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Sightseeing in Kiev

One of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Northern Europe, Kiev has a medieval church, a baroque palace or an unusual museum at almost every street corner. If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, it might be possible to fit everything into just one vacation, but if, like the rest of us, you can manage only certain sights, here’s a pick of the very best: Kiev’s masterpieces.

First on any itinerary would be Kiev’s crowning glory, St Sophia’s Cathedral . The largest and oldest church in the city, St Sophia’s was built in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, whose tomb is within the church.

St Sophia’s was modelled on the famous Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople, and was, for centuries, the place where Kiev’s princes were crowned. It was surrounded by smaller chapels, and was an important administrative and ecclesiastical center for Kiev. Over the years, St Sophia’s was damaged and destroyed, but reconstruction and repair has been carried out regularly. The most prominent features of the church today are the exquisite mosaics and frescoes which decorate it. Many of them date back to the time when St Sophia’s was first built, and are very well-preserved.

Opposite St Sophia’s cathedral is the monastery dedicated to the patron saint of the city, St Michael. St Michael’s Monastery of the Golden Roof is a complex of gold and pale blue buildings, rising steeply up on the bank of the Dnieper.

Smaller, newer and less significant than St Sophia’s and St Michael’s Monastery is the church of St Cyril’s . Constructed in the 12th century, St Cyril’s original architecture has been pretty much overshadowed by the Ukrainian baroque which was later used in its reconstruction. Like St Sophia’s, however, St Cyril’s too is known for its beautiful frescoes- some 800 sq meter of original painting still survive.

Kiev has many other churches, all of them old and some of them truly magnificent. If you’re fond of religious architecture, make a trip to the 19th century mural-decorated church of St Volodymyr’s ; the Ukrainian baroque church of St Andrew’s ; the Tithes Church , and the Upensky Cathedral .

In the same league, but somewhat different, is the medieval monastery of Pecherksa Lavra , the Monastery of the Caves. One of the oldest monasteries in Ukraine, Pecherska Lavra was founded in 1051 and spreads out across a cave-riddled hillside. The caves were once the living cells for monks, and are today part of the museum of Pecherska Lavra. The museum contains an excellent collection of religious artifacts, including intricately illuminated manuscripts, icons, and miniatures. Also part of the monastery are two 11th century cathedrals and the tallest bell tower in the country.

For a break from churches and monasteries, head for Kiev’s palaces, ruined forts and museums. The most well-known of these is the Golden Gate , an important tourist attraction built at about the same time as St Sophia’s.

The Golden Gate was once the heavily-fortified main entrance to the city of Kiev. A solid stone structure, it was restored during the 20th century and converted into a museum. The museum today houses an impressive collection of weaponry and artefacts pertaining to the city’s history.

In the heart of Kiev’s administrative district lies the opulent Mariinsky Palace , built in the 18th century by an ambitious ruler who wanted to recreate Versailles in Ukraine.

The Mariinsky Palace is not exactly a facsimile of its French cousin, but is pleasant enough nevertheless. The palace was severely damaged during World War II, but has since been repaired and is now occupied by the government.

On the outskirts of Kiev lies the open-air museum known as Pyrohov Village , an exhibition of Ukrainian folk costumes, art, musical instruments, household articles, tools, and the like. The museum sprawls over about 150 hectares of land, and consists of some 200-odd structures- farmhouses, churches, barns, and other rural buildings- brought from across the length and breadth of Ukraine. On display within the buildings and in specially constructed exhibition halls are about 40,000 ethnographic items, ranging from glassware and ceramics to clothing, jewellery and tools.

The Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts, the Central Botanical Garden, and the Vydubychi Monastery are among the other must-visit sights of Kiev.

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