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View of Kreschatik from the Bessarabian Square at the end of 19th  century. Kiev
Thursday, 21 September 2017

Museums in Kiev > Kievan Sophia National Historical and Cultural Reserve

 

St. Sophia Cathedral by S. Brandt

Maria Orans mosaic in St. Sophia Cathedral 

St. Sophia Cathedral

Address: 24, Vladimirskaya Street, Kiev.
Phone: +38 (044) 2286152, 2282620, 2792256.
Opening Hours: 10:00 - 18:00, Saturday: 10:00 - 17:00
Closed on Thursday.

St. Sophia Cathedral is the greatest monument of Slavic and world culture, history, architecture and art. It is one of the major architectural sites of Kiev too. The significance of this monument is confirmed by its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Cathedral was erected on the highest area of the ancient capital. The enormous frescos and mosaics can be considered an illustration to the Bible for the illiterate. They are a kind of Christian dogma encyclopedia. St. Sophia Cathedral was the center of social, political and cultural life of Old Russia. There ambassadors were welcome, the prince's letters were signed, coronations were celebrated. The well-known library of Yaroslav the Wise was kept there too. The Cathedral has been preserved.  But after the Mongol invasion in 1240 it was left in ruins for more than 400 years. The gem of the temple is the huge mosaic of Maria Orans. Maria Orans is a patron of Kiev symbolizing the wisdom of God. Sometimes this mosaic is called as "Virgin of unbreakable wall" because according to legend as long as this mosaic is not damaged nothing wrong will happen to Kiev. This part of the Cathedral has never been damaged.

The Cathedral has been preserved in the forms from the epoch of Hetman Mazepa (late 17th century – early 18th century). There are some buildings of the former St. Sophia monastery there. The buildings of the former monastery of St. Sophia were also constructed in the 18th century. Until 1918 the Cathedral was the seat of the Kievan metropolitan. St. Sophia Cathedral was given the status of the state historical reserve in 1934. In September 1941 Bolsheviks tried to mine the temple. But St. Sophia Cathedral was saved from the modern barbarians. The activity of the reserve authority was rewarded with the European gold medal for the preservation of historical monuments by the international jury of the Hamburg Foundation in 1987.

The biggest in the world collection of the 11th century mosaics and frescoes has been preserved in the interior of the cathedral. Ancient masters used 177 shades of colors at the area of 1260 sq. m! The walls of cathedral are covered with medieval graffiti, many of which have helped to establish the names of historic personalities and the exact dates of significant events in the history of Kiev, Russia and Europe. The cathedral was used as the burial place of Kievan princes too. The sarcophagus of the founder of the cathedral Yaroslav the Wise has been preserved. Some Kievan metropolitans were buried in the northern gallery. The restored 18th century Holy Gate is the masterpiece of Ukrainian art. There is the 76 m high bell tower at the cathedral. There is the heaviest in Ukraine bell, weighing 13 tons on the first level of the bell tower. The Golden Gate museum, St. Cyril’s Church and St. Andrew’s church in Kiev, as well as a fortress in Sudak in the Crimea are included in the preserve. There are some exhibition halls situated in the former Sophia monastery. They are located in the former Metropolitan's house, in the former monastery bakery, in the former Refectory church and some other buildings.


General Director
of National Reserve “Kievan Sophia”
Nelya Kukovalska

General director
of National Reserve “Kievan Sophia”
Nelya KUKOVALSKA:

“I COME TO SOPHIA LIKE
IN A SACRED PLACE”

“Kievan Sophia” is very close to its thousandth anniversary. Built in a distant XI-th century, it has always enraptured and continues to enrapture people today as an outstanding architectural monument and a work of art second to none, one of the greatest temples of a world civilization. As far back as in XI-th century Kievan metropolitan Hilarion said:“The church is remarkable and glorious to all the surrounding countries…”

And for Ukrainians it is also a symbol of spirituality, statehood, culture, and to a certain extent – education, says general director of National Reserve “Kievan Sophia”, Honoured cultural worker of Ukraine, Nelya Kukovalska. – Sophia is a sacred place that now became a museum. And thanks God, during a thousand years it remained in its primordial state.

