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Kyiv’s Saint Sophia
Bell-tower on the old postcard by A.Benua. March-2006. The monument in the memory of Prince Yaroslav's library. Orthodox snowman.
Bell-tower on the old postcard by A.Benua.
The monument in the memory of Prince Yaroslav's library.
Orthodox snowman.

In August of 2007, the winners of the contest “Seven Wonders of Ukraine” were named. The list included Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, “Sofiivka” National Park, the 13th-19th centuries fortress in Khotyn, the National historic and architectural preserves “Sophia of Kyiv” and Kamyanets-Podilskyi, national reserves “Khersones of Tavria” and “Khortytsia Island”. We start our visit to Ukrainian wonders from the cathedral of the 11th century: St. Sophia of Kyiv.


The sky-blue belfry (76 metres-high) looks like a gate to the heaven. The powerful voice of its thirteen tons bell, cast in 1705 by craftsman Afanasiy Petrovych, calls from the depth of the centuries. And really, when you pass through the gate, it seems that you find yourself in another world. Here the atmosphere is warm and full of blessing; the history of centuries and their Wisdom are embodied here. This is what translated from the Greek ‘sophia” means: “wisdom”.

Bell-tower of Sofia in Kyiv
Bell-tower of Sofia in Kyiv
Bell-tower of Sofia in Kyiv
Bell-tower of Sofia in Kyiv

Do not Ask a Woman Her Age

Possibly, the greatest debate about Saint Sophia Cathedral is its age. Until recent times the date of foundation of the main Kyiv cathedral was considered by scientists to be the years 1017 or 1037, according to records in different chronicles. However, recently-discovered graffiti made them doubt these dates. It turns that residents of Kyiv Rus at the peak of its prosperity also wanted to leave an “autograph” or painting on frescoes of the church. Passion for painting on walls was characteristic not only of humble Kyivites, but also of princes and bishops. Among them, Prince Yaroslav the Wise, his sons Sviatoslav and Vsevolod… This way, residents of Kyiv sealed oaths, asked superior forces for help and even signed contracts of sale and purchase.

The oldest graffiti, dating back to year 1022, was found recently on the fresco depicting St. Basil. So, at that time the church was not only built, but also painted. Today’s scientists consider that Sophia was started in 1011, during the reign of Volodymyr the Great (980-1015) and finished in 1018 in during the reign of his son Yaroslav the Wise (1019-1054).


All the Shades of Gold

Unfortunately, history did not record the names of the builders of this ancient wonder. Most probably they were Byzantine craftsmen invited by the prince.


More than 30 artists worked on painting the interiors (the area of frescoes in the church is 3000 square metres). And the area of mosaics from the 11th century in Sophia cathedral is the largest in the world: 260 square metres! Frescoes and mosaics painted on golden background can be divided into three groups: Evangelic legends, Bible stories, and lives of St. George, St. Anna and the Archangel Michael. There are 34 shades of green smalt and 25 shades of gold!


The masterpiece of mosaic art is the central depiction of Oranta, a six-metre figure of the Virgin Mary, whose hands are raised in prayer. The uniqueness of the mosaic on the cupola is that, from different points of view in the cathedral, Oranta looks depicted in various ways: standing, bending in praying or on her knees.


The beauty of the frescoes and mosaics is highlighted by the carved marble details of the altar screen, stone Metropolitan armchair, mosaic floors and wooden gilded baroque-style iconostasis dating from 1747. Originally, the latter had three layers, but only the lower one remains: the other two were destroyed in the 1930s by the Bolsheviks. A carved six-tonne sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise made of the precious Byzantine marble rests at St. Sophia. When scientists opened it in 1936, they found male and female skeletons.



St. Sophia’s Cathedral saw crownings of princes, chronicles were written here, translations of scripture were made and it hosted the first Kyiv Rus library and school. In 1633-1647, Kyiv metropolite Petro Mohyla renovated the church and founded a monastery here. When most of Kyiv turned into ruins during the Second World War, Sophia of Kyiv was almost untouched, is it not a miracle?

Large Sophia’s “Family”

Historic and Architectural Preserve “Sophia of Kyiv” includes not only the church but also the buildings around it (the total area of the preserve is 5 hectares). The most salient monument in the family of St. Sophia is a four-layer white-blue belfry decorated with luxurious carvings. The building has two dates of birth: in 1699-1706 the belfry was built, and in 1744-1748 it was restored after an earthquake destroyed its upper layers.

Since 1934, there is a museum in the church, and scientific, research and restoration works have been performed. More than 60 thousand exhibits are stored in the funds of the preserve. Every visitor to Kyiv should see Sophia of Kyiv, the centre of the ancient Kyiv Rus State and modern capital of Ukraine. As it did centuries ago, the wisdom of Sophia unites people and gives joy.



Address: 24 Volodymyrska Str., Kyiv, (on foot from metro station “Zoloti Vorota” or one stop from Maidan Nezalezhnosti). Tel.: +38 044 278 6152, +38 044 278 6262. Web-site: www.sophia.org.ua; e-mail: stsophia@i.kiev.ua.

Schedule: daily from 10:00 to 17:30, on Wednesdays until 16:30, closed on Thursdays.

Tickets: entry to the territory of the preserve UAH2, entry to the cathedral: UAH12 for adults and UAH5 for children.


© Blacky

© Panorama Magazine


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