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A Monastery, Salt and Wine
There may come a moment when you feel that you’ve had a bit too much of the hustle and bustle of a big city, or there will be a break between the games to watch — then a trip to see the natural and manmade wonders may come in handy. WU gives insight on where to go in Donetsk area.
Photos by Mykola Ivashchenko
On the list of tourist attractions is the town of Svyatohirsk where you can enjoy the scenic landscapes and visit one of the most picturesque Ukrainian monasteries. Or you can go to the town of Artemivsk which is famous for its sparkling wines and taste one — or several — of its bubbly products. Or else after traveling a short distance from Artemivsk, you may want to take a walk through the underground caves whose walls are solid salt. And all of these things are within easy reach.
The monastery mentioned is located in the town of Svyatohirsk, a place that draws a lot of tourists by its natural scenic beauty and the sanctity of an ancient monastery. Svyatohirsk is situated 130 km (less than 90 miles) from the city of Donetsk and 170 km (a bit over 110 miles) from the city of Kharkiv.
Being a thriving tourist center, Svyatohirsk hospitably offers all sorts of accommodation and catering facilities for tourists, complete with rest homes, health improvement and entertainment centers.
The faithful and the curious go to the Svyatohirska Lavra Monastery which Mykolayivska Church sits at the edge of a steep cliff.
The River Siversky Donets provides its own panoramic touch, with its meandering water course and dense evergreen forests along the banks. Many a painter painted them, many a poet sang the river and the woods.
The first written mention of what we now call Svyatohirsk dates from the sixteenth century. Then the place was known as Svyati Hory, that is, Holy Hills. The first mention of the monastery dates to the year 1624. Monks chose the natural caves in limestone cliffs to settle in. There is some evidence though that the monastery was actually founded much earlier, in the eighth or ninth century. Some historians are of the opinion that the Svyatohirska Lavra Monastery could have been founded by monks from the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv, one of the major centers of Eastern Christian Orthodoxy.
Those who love magic and fairy tales may choose to believe the local legend that says that the monastery grew all by itself out of the rock on which it stands. And indeed the monastery buildings look like natural growth and seem to be an alienable part of the landscape.
The Svyatohirska Lavra Monastery boasts the 18th-century Mykolayivska (St Michael’s) Church and the Preobrazhenska (Transfiguration) Church, the Pokrovska (Holy Protecting Veil) Church, a bell tower, monks’ cells, the house of the Father Superior and other buildings, most of which date from the nineteenth century. There are also caves where recluses used to stay.
There is about a mile of underground corridors which connect monks’ cells, underground churches and refectories which are situated on three different levels.
Visiting the monastery requires a certain dress code — no shorts for men and women, no pants for women, no hats for men, headscarves for women.
The National Nature Park is one of the attractions of Svyatohirsk. It occupies a territory of over 40,000 hectares.
The Holy Hills are made up of chalk which dates from about 150 million years ago. This chalk is the same that students used in schools to write on chalkboards before the advent of modern technologies. There is no other place in Ukraine where chalk can be found in such enormous concentrations. Some of the chalk cliffs rise up a height of over three hundred feet. The trees that grow on chalk rock are locally called “chalk pines.” They are another local wonder.
The pine forests provide balmy fragrances and the salubrious air; the countryside pleases the esthetic eye. The hills create a local microclimate which is known for its mildness and absence of strong winds.
There is a monument to a Bolshevik revolutionary and later a communist party boss known as Artem (died in 1922), which was erected in defiance of the religious significance of the place. The monument still stands at its original place as a local curio.
In 1991 the Svyatohirsk monastery was reopened and in 2004, it was given the honorary title of “Lavra” and it further increased its popularity among the faithful. Pilgrims, many of whom come from afar, flock to the monastery on big religious holidays.
The town of Artemivsk, located 90 km (about 60 miles) from Donetsk is a place where some of the best Ukrainian sparkling wines are produced.
Fame came to Artemisk in 1954, when the sparkling wine distillery, the biggest of its kind in the then Soviet Union, became operational.
In those times the sparkling wines of Artemivsk were called “Soviet champagne” and they were highly popular, particularly at celebrations of all sorts.
The place for producing sparkling wines was chosen well. Gypsum mines in Artemivsk where the temperature is stable all the year round (13 or 14 degrees Centigrade), are ideal for the needs of making sparkling wines. The humidity is right for the fermentation of sparkling wines. The basic methods and techniques used are similar to the ones used in France for making champagne.
Sparkling wines from Artemivsk have won a lot of prizes and medals at various exhibitions and wine-tasting competitions.
Tours are organized to see the place where sparkling wines are made and stored. During the tour, you can taste all the basic kinds of wines made there, from the driest to sweet.
Another tourist attraction in the vicinity of Artemivsk is the town of Soledar which is a major center of salt production. There is probably enough salt there to meet the requirements of the whole world.
Geologists are of the opinion that salt in Donbas must have formed about 200 million years ago.
About five million tons of salt are produced annually — it constitutes about ten percent of the world salt production. The salt deposits there are likely to last for many more years to come. Besides, the salt quarried in Soledar is of the highest quality — pure, and, what is very important too, very cheap.
The conditions in the salt mines are such that not only salt is what they can offer — various diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, problems with the immune system and the thyroid gland can be successfully treated there. The air in the underground salt caves is filled with curative substances that help deal with these medical problems.
A specialized medical center, Solyana symfonia, provides courses of salt cave therapy. If you are a tourist, and do not have any medical problems to deal with in the salt caves, and if you are just curious, you can join a guided tour through the salt mine. Among the things you’ll see there will be a place which is called Salt Soccer Pitch, and sculptures cut out of salt which portray gnomes, guardians of the underground world, and other fabulous creatures and plants. The stroll through underground corridors and galleries and caves will surely bring back memories of sci-fi stories you may have read in your young days.
Even though you will not get to the core of the planet Earth, it is very likely that you will enjoy the underground salt experience.
Panorama of the Svyatohirska Lavra Monastery and the River Siversky Donets.
A relic of the soviet time — the monument to Artem, a Bolshevik revolutionary, stands on a top of a high hill from which a great view of the Svyati Hory opens up.
Bottles of sparkling wine undergoing fermentation in underground storage.
One of the many reliefs carved on the walls deep underground in the salt mine in the town of Soledar.
The salt cave with a piece of sculpture made of salt.