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Architectural landmarks of Kyiv
Zoloti Vorota, or the Golden Gate of Kyiv
In the times of old, the Golden Gate of Kyiv used to be the central entrance to the city of Kyiv. The Mongol invasion of 1240 proved to be both politically and physically ruinous for the state known as Kyivan Rus, of which Kyiv was the capital. The surviving ruins of the gate were preserved as a curious architectural landmark, and at the end of the twentieth century these remnants of the Golden Gate were encased in a newly built structure with a replica of a church above it, which reflected what the historians and architects thought the original Golden Gate might have looked like.
According to the medieval chronicles in the 1030s, the then ruler of Kyiv, Grand Duke Yaroslav the Wise, started a large-scale construction in Kyiv. He expanded the size of the city, he had churches and defensive walls built. These walls were pierced by several gates, one of which was the Golden Gate. There are several explanations as to why this central gate was called “golden” — some historians say that the church above the gate had a gold-covered dome and it gave the gate its name; others claim that Yaroslav the Wise could have borrowed the name from Constantinople — he had a magnificent church built which was consecrated as the Church of Holy Wisdom, Holy Sophia, similarly to the most famous of all ancient churches in Constantinople, now Istanbul. One of the gates of Constantinople was called “Golden,” and given the rather close links that existed between Byzantine and Kyiv, it would be quite reasonable to assume that the name of the central entrance to Kyiv could have been copied from a similar structure in Constantinople.
In the eighteenth century the passage through the gate which was reduced to the state of a precarious balance and could collapse — even in its ruinous state it continued to serve as a major entrance to Kyiv — was deemed to be too dangerous and another entrance was made in the defensive wall nearby. The ruins of the gate were covered with earth to prevent any mishap.
In the 1830s, the Russian Tsar Nicholas I ordered to have Kyiv “cleared up” of the old dilapidated buildings and walls, and there was a danger that what had been left of the Golden Gate could be raised to the ground. One of the architects of Kyiv Kindratiy Lokhvytsky unearthed the ruins of the Gate at his own expense, had them restored a little and thus saved a major architectural landmark of the elevenths century from complete destruction. He must have been a romantic person because only a romantically inclined enthusiast of antiquity would conduct archeological excavations at his own expense and then pay his own money to have the discovered ruins preserved for the future generations.
Later, a committee was established which took care of maintenance and preservation of “the monuments of antiquity.” The ruins of the Golden Gate were reinforced, though in a somewhat primitive manner. The buttresses that were built to support the crumbling remnants of the gate proved to be useless and they were removed.
There are no detailed descriptions of the Golden Gate left in the chronicles and no depictions of it in the manuscripts or in the frescoes. It means that we do not know how the original Golden Gate looked like. What the tourists and Kyivans can see today is only a conjectural recreation of what the gate might have looked like, and there is no consensus among the historians and architects as to the faithfulness of this reconstruction. Hopefully, what today you can see as the Golden Gate of Kyiv provides more or less decent protection for the ruins of the original gate which are hiding inside. There is also a museum attached which provides the visitors with a more detailed information of the times when the gate was built.
Faithful or not too faithful to the original, but the renewed Golden Gate is a tourist attraction. Besides, it is surrounded by a small and cozy park, complete with a fountain, statuary, benches on which amorous couples perch and retired senior citizens sit stately discussing politics; a little open-air cafe in the park is a popular resting place with walkers and tourists.
A Time to Break Down, and a Time to Build Up
In the early decades of the Bolshevik rule, many churches were destroyed during the brutal atheistic campaign. Some of these churches were great architectural landmarks of the kind that would have been put on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of such landmarks was the Mykhaylivsky Zolotoverkhy Sobor, or the Golden-Domed Cathedral of St Michael. It was dedicated to Michael, one of the archangels who is repeatedly depicted as the “great captain,” the leader of the heavenly hosts, the warrior; in the history of the Christian church he came to be regarded as helper of the church’s armies against the heathen.
The Church of St Michael was built in the early eleventh century at the time when Kyiv was ruled by Prince Svyatopolk, one of the grandsons of the Grand Duke Yaroslav the Wise. From the chronicles it is known that the construction started on July 11 1108. It was an elegant building in the modified Byzantine style, lavishly decorated with frescoes and mosaics of superb artistic quality.
The first serious damage the church (later elevated to the status of the cathedral) suffered in 1240 when Kyiv was taken after a siege by the Mongol army led by Batu, grandson of Genghis Khan and founder of the Golden Horde. The domes were stripped of their gold but the church itself survived.
In the seventeenth century, after a long time of neglect, the church was restored, largely thanks to the efforts of the Hegumen (Abbot) Iov Boretsky. In 1655, the then ruler of Ukraine Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky had the domes covered in gold leaf again. Later, the church was reconstructed — several domes were added and the exterior was reshaped to bring it closer to the prevalent Baroque style. However, the interior remained largely intact. Unfortunately, the original frescoes and mosaics were covered with new murals which hid the originals until the late nineteenth century when some of them were accidentally rediscovered. Restoration work conducted under the guidance of the prominent art historian Adrian Prakhov revealed the amazing beauty of the surviving mosaics. The central scene, The Eucharist, depicted the moment at the Last Supper “When the time came he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him…Then he took a cup, and … said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves’… And he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it; and he gave it to them, with the words: ‘This is my body… and this cup, poured out for you, is the new covenant sealed by my blood.’ ” The mosaic depicting this scene is considered to be one of the best of its kind in the history of art.
