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.
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.
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.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Saint Sophia Cathedral (Ukraine). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Saint Sophia Cathedral. Read more about this site.