Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, was once a major center for Eastern (Greek Orthodox) Christianity. From the time of conversion under Volodymyr the Great in the 10th century until its destruction by a Tatar army in 1240, Kiev was a place of pilgrimage. Christians from all over Eastern Europe would travel to Kiev to worship in its churches and visit its monasteries. Today, tourists staying in accommodations in Kiev can visit one of the most resplendent religious centers in the country.

The Kievo-Pecherska Lavra (Kiev Pechersk Monastery) is three kilometers southeast of the town center, within easy reach of any Kiev hotel. This is a complex of churches, caves, gardens and museums in which you could easily spend a whole day. The site dates back to at least 1051, when it was first mentioned in chronicles. For the religious faithful who still travel to Kiev, it is the country’s oldest and most revered holy site.

To reach the Pechersk Monastery from your Kiev hotel, go to European Square and head up vulitsya Mykhayla Hrushevskoho. You will pass the Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts, the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Ukrainian Supreme Council. At the Arsenalna metro station the street becomes vulitsya Sichnevoho Povstannya (Street of the January Uprising). This leads to the monastery.

The monastery grounds are extensive, spreading down to the Dnieper River. The view of domes and cupolas rising above the wooded hills is an impressive sight. The monastery gets its name from the labyrinth of underground passages, chapels and caves (pechercha) that has been hewn out of the rock. Almost miraculously, the monastery survived the onslaught of the Tatars, and remained an important center for Orthodox Christianity throughout the Middle Ages. It acquired its Ukrainian baroque appearance in the 18th century. It became a museum during the Soviet era. As of 1988, most of the monastery has been returned to the Orthodox Church.

The monastery can be toured in two parts. Most of its sights are on the upper grounds, on top of a hill. Here you can see the 12th century Holy Trinity Gate, some beautiful frescoes, 600 kg censer, and the ruins of an ancient church. The Refectory Church (still in regular use) has a large and gorgeously decorated dome. For a spectacular view, go to the 18th century Great Lavra Bell Tower. Visit the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, and then go to the second part of your tour, the caves.

Christian monks once lived in these caves in almost complete isolation. They received nothing but food from the outside world. When they died, their bodies were wrapped in cloth and kept in the caves, where they became mummified. The best way to see the caves is by guided tour. All visitors must buy a candle and carry it. There are dress codes for men and women. Visitors who come to see the monastery will find that in addition to fine Kiev hotels, comfortable and affordable Kiev apartments are also available.

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