Day 4: Angels and Mummies

Kiev Travel Blog

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The Kyiv metro is the deepest in the world
I love a good cup of coffee in the morning. And luckily for me, so do the Ukrainians! Everywhere around the city (and I mean literally everywhere) there are places for an excellent espresso. From little stalls on the streets to upmarket restaurants, there are plenty of opportunities to satisfy my craving for caffeine. I must say that during my short stay in Kyiv I have taken quite a liking to this city. I could stand to live here for a while, I guess, if only I could ever muster that language which really a necessity to survive here, since very little English is spoken outside the main tourist areas. Though once again, I found people to be much more approachable than in Russia.

Not much time to linger over a cuppa though, since I had some serious sightseeing to do.
Upper Lavra
The prime attraction in Kyiv is the Kievo-Pecherska Lavra, one of only four surviving Lavra, or orthodox monasteries, in the former Soviet empire. The most famous one being the Hermitage in St Petersburg, the Kyiv Lavra is a good second.

Much of the Lavra was  saved from the Stalinist purges by turning it into a state museum, though several of the churches did had not survived WWII. After Ukraine gained independence in 1991, ownership of the Lavra posed a bit of an issue. After 70 years of Soviet rule ownership of the Lavra was disputed and even today the ownership is split between the upper Lavra on the higher hill and the lower Lavra beneath it. The Upper Lavra remains in the hands of the state, features the most architectural interesting buildings, and requires charges an entrance fee, while the lower Lavra, ironically, has the most interesting attractions and is completely free of charge.
Dormition Cathedral
It is recommended to visit both though.

So I started at the upper Lavra, where I was overwhelmed by the amount of golden domes everywhere around. The various cathedrals and churches lie scattered around a squeaky clean courtyard and the whole thing did give me a bit of a Disneyland feel. As the main cathedral was rebuilt from scratch in 2000, and the surrounding churches and monastery buildings have all been renovated, the whole complex looks spanking new.

After a few hours wandering around the churches and marvelling at the frescoes and mosaics inside, it was time to move down to the lower Lavra. Here, more gold-domed churches stood waiting for me and I must say that pretty soon church fatigue was setting in. However, the Lower Lavra holds another unique attraction underneath the churches.
Upper Lavra seen from the Lower Lavra


Underneath the lower Lavra is a complex man-made labyrinthine of tunnels and several underground churches. In here the bodies of dead monks were naturally preserved and mummified by the caves' cool temperature and dry atmosphere. The caves have become a must-see for tourists and Orthodox pilgrims alike, with the hundreds of mummies believed to hold healing powers and answer prayers.

What I liked about the place is that it hasn't become a fancy tourist attraction. Tourists and non-believers are only allowed in certain passages, while only pilgrims are allowed further into the tunnel system for prayer. While there isn't that much to see in terms of actual mummies (all lie in identical glass coffins, wrapped up entirely in identical clothes - there could just as well be sand bags lying inside the coffins as mummies), wandering through these narrow passages, trying to see where you go by the light of the tiny flame from the candle you are holding, is quite a surreal experience.
Blyny time!!

It is recommended not to visit the Lavra during weekends and it is easy to see why, clambering down the tunnels with hundreds of people can be quite a claustrophobic experience, not to mention the fire hazard involved with all these hundreds of people wielding candles.

Lunch was a traditional Ukrainian pancake, a blyny. I had already had these in Russia, and they are utterly delicious, especially with caviar. Uhm, well, if only it wasn't for caviar being all but banned in Ukraine due to serious over-catching of sturgeon. So I opted for blyny's with meat and mushroom instead. 

The last stop of my 'religious' tour was the St Sophia cathedral. The oldest standing church in Kyiv, originally built in 1031. Named and originally modelled after Istanbul's Hagia Sofia (which I hope to see in a few weeks time), this Unesco World Heritage listed site is another must see in Kyiv.
St Sophia and bell tower at night
I guess... I must admit that by now church fatigue had really set in, and I had had my share of gold-domed cathedrals.

However, it was good I did visit the St Sophia, because I noticed signs of some spectacular that was supposed to take place at 20:30 on the 9th. Well, that is today!
So in the evening I went back there to find thousands of people standing in the square, and the cathedral, its bell tower and the surrounding buildings beautifully lit.

At 20:30 music started and several artists, dressed in white, appeared high above the square handing from steel cables which were strung between the bell tower and opposite buildings. The trapeze artists looked like a cross between angels and turn of the century baroque style royals, as they soared high above the crowds dropping eiderdown.
Actually quite impressive when you can't see the wires
The effect was quite cool, and judging from the  crowd's ecstatic response this must have been something really special.

I didn't stay all the way until the end, but went in search for a bite to eat instead. I ended up in a nice Turkish-Ukrainian fusion restaurant where they served kebabs with traditional Ukrainian pastry. Very nice!
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The Kyiv metro is the deepest in t…
The Kyiv metro is the deepest in …
Upper Lavra
Upper Lavra
Dormition Cathedral
Dormition Cathedral
Upper Lavra seen from the Lower La…
Upper Lavra seen from the Lower L…
Blyny time!!
Blyny time!!
St Sophia and bell tower at night
St Sophia and bell tower at night
Actually quite impressive when you…
Actually quite impressive when yo…
Vichnoyi Slavi park
Vichnoyi Slavi park
Vichnoyi Slavi park
Vichnoyi Slavi park
very eerie statue in the Vichnoyi …
very eerie statue in the Vichnoyi…
entrance to the upper Lavra
entrance to the upper Lavra
Upper Lavra
Upper Lavra
Dormition Cathedral
Dormition Cathedral
Bell tower
Bell tower
upper Lavra
upper Lavra
inside the Dormition cathedral
inside the Dormition cathedral
inside the Dormition cathedral
inside the Dormition cathedral
Trinity Gate church
Trinity Gate church
Dormition cathedral
Dormition cathedral
Dormition cathedral
Dormition cathedral
Lower Lavra, seen from the Upper L…
Lower Lavra, seen from the Upper …
Rodina Mat statue in the distance
Rodina Mat statue in the distance
Happy Easter!
Happy Easter!
Easter egg made of, erm, Easter eg…
Easter egg made of, erm, Easter e…
Happy Easter!
Happy Easter!
Kyiv Metro
Kyiv Metro
St Sophia and bell tower
St Sophia and bell tower
St Sophia cathedral
St Sophia cathedral
no idea what it says, but it was a…
no idea what it says, but it was …
crowds have gathered
crowds have gathered
The St Sofia bell tower beautifull…
The St Sofia bell tower beautiful…
The start of the show
The start of the show
Maydan Nezalezhnosti by night
Maydan Nezalezhnosti by night
Vul Kreshchatyk is closed to traff…
Vul Kreshchatyk is closed to traf…
Vul Kreschatyk
Vul Kreschatyk
The rainbow bridge in the distance…
The rainbow bridge in the distanc…
Kyiv by night
Kyiv by night
essential to learn the metro routes
essential to learn the metro routes
and most important to remember whi…
and most important to remember wh…
Kiev
photo by: Biedjee