Ukrainian version Russian vesion
St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv
        Built in the remote eleventh century, the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv never fails to evoke admiration as an outstanding masterpiece of monumental art. Writer of Old Rus llarion stated, "A church of wonder and glory, the envy of all the countries far and wide." The cathedral was surrounded by churches dedicated to the patron saints Ч St. Irene and St. George Ч and by the boyars palaces of stone and the wooden dwellings of the ordinary townsmen. The cathedral retained its pivotal role in the subsequent years: looted and dev-astated after the raids of the steppe nomads in 1240, it was still the central church in Kyiv: in the seventeenth century new structures of wood were erected in the cathedral courtyard. In the eighteenth century, the cathedral was surrounded by an ensemble of stone buildings, Baroque in style, which adorn the city even today. 
        Many events in the political and social life of Kyivan Rus were closely associated with the St. Sophia. It was here that the ceremony of anointing and crowning the prince was per-formed; here, he mounted the Grand Throne of Kyiv to receive foreign ambassadors and to conclude trade agreements or peace treaties with other principalities. The first mention of the library collected by Yaroslav the Wise (the first in Old Rus so far as we know) is also associated with the St. Sophia Monastery. Kyiv's veche (people's assembly) was held in the Sophia's courtyard. During the centuries that followed, the cathedral retained its role as the city's center. It was here that in January 1654, Kyivites approved the historical decisions of the Pereyaslav Rada on the reunification of the Ukraine with Russia.
        The reconstruction work carried out in the seventeenth Ч eighteenth centuries drastically altered the original appearance of the monument. The architectural Baroque modifications made in the later periods conceal the eleventh-century architectural elements and structures. The essential interior dimensions of the structure (37 x 55 metres; the ceiling is 29 metres high) remain unchanged. Yet, the compositional arrangement of architectural members has been altered. The eastern facade boasted Five apses, the same as the number of aisles. There were two rows of cloisters, the inner row had two stories, while the outer one.' They skirted the building from the north, west and south. The cathedral was crowned with thir-teen semispherical domes coated with sheet-lead. Two asymmetrical stairway towers on the western front led to the choirlofts. In the eastern part of the north gallery there was a chamber with a small apse which served as a princely burial place. The stone sarcophaguses of the Grand Princes of Kyiv once stood here, among them, those of Yaroslav the Wise, Vsevolod Yaroslavich, Vladimir Monomachus and other political figures of Old Rus. 
        The wall masonry showed alternating layers of dark-red quarry-stone and plinthoi separated by a thin layer of pink mortar made of whitewash and crusted brick. This made the structure particularly attractive.
        The interior design of the cathedral has remained practically unaltered: the walls and twelve cruciform piers which articulate the interior space into five aisles, the pillars and the arches of the cloisters have remained. Thirteen cupolas with drums have been fully preserved. The main drum is superimposed upon the intersection of the nave and the transept and illuminates the space under the central cupola. 
        In the eighteenth century, the open two-storied cloisters were blocked up, while the single-storied cloisters were given a second story and were crowned with domes. Window openings were cut through the walls, and a large arch replaced the former entrance. The western double-tiered triple-bayed arcading in the central cupola space (similar to the surviving southern and northern ones) and the choiriofts above it have not survived. That is why the space under the central cupola which once had cruciform outlines, changed its shape in its western part.
        The St. Sophia Cathedral possesses some 260 sq. m. of mosaics and 3,000 sq. m. of fresco painting dating from the eleventh century. These examples of the ancient art of our people are especially valuable. The mosaics and frescoes that survived represent only one third of the murals which once adorned the cathedral. In the seventeenth century, the missing portions of the St. Sophia murals were filled with size-color paintings. At the turn of the eighteenth century, the cathedral walls were plastered and whitewashed. Throughout the eighteenth century, new paintings were done in oils upon the plaster cover. In the nineteenth century, the fresco paintings were cleaned and later re-painted in oils, the ancient drawings being preserved for the most part. The missing fragments of the frescoes were replaced with plaster and painting.
        As soon as the St. Sophia Cathedral was declared a museum, vast restoration projects were undertaken to clear the mosaics and frescoes of later plastering and overpainting. The art of later periods was preserved only in those sections where the ancient plaster had de-teriorated. So apart from the eleventh-century mosaics and frescoes, there are individual works dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as well as some from the nine-teenth. The subject matter of the overwhelming majority of the paintings is based on re-ligious themes. Our contemporaries praise their artistic qualities Ч line, color scheme, composition and the skilful psychological renditions.
        The harmonious unity of mosaic and fresco compositions is a characteristic feature of mural ornamentation in the St. Sophia Cathedral. The mosaics, distinguished for their bright colors, decorate the central cupola and the central apse to draw the attention of the visitor to the sanctuary section of the cathedral. The principle characters of Christian teaching are represented in the St. Sophia mosaics: at the top of the cupola there is a mosaic represen-tation of Christ Pantocrator set in a medallion and surrounded by four figures of archan-gels, of whom only one, arrayed in blue, remains as a mosaic. The other three were painted by Vrubel in 1884. In the spaces between the drum windows the twelve apostles are depicted (but only St. Paul has survived as a mosaic). The pendentives are given to a view of the four evangelists, of which the image of St. Mark has been more or less fully preserved. A scene of The Annunciation decorates the piers before the chancel. The Archangel Gabriel is to the left and the Virgin Mary, to the right. Over this composition are representations of martyrs set in medallions. Over the central arch The Deesis mosaic composition is represent-ed. A majestic six-metre-high image of the Virgin Orans, the Madonna in prayer, is to be found in the vault of the chancel, the central space of the apse shows a multifigured com-position of The Eucharist.  The mosaics in the upper row of the apse depict The Church Fathers Range.
        The mosaics were made of smalto Ч an alloy of glass, salts and oxidized metals: pieces of natural stone were also used. To achieve the mosaic image, tesserae about one cu. cm. in size were embedded in wet plaster. Specialists presume that eight unknown master mosaicists executed the works. The mosaics in the cathedral are remarkable for their rich and pure tones. The mosaic palette numbers 177 hues and shades. The gold background covers some one third of the mosaic space, and the principle colors of the compositions are blue, off-white and crimson. Every color has a number of shades: 19 are red: 21 dark-blue: 34 green; and 25 gold. The combination of large patches of color which can be clearly seen from a distance (e.g., the blue array of the Virgin Orans upon a background of gold, or the deep-purple table in the center of The Eucharist and the off-white garments of the Apostles) is characteristic of the St. Sophia mosaics. On the other hand, the mosaic compositions are distinguished by subtle nuances of color which help convey facial features or folds of garments. Illustrative of the above-mentioned fact is the representation of the Archangel from The Annunciation scene. The mosaics in the chancel and the main cupola are an in-dispensable part of the artistic unity of both mosaics and frescoes. 
        Fresco paintings have been more or less preserved in all of the chambers of the cathedral.
        The space below the central cupola is decorated with a cycle of scenes from the Gospel. The monumental paintings in the Chapel of Joachim and Anna relate the story of the Virgin Mary. The frescoes in the Chapel of SS. Peter and Paul tell of the acts of the Apostle Peter. The mural paintings in the south chapel are devoted to St. Michael, who was considered the patron of Kyiv and of the prince's warriors. The frescoes in the northern chapel relate the life of St. George, the patron saint of Yaroslav the Wise. 
        In the lofts, an entire cycle of fresco paintings has survived. It includes scenes Abraham Meets the Three Strangers, Abraham and the Angels, Abraham Offers Up Isaac, The Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace, The Last Supper, and The Miracle at Cana. 
        A place of importance in the cathedral is taken by ornamental paintings: they frame window and door openings, put emphasis on the curved lines of arches and vaults, adorn the surfaces of columns and pillars and decorate panels above the floor. 
        The color palette of the ancient frescoes was based on the combination of dark-red, yellow, olive and white tones depicted against a blue background. The monumental painting in the St. Sophia Cathedral is distinguished for clear-cut composition, expressive images, and vivid colors. It also presents an organic unity with the cathedral's architecture.
        Thematically, the murals of the St. Sophia were united by a single conception Ч the prop-agation of Christian teaching and the consolidation of feudal power. Apart from this, however, the paintings in the metropolitan's church were to reflect the grandeur of Old Rus, its international authority, and the role of the princely house of Kyiv in the political life of Europe. That was why a great number of compositions were of a secular character. The three walls of the nave opposite the chancel were covered with a group portrait of the family of Yaroslav the Wise, founder of the cathedral. The central place in the composition was taken by the image of Christ and the figures of Princess Olga and Prince Vladimir. To the left and to the right there is Yaroslav, his wife Princess Irene, and their sons and daughters. The procession is headed by Yaroslav the Wise who holds a model of the St. Sophia Cathedral in his hand. In this mural, Yaroslav the Wise is represented as the builder of the city and founder of the metropolitan's church, drawing on the traditions established by his great grandmother Princess Olga and his father Prince Vladimir who greatly con-tributed to the unification of the Slavic tribes, to the consolidation of the Kyivan Rus state, and to the establishment of equitable relations with Byzantium and other countries. The members of Yaroslav's family played a role of importance in European political life: the wife of Yaroslav the Wise was a daughter of the Swedish King, two of Yaroslav's sons married Byzantine princesses, and his daughters were queens of France, Norway, and Hungary. According to llarion, eminent writer of the time, "The land of Rus was known to the four quarters of the globe." Unfortunately, only the figures of Yaroslav's children on the south and partially on the north wall have survived into our time of what was once a splendid mural composition. The missing parts can be reconstructed according to a draw-ing of the Dutch painter Abraham van Westerfeldt who saw the fresco in the mid-seven-teenth century.
        Specialists, among them S. Vysotsky, Dr. Sc. (History), proved that the fresco paintings in the cathedral's towers were devoted to an important political and cultural event of the tenth century Ч the visit of Kyivan Princess Olga to the Byzantine capital, and the honors paid to her by Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. 
        In the northern as well as the southern tower, the murals should be viewed from below as one mounts the stairs to the lofts. The frescoes in the northern tower depict the ceremony of Princess Olga's entry into Constantinople. Only fragments representing the Empress with her retinue and the Emperor Roman, the son of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, riding a white horse have come down to us. In the upper landing of the stairway one can see Constantine Porphyrogenitus Receives Princess Olga, a large composition that has been fully preserved. The left part of the composition is occupied by the image of the Emperor on his throne surrounded by two body-guards armed with spears and shields. The figure of Prin-cess Olga occupies the right section of the composition. Her headgear consists of a crown and a transparent white kerchief falling onto her shoulders. Beside her are depicted the women from her retinue.
