Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv is an outstanding architectural monument of Kievan Rus’. The 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 along with the Kyiv Cave Monastery complex. Aside from its main building, the cathedral includes an ensemble of supporting structures such as a bell tower and the House of Metropolitan. In 2011 the historic site was reassigned from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Regional Development of Ukraine to the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine. One of the reasons for the move was the fact that both “Sofia Kyivska” 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.
In Ukrainian the cathedral is known as Sobor Sviatoyi Sofiyi (Собор Святої Софії) or Sofiyskyi sobor (Софійський собор). In Russian it is known as Sobor Svyatoi Sofii (Собор Святой Софии) or Sofiyskiy sobor (Софийский собор).
The complex of the Cathedral is the main component and museum of the National Preserve “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.
National Conservation Area “St. Sophia of Kyiv” is a leading museum institution of Ukraine. Its history dates back to 1934. The conservation area includes 6 museums and its storage collections number circa 90 thousand depository units. Among them are the archaeological materials, arts and crafts, architectural construction materials and unique architectural drawings etc.
The activity of the National Conservation Area “St. Sophia of Kyiv” was recognized by the international community. In 1987, the International Hamburg Foundation Jury (Germany) awarded the European Gold Medal for the preservation of historical monuments. In 1990, St. Sophia Cathedral of the 11th c. and its ensemble of the 18th century monastic buildings were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In 1994, by Decree of the President of Ukraine St. Sophia Reserve acquired national status.
National Conservation Area “St. Sophia of Kyiv” is the largest museum complex in Ukraine, the monuments of which are included into tour itineraries of Kyiv – St. Sophia Cathedral of the 11th c., The Golden Gate of the 11th c., St. Cyril’s Church of the 12th c., St. Andrew’s Church of the 18th c. and Autonomous Republic of Crimea – The Sudak Fortress of the 3d –18th c.
St. Sophia Cathedral of the 11th c. is the most outstanding monument of architecture among the properties of the conservation area. Traditionally, visitors begin their discovery of Kyiv and Ukraine with St. Sophia Cathedral. The cathedral is a combination of the best artistic achievements of the Byzantine Empire and Kyivan Rus.
St. Sophia Cathedral is the main church of Kyivan Rus. It was a political and cultural centre of the state. Thus it was a place of the enthronement of princes, consecrations to metropolitanate, receptions of foreign ambassadors and conclusions of political pacts. The first library and scriptorium of Kyivan Rus were founded in the cathedral. The name of the cathedral comes from Greek word “sophia”, which means “wisdom”, i.e. wisdom of Christianity.
Saint Sophia Cathedral has preserved its ancient architecture and ensemble of mosaic (260 sq.m.) and fresco (3000 sq.m.) paintings of the 11th c., which is a unique collection concerning its integrity. A majestic mosaic portrayal of the Virgin Orans in the apse of the high altar is a focus of attention. The image of Orans is called “the Unbreakable Wall”. From ancient times it is believed that as long as the image of the Virgin Orans is in St. Sophia so long the city of Kyiv stands.