St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the most impressive cathedrals in Kiev. Tourists from all over the world who come to Kiev do not miss their chance to visit the most renowned landmarks of the city. There is a fee which has to be covered when entering the cathedral, but it is all worth it. The architectural design is outstanding.
The cathedral is actually the first edifice of its kind on the Ukrainian territory to have been included in the World Heritage List. This goes to prove just how valuable this construction is.
In addition to the main building which is actually the cathedral under discussion, there are other constructions which are a part of the monastic ensemble (the bell tower, the House of Metropolitan, etc.). The cathedral has been administered by the Ministry of Regional Development up until 2010, but afterwards, it came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture.
The explanation is more of a practical nature. The fact is that UNESCO World Heritage Program considers both this cathedral and the Monastery of the Caves (also located in Kiev) as being part of a sole ensemble. But the edifices were under different jurisdictions. So the contradiction had to be resolved in a way, and the obvious solution was to have them both be administered by the same Ministry.
St. Sophia’s Cathedral has been erected in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise. The construction consists of 5 apses, 5 naves and 13 cupolas, and while the exterior decorations are no longer noticeable, tourists still have the possibility to gaze on beautiful frescos and mosaic works which have been wonderfully preserved at the interior of the cathedral since the 11th century.
By 1240, the cathedral was in a bad condition, but renovations were by no means initiated. Thus for 4 centuries, the construction was left to chance. It was not until 1633 that restoration work on the cathedral began. The architect behind the project was Octaviano Mancini, of Italian origin, who preserved the interior of the church unchanged, but added a new architectural design on the exterior – elements representative for the Baroque style.
The cathedral was finally restored to the fullest in the 18th century (1740). In the years to come, the complex was extended to comprise the Bell Tower (1744-1752). But while the building work occurred in the specified timeframe, additional elements were added much later. The golden cupola was actually added in mid-19th century (1852).
The Dining Hall which dates from the 18th century was later on changed to host a museum. At present, exhibitions found here present various models of the city prior to the Mongol invasion (which occurred in 1240), as well as from the 10th up until the 12th century.
The name of the cathedral is given after the edifice which was actually used as inspiration for the construction: the Hagia Sophia Cathedral, located in Constantinople. The name conveyed does not make reference to a specific saint. Hagia Sophia translates into ‘holy wisdom’ and this is the connotation of the name.
In terms of structure, the cathedral is encompassed by galleries on three sides, and the exterior reaches 37 to 55 m.
Initially, the cathedral had quite a different purpose: the rulers of Kiev used it as their burial place. While the catacombs of the majority of them did not survive the passage of time, there is one tomb still standing: that of the founder of the cathedral, Yaroslav the Wise.
The cathedral, as well as the adjacent buildings, has been used for various ceremonies and official events. The wonderful architecture and the historical weight it carries make the St. Sophia Cathedral a must-see touristic attraction.