Saint Sophia Cathedral

Kyiv, Ukraine

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, is an architectural monument of Kyivan Rus. The former cathedral is one of the city's best known landmarks and the first heritage site in Ukraine to be inscribed on the World Heritage List. Aside from its main building, the cathedral includes an ensemble of supporting structures such as a bell tower and the House of Metropolitan. One of the reasons for the move was that both Saint Sophia Cathedral and Kyiv Pechersk Lavra are recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Program as one complex, while in Ukraine the two were governed by different government entities. It is currently a museum.

The complex of the cathedral is the main component and museum of the National Sanctuary 'Sophia of Kyiv' which is the state institution responsible for the preservation of the cathedral complex as well as four other historic landmarks across the nation.


The cathedral is named after the 6th-century Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), which was dedicated to the Holy Wisdom rather than to a specific saint named Sophia. The first foundations were laid around 1011-1037, but the cathedral took two decades to complete. The structure has 5 naves, 5 apses, and (quite surprisingly for Byzantine architecture) 13 cupolas. It is surrounded by two-tier galleries from three sides. Measuring 37 to 55 m, the exterior used to be faced with plinths. On the inside, it retains mosaics and frescos from the 11th century, including a dilapidated representation of Yaroslav's family, and the Orans.

Originally the cathedral was a burial place of the Kievan rulers including Vladimir Monomakh, Vsevolod Yaroslavich and the cathedral's founder Yaroslav I the Wise, although only the latter's grave survived to this day.

After the pillaging of Kyiv by Andrei Bogolyubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal in 1169, followed by the Mongol invasion of Rus' in 1240, the cathedral fell into disrepair. It was greatly rebuilt in its modern splendor in the 16th century when the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was trying to unite Catholic and Orthodox churches. Following the 1595-1596 Union of Brest, the Cathedral of Holy Sophia belonged to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church which commissioned the repair work and the upper part of the building was thoroughly rebuilt, modeled by the Italian architect Octaviano Mancini in the distinct Ukrainian Baroque style, while preserving the Byzantine interior, keeping its splendor intact. The work continued under the Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa until 1767. During this period around Holy Sophia Cathedral a bell tower, a monastery canteen, a bakery, a 'House of Metropolitan', the western gates (Zborovski gates), a Monastic Inn, a Brotherhood campus and a bursa (seminary) were all erected. All of these buildings, as well as the cathedral after the reconstruction, have distinctive features of Ukrainian Baroque.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and during the Soviet anti-religious campaign of the 1920s, the government plan called for the cathedral's destruction and transformation of the grounds into a park 'Heroes of Perekop' (after a Red Army victory in the Russian Civil War in Crimea). The cathedral was saved from destruction (the opposite St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery was destroyed in 1935) primarily with the effort of many scientists and historians. Nevertheless, in 1934, Soviet authorities confiscated the structure from the church, including the surrounding 17th–18th-century architectural complex and designated it as an architectural and historical museum.

Since the late 1980s Soviet, and later Ukrainian, politicians promised to return the building to the Orthodox Church. Due to various schisms, and factions within the Church the return was postponed as all Orthodox and the Greek-Catholic Churches lay claim to it. Although all of the Orthodox churches have been allowed to conduct services at different dates, at other times they are denied access. A severe incident was the funeral of Patriarch Volodymyr of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate in 1995 when riot police were forced to prevent the burial on the premises of the museum and a bloody clash took place. After events such as those no religious body has yet been given the rights for regular services. The complex now remains a secular museum of Ukraine's Christianity, with most of its visitors being tourists.



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Founded: 1037
Category: Religious sites in Ukraine

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4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

HISTRO zhang (2 years ago)
Most valuable part is the bell tower, when u on top could really enjoy the view. Also the main church is worth to visit. And others just so so.
Anastasia Borysiuk (2 years ago)
Big complex of churches and museums with a panoramic view on a square. Highly recommend to visit the Bell tower (75m high), which is right on the main enter. It’ll cost 60 UAH and it’ll definitely worth it
MELİH AŞANLI (3 years ago)
It has a breathtaking structure. Those who want to climb the bell tower will experience the feeling of height after the first floor. There's enough space upstairs on the first floor. The view is spectacular especially in the evenings and cristmas time. The cathedral is one of the oldest and best examples. Mysterious architecture is a marvel. It is already under UNESCO protection. Narrow doors, arched passages, wall frescoes take you on a journey through time.
Ivonig Corfmat (3 years ago)
The visit of the cathedral was a nice experience. We were a but disappointed by the side buildings / museum which didn't add too much value to the day (but are very cheap to access) but entering the main cathedrale Sainte-Sophia and going on top of the entrance tower was a wonderful experience. The inside of cathedrale is very rich in decoration and the view from the bell is astonishing.
Daniel Bar (3 years ago)
Come here to experience Byzantine Architecture and some history. Note that you are looking at a mishmash of time periods and styles in one “frame”. The faded and stylish drawings are the originals, the simpler style ones are much more recent renovation efforts. The QR codes directing to an online guide are helpful. Go upstairs to see an original, vivid old-style mosaic taken from another church before it was demolished. Visit the balcony and gaze down on the first floor, as the royals did at this very spot some 1000 years ago.
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