a status of the “chief church” of Kyivan Rus. The cathedral was a place where coronations were held, audiences were given, foreign delegations were received and matters of state and faith were discussed and decided. Yaroslav had a library and a school established at the cathedral, thus expanding its role of a cultural centre. Chronicles were written, books were translated and the Duke’s cultural drive earned him a byname of “Wise” (incidentally, Yaroslav was buried in the cathedral in a marble sarcophagus).
The cathedral is famous for its magnificent mosaics and frescoes many of which have been preserved in their original glory despite many wars, insurrections and invasions that raged over the city of Kyiv in the ten centuries that passed since the foundation of the cathedral.
The restoration work revealed many original frescoes that were covered by layers of paint that accumulated in later centuries during the attempts to “renew” them.
At present, the Holy Sophia Cathedral is a museum; religious services are held there only on some special occasions.
The Church of St Andrew sits on top of the hill, where St Andrew, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, erected a cross and prophesied a great future for a city that would rise on the nearby hills.
The leading architect of Italian descent Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli was commissioned by the Russian Imperial Court to design a new church dedicated to St Andrew to be built on the ancient site. The construction, which was supervised by the local architect Ivan Michurin, lasted from 1749 to 1754. St Andrew’s ingeniously combines several architectural styles, the predominant of which is late baroque.
The gilded carved-wood iconostasis, icons, murals and interior decor form one impressive whole which evokes musical associations.
By the middle of the twentieth century, it became evident that the church required considerable restoration which was carried out in the 1960s. After the restoration it was turned into a museum but occasional religious services are still held there, as well as concerts of classical music.
A great view on the left bank of the Dnipro River opens from the terrace around the church.
House with chimeras
Such is the name that was given by the people of Kyiv to the building that the famous architect Vladyslav Horodetsky built for himself in the early twentieth century.
The building is indeed decorated with sculptures made of cement, the building material which at that time only began to be widely used, which reflects the unbridled imagination of Horodetsky — sea and land monsters, fabulous beasts, mermaids and other bizarre creatures perch on the roof and crawl on the walls.
The building sits on the slope of a hill and that is why on one side it has three stories and on the other — six. It is an eclectic mixture of several architectural styles but the general impression it makes is that of a fairy-tale creation in the otherwise pedestrian architectural setting.
The “house with chimeras” is situated right opposite the pompous building of the presidential administration and is used for state receptions.
The Golden Gate is of the same age as the Holy Sophia Cathedral. It was one of the gates in the defensive walls that surrounded Kyiv in the eleventh-thirteenth century. The name must have been borrowed from the Golden Gate of Constantinople.
The gate must have been built in the late 1030s. It was crowned with a golden-domed church and was the central entrance to Kyiv. In the devastating Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century the gate — and most of the city of Kyiv — was ruined.
The ruins of the gate were fully revealed to view only in 1832. A hundred and fifty years later the city authorities decided to build a replica of the original gate and church above it and preserve the ruins inside the new structure. Many Kyivans think that it was not a very good idea — nobody actually knows what the original gate and church looked like and the replica looks artificial and in bad taste. But there is a small museum at the site that presents whatever is known about the Golden Gate of the eleventh century. A view from the top provides a good view of the central part of Kyiv.
Mykhailivsky Zlatoverkhy Cathedral
The Golden-Domed Cathedral of St Michael is another recent construction but it is indeed a faithful replica of a church which was built in the early twelfth century and consecrated in 1113. In magnificence of its mosaics and frescos it was a worthy rival of the Holy Sophia Cathedral which is situated several hundred meters away. In fact, standing mid-way between the two great churches, you can enjoy a unique sight of both by just turning your head.
St Michael’s was part of a monastery dedicated to Archangel Michael, Leader of the Heavenly Host against Satan and Protector of Kyiv. The monastery survived the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century, wars and revolutions, but succumbed to the atheistic fury of the Bolsheviks who came to power after the coup of 1917 and Civil War that followed. The monastery buildings and the cathedral were destroyed in the 1930s to provide space for “great socialist construction” but nothing was built at the site of the former monastery. Luckily, most of the mosaics and some of the frescoes were removed for safe keeping from the walls of the cathedral before it was destroyed.
At the end of the 1990s, the cathedral was rebuilt as an exact replica of St Michael’s, though not in the appearance of the church of the twelfth century but in its baroque guise of much later times.
The religious services were resumed soon after the completion of the construction.
Monument Mother Homeland
In the early 1980s, the then communist government of Ukraine had a WWII museum built on the hill close to the Pechersk Lavra Monastery, probably to lure tourists away from visiting the monastery. There is nothing wrong with having a museum like that but the monument which, in the opinion of the then communist leaders, should symbolize the protective power of “Mother Homeland” was a violent intrusion into the age-old cityscape.
The monument, made of shiny steel, stands on a forty-meter high pedestal and rises to the height of sixty-two meters. The monument, designed by the sculptor Vasyl Boroday, is one the tallest erections in Kyiv.
The statue weighs over 500 tons and requires constant technical attention and maintenance. There are two elevators inside that allow access to various parts of the hollow monument from inside. Though there is an observation platform, access to it is restricted.
The monument is an eyesore, a shiny witness to the tasteless propaganda zeal of the totalitarian regime and it is somewhat surprising that it received enough points in the poll to be included into “the seven wonders” of Kyiv.
Based on the materials prepared by Yuliya HRESYK