This morning we walked around the Lavra Monastery complex in Kiev. The complex is huge, encompassing many Churches, squares, museums and two catacