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Sofia Cathedral, 1,000 years of history

In the old city centre of Kiev stands the St. Sofia Cathedral. This incredible building is one of the best known and most beautiful Ukrainian monuments and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dating back to the 11th century, construction of the cathedral was commissioned by Yaroslav the Wise, the ruler of the Principality of Kiev at the time.

Deep green domes, beautiful frescoes and mosaics adorn the St. Sophia Cathedral. In the centre of the Church is a huge mosaic of Mary praying. The residents of Kiev believe that the city will continue to exist as long as this artwork is preserved. Not all the artwork in the cathedral is religious in nature however; there are also pictures of Prince Yaroslav and his family, and various frescoes of revellers in what was then Constantinople.

The green domes of the St. Sofia Cathedral
The green domes of the St. Sofia Cathedral

Kiev

Cemetery and museum

In the 11th century, the cathedral also served as a burial ground for the rulers of the Principality of Kiev. That is why in the 1980s, the government wanted to give the Cathedral back to the Russian Orthodox Church. However, various parties within the government disagreed with this decision and a compromise was reached to have the cathedral opened up to the public and transform it into a museum. In addition to the frescoes and mosaics, the old dining room also displays objects that were found during the archaeological excavations around the cathedral. Visitors may also view several scale models of the city during the period when the Tatars invaded Kiev.

Mosaic of Mary in the St. Sofia Cathedral
The Sofia Cathedral in the snow

“The St. Sofia Cathedral is one of the most beautiful attractions in Kiev”

Saved from destruction

Since its original construction, the cathedral has undergone many changes. The building has been damaged numerous times, especially in the 13th century when the Tatars conquered Kiev. During various restorations, new rooms were frequently added. Under the Soviet Union’s anti-religious policy in the 1930s, a plan was hatched to demolish the cathedral. However, after a storm of critique from historians and the French Government, the Russians reconsidered their decision. Today it seems impossible to imagine that this beautiful building was almost destroyed.