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A walk along the Kyiv’s parks in autumn
Vladyslava KRAPYVKA, a lover of nature, takes the readers along for a walk through Kyiv’s autumnal parks.
Kyiv used to be known for its parks and gardens since the times of old. The idea of private and public gardens was borrowed from Byzantium along with other cultural ideas in the early medieval times. Kyivan rulers and boyars had private gardens adjacent to their palaces. Kyiv itself was surrounded by impenetrable forests (in the tenth century, for example, the spot where Yevropeyska Ploshcha, one of the central squares of Kyiv, is now situated, was primeval forest). The gardens of medieval Kyiv did not have any exotic fruit trees or flowers growing in them because of the climate inhospitable for southern fruit, but abounded in apple trees and other indigenous fruit. Such gardens were referred to as “rayski horody” — “paradisiacal gardens.”
The oldest park in Kyiv among those that exist now (unfortunately, because of virtually uncontrolled massive construction boom, many parks, particularly small ones, are succumbing to the construction companies’ greed) date from the first half of the seventeenth century. The park was laid out on the order of the Metropolitan of Ukraine Petro Mohyla in one of the suburbs of Kyiv, Holosiyevo, which has long been swallowed by the growing metropolis. The park was rather a big fruit garden which supplied the biggest monastery of Ukraine, Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, with fruit, mostly apple and mulberry. Some time later, linden and oaks were planted, some of which are still there today.
In the early eighteenth century, another park, which is still in existence, was laid out in the close vicinity of Kyiv. Today it stretches from Evropeyska Ploshcha over the hills all the way to the Mariyinsky Palace. This biggest and most romantic of parks in Kyiv was renamed several times — up to the 1910s it was known as “Tsarski sad” (Tsar’s Garden); in the soviet times it was referred to as Pershotravnevy Park (1st-of-May Park). Right from the start it was “a regular park” — that is a park with carefully and geometrically arranged lanes and alleys. Originally, the park had sections which were fruit gardens rather than park proper; it even had grape plantations. The place was turned into a park proper in the mid-eighteenth century, during the reign of the Russian Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna (daughter of Peter I) when a palace (Mariyinsky) was built in the park.
The palace was designed by the then famous architect at the Russian court Bartolomeo Rastrelli. He was also commissioned to provide a design for the payout of the park. The park was designed in what was called then “French style” and was considered to be one of the most beautiful parks in the southern parts of the Russian Empire. The park was closed to the rank-and-file citizens and open only to a privileged few. Gazebos and artificial grottoes dotted the park, crisscrossed with picturesque valleys; there were a pond and “a valley of the roses,” green houses with exotic plants in the park but we can’t see all these things any longer — they remain only in descriptions dating to the times of the park’s early existence. The park has gone through many changes in the course of the centuries that have passed since its foundation but it remains a notable feature in Kyiv’s cityscape.
At the end of the eighteenth century the park was opened to a wider circle of people who came to the park to take stately walks, take part in masquerades and sip champagne and expensive wines.
A devastating fire of 1811 destroyed a considerable section of the city and did a lot of damage to the park. For a time the park stood neglected until a society was entrusted with the park’s maintenance. Unfortunately there was not much maintenance work done — the society leased parts of the park to traveling zoos, carnivals and all sorts of performances. By the 1830s, the alleys and lawns of the park were overgrown with weeds, the pond got silted up, and robbers and shady characters made walks in the park dangerous.
A private company undertook to take care at least of a part of the sprawling park — and it did it well. The renovated part of the park was called “Chateau des Fleurs” and the central feature of it was a variety theater. The conservatives of Kyiv regarded the entertainment provided by the theater to be of “a vulgar and plebeian sort” and the fact that wine and other alcoholic beverages were sold there only added fuel to the moralists’ indignation. There were even voices raised in support of the closing of “the Chateau des Fleurs abomination”, all the more so that it was situated close to the usual route pilgrims took on their way to the Lavra Monastery.
Another section of the park, adjacent to the building of Kupetske zibrannya (Merchants’ Society; at present, this building houses Kyiv’s Philharmonic Society) was put in order and visitors had to pay entrance fees. The park was kept in excellent condition, and offered, in addition to leisure walks and meditation of nature on benches, concerts of classical music performed on a wooden stage surrounded by amphitheatre with seats for the audience. An open theater staged dramas and comedies with the then famous actors and actresses taking part, Mariya Zankovetska and Panas Saksahansky among them. The repertoire included such well-known Ukrainian plays as Za dvoma zaitsyamy (If You Run After Two Hares, You’ll Catch Neither) and Naymychka (Hired Laborer). Schoolchildren, even of senior grades were not allowed to attend these performances, but teenagers often made holes in the fences and sneaked in. Incidentally, among those who attended the performances illegally was Oleksandr Vertynsky who grew up to be a much adored and famous singer of chansons.
