Saint Sophia Cathedral is the most important historic construction in Kiev. It is one of the most famous landmarks of the city and the first architectural monument that was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Saint Sophia Cathedral is the most precious Christian marvel of Eastern Europe and one of few remained buildings dated back to Kievan Rus. The cathedral was the main church of the state and it was perceived not only as spiritual, but also as political and cultural center. Here took place such events as church-rates, receptions of various ambassadors and confirmations of political treaties.
Saint Sophia Cathedral was erected at time of great prosperity of Kievan Rus, which was a powerful state at that period. The leader of the state was Yaroslav the Wise, who is known for his enlightenment campaigns, which includes building of libraries and schools. Yaroslav the Wise is a great example of well-educated ruler, who cared about cultural and spiritual development of his state. Under his administration Kievan Rus became an advanced, flourishing European state.
Creation of Saint Sophia Cathedral began around 1017 – 1037. Its name “sophia” means “wisdom” and the Cathedral was to become a symbol of Christian wisdom. Saint Sophia Cathedral was highly appreciated by its contemporaries and was considered to be a man-made miracle, amazing work of art.
For its centuries-long history the Cathedral survived through robberies, assaults, partial rebuildings, make-overs and repairs. One of the greatest attacks was committed by Batu Khan, who left Kiev in ruins and devastated Saint Sophia Cathedral. It was also greatly damaged in the 16th century, when Poland and Ukraine were trying to unite catholic and orthodox churches. At this period Cathedral was almost ruined: its roof decayed and a lot of wall paintings had gone.
In 1697 great fire destroyed wooden buildings of Sophia’s monastery and Petro the first ordered to build a new one, this time out of stone. Construction continued till 1767. During this period around Saint Sophia Cathedral were erected bell tower, monastery canteen, bakery, House of Metropolitan, western gates (Zborovsky gates), Monastic Inn, Brotherhood campus and bursa (seminary). All of these buildings as well as the Cathedral after the reconstruction have distinctive features of Ukrainian Baroque.
After the Revolution of 1917 the government wanted to destroy the Cathedral (as a part of its antireligious campaign of the 1920s) and transform free space into a park. The cathedral was saved from destruction mostly with the help of many scientists and historians. Although the opposite St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery was destroyed in 1935. However in 1934 Soviets confiscated the structure from the church, including the surrounding seventeenth–eighteenth century architectural complex and made it into an architectural and historical museum.
In 1980’s – 1990’s politicians promised to return the building to the Orthodox Church. Because of various conflicts within the Church the return was postponed as all Orthodox and the Greek-Catholic Churches wanted to get it. There were couple of harsh clashes between them. Most memorable was the funeral of Patriarch Volodymyr of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 1995, when riot police were forced to prevent the burial on the premises of the museum and a bloody clash took place.
After all these events no religious organization has yet been given the rights for regular services. The complex remains a museum of Ukraine’s Christianity, with most of its visitors being tourists.
In 2007, the Saint Sophia Cathedral was named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine, based on votes by experts and the internet community.