The city of legend

By | Travel
Monument to the founders of Kiev. Credit@Alexxx Malev

According to the Orthodox Legend, the 400 year old prophecy of the Apostle Saint Andrew was fulfilled through four siblings of royal Slavic descent. In search of a new civilisation to build as their home and family had been previously jeopardised, they stumbled upon the entwining Dnieper River that flowed before seven luscious green hills. The brothers Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv and their sister Lybid chose this location for their settlement and called their new creation ‘Kyiv’, named after the eldest of the four. Kyi named one of the hills Borichev to rule upon, Shchek made the Shchekovitsa hill his home and Khoryv took a third hill as his own, the self-titled Khorevitsa.

1,500 years later, the Kyiv (otherwise known as Kiev) of today stands as the capital of Ukraine and one of the most important Eastern European cities; home to around 4 million residents. During its long and persevering history, it managed to host the Ottoman Empire, Hungarians, Swedish princes, Varangian pagans, Mongolian Tatars, Lithuanian leaders, Polish Cossacks, Jewish communities, the Russian Empire, German Nazis and, most recently, the Soviet Union.

Golden Gate Credit@wikipedia

Golden Gate Credit@wikipedia

Kiev is embellished by a beautiful selection of classical architectural landmarks. The Golden Gates (Zoloti Vorota) had once served as an entrance to the ancient city; initially constructed by ‘Yaroslav the Wise’ in 1024 and successfully rebuilt in recent times with a museum depicting its and Kiev’s past. A short stroll up Vladimirskaya Street leads to Yaroslav’s other jewel, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, an outstanding World Heritage Site built with the same original grandeur and charm. It is common knowledge that the cathedral was made to rival Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia and may also be a stone imitation of its oaken sibling in Novgorod, built as a sign of gratitude to its citizens for helping Yaroslav gain Kiev’s throne. 2011 marked the 1000th anniversary of the complex and just 80 years ago its function changed to that of a museum where Yaroslav’s grave is kept, having once also hosted numerous other princes in its time.

Upon Berestov hill beside the Dnieper River lies the spacious 11th century complex Kiev Pechersk Lavra, translated literally as ‘Kiev Monastery of the Caves’. Painting a magnificent view from across the water, it is surrounded by woodland and composed of more spectacular cathedrals, bell towers and fortified walls. The most intriguing attraction here is the numerous underground cave systems which preserve the remains of mummified monks who had followed the missionary and catacombs founder, Anthony. The spiritual atmosphere is retained as visitors light their way through the musky corridors with candles that throw creative shadows over the walls. It is said that the Pechersk Lavra gained its global reputation from 17th century travellers’ rumours of the caves stretching underground as far as Moscow and Novgorod.

Andreyevskiy Descent. Credit@AntonyStanley via Flickr.com

Andreyevskiy Descent. Credit@AntonyStanley via Flickr.com

The cobblestoned Andriyivskyy Descent is an admirable source of culture, hosting St Andrews Church, the mysterious Neo-Gothic haunted house ‘the Castle of Richard the Lionheart’ and the home of Michael Bulgakov, a famous 20th century Russian writer. This street is busy with market stalls selling souvenirs, decorations of interest and thriving art galleries.

A short walk past the National Historical Museum of Ukraine leads to the city’s main street, Kreshchatyk (a derivation of the word ‘cross’), named after the great Baptism of Kievan Rus’ in 988AD. Over a kilometre long, the street holds a pleasant social air, allowing a break from traffic where pedestrians may walk and shop at their leisure on most weekends. Major celebrations and parades are organised on Kreshchatyk and plenty of musicians and entertainers come down to showcase their talents. Restaurants and cafes serve a wide variety of food, where the traditional Ukrainian borsche (betroot soup) and mlyntzi (pancakes) come highly recommended.

Maidan (Independence Square), otherwise known as the European Square, can be found halfway into Kreshchatyk and has been the traditional location for national and political events; including the last decade’s Orange Revolution and the recent and ongoing Euromaidan. A large fountain flows at the side of the square where the legendary four siblings supposedly watch over the city through the monument to the Founders of Kyiv.

What other cities around the world have been known to flourish through past legends?

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