Founded in 880AD, Kievan Rus was a medieval state which combined the now, modern Ukraine, western Russia, and Belarus. Kiev and Novgorod being the centre, this civilization was renowned for its architectural achievements. The architecture of Kievan Rus is among the earliest of Russian architectural style and the building techniques were greatly influenced by the Greeks and Byzantine architecture.
The Kievan Rus period marked its end in the 15th century as they eventually were invaded by the Mongol Horde. The Kievan Rus era was eminent for its church architecture, which were built after the acceptance of Christianity in 988AD and were the initial examples of monumental architecture of the state.
Originally, the Kievans constructed their cathedrals and other buildings with timber but with the amalgamation of the Greek and Byzantine styles, new stone churches were introduced of which the 10th century Church of the Tithes was the first to be built.
The Kievan Rus Christian structures’ characteristics consisted of the signature onion domes, Zakomar arches of Russian architecture, Greek cross form of western architecture, and were adorned with frescoes and mosaics painted by Greek master artists.
Here is the list of 15 Kievan Rus Christian structures every architect must visit.
1. Saint Sophia Cathedral, Novgorod (1045-52)
On the western bank of the Volkhov river in Russia, a masterpiece of Kievan Rus Christian architecture, the St. Sophia Cathedral, sits majestically. The cathedral was the first stone structure built during its period and expresses a unique style of local Russian church architecture.
With its austere walls, narrow windows, 5 domes, the cathedral showcases the glorious past of Novgorod. The frescoes and various textures adore the walls and introduce a picturesque effect into the interiors of the cathedral.
2. Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Novgorod (1113-1136)
Located in the heart of Veliky Novgorod, the cathedral of St. Nicholas was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. This 12th century five-domed cathedral is the oldest structure in Yaroslav’s Court.
Unlike the St. Sophia Cathedral, this cathedral has the signature helmet domes of Byzantine architectural style. The interior walls of the cathedral still contain the original fragments of frescoes.
3. Cathedral of John the Baptist, Pskov (1129-1136)
The ancient Ivanovsky cathedral is considered to be one among the finest of Kiev Rus Christian structures, crowned by three helmet domes and built in a minimalist style. The round windows of the cathedral were a unique addition to the typical Kiev Rus architectural style.
The later extensions on the cathedral have altered the original appearance. The remains of the original frescoes which used to decorate the interiors of the cathedral has been preserved.
4. The Peryn Chapel, Novgorod (1120s)
Also known as the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady in Peryn, the church, despite its size, looks astonishingly huge from the interiors with high ceilings. The spacious three portals lead the visitors to the interiors decorated by the remaining frescoes in the lintels of windows.
The unadorned facades of the church display the minimalistic style in which the church was built. The notable cross on the dome of the church includes a crescent though it does not connect with the Islamic religion, and is known as the Grapevine Cross as an interpretation of the Gospel of John.
5. The Transfiguration Cathedral, Pereslavl-Zalessky (1152-1157)
The single sea-green domed cathedral is one among the earliest of white stone Kievan Rus Christian structures of north-western Russia. This brilliant limestone church set in a lush green background has a strict décor.
The interiors were decorated with frescoes which however didn’t survive thus leaving the church with complete plain interiors. Presently, the cathedral has been converted into a museum dedicated to Aleksandr Nevsky.
6. Kideksha Church, Kideksha (1152)
Built on the banks of Nerl River, The Church of Boris and Gleb is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a part of the White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal.
Built with limestone, the church was the site of a monastery during the medieval period. The structure has been significantly altered resulting in the loss of its original vaults and domes. The frescoes dating back to the 12th century can be seen on the arches above the altar in the interiors of this church.
7. Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir (1186-1189)
Dormition Cathedral, presently a part of a World Heritage Site and the White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, was once a mother church of medieval Russia in the period of 13th – 14th century. Formerly built in the 1160s, the five domes and six pillars of the cathedral were expanded in 1185 – 1189 to express the grandeur of Vladimir.
This magnificent cathedral with its golden domes was the largest Kievan Rus Christian structure for the next 400 years from its construction. Unlike many other Kievan Rus churches, the exterior walls of this cathedral are decorated with embellishments. The original frescoes were repainted in the interiors during the 14th century.
8. Cathedral of Saint Demetrius, Vladimir (1194-1197)
Located in the ancient city of Vladimir, St. Demetrius cathedral is a part of the White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal and also belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Made with limestone, the exterior walls are differentiated into three bays of which the middle bay being the larger. The shallow carvings on the facades are a unique striking feature of the cathedral.
The cathedral of St. Demetrius seems to have multiple architectural influences from both the eastern and western parts of the world. The presence of frescoes belonging to the 12th century can be seen in the entrance.
9. St. Michael the Archangel Church, Smolensk (1180-1197)
This single-domed church is one among the three churches of Smolensk’s Kievan Rus Christian architecture. The feature which differentiates this church from others is the absence of Zakomar arches which is a prominent architectural characteristic of churches belonging to the medieval period.
The unique 900 years old fresco paintings can be sighted on the arches of the church which expresses the ancient Russian artistic style.
10. St. George’s Church, Staraya Ladoga (1180-1200)
One of the oldest churches in Russia and belonging to the Kievan Rus architectural era, this church is believed to be built inside an existing fortress and hence the explanation for a limited area of 72 square meters. The interiors of domes and walls of the St. George’s Church are decorated with frescoes painted by Greek artists.
11. Cathedral of the Nativity, Suzdal (1222-1225)
The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the eight White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal. The structure is one of the most complicated monuments of Russian medieval architecture.
Surrounded by a ring of earthen walls on the banks of the Kamenka River, the Cathedral is made of white Tufa stone and adorned with limestone. The interiors of the cathedral consist of ancient art, unique icons that display the ancient Russian arts. The five blue domes of the cathedral are ornamented with golden stars thus illustrating the night sky.
12. Katholikon of the Antoniev Monastery, Novgorod (1122)
This monument is the main church in St. Antony monastery and one of the oldest churches belonging to Russian medieval architecture. This church is different from the typical churches of Kievan Rus architectural style.
This church was initially made with bricks, unlike the other ancient churches which were built with wood. The interiors of this three-domed church are well-lighted with a large number of windows. Small fragments of the original frescoes can still be seen inside the church. The church was considered to be exceptional compared to the other monuments of its period.
13. St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, Smolensk (1146)
One among the three ancient monuments in Smolensk, belonging to the Kievan Rus architectural style, this “naked” church instantly attracts the visitor’s eye. The single helmet domed church’s walls and windows were previously painted of which only fragments of these frescoes remain to date.
14. Golden Gate, Kyiv (1100)
The Golden Gate was the major gate in the fortification of Kyiv, the capital centre of Kievan Rus in the 11th century. After the dismantling of the structure in the middle ages, the Gate was reconstructed completely in 1982. The most astounding feature of this monument is the Church above the passage.
As an abstract of “the heavenly protection of the city”, the church was completely active as a religious monument. The floor of the church is decorated with mosaics which can also be seen in the Cathedral of St. Sophia. This can be said as one of the splendid recreations of the ancient Kievan Rus Christian structures.
15. Transfiguration Monastery, Murom (1096)
Located on the banks of River Kotorosl, Murom Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery, also known as Transfiguration Monastery, was built for defensive as well as religious functions. Presently, the monastery remains as an Architectural and Artistic Museum.
The Saviour Cathedral which was once the main cathedral of the monastery is the oldest surviving building in Yaroslavl. The interior of the cathedral is decorated with frescoes and displays the charm of ancient art.
Transfiguration Monastery, Murom ©wikipedia.org