        The focal point of the southern tower is The Hippodrome mural painting. The scene shows the second reception of Kyivan Princess by the Byzantine Emperor at the hippodrome in Constantinople, where Princess Olga was invited to see the chariot races. In the upper section of the tower, there is a well preserved representation of the hippodrome premises Ч a large three-storied building, the open galleries of which are intended for spectators. In the right part of the composition we see Constantine Porphyrogenitus himself. In this portrait, the artist has successfully conveyed the facial features of the Emperor Ч expressive eyes, a large aquiline nose and a beard. Princess Olga is depicted arrayed in light beside him. Most likely the other frescoes in the tower are also associated with specta-cles at the hippodrome. Among them are The Acrobats group painting and The Buffoons composition which shows musicians playing string, percussion and wind instruments, including a pipe organ.
        The walls in the towers are adorned with various ornaments, symbolic drawings and hunting scenes: Bear Hunt, Fighting Mummers, Wild Boar Hunt, etc. These scenes shed light on various aspects of court life, hunting, and the flora and fauna of Old Rus. The fresco painting in the cathedral towers presents unique samples of monumental art and is an important source of information on the historical and cultural ties of Old Rus and Byzantium.
        Interesting murals have been preserved in the former baptistery of the St. Sophia Cathedral. They include an eleventh - century fresco composition The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. This chamber was made a baptistery at the turn of the twelfth century, when an apse was at-tached to the arch of the cloister. The frescoes preserved in this apse Ч Baptism and the Fig-ures of the Church Fathers Ч are illustrative of the stylistic peculiarities of monumental art of the period.
        The ornamental slate slabs making parapets of the lofts as well as the sarcophagus of carved marble where Yaroslav the Wise was interred in 1054 are unique monuments of Old Rus art. A great role in the interior decor of the cathedral was played by the floors: the central part was of mosaic, while the floors in the aisles, on the lofts and in the burial chamber were of ceramic tiles with a colored slip-glaze finish. A part of the ancient floors has survived into modern times,
        Medieval inscriptions (graffiti) have been preserved in many places on the walls of the cathedral. Of special importance are those which provide us with facts about political and cultural life in Kyivan Rus. The Old Slavic alphabet has survived among the graffiti on the walls of the St. Sophia Cathedral. It has shed light on the formation of the Cyrillic alphabet. Among works of art dating from the eighteenth century is the gilded iconostasis carved of wood, the gilt copper doors in the narthex, and the fragments of wall painting. Of special interest to visitors are valuable examples of monumental art of the early twelfth century Ч mosaics, frescoes and slate relief panel from St. Michael's Cathedral of the Golden Domes Ч which are put on display in the second floor chambers of the cathedral. Comparing the St. Sophia murals with those of St. Michael's, one can trace stylistic changes which had taken place in the monumental art of Old Rus by the twelfth century. In St. Michael's Cathedral murals, the figures are more animated, the postures are varied, and the propor-tions are more elongated. The mosaic tesserae are larger than in the St. Sophia Cathedral, and dominant tones in the mosaic compositions are green in combination with violet, pink and off-white. The murals in St. Michael's Cathedral stress line. This is especially true of the artists' treatment of the Figures' garments. Presumably, eminent artist of Old Rus Alipiy of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra participated in the painting of murals in St. Michael's Cathedral. Today the St. Sophia Cathedral is surrounded by former monastery buildings which repre-sent valuable examples of eighteenth century Ukrainian architecture. The whole ensemble is dominated by a 76-metre-high Bell Tower richly embellished with stuccowork. It lends an inimitable charm to the city's skyline.
        South of the cathedral buildings are the premises of the Refectory, which in the nineteenth century was rebuilt into a heated church Ч the Little Sophia. The unique outline and ex-pressive form of the building are characteristic of Ukrainian Baroque structures. The Metropolitan's Residence, a two-storey monumental structure with a Baroque-style pediment, also underwent reconstruction throughout its existence. Yet, it has retained its eighteenth-century form in general. The building is located opposite the main entrance of the St. Sophia cathedral. It is ranked high among other monuments of eighteenth-century Ukrainian architecture.
        In the first half of the eighteenth century, the Bakery was built in the south-west section of the cathedral grounds; in the nineteenth century it was made into a Consistory. The research carried out on the building has helped us discover its initial form. By the Consistory is located the southern two-tiered entrance tower which was erected in the mid-eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century a part of archives documents from the Consistory was kept here. The tower is crowned with a hemispherical cupola which terminates in a spire.
        North of the St. Sophia Cathedral is the Church Seminary built in 1763Ч1767. Of interest are the window surrounds and the stucco moulding on the upper part of the pilasters. These features were definitely borrowed from eighteenth-century Russian architecture. The building which housed the cells of the cathedral elders is located to the northwest o' the cathedral. It was erected in the 1750s. The building has been altered considerably over the years. In 1970 it was restored, and the ground-floor chambers were returned to their initial eighteenth-century arrangement and appearance. Austere forms and a wooden cloister (reminiscent of buildings constructed in the folk style) lend this structure a unique appearance.
        Approaching the Cathedral from the direction of Streletsky Lane, one can see a section c' the monastery wall erected in 1745Ч1746 that has survived into our times. In the eighteenth century, such a wall encircled the entire monastery. The western part of the wall incorporates the Zaborovsky Gate, a marvellous structure typical of Ukrainian Baroque. The Gate was erected by architect J.-G. Schadel in 1746. It served as a formal entrance from the west into the metropolitan's courtyard. Profuse stucco molding covering the surfaces of the pediment and the Gate's arch testifies to the fact that folk master-craftsmen took part in the enterprise.
        The St. Sophia Cathedral and the surrounding eighteenth-century architectural monuments are of great interest to visitors to the Kyiv.