Nelya Mikhailivna, how do you feel in this temple of millennial history, while coming here to work everyday?

I don’t work here, I serve to Sophia. That’s the word I came with – “serve”. I didn’t think it up, I just felt like I’m serving to this monument. And as time goes on, I feel greater responsibility laid on me and the group I’m heading, for the destiny of this unique monument. We must carry it down to the next generations unharmed, undestroyed, unprofaned, so they could also be proud of this heritage of human civilization. Every day, when I’m going here, I pray God, so nothing prevents us from working, because many disorders are happening outside these walls…

Who else comes now in “Kievan Sophia”?

Kievan Sophia

We accomplished a special investigation to find that out. We were occupied with it during a year. But it’s hard to single out certain groups of visitors. All we can say is that in general it’s middle aged people from 30 to 45 years old. Most part of them is workers of culture, education and science. We’ve got many school groups lately, as an illustration that the study program, which we’re realizing with the capital teachers, is working now. The history lessons for the pupils from different forms take place in Sophia, because by our sights we can study all the ages of our history – from the ancient times till nowadays. Everything that happened in Ukraine in different times reflected here, in this temple, one way or another…

Pensioners also visit us, though there aren’t many of them. They’ve got discounts, for example, every last Wednesday of month it’s a free entrance. And for all comers we organize the open days on certain holidays, for example, International Museum Day, or Independence Day. It’s especially nice to know that there are a lot of moms with their kids in the park around the temple. We know them pretty good, so they’ve got special entrance discounts. It’s good, when a child from the cradle is getting used to this beauty and historical grandeur.

In autumn-winter period Sophia got one day-off every week. As years go by we get more visitors, and we’re even afraid when we’ve got too many. Sophia can’t hold such an inrush, too big load for a millennial monument.

And what’s the reason appealing to public opinion representators of scientific and enlightened thought of reserve “Kievan Sophia”? And which scientifically-enlightened events, initiated by their keepers, attract the attention of the domestic and foreign scientists?

There work 54 scientists in “Kievan Sophia”. We have candidates of science, doctors, plus our own professorial membership. I’d say, we gathered here our own Sophia’s scientific school. Now we’re thinking about creating the “St. Sophia’s institute” here, a special structure that’d concern only the scientific questions. There’s a lot of work to do here! The last 7-8 years were especially rich on scientific researches and discoveries. Museum science rose to a very high level now.

What do you mean?

For the first time in Ukraine we’re certified as a research institution, we’ve registered all of our scientific themes. The scientists of “Kievan Sophia” work exclusively on themes that’d help to learn more deeply the monuments of the reserve, and not only Sophia. Don’t forget, that except the cathedral itself, the reserve also includes St. Andrews and St. Cyril’s Churches, Golden Gate, plus, only a few know about that, Genoese fortress on Crimean peninsula. That’s why we have the biggest store of knowledge and information, gathered near these sights in our reserve. By that we’ve meant historical researches, and also archaeological, speleological and architectural prospectings etc.

Sophia Cathedral in XI c.
The south-eastern part of the facade

Seminary, the monument of the XVIII c.

Sofia cathedral XI c.,
The eastern facade

But 6 years ago we started a very serious work on own account and with the sponsors support – an early field trial of automated system of complex monitoring of the monuments of the reserve. This means that we learned how to diagnose every minute the condition of our monuments and territories they’re situated on. In a very urbanized space, which Kiev represents now, it’s a very important achievement. The number one question is how to maintain and save the historical monuments such as Kievan Sophia and architectural ensemble of St. Cyril’s and St. Andrews Churches. Because every single minute they are in danger: from time to time, hydrogeological and geophysical conditions of the territory, where the monuments are situated. The ecologic and vibrational noise loadings are rising…

Moreover, we learned to forecast the state of our buildings in a prospect of 3-5-10 years. This is very important. It is better to prevent the destruction of monuments than to liquidate the consequences. The certain danger of destructions exists also on the territory of our reserve. We are trying to ask the state to pay attention to this problem. Certainly we can not stop the further urbanization of the city; it is obvious it must develop, because it is like a living organism. But we definitely need a project of engineering defence of the territory of Sofia.

