When you travel to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, you will find yourself in a city that has a rich and turbulent history. Centuries ago this city was fought over by Russians, Tatars, Lithuanians, Poles, and the armies of the Habsburgs. At one time it rivaled Constantinople in importance. But after its destruction by the Tatars in 1240, Kiev would take over six hundred years to regain some of its former glory. In spite of further ruin brought to the city by two world wars in the twentieth century, Kiev is once again emerging as one of the great capitals of Europe.
Once you have settled into your accommodations in Kiev, you will want to take a historical tour of the city. This should begin with the Upper Town of Kiev. The staff in your Kiev hotel will have information on how to get to this part of the city. The history of early Kiev is to a large degree the story of two men, Volodymyr (Vladimir) the Great and his son Yaroslav the Wise. Your walking tour of the upper town can start at the junction of two main streets that bear their names; Yaroslaviv Val and vulitsya Volodymyrska. This is the location of the Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gate), which in ancient times was the entrance to the fortified city. This gate was built by Yaroslav in the 11th century and was named after the golden dome of the Church of the Annunciation which stood on top. The Tatars ruined the gate and the church in the sacking of 1240, and what you see now is a restoration that was completed in 1982. It is allegedly faithful to the original design. There is a museum inside in which visitors can learn more about ancient Kiev. This site also provides some great views of the city. The Kiev Opera and Ballet Theatre is just a block away.
From the Golden Gate, walk north on vulitsya Volodymyrska, and you will pass the grim looking SBU building, home of the Ukrainian successor to the KGB. Continue on and you will come to Misto Yaroslava (Yaroslav’s Town). The most important building here is Sofiysky Sobor (St. Sophia’s Cathedral). This 11th century church was built in honor of Yaroslav’s victory over the Pechenegs. It was modeled after the Haiga Sophia in Constantinople. During the 17th century it was enlarged, but the nave, the four parallel aisles, the thirteen cupolas, the central mosaic of the Virgin Mary, and some of the frescoes all date from the 11th century. In the northeast corner you can see the marble tomb of Yaroslav.
During the Soviet era much of the upper town was destroyed by an administration that had little regard for Ukrainian heritage. However, the damage is gradually being repaired. Accommodations in Kiev are plentiful, but if you’re traveling on a budget, there is an economical alternative to Kiev hotels. In Kiev, apartments that are well serviced and private are available through agencies.