The impressive Ukrainian capital Kiev (approx. 2.8 million inhabitants) is one of the most important political and cultural centers of the country. It is the largest city in Ukraine and lies on both sides of the Dnieper, Europe’s third longest river. The area was settled already in the early times. In the 9th century, the then city was located on the trade route between the Varangians and Byzantium. At that time Kiev also became the capital of Kievan Rus. With its 1,000-year history, Kiev is considered the “cradle of Russia”. Since 1991, Kiev has been the capital of independent Ukraine. The city offers numerous sights, museums and cultural institutions. Worthwhile is, for example, a visit to the famous St. Sophia Cathedral or the Cave Monastery with its golden dome. And of course, the Golden Gate, which was once the main entrance to the city, should not be missed.
Tip 1: Saint Sophia Cathedral
St. Sophia Cathedral of Kiev is located approximately in the middle of Volodimirskaya (vulitsa) Street, not far from the Golden Gate. The fact that the cathedral by its name and appearance reminds of Hagia Sophia has a background. The Grand Prince Vladimir, the ruler of Kievan Rus, wanted to replace the idolatry of ancient times with a religion. Once, when he attended a service in Constantinople in the above-mentioned Hagia Sophia, he was dazzled by the shine of gold and the heavy scent of incense.
Thus impressed, he decided to introduce Christianity also in his homeland. Thus, St. Sophia Cathedral was built in Kiev at the beginning of the 11th century and became the cultural and social center of the city. For a long time it was the seat of the Orthodox Church.
Three times the church was devastated by Tartars and rebuilt by the Kiev people. The constant destructions, the subsequent reconstruction and further development have left almost nothing of the original form of the cathedral. However, the interior has survived for almost 11 centuries and attracts numerous tourists every year. Today, from the four-story bell tower, one can enjoy a beautiful view over the old city of Kiev.
This unique monument to the architecture of the Kiev Empire is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and should definitely be visited. Because it is said that if you have not seen St. Sophia Cathedral, you have not really got to know Kiev.
Tip 2: Monastery of the Caves
The Kiev Caves Monastery is the oldest Russian Orthodox monastery in Kievan Rus. The demonstrably oldest mentions of the caves are found in the “Nestor Chronicle” at the beginning of the 12th century.
In the following centuries the whole monastery area developed into the leading monastery in Kievan Rus.
In 1688 the cave monastery was awarded the honorary title of a “Lavra”. This high honor was given to only a few important monasteries in Orthodox Russia.
Today’s church and monastery buildings are influenced by the “Ukrainian Baroque” from the 18th century.
The monastery got its name from extensive artificially created caves, which served as hermitages for the monks since the time of its foundation. Here, in the greatest seclusion from the world, monks tried to approach God through prayer. The long cave passages include at certain intervals smallest monks’ cells and underground churches. However, the caves were also used as burial places for deceased monks.
The cave system, which today is partially accessible to tourists, is divided into two parts: the near and the far caves. The near caves are accessible from the upper part of the Lawra, while the far caves are accessible from the lower part.
The cave monastery is one of the most important sights of Kiev. Its importance is also confirmed by the fact that since 1990 the monastery complex has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. More than a million tourists visit the extensive complex every year.
Tip 3: Maidan
The largest square in Kiev, Independence Square forms the center of the city and is located directly on Kreschatik Boulevard. Until 1830, the Goat Lake was located here. When the lake was filled in during the redesign of the square, the first stone buildings of Kiev were built here from 1860. At that time the square was simply called Khreschatik Square. Soon after, it was renamed Dumska Square, as the City Council building was built in its center. After further name changes, the square got its current name – Maidan Nesaleschnosti in 1991, the year of Ukraine’s independence. The Independence Square was completely reconstructed in 2001.
In the center of the southern side of the square rises the 63-meter high Independence Monument – female figure, symbolizing Ukraine, standing on the globe. In the three-storey glass palace, which is also developed underground, there is a large shopping center. Furthermore, here are three fountains, the statue of the four founders of the city and many pretty flower arrangements.
From the other side, between the buildings of Soviet realist architecture, 5 streets lead off to the Old Town. Next to the main post office is the Pechersky Gate with the Archangel Michael on it. In front of the gate are six small round fountains and two glass domes.
Just like on Chreschatik, you can find street music groups, different street artists and many small stalls selling cigarettes or drinks. From one side to the other, except on weekends when Khreschatik is closed to traffic, you can only get through the underground passage.
Tip 4: Motherland Monument
The Mother Motherland statue towers over the whole city not only in terms of volume. Visible from afar, it is probably THE landmark of Kiev. You have to climb a hill – and then you are already standing in front of it. We were able to take a first look at it when we arrived by bus at the Dnieper crossing.
Built in the 70s, the statue is supposed to remind of the victory of the Red Army in the Second World War. With the shield ready for defense and the sword raised upwards, it actually reminds us of quite a lot, except WWII. The whole monument is made of stainless steel, shines and looks neat. The statue is even about 10m taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York and is one of the tallest freestanding statues in the world. The highest in Europe!
Really worth seeing (even up close) and worth the climb in any case.
Tip 5: Golden Gate
Today the historical Golden Gate is a reconstruction and was completed for the 1500th anniversary of Kiev in 1982. Inside the gate there is also a museum. This impressive monument of Kiev still contains the ruins of the old gate. The large masonry shows how sophisticated the architecture was already in the time of Kievan Rus. The Golden Gate, at the time of Prince Yahroslav, provided one of the four entrances to the ancient city. Kiev in the 11th century was surrounded by strong fortress walls, 3.5 km long.
The model for the construction was the Golden Gate of Constantinople. The construction of the gate lasted from 1017-1024. The imposing gate building is 7.5 meters wide and 25 meters long. Until the 18th century the mighty gate building served as the main entrance to the city of Kiev. Despite the destruction by the Mongols, the gate served as an important access to the city.