The Sophia Cathedral or St. Sophia of Kyiv was built during the reign of Prince Yaroslav the Wise to commemorate a great victory gained by the Kyivans at this site over the Pechenehy, who had been constantly threatening Kyiv and devastating Rus lands.
The Sophia Cathedral
The Sophia Cathedral suffered destiny of many structures of Old Rus. It was ruined in the 13th c. during the Tatar invasion and subsequently suffered many times from wars and religious strife.
Metropolitan Petro Mohyla restored the cathedral in 1633. During the 17-18th cc, as a result of many alterations, the cathedral acquired the architectural aspect which has come down to us. During this time an ensemble of buildings in the style of Ukrainian baroque was created around the cathedral consisting of the Metropolitan's palace, the refectory church, the belfry and the fence.
Of unique value, from the scientific and the artistic points of view, are the ancient mosaic decorations in the cathedral, which ornament the principal altar, the central dome, the arches and pillars. The art of mosaic inlay work, which was widespread in Byzantium, was further developed in Kyiv. Employing smalts, the artists of the 11th c. created remarkable pictures.
Most of the ancient frescos were covered by later oil paintings. As a result of research work conducted within the cathedral, the original frescos were discovered. Of considerable interest are the portrait representations, discovered in the central nave, of the members of the family of Yaroslav the Wise: his wife Irina and three daughters — Anna, Yelizaveta and Anastasia. On the opposite side two figures of his younger sons have been preserved. The image of Yaroslav the Wise, which was painted on the western wall, has not come down to us.
The frescos of the two staircase towers depict the life and manners of Old Rus. Here we have hunting scenes, dances, performances of musicians, buffoons, and so forth.
A precious specimen of artistic carving is the white marble sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise. Also worthy of attention are the bronze gilded doors in the western wall with ornaments of the 17th c. and the filigree carved wooden iconostasis of the 18th c.
The cathedral and the entire set of buildings are of great cultural value for the Ukrainian people. It has therefore been declared a state monument-museum.