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Ukraine: Saint Sophia Cathedral

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Saint Sophia Cathedral | Ukraine | Europe

[Visited: October 2014]

It is the question that always comes up when visiting a city you have never been to: where to go first? When I arrived in Kiev, the most logical answer to me was: to the oldest church of the city, the Saint Sophia cathedral. It is a bright, slightly cold say at the end of October when I walk from the subway station to the cathedral complex. I walk through a gate under the tall light blue and white bell tower; on the other side, a majestic white building with a multitude of towers and domes rises up before me. The cathedral is part of a walled complex: it was almost empty when I walk around. I first go to the southern side, and look up the building from a distance. The golden cupolas, topped with crosses, shine brilliantly in the afternoon sun, and stand out against the deep blue autumn sky.

Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): The main nave of Saint Sophia cathedral has fantastic frescoes

Saint Sophia cathedral was founded by Yaroslav the Wise - some claim by his father - in the early 11th century. It is named after the Saint Sophia cathedral in Istanbul (which later was converted to a mosque, and a museum), not after a person: the name rather means Holy Wisdom. It has seen blooming periods, it was extended with later additions like the baroque cupolas, but also destruction and disrepair, and was threatened by destruction again in the 20th century, during the Soviet rule of Ukraine. Eventually, it was saved destruction and installed as a museum, just like its name giver in Istanbul. Controversy between factions within the Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Church, Saint Sophia was never again governed by a religious institution.

Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Saint Sophia cathedral in the afternoon sun

After walking around the premises of the complex of Saint Sophia cathedral, looking at the whitewashed building from various angles, it is time to enter. A woman with a green robe welcomes me. Soon after I start exploring the interior, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the mosaics and frescoes that cover all the walls, arches of the cathedral. The galleries, with various graves, among which that of Yaroslav the Wise himself, have simpler frescoes; the main aisle of the cathedral is much higher, and has more intricate frescoes, depicting among others the families of Yaroslav the Wise, and the Orans. The apse has dazzling mosaics - it is too bad that you cannot come really close to appreciate them. Even though there are several women in green robes walking around, I play hide and seek with them, and manage to take a few pictures of the interior - which, after all, is the most impressive part of Saint Sophia cathedral. I go upstairs, from both sides, there are good views of the interior, as well as small exhibitions. Once outside again, I climb the bell tower, just in time to see the sun set over Kiev and over the oldest church of the city.

Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Golden cupolas of Saint Sophia cathedral glistening in the afternoon sun
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Saint Sophia cathedral seen from the southern side
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Golden cupolas with crosses in the afternoon sun
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Sun shining on the western side of Saint Sophia cathedral
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): View of Saint Sophia cathedral from the bell tower
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Looking up the bell tower above the entrance gate
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Gallery with the grave of Yaroslav the Wise, the founder of Saint Sophia cathedral
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Spire of Saint Sophia cathedral with golden angel
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Frescoes in the interior of Saint Sophia cathedral
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): The golden and green cupolas of Saint Sophia cathedral contrasting with a perfectly blue sky
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Rich frescoes decorate the interior of Saint Sophia cathedral
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Sun shining on a golden cupola on top of the cathedral
Picture of Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine): Late afternoon sun shining on two of the golden cupolas of the cathedral

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