Kiev, named after one of the four legendary founders of the city, is settled along the Dnieper River and is one of the most important cities in Eastern Europe. This Slavic settlement has been previously ruled by the Vikings along with its neighbours Lithuania, Poland, and eventually Russia at different periods. Incidentally, the architecture of Kiev was also influenced over the last 14 centuries. The cityscape of the capital city of Ukraine boasts of golden domes and spires of churches along with recently added high-rise apartments. The streets of Kiev combine more than 30 architectural styles, which are reflected in the unique cityscape. Some of the most prominent architectural styles in the city are Ukrainian baroque, neo-Gothic, constructivism, Soviet monumental neoclassicism, and neo-modernism.

An overview of Kiev’s architecture - Sheet1
Kiev cityscape along Dnieper River_ ©britannica.com

Architecture is highly influenced by factors like religion, culture as well as politics. The architecture of 12th century Kiev is deeply rooted in the Christian faith, with structures such as monasteries and castles built during that era. The Ukrainian baroque style saw its emergence in the 16th century with dramatic forms and simple ornamentation, reminding the city of the higher power and the authority of religion. Although many of the structures were destroyed during the Communist regime, one will still find some of the architectural marvels of Kiev representing its vast culture and history. Following World War II, the architecture of Kiev saw the influence of the Soviet Union leading to neoclassical, functional, grey structures.

Kiev Monastery of the Caves (Kiev Pechersk Lavra)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kiev Monastery of Caves is an ensemble of monastic structures founded by St. Anthony in the 11th century which overlooks the Dnieper River. The complex of labyrinth caves expands more than 600m with unique surface and underground churches for monks of Eastern Orthodox Church along with residential buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. The entire fortified complex comprises bell towers, numerous cathedrals, and cave systems. The complex is dominated by golden and green spires and roofs along with the green landscape that gives the architecture of Kiev a unique identity. The underground network of spiritual caves and catacombs is a shrine full of mummified monks and religious relics. This incredibly unique piece of the system of Ukrainian Christianity has been part of Ukraine’s mythology.

An overview of Kiev’s architecture - Sheet2
Kiev Monastery of Caves_ ©Shutterstock

Some of the structures that make the complex a world heritage site are the Great Lavra Bell Tower, Dormition Cathedral, The All Saints Church, and the Near Caves. Designed by a German Baroque architect Johann Gottfried Schädel, the Great Lavra Bell Tower is a four-storied Neoclassical piece of architecture surmounted with a gilded dome. One of the unique features of the bell tower is the decoration of architectural columns on each storey. The second storey is decorated with 32 Dorian columns, the third storey with 16 Ionic columns, and the fourth storey with 8 Corinthian columns. The Dormition Church was a victim of the Second World War, where the German and Soviet troops blamed each other for the destruction of this Ukrainian church. No efforts were put in for the restoration of the church until 1995, after Ukraine obtained its independence and reconstructed the church within two years.

An overview of Kiev’s architecture - Sheet3
Lavra Belltower_©wikipedia.org
An overview of Kiev’s architecture - Sheet4
Reconstructed Dormition Church_©wikipedia.org

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev

Saint Sophia Cathedral was the first monument of Ukraine to be inscribed on the World Heritage list and is the best example of Byzantine architecture in the city of Kiev. Built in the 11th century, the cathedral was named after the Hagia Sophia of then Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and took two decades to complete. While there have been theories about who sponsored the construction of the cathedral, in 2011, both UNESCO and Ukraine agreed that the cathedral was founded by Vladimir the Great in 1011. Ukraine officially celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the cathedral in 2011. Over centuries, the cathedral has survived multiple attacks, invasions, and civil wars. Eventually, the restoration of the cathedral was commissioned in 1633, where the Byzantine interiors were preserved, and the upper part of the structure was distinctively done in the Ukrainian Baroque style. The cathedral has five naves, five apses, and 13 cupolas, along with retained mosaics and frescoes in the interior.

An overview of Kiev’s architecture - Sheet5
Saint Sophia Cathedral_©wikipedia.org

Golden Gate

The Golden Gate of Kiev is one of the most important historical monuments from the Kievan Rus period. Kievan Rus was a loose federation from the 9th to the 13th century in Eastern and Northern Europe, and the current modern nations of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine claim to be the cultural ancestors of the same. The importance of the Golden Gate as a historical marvel was elevated when it was known that it was the entrance to the fortified section of Kiev city. It was partially destroyed in the 13th century by the Mongols but remained in use as a passageway till the 16th century. The Golden gate was found in ruins and excavated in 1832 and only some of the brick and stone walls along with portions of the arches were recovered. After its reconstruction in 1982, the monument was open to the public with a museum as well as a chapel inside. The Golden gate pays homage to the earlier architectural marvel that got lost amidst the many invasions and wars.

An overview of Kiev’s architecture - Sheet6
Golden Gate Kiev_©wikipedia.org

House with Chimaeras

Built in 1901 by Polish architect Wladyslaw Horodecki in Art Nouveau style, the House of Chimearas earned praise for the Polish architect who came to be known as the Antoni Gaudi of Kiev. There is a general misconception that the Chimaera refers to a creature in Greek mythology, but in the case of this structure, Chimeara decoration is an architectural style where animal figures are applied as decorative elements to the building. The ornate sculptures of exotic animals and hunting scenes were sculpted by Italian architect Emilio Sala. The use of the building has been changing over the years, with Horodecki using it as his apartment building and eventually selling it for communal living during the Russian revolution. After multiple changes in ownership, the House of Chimeara is now the official presidential residence, used for official and diplomatic ceremonies.

An overview of Kiev’s architecture - Sheet7
House of Chimearas_©wikipedia.org

Hotel Salyut

A wave of modern brutalist structures was designed by Ukrainian architect Abraham Miletsky during the 1970s and 1980s. Hotel Salyut was one of those structures which comprises 89 rooms and a spiral ramp running along the inside cylindrical passage. The project took place with the influence of the Communist Party and was intended to be a skyscraper. However, due to political reasons, the project began to decelerate and could not complete the intended number of floors. The Hotel Salyut remains an iconic piece of modern brutalist architecture in the city of Kiev.

Hotel Salyut_©alluringworld.com

The architecture of Kiev is majorly influenced by neighboring European styles of architecture with Ukrainian Baroque turning out to be a significant style. The city’s architectural marvels have suffered major blows during various revolutions and invasions. Yet, Kiev has come up and restored its history and culture with its true champion spirit.

References:

  1. Kiev (Last updated : Apr 2, 2022)

Available at : https://www.britannica.com/place/Kiev  

  1. Kiev Monastery of Caves (2016)

Available at : https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/cave 

  1. Bethan Morgan (2017). The Caves of Kiev, A Sacred Monastery 

Available at : https://theculturetrip.com/europe/ukraine/articles/the-caves-of-kiev-a-sacred-monastery/ 

  1. Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev

Available at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Sophia_Cathedral,_Kiev 

  1. Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Available at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiev_Pechersk_Lavra 

  1. Hotel Salute

Available at : http://www.alluringworld.com/hotel-salute/ 

Author

Poornima is an architect from the city of Pune. Being a heritage enthusiast, she loves to explore the various threads of architecture, culture, and ecology that tie a community. She hopes to bring about a change in the perception of development in India.

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