The Saint Sophia Cathedral (Sophia of Kyiv)
Vladimirska St. 24
Working hours: from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed on Thursdays
Built in the 11th century, the Saint Sophia Cathedral has managed to preserve its beauty and majesty until today, solidifying its place among unique historical monuments. In fact, it was the first Ukrainian landmark to be included onto the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Construction on the cathedral began in 1037. Yaroslav the Wise, an Old Russian prince, commissioned it to be built at the place where Kyiv’s residents won a battle against the Pechenegs a year before. The church was named in honor of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople, and it became the biggest building in the capital. For Yaroslav the Wise, its founding was a sort of instrument to assert the state power in Kyivan Rus.
The Saint Sophia became not only the head church in Kyivan Rus, but it also played the role of an important social, political, cultural, and educational center. Here, both regal coronation ceremonies and official meetings with foreign ambassadors were held, and international agreements signed. The first school in Rus was opened on the territory of the cathedral; the first library, created by Yaroslav the Wise, was located here.
Although the temple was built according to the canons of Byzantine architecture, it is virtually peerless in the world. Over its long history, it survived numerous destructions and plunders. The greatest losses came at the hands of the Mongolian Tatars, who invaded Kyiv in 1240. After that, the church, while functional, remained in a decrepit state for a long time. It was not until the turn of the 18th century that the cathedral was reconstructed and rebuilt in the baroque style. At the same time, a 76-meter (250 feet) high bell tower was erected nearby. The biggest bell in Ukraine, weighing 13 tons, hangs inside.
While the Saint Sophia Cathedral’s exterior changed a lot over ten centuries, the interior preserved its authenticity. Today, it is the monastery’s main treasure. Many rare mosaics, created by Byzantine artists in the 11th century, remain inside. The best known is the six-meter (twenty feet) tall mosaic of the Virgin Mary, made of glass and stone plates of 177 shades. The Saint Sophia Cathedral also preserved many ancient frescos that decorate its galleries. In addition to religious scenes, you can also see secular subjects here, as well: depictions of Yaroslav the Wise and members of his family, scenes from court life of the Byzantine imperators, and many more.
The Saint Sophia Cathedral was the burial place for Kyivan princes. However, only the tombs of Yaroslav the Wise and his wife have remained until today. A carved sarcophagus with their remains fan be found within the cathedral.
Today, the architectural complex, which also includes the Metropolitan’s house, the bell tower, the bursa (high school), the brotherhood campus, and the cells, has the status of a national cultural preserve.
Hours of operation: the entrance to the territory of the complex is open ; to the Cathedral - from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; on Monday - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Thursdays.
Price of admission: to the territory of the culture preserve - 3 UAH, to the Cathedral (including excursion) - 20 UAH (for foreigners - 40 UAH), to the bell tower - 8 UAH.