You mentioned the sponsors before…

We have maybe much more helpers and patrons of art, than any other museum institution of Ukraine does. The name of Sofia itself attracts these people. Many consider helping the reserve as their own debt of honour. When you pass through the Bell tower entrance, you can see the two large boards with name of every single patron of art printed on them. Soon they will be removed by granite slabs. I must add that our patrons of art already entered the history of National reserve Kievan Sofia. On reserve initiative and with support of our ministry, some of them are awarded with state awards. And it is fair, because all vital and important for Sofia projects are realizing exactly with their help.

Bells of Sofia

Archangel Mikhail.
Sculptural figure to be placed
on the spire of the Southern Gate

Would you tell us some of those projects?

It is Restoration of House of Metropolitan with reproducing of interiors, the restoration of tsar's gates and iconostasis of the Sofia cathedral. I consider it a great honour for us, that the gate was sanctified by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Also we have completed a project which was not presented yet, and you are the first person to hear about it about it. The project of recreation of bells of Sofia is finished, and they were also sanctified by Bartholomew I. The part of the project was financed by the means of the state budget. Bells were “quiet” for some time, and they were brought back to life recently. Due to the special computer program it is possible to hear the melodious ringing of bells of the Sofia Bell tower hourly. And Easter last year was celebrated with ringing of bells of three main cathedrals of Kyiv, which sounded for the first time: Svyato-Mikhailivskyi, Sofia, and Кyiv-Pechersk lavra.

Now we are at the final step of another very interesting project: the erecting of the figure of Archistratigus Mikhail keeper Sofia and patron of Kyiv on the spire of the South tower of the Sofia architectural ensemble. We plan to celebrate the occasion in September. I think, it will become an annual event.

Delegation from Sri Lanka.
The courtyard of Sofia cathedral, July, 2010

Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gate), XI c.
The parade of warriors during the celebration of the Kyiv Day

Strictly speaking, my policy on a management of the reserve consist in providing the monuments with long-term live, proper functioning and its necessity for society. The reserve must perform not only the cognitive duty – like people come and look, that’s all but to provide them with some interesting events, which inspire the heart and soul.

For example, on Sofia territory there was a play, reproducing the marriage of princess Ann Jaroslavivna and the King of France Henry I. During celebration of the Day of Kyiv, there was a show, the parade of Kyiv Rus army, which marched through the Zoloti Votota (Golden gate) in a way the army did it in ancient times. The gate was opened only in cases when a send-off of the warriors was given, or when they returned with a triumph to Kyiv, or when the honoured guests arrived here. From times of Kyiv Rus many interesting and noble people from all over the world visited the city. I hope this Old Rus tradition will be restored in Kyiv. We can start from Euro-2012. A visit to Sofia is a must for the cultural program of the championship.

What do you like about Sofia?

I come to Sophia like in a sacred place; it’s like the Divine paradise. Especially I like some particular places around the cathedral. When I feel myself a bit disturbed, I go there and relax. I have the opportunity to talk to myself, to think in silence, and to come to the harmony.

I like to walk here at spring. The heart fills with joy, when I see cherries, apple-trees, or paradise apple trees in blossom. Also I like the hawthorn and many other trees which remained yet from garden of the Metropolitan. We guard it zealously. We even started a special project with the aid of the botanical garden – to multiply and plant out the young transplants of those trees. Unfortunately we don’t have enough financing to recreate the whole garden of the Metropolitan, planted as early as ХVIII century. We have only a half million hryvnias in our budget project, though they are still only virtual.

Interior of Sofia cathedral.
Image of our Lady «Orant» above the main sanctuary. Mosaic, XI c.

Silver Tsar’s Gate
of the iconostasis of Sofia, XVIII c.