St. Sophia Cathedral
old photo

The Refectory 
XVIII cent
Western facade

XVIII cent.
Eastern facade

View of the chancel


View of the 
central cupola

"The nativity of the
Early XVIII cent.

The central cupola
XI cent. mosaic

XVIII cent

"The Miracle at 
XVIII cent.

The central cupola
Chist Pantocrator
XI cent. mosaic

Sarcophagus of 
Princess Olga from 
the Church of the 

12h-century mosaic 
from St. Michael's
Cathedral of the
Golden Domes. 
St. Thaddeus

Apses of the
St. Sophia Cathedra

Left part

Right part

Choirlofts. "Abraham 
Ofers Up Isaac"

Choirlofts. South-
west cupola.

Sarcophagus of
Yaroslav the Wise

"The Annunciation"
The Virgin Mary
XI cent fresco

Western inner
cloister. St. Eudoxia
XI cent fresco

South inner cloister.
St. Thocus
XI cent fresco

12th-century fresco 
from St. Michael's
Cathedral of the
Golden Domes.
St. Zachariah

"The Annunciation".
The Virgin Mary

Churches of Kyiv
Home St. Sophia Cathedral Golden Gates  St. Cyril's Church  St. Andrew's Church
Home  Kyiv Map of Kyiv  Photogallery of Kyiv  Map of Ukraine  Travel to Ukraine
Travel to Ukraine
Map of Ukraine
 Design Vitaliy Avramenko   Hosted by
All pictures on this site is for non-commercial purpose only 
¬ы можете использовать все фотографии только в некоммерческих цел€х
Kyiv Photo Gallery
Russian LinkExchange Banner Network
Russian LinkExchange Member

Kyiv 1998-1999