Around the church, the monastery developed, the most important attraction of which were “the incorruptible relics” of St Barbara the Martyr. This saint was believed to be a protectress against all kinds of diseases.
Those who were less religiously inclined and appreciated art and architecture admired the glorious sight of St Michael’s which was situated only a short distance away from the no less magnificent eleventh-century Cathedral of Holy Sophia. Such a proximity must have been an annoying circumstance for the atheistically minded soviet authorities who could not offer anything compatible in the line of architecture — their own architectural creations were drab and pompous.
Plans were drawn up in 1934 to create a big square with three huge administrative buildings in the typical totalitarian style positioned around the square. The monastery and St Michael’s were conveniently in the way — and they had to be removed. And they were — by being dynamited and blown up. Thanks to the efforts of several Ukrainian intellectuals, some of the ancient frescoes and practically all the mosaics were carefully removed from the walls prior to the destruction of the cathedral. Some of the mosaics, The Eucharist included, were taken to Holy Sophia which had been turned into “a museum” and some were taken to Moscow to grace a picture gallery there.
The rubble was cleared but nothing was built at the site of the ruined cathedral. The territory of the former monastery became part of a large park which extended over the hill which faced the Dnipro River and on the top of which St Michael’s used to stand.
The square that was supposed to be flanked by several architectural monstrosities and a huge monument either to Stalin or to Lenin, was given only one eyesore, a gray administrative building. Why the construction of the others was suspended and never resumed is not quite clear.
The idea to rebuild the ruined cathedral emerged some time after Ukraine had regained her independence. The idea was supported by the City Council and when the economic situation allowed it, the rebuilding began.
It was not known how the church originally looked and it was decided to reproduce it the way it had looked before it was destroyed. The old photographs of St Michael’s, drawings and descriptions made it possible to recreate the appearance of the Golden-Domed Cathedral of St Michael in the minutest detail.
The cathedral was consecrated in the late 19th century and the religious services, after an interruption of more than half a century, were begun to be held.
There is hardly a visitor or a tourist who comes to Kyiv and who does not go to Mykhaylivska Square to have a look at the rebuilt St Michael’s in all of its renewed glory, or worship there.
Standing with your back to the cathedral you will have a spectacular view of the Cathedral of Holy Sophia only a short distance away. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: ... a time to break down, and a time to build up…”
St Volodymyr’s Lost Architectural Landmark
The city of Kyiv is believed to be at least fifteen hundred years old but compared to many other old cities there are very few surviving architectural landmarks that have come down to us either more or less intact or in ruins from the early centuries of city’s existence. In fact, there are none whatsoever older than the late tenth century. And that oldest landmark is just a foundation of a church, not even ruins. The answer to the question, What happened to the many churches and palaces mentioned in the medieval chronicles, is devastatingly simple — invasions, wars and vandalism took a heavy toll on Kyiv’s architectural environment.
According to the chronicles, the first church to be built in Kyiv of brick rather than of wood was called Desyatynna. As a matter of fact, “officially” the church must have had a different name, — the word Desyatynna suggests it was a sort of nickname. One of the popular explanations suggested that the church was referred to as Desyatynna, or “of the tithe” (tithe — a tenth part of one’s annual income contributed voluntarily or due as a tax, especially for the support of the clergy or church) because it was built with the means acquired from the tithe tax. Another explanation claims that the Grand Duke Volodymyr the Great (date of birth is not known — died in 1015), the ruler of Kyiv, who had the church built in 991, allotted one tenth of his own revenues for the upkeep of the church. Later, Volodymyr was buried in the church, as well as his wife, the Greek princess Anna. The chronicles also tell us that the remains of Grand Duchess Olga (c. 910 — 969), who was known to have been the first Kyivan ruler to convert to Christianity, were removed from her grave and entombed in the Desyatynna Church too.
Grand Duke Volodymyr, who was born a heathen and lived a considerable portion of his life a pagan, adopted Christianity for political and personal reasons in 988 and has his subjects converted to Christianity as well. At his conversion Volodymyr gave orders for all things connected with pagan worship to be destroyed and the primitive temples and totem-pole-like idols were swept away from the market squares. In their place churches had to be established. The Ukrainians had been handling wood, which was the local building material for centuries, and many of the minor churches which were hurriedly put up at the time were wooden structures. But Volodymyr was determined that the cathedral churches should be in masonry so as to prove worthy of the new faith and that they might at the same time endow Kyiv with something of Constantinople’s beauty. It was this decision which made it necessary for him to turn to Byzantium. The Greeks who responded to Volodymyr ‘s call brought to Kyiv the fully developed styles of tenth-century Byzantium. Volodymyr’s first and the most important foundation was the Church of the Assumption better known as the Desyatynna Church. It was largely a building in the typical Byzantine style.