During the 35th Session of the UNESCO General conference a decision was brought to put in the Calendar of memorable dates of the 2011 year the celebration of 1000year anniversary of the “Kievan Sofia foundation…

But there is kind a problem. The certain group of scientists appeal to absolutely all institutions, including UNESCO with suggestion to refute the date of Sofia’s foundation and cancel the celebration of 1000year anniversary next year as it is false. Although there is the other point of view (not only scientists of our reserve): we consider the year of foundation of Sofia is 1011, somebody says it is 1017 or 1037. I think it is what is called “the scientific polemic”. And that’s not bad, I think. Eventually, some quite small and debatable interval of time does have no influence comparing to the millennial history of Sofia. An answer lies in Sofia itself: it keeps the most reliable data for the solving of this problem. In particular, we can find it in inscriptions-graffiti on Sofia’s walls. Especially, inscriptions-graffiti which contain the dates of writing are of great value. Discovered on frescos in the different places of the cathedral inscriptions-graffiti are dated 1018-1021, 1019, 1022, 1028, 1033 and 1036 A.D. Only this fact refutes the theory of 1037 A.D. to be the year of foundation or even completion of building of Sofia. Also it can’t be the 1017 A.D., because in fact there are irrefutable evidences, that in 1018-1019 A.D the cathedral was complete and decorated.

In short, the birthday of Kievan Sofia is 1011, which is officially acknowledged and well-proven by modern science as a historical fact. The cathedral itself is the reliable evidence of this date. Therefore we prepare some festive event. We receive a powerful backing both in society and in religious organizations. Unfortunately, the decision at the state level is out of our power.*

Now Ukraine enters the primary step of forming the budget-2011…

And we don’t need the large amount of funds to celebrate Sofia anniversary, if we use what we’ll be given wise and every copeck will be under our control. Besides, I am sure, a lot of people would gladly take part in organization of the event as volunteers.

But indisputably, the anniversary of Kievan Sofia should be celebrated also by the international community. And before the anniversary it would be necessary for Sofia as a person celebrating her birthday to be dressed up. In particular, we needed to overgild the central dome of the cathedral. We can not begin the restoration already during six years. The restoration measures should be provided in April and completed not later than October. But how do we do that, when we receive the money only at the end of the year? It is inadmissible to begin restoration works and not to complete them.

What gifts do prepare famous mosaics and frescos of Sofia to the anniversary?

They are perfect. They really provide us with valuable information. Every year we study more and more, learn a lot of new details from the millennial life of Sofia. She talks to us the language of the frescos and mosaics. She trusts us and inspires to do new discoveries.

We learnt a lot of new things due to graffiti. In the 50-70th years of the ХХth century the known historian Sergii Vysotskyi investigated 316 graffiti (in particular, famous inscription about death of Yaroslav the Wise), and published the special monograph. During the last 10years, scientists of our reserve actively provide the researches of the graffiti. The Candidate of History Volodyslav Kornienko studies the frescos together with a professor Nadiya Nikitenko, who devoted more than 30 years of her life to Sofia. Young, but experienced enough scientist investigates the graffiti step by step, wall after a wall. He studies absolutely every detail. He investigated and described already 2200 graffiti. Also we published the first volume of a book Graffiti of Kievan Sofia. There must be five volumes. We will try to publish them during two or three years.

Graffiti is one of the evidences, which proof that Sofia was founded exactly in 1011A.D. And the unique mosaics and frescos united in a single decorative ensemble will be a pleasure to our eye.

* While we were preparing this interview, President of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych signed the Decree about preparation and realization of festive measures in 2011 year to celebrate the 1000year anniversary of the foundation of the Sofia cathedral. According to this Decree, Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine is to create the organizing committee. At the same time the government must work out the plan of proper measures of preparation and celebration of anniversary of the Sofia cathedral. The plan will be implemented with the assistance of the National academy of sciences of Ukraine. President obliged the Cabinet of Ministers to provide financing of the celebration events in accordance with established procedure.

Mediacenter of the Prime Excursion Bureau.

August, 2010.



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