Those who were not inclined to listen to music or attend theatrical performances in a park and preferred a quiet contemplation of wild nature, chose to go to the Volodymyrska hirka Park (Volodymyr Hill, named for the monument of St Volodymyr there) which was situated close by, or to the Kin’-Hrust’ Park (Melancholic Place) which was situated away from the central part of the city. Kin’-Hrust’ was in a private possession of Platon Lukashevych, a rich landowner. It was considered to be the most romantic place in Kyiv — huge old oaks and a scenic pond among them created a sentimental atmosphere. One could easily find a quiet place there where one could indulge in melancholy reflections at the transience of life. There are several apocryphal stories explaining the name of the park. One of them has it that once, a Russian empress, resting on a bench there, said to her favorite, “KinÕ glazom, kakaya grustÕ— Look, what a serenely melancholic place it is!”
Volodymyrska hirka was a much more frequented park but there were quiet corners there too. The merchant Kokorev donated money for the erection of two cozy gazebos, one of which had something of the Chinese style in its appearance, and the other bore the influence of Moorish architecture. Still another belvedere equipped with comfortable wicker chairs commanded a breath-taking view from the top of the hill, the slopes of which were enwrapped by the park.
The park around the Mariyinsky palace got a boost from the wife of the Russian Emperor Alexander II, Mariya, who, on her visits to Kyiv, insisted that the view from the palace windows did not offer anything soothing to her imperial eye — the square in front of the palace was a parade ground, and the empress did not care for the sight of the goose-stepping soldiers parading there. She wanted an English-style park instead, and in 1874 such a park was laid to satisfy the imperial whim. There was nothing surprising in the park getting named Mariyinsky for Mariya, the imperial consort.
The park has preserved its original layout almost intact up to the present day, the only major architectural addition being the building of Ukraine’s parliament, Verkhovna Rada, but it sits on the very fringe of the park.
Another park in the central part of Kyiv that has not changed too much since its foundation is the Shevchenko Park situated across the street from the Shevchenko University of Kyiv (earlier, the university used to be named for St Volodymyr).
The spot where the Shevchenko Park is laid out, used to be another parade ground and it was hardly a place harmonious with the seat of learning and science adjacent to it. According to local legend, the Brazilian Emperor Don Pedro, who came on an official visit to Kyiv in the mid-eighteenth century, expressed an imperial surprise at the incongruity of close neighborhood of soldiery being trained to march, and the lofty center of learning. This remark is alleged to have prompted the city authorities to change the parade ground into a park. Whatever the reason was for their decision, the city authorities did allocate a considerable sum of money for converting the parade ground into a park. Incidentally, the contractor who undertook to do the job of converting a military facility into a green zone was the owner of the aforementioned Chateau des Fleurs entertainment center. Alleys were laid out, trees were planted, two fountains were built to refresh the air. A tiny water reservoir in one of the corners of the park was done in the shape of the Black Sea. The central place in the park was taken by the monument to the Russian Emperor Nicholas I who gave his “highest” permission to go ahead with creating the park.
The irreverent revolutionaries knocked down the monument in 1918. Twenty-one years later the same spot was graced with a monument to Taras Shevchenko which gave a new name to the park. Today the park boasts a restaurant that offers Ukrainian national dishes, a children’s playing garden, a beer garden and a section with little tables and seats installed there where retired senior citizens play chess and checkers. Students can be seen sitting on big park benches reading their notes or textbooks in great numbers, talking, giggling or engaged in necking, blissfully oblivious of anything or anyone around.
Photos by Serhiy HOROBETS
This fountain in Mariyinsky Park was built
at the end of the 19th century.
A magnificent view of the Dnipro River from
Volodymyrska hirka Park.
Monument to St Volodymyr — today
and a hundred years ago.
One of the old gazeboes in Volodymyrska hirka Park.
The Arc of Friendship is located at the place where
Sad Kupetskoho zibrannya (Park of
the Merchants’ Society) used to be.
View of Sad Kupetskoho zibrannya from
Volodymyrska hirka Park.
Entrance to the Park Chateau des Fleurs;
today this park is called Khreshchatytsky.
Shevchenko Park has changed but little since
the end of the 19th century.
Park Slavy (Military Glory) is one of the relatively
new parks in Kyiv; in the background — a glimpse
of the golden domes of the Pechersk Lavra