In 1240 the Mongols who besieged Kyiv directed their catapults at its golden dome, and when they eventually broke into the town they completed its destruction. Some of the chronicles say that a great many people rushed to the church to seek refuge there; those who could not get inside because of the overcrowding climbed onto the roof. The church, already damaged, collapsed burying under its debris untold number of people.
The ruins lay abandoned and exposed to the elements for several centuries until in the seventeenth century, the Metropolitan of Kyiv Petro Mohyla had a small church dedicated to St Mykola built at the site where the original Desyatynna Church used to stand.
In the 1830s, it was decided to rebuild the Desyatynna Church and the eminent architect Stasov was commissioned to provide the design. Since no detailed descriptions or depictions of the original church were available Stasov designed a church in an eclectic pseudo-Byzantine style. The rebuilt church was consecrated in July 1842. The public and critical opinion found the church lacking in originality or grace; besides, its proximity to the magnificently beautiful Church of St Andrew which was situated just across the street, made the new Desyatynna Church look even more uninspiring in comparison.
The Bolshevik power established in 1917 in Russia and later in Ukraine was hostile to religion and in 1929 the Desyatynna Church was shut down and ten years later it was pulled down. Later, archeological excavations revealed the original foundation and a number of interesting finds were unearthed. But we still do not know for sure how the original church looked like. Today you can see the traces of the original foundation outlined in brick and stone on the ground where the church used to stand. There are plans to rebuild the church but it has proved to be a controversial issue and no rebuilding has been started yet.
Take an Uphill Ride
The city of Kyiv is now sprawling over a vast territory, both on the hilly right bank of the Dnipro River and on the flat left bank. The central part of the city sits on several hills and it was in that hilly part that most of Kyiv’s population had been concentrated before the city began expanding on to the plains. Climbing the hills to get from one part of town to another may be looked upon as a sort of physical exercise good for your health but many inhabitants of Kyiv regard it as a nuisance. The part of town known as Podil is situated at the foot of the central hill and not only people who had to climb the steep streets leading from Podil to the top of the hill complained — the horses pulling the wagons would surely complain too if they could speak.
This funicular excited admiration of many people in Kyiv who had n ever seen or even heard of such a wonderful invention. The upper station on top of the hill was — and is — located close to the Mykhaylivsky Zolotoverkhy Sobor (see an article about this monastery in this issue of our magazine) and this in itself made it somewhat special. The funicular was often referred to as “Mykhaylivsky.” The first ride took place on May 7 1905 and among the first passengers were top ranking officials — the governor, the mayor and members of the City Duma (city council). Some of the passengers rode up and down several times. A huge crowd gathered to see the two cars slowly crawl up and down the hill. To the amazement of many the cars pulled by the cable steels and electric engines did not get stalled in the middle of the way; no mishaps occurred which must have come as a relief — scandal mongers and misanthropes had prophesied major disruptions or malfunctioning, or even tragedies. On the very first day, 22,000 Kyivans took the trip up or down the hill, or both ways, most of whom did it just for the fun of it.
In the hundred years that have passed since the opening day, there were little changes in the funicular in the sense that it is located at the same place and that the same basic principle is used. The cars, the rails, the engines and the rest of it were, no doubt, replaced several times by more sophisticated ones. The lower station is lower than it used to be by about 40 metres. The thing is that there used to stand a private house at the site of the present-day station at the very foot of the hill. The owners of this house categorically refused to move when the funicular was being built even though they were offered money by the City Council. The private property was inviolate in the tsarist times but when the Bolsheviks came to power they abolished private property, and in 1928 the house was pulled down and the lower station was moved to its present position. The rail tracks were extended all the way to the new position of the lower station.
In all the years of its existence, the funicular experienced only one accident which happened in 1928, some time after the lower station had been reopened after having been moved 40 metres down from the former position. Probably something was wrong with the extended rail track and one of the cars broke loose and hurtled down with a terrible noise. Luckily, there was no one in that car at that moment; neither was anyone injured at the place where the car came to rest.
The safety is guaranteed by several engineering devices, including the special automatic brakes, which are engaged if the cable breaks.
The funicular survived the revolution and civil war; it survived the Second World War too when the city of Kyiv was first taken by the Germans and then liberated by the Soviets, both times after a siege and heavy fighting. In the 1970s plans were drawn up to dismantle it and build escalators or elevators but for one reason or other these plans were abandoned and the danger to the funicular’s existence passed.
Tourists who come to Kyiv to do sightseeing, and visitors who come to Kyiv on business often take a funicular ride for pleasure rather than because of some necessity; by contrast, many inhabitants of Kyiv continue to take funicular rides because it saves time and breath. But still there are many, particularly kids, who do it just to enjoy this experience of being slowly pulled up the steep incline to arrive at the top of the hill from which a spectacular view opens on the snaking Dnipro and the plains stretching in the haze all the way to the horizon.
By Vlada KRAPYVKA. Photos by Yury BUSLENKO[Prev][Contents][Next]