Saint Sophia of Kiev – one of the oldest temples of the Kievan Rus – Kiev Private Tours
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kiev saint sophia
23 Oct

Saint Sophia of Kiev – one of the oldest temples of the Kievan Rus

St. Sophia Cathedral is an outstanding temple complex of the XI century in Kiev, a historical monument-museum, which includes: the bell tower of the XVIII century, the House of Metropolitan, the seminary (school), Zaborovsky Gate and the ancient temple itself. Here the excursions are held all the time; Sophia Cathedral is included in all routes around the city, as it is one of the main attractions of the city.

Saint Sophia in Kiev


This beautiful monument dates back to the 11th century. Sophia was the second stone building of Kiev; it was built by Yaroslav, the son of Prince Vladimir. Construction began in 1037, lasted for a relatively short time – only 3 years, as a result of which a magnificent Byzantine church appeared at the crossroads of the four major roads.

St. Sophia Cathedral was conceived not only as a religious center, but also cultural and social. In addition to the fact that for two centuries it was home to Metropolitan of Kievan Rus, it also was a place to greet embassy delegations, and a building of bursa – a school for children, where they taught literacy and the Law of God.

Over the centuries, the temple has repeatedly been destroyed, plundered and suffered from fires. In 1169, it was Andrew Bogolyubsky who plundered Sophia, and in 1240 it was Batu. In 1280 the cathedral was on fire. From 1497 to 1630 the history of Sophia was infamous: after another ruin by the Tatars, the temple was inactive for a long time, and only in the middle of the 12th century metropolitan Peter Mogila returned the temple to life as a part of Orthodox church.

Sophia of Kiev

In the Soviet years, the temple did not function, and only towards the end of the 20th century, the works on restoration and its transformation into a museum and temple complex began: hundreds of frescoes and mosaics were cleared, and internal furniture was restored. Now the cathedral annually welcomes thousands of tourists who can see the monumental cathedral in its original form.

Kiev Sophia: did you know that…?

There are many interesting facts:

Today, Sophia is white, but the ancient masters did not plaster it;

Cathedral in Kiev is one of the three world Sophias (“wisdom” in Greek). One cathedral is in Polotsk (Belarus), the second – in Istanbul, now it does not work;

All the Sophias, including one in Kiev, are World Heritage Monuments, protected by Unesco;

Zaborovsky Gate of Saint Sophia Monastery

Once the sarcophagi of prominent political figures of Kievan Rus were stored in cathedral: Vladimir Monomakh, Yaroslav the Wise and others;

St. Sophia is the place where Yaroslav the Wise founded first ancient library of the principality.

When the dome was cleaned, it became clear that four archangels surrounding Christ Almighty almost did not survive (only one in the blue dress is still there). The rest was drawn by the great Russian artist Vrubel in 1884. This is not the only temple with the works of this master.

Saint Sophia: information for tourists in Kiev

St. Sophia Cathedral, like the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, is beautiful museum and temple complex with paid entrance, as well as any other exposition.

Every year, many people come to Kiev to see the real treasures of the temple, carefully restored for descendants in their pristine form. It is not only 260 square meters of smalt mosaic and almost 3000 square meters of frescoes, restored by talented masters of the XIX-XX centuries, but also a unique mosaic of the Virgin Orans. Her image consists of slices of smalt of 177 shades. It is interesting because it is one of the few images of the Mother of God without a baby, in a prayerful pose with arms outstretched.

Here you will also find main characters of the Christian doctrine. They are depicted in strict order according to the “celestial hierarchy”, which corresponded to the hierarchy of feudal society.

All the preserved mosaics of Sophia of Kiev are the originals of the 11th century. In places where the mosaics was damaged, oil paintings were performed in the XIX century.

At the zenith of the central dome, in a medallion with a diameter of 4.1 m, we see a monumental image of a half-figure of Christ the Almighty.

In the piers between the windows we see twelve apostles; unfortunately, only the upper part of the figure of Paul is mosaic.

Also in the Cathedral there is the Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise, where his remains rested.


  • The belfry of St. Sophia Cathedral was built by Hetman Ivan Mazepa. Its height is 76 m. It still holds a large bell “Mazepa”, cast by the Kiev master Afanasy Petrovich in 1705 by order and means of the Hetman. The bell weighs 13 tons, its height is 1.25 meters. The bell is covered with magnificent ornamentation and the coat of arms of Hetman Mazepa is cast on it.

Bell Tower in Kiev

  • Until now, scientists do not know where the library of Yaroslav the Wise, which allegedly was located in the cellars of St. Sophia Cathedral, has gone. None of the excavations found it. The only mention of it refers to 1037 in the “Tale of Bygone Years”, written by Nestor the Chronicler. It is believed that there were about a thousand books. Perhaps, they are hidden in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.
  • The cathedral has the largest collection of frescos (3000 sq.m.) and mosaics (260 sq.m.) of the XI century preserved. Most “graffiti” are of religious content. Basically, these are prayers to forgive this or that person. On one of the walls there is an inscription made by Prince Bryaslav. He asks the Lord to help him, “sinful and wretched.”
  • In 2008 Sophia was given back its iconostasis – the Royal Gates – openwork railing with a picture of the saints. It was made in 1747-1750 by Kiev masters. However, in the 30s of the last century the Soviet government decided to remelt the Gate. There are only 11 fragments left. Using these fragments and the surviving drawings, the shrine was restored. It took 104 kg of silver.
  • In Sophia, experts find not only prayers, but also inscriptions of a secular nature. For example, on one of the walls an unknown author wrote: “Kozma that (the thief) – stole the meat. Aspen on your head. Amen!” Some inscriptions are with humor: “Learning to write, Thomas the eunuch wrote it”. The graffiti has been crossed out several times. Perhaps it was Thomas himself.
  • During the construction of the cathedral in Kiev, a new tax was introduced: everyone who entered the city on horseback had to bring a few stones with him. As the historians say, from the outside, Sophia was stern and majestic, inside it struck with gold mosaics and luxurious paints of frescoes. Even in those distant times, Sophia of Kiev was considered a true architectural masterpiece.

Thus, Sophia of Kiev is a must visit place during your stay in Kiev. So, If you want to do a tour inside St. Sophia and also visit top attractions of Kyiv, book private city tour with Kiev locals HERE.

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Kate Dobromishev

Tour Guide in Guide me UA / English language / Private Tours in Kyiv

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