A Walking Tour of Kyiv

I had prepared a rather lengthy post for yesterday, to mark the black-anniversary of December 6th, 1240 – the day when the Mongols finally broke into Kyiv and completely destroyed the city. I was going to accompany that history with a photo essay (of my own photos even!) about contemporary Kyiv – but the site difficulties persisted for most of the day, and by the time they were resolved there was only time to quickly toss up a short text version for the date.

You can find that here.

But the quick summary is that Kyiv had grown from very little before 1000 into, by the early 13th century, the second largest city in Europe – with a population of 50,000 making it second only to Paris – and the leading eastern outpost of civilization.

That changed abruptly on December 6th, 1240.

In any case, I business-travel to Ukraine quite frequently, and in April 2007 I was actually “stranded” (by scheduling) in Kyiv for a weekend. Spring was just creeping into bloom, but the weather was strangely marvelous. So by popular demand from yesterday’s post, I’ll try to assemble here a “walking tour” of Kyiv. If nothing else, I guess that this can go into the “cultural upliftenment” category.

To set the mood, get this going.

I have no idea what the guy was doing with the photos, since they’ve got nothing to do with Kyiv. This is just a clever way to imbed six or so minutes of music to provide appropriate accompaniment for the photos and text that follow.

The view from the bluffs (the reason for the location of Kyiv) overlooking the Dniepro, looking eastward over the vast plains that stretch off into central Asia.

Upon those bluffs, Prince/Saint Volodymyr keeps watch.

The magnificent St. Michael’s monastery. The original, which dates to 1108, was destroyed by the communists in 1936; it was rebuilt to match the original, and re-opened in 2001.

The (appropriately) stark and disturbing memorial commemorating the “Holodomor” at the main gate of St. Michael’s.

St. Andrei’s cathedral, which is “different” in some ways because it had an Italian architect.

The memorial statue of the great Ukrainian national hero Bohdan Khmelnitsky.

After leading a successful revolt against Polish rule in 1648, Khmelnitsky tried to form an alliance with the Russian tsar, only to find out that the tsar didn’t accept allies – only vassals. Khmelnitsky was enraged, but after a few days of fuming he realized that his only other choice was to return Ukraine to Polish rule. He thus became an unwilling vassal of the tsar, and Ukraine became a Russian vassal until 1991. Khmelnitsky is a tragic hero.

The St. Sophia monastery, with its magnificent bell tower.

The recreated Zoloti Vorota, the legendary “Golden Gate” which is best-known from the famous Mussorgsky/Ravel use as the final scene in “Pictures at an Exhibition” as “The Great Gate of Kiev.”

With the original having been destroyed in 1240, only stories and legends persist – no one knows what it actually looked like. This rendition was actually a Soviet-era creation, built in the early 1980s – as far as I can tell, because the Intourist people noticed that they were always being asked, “Where’s the ‘Great Gate?’” When I was there in April 2007, this recreation was in pretty rough shape, as the photo shows. It always amazes me that Roman construction is still good after 2500 years, but Soviet construction is crumbling after 25. Fortunately, the Zoloti Vorota underwent a massive renovation later in 2007, and has had its majesty restored. But at least the location is apparently correct; the street along which I was standing to take that photo is clearly along the bottom of the old moat that ran outside the city walls.

The lovely St. Volodymyr cathedral.

The first hints of spring in Kyiv’s wonderful (and extensive) Botanical Gardens.

The famous statue of Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian national poet.

Shevchenko was a 19th century poet who got himself into all sorts of trouble for having the gall to write in Ukrainian (rather than Russian) – and for glorifying the Ukrainian cossacks (who resisted Tsarist control).

Spring blooms in Kyiv.