The former spiritual center of Russian Orthodoxy and the current capital city of Ukraine is a complex and contradictory metropolis.
Founded around 832 A.D., Kiev was originally an outpost of the Khazar Empire (writer Milorad Pavic had celebrated its memory in his famous Dictionary of the Khazars), an assimilation of Turkic nomadic tribes that created an empire between the Northern part of Caucasus and Pontic steppe. In 882, the city is taken into possession by Prince Oleg’s successor, Riurik, from a Scandinavian dynasty. Oleg unifies under the name of Orthodoxy all the Russian-speaking state formations state, founding the Kievan Russia. And so begins the great glory of the pious city, which focuses and strengthens for three and a half centuries, under the direct political, administrative and religious factor maneuvered by Russia.
Here, for example, during the first half of the eleventh century, the basis of Pecearska Lavra are beginning to raise up – the oldest monastery in Russian space. But the year 1240 brings the most terrible era of in the history of the place: the Mongol invasion of Batu Khan, which had destroyed Kiev literally, by fire. Rebuilt on the old foundations, it will be conquered again in 1321 by Gediminas, who will hand Kiev over to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, throughout a century, Kiev goes under Polish administration, as the residence of a semi-autonomous principality. Then it joins the Tsarist Russia, undergoing through a period of prosperity, especially in the nineteenth century, when, under the stimulus of the Industrial Revolution, it become the third city of the empire after St. Petersburg and Moscow. Between 1918 and 1920 the city has changes the ruling regime for about twenty times, its suzerainty being given, one by one, to White Russia, Red Russia, Poland and even transience first Ukrainian state. Finally, in 1921 it became the administrative center of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the most oppressive entities of the USSR.
World War II triggered massive damage, but the postwar period brought Kiev back on the podium of the most important Soviet cities, and in 1991, the city gained the status of the capital of an independent state. Very recently, the tents of the Orange Revolution in Kiev dominated the Independence Square from November 2004 to January 2005, bringing it to power the right-wing candidate Victor Yushchenko who was later defeated in the electoral competition.
The fifteen centuries of political turmoil have not damaged the spirit of Kiev, though, and the city began its development and rebirth, despite periodic historical tragedy which it has been forced to face. Pecearska Lavra – the Monastery of the Grote (1015), the current headquarters of the Metropolitan Ukraine and Saint Sophia Cathedral, a genuine national sanctuary, whose construction began in 1037, are two sites on the list of monuments protected by UNESCO, and represent some of the most prestigious touristic sites. The entry into the old town is made through a Golden Gate, a replica of the one in Constantinople, partially destroyed by the Mongols in 1240.
Next to former Imperial Palace, there rises a Neoclassical building that houses the parliament – Rada. On the right bank of the Dnieper River, the impressive Museum of the Great Patriotic War dominates the panorama, guarded by giant Mother Country allegorical statue of 102 meters height and 530 tons. Other impressive statues evoke the personality of famous heroes of the nation, among who, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky and King Vladimir the Great, canonized for his contribution in Orthodoxy among Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Russians.
The traditional protector spirit of the city is a pagan Slavic deity, Berehynia, a kind of Rusalka endowed with magical powers, while the modern spirit is embodied by … the legendary football coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi, creator of the great team Dinamo Kiev (winner of the Winners’ Cup in 1986 and defeated the following year in the European Super Cup Stars final), whose statue was erected at the entrance of the stadium that now bears his name.
Kiev was not only a metropolis dedicated to Eastern Orthodoxy, but also a renowned cultural center, whose fame is continued in modern times by institutions like the famous State Opera (with a ballet troupe often compared to that of the Opera in Saint Petersburg), several museums dedicated to traditional art but also parts of western art, a prestigious drama theater named “Ivan Franko” after the national poet who lived between 1856 and 1916, and also a famous puppet theater and a circus. On one of the many islands on the Dnieper there is built a water park with a Venetian theme, and in the southern part of Pirogovo city, there is an impressive museum of folk architecture of the Ukrainian village, dominated by a group of traditional windmills.
The beautiful secular chestnuts planted along the central boulevards are living emblems of a special relationship with nature, transforming the area into a fishing and water sports paradise, regardless of the season (if summer temperature reaches 30-34 degrees Celsius, during winter time, the river is covered by a layer of ice several meters thick – hence the ice fishing and skating performed as leisure time activities).
There are plenty of things to do and discover on a trip to Kiev. And nevertheless, you will fall in love with this wonderful city and its amazing everlasting spirit.
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