The ancient spirit and fairytale elegance of the Ukrainian capital: an intoxicating tour of Kyiv history

14 May 2019

The Ukrainian capital’s most iconic street – Andriyivskiy Uzviz – is full of secrets and alive with legends.

Officially, Kyiv’s main street is Khreschatyk.

However, if you are looking for the street that best captures the ancient spirit and fairytale  elegance of the Ukrainian capital, then all roads lead to Andriyivskiy Uzviz.

This cobbled and meandering avenue winds down from the historic heart of medieval Kyiv to the riverside Podil district that once served as the commercial heart of the entire Kyiv Rus state. As Andriyivskiy Uzviz twists and turns on its way towards the Dnipro River, the street offers an intoxicating tour of Kyiv history.

According to the legend, Andriyivskiy Uzviz takes its name from St. Andrew the Apostle, who visited the hillside in the first century and prophesized the emergence of a great holy city here.

Legend has it that at the time, virtually the entire area lay beneath a vast inland sea, with only a few hilltops emerging above the water. When St. Andrew erected a wooden cross on the high point, where St. Andrew’s Church currently stands, the waters dramatically subsided to their current levels, leaving the Dnipro River flowing far below and creating the distinctive hillside panorama that has served as Kyiv’s calling card for two thousand years.

The church built on the site of this legendary visitation remains one of Kyiv’s most photogenic landmarks and the central feature of the Andriyivskiy Uzviz architectural ensemble.

St. Andrew’s Church dates back to the mid-eighteenth century. It is the work of the famous Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who designed it for Russian Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. The church is a masterpiece of the baroque style and is reminiscent of Rastrelli’s many imperial palaces including the Ukrainian capital’s own Mariyinskiy Palace, which sits some distance further along the Kyiv hills.

St. Andrew’s Church is notable for the absence of a bell tower. This lack of bells is often linked to the belief that the ringing of church bells at this site would cause the ancient inland sea previously vanquished by St. Andrew to miraculously return, thus flooding Podil and Left Bank Kyiv (while no doubt playing havoc with flight schedules at Boryspil International Airport). Other significantly more plausible explanations for this absence of bells also exist. Probably, as the church was to be a personal place of worship for Empress Elizaveta, it actually had no need for bells to call the congregation to prayer.

The numerous legends of Andriyivskiy Uzviz could comfortably fill an entire book, but there are a few landmarks of particular interest. Those looking to learn more about the street would do well to begin at the “Museum of One Street” (2b Andriyivskiy Uzviz). As the name suggests, this quirky and award-winning museum offers a detailed history of Andriyivskiy Uzviz, including some great images depicting the street during different epochs. It is a treasure trove of information and boasts over 6,500 exhibits.

The street has a large number of memorial plaques and monuments, one of them is a statue of Kyiv Rus ruler Yaroslav the Wise.

Kneeling, Yaroslav presents the city as a gift to His Heavenly Father. Yaroslav’s face is filled with higher light, love and hope. The image is extremely expressive and unforgettable.

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