Despite numerous invasions and devastating destruction, the Ukrainian capital of Kiev is still one of the most beautiful cities of Eastern Europe. The Communist period, which lasted barely seventy years, did it little harm. On the contrary, the new potentates of the post-WW-II era built parks and created green spaces, along with the inevitable television tower found in every former Soviet city.
Cradle of the Slays.
The earliest mention of Kiev dates to the early sixth century. Three brothers founded it as a fortress, naming it the “City of Kyi” (Kyjiw) after the eldest brother. Over the course of many centuries Kiev has been the administrative, political and religious centre for numerous different rulers and empires One of these was the medieval state Kievan Rus, which included parts of what are now Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus. In light of this, Kiev has justifiably been called the cradle of the Slays.
A Russian culture.
Kiev was one of the great centres of medieval Europe in its ninth, and tenth-century golden age under the leadership of the grand dukes Sviatoslav, Vladimir and Yaroslay. Through its valuable commercial agreements with Constantinople, Kiev was always in close contact with the Byzantine Empire. This led, in 988, to the conversion of Kievan Rus to the Orthodox faith. This brought not only new sacred structures, but also an influx of Russian culture.
This influence continued during the Middle Ages when nearly all of south-eastern Europe was under the yoke of the Mongol invasion (12401569). In 1667, Russia annexed Kiev, the “mother city of Russia”, which in the meantime had been reduced to a simple provincial capital. Following its annexation, Kiev quickly made up for lost time, becoming the commercial and cultural centre of the Ukraine and, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. in 1991, the capital city of an independent Ukrainian state.
The cave cloister.
Currently, Kiev is the undisputed centre of Ukrainian life, with its theatres and museums defining the cultural landscape. Kiev is also home to a number of sites that relate to its long history. The old city includes buildings and other structures built over a period of 1,500 years.
The greatest of these is probably the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin), built in the year 1050 by immigrant monks who dug caves into the Dneiper escarpments. Eventually, the monastery was expanded to include a complex of churches and cloisters both above and below ground.
This spiritual and cultural centre of the early Kieven Rus Empire is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1991, St. Sophia Cathedral was also added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Begun in the eleventh century, the expansion and decoration of this exceptionally ornate church with its opulent frescoes and mosaics was completed in the seventeenth century. The cathedral was a focal point of cultural and political life during the early years of the Russian State.
In comparison to Kiev’s many magnificently decorated historical facades, those along Kiev’s main thoroughfare, the Khreschatyk, are no less impressive despite their more recent vintage. Completely destroyed during World War II and rebuilt since, many of the newer buildings, while conspicuously Stalinist in style, are somehow less staid, and perhaps more southern, than buildings from this period elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The street is lined with sidewalk cafes where young and old gather to share a drink and some conversation. Kiev’s own particular variety of joie de vivre is most palpable along the Khreschatyk, and one even runs into the occasional tourist.
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