I love Kiev for its green hills, wide river Dnieper and architecture of the old city centre. This city just feels cosy and warm to me. Out of many sights, which I could recommend for a tourist to visit, my favourite would be Kiev Pechersk Lavra (‘pechersk’ meaning ‘in the caves’ and ‘larva’ is a name for a high ranking monastery). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was included in a list of 7 Wonders of Ukraine.
Ages ago, to be more precise – in the 11th century, an Orthodox monk called Anthony travelled to the holly Mount Athos in Greece, came back and decided to settle in Kiev, in a cave in a hill above river Dnieper. Over the years, he was joined by the followers, who also found home in the same system of caves.
The following grew and Veliki Kniaz (Grand Prince) of Kiev Izyaslav I ceded the whole mountain to the monks. Over the years, the territory of the monastery was filled with churches and various monastery buildings, though the caves remained. Over the centuries, some of the churches were damaged or demolished, but at the moment they’re rebuilt to their former glory and can be seen by anyone, an attraction for both pilgrims and tourists alike.
Here’re some tips for you, if you decide to plan a visit to Kiev Pechersk Lavra:
- You should know that women should cover their heads when entering the territory. You can either bring your own scarf or buy one in a gift shop.
- Although, partially a museum, showcasing ancient relics, it is still a functioning monastery. It is advised not to wear anything too short or revealing – basically, don’t wear shorts and a tank top, even if it’s too hot. If you later decide to visit the caves, you will be given a sort of an apron/sarong to cover your legs, if you do happen to wear a mini.
- Lavra is set on a large territory on a hill overlooking Dnieper, with lots of cobbled walkways going up and down. Comfortable shoes – a must!
- I’d suggest for you to set aside half a day for this visit to be able to fully appreciate it. All of the churches are beautiful in their own way – be it Great Lavra Belltower, impressive Dormition Cathedral or a cosy Church of the Nativity of the Virgin. You can either pay for a guided tour or walk around with a leaflet. When I went to Lavra for the first time, we took a private tour – it’s amazing how much interesting information a guide can share, and not just the official book version, but also some interesting stories and myths. My vote goes to a guided tour option ;)
- Unless you have a serious case of claustrophobia, you should definitely visit the caves! It is a bit spooky, walking the dark narrow corridors, with candles in hand, deep under ground with dead bodies of monks and saints laying in niches in the walls. However, it’s just amazing to see this part of history first hand. It’s unbelievable, how monks actually lived in these caves, before the monastery above was built! And even more unbelievable is the state of the bodies – they do not decompose, some say it’s due to special climate conditions in the caves, others – due to their divinity. It’s up to you to choose what you believe, but in any case, it cannot leave you unimpressed. Those caves became the last resting place for such historical figures as bogatyr (war hero, defender) Ilya Muromets, Pope Clement I, Yuri Dolgoruki and many others. Walking those caves is definitely an experience you won’t forget.
- Here’s Lavra’s website (English version) for you to plan a visit (you’re welcome ;)
- And, finally, I’m sure you’ll be famished after all the walking. If you exit Lavra from the upper gates, you can find a very cool restaurant, Tsarske Selo, with Ukrainian cuisine just a short walk away. It’s not cheap, but that is the place to go, if you wish to try authentic Ukrainian food. (Tastes differ, but I liked it a lot and, hopefully, so will you :)
I’d like to thank Nina Ruban for the photos of Lavra – you can find more of her photos by visiting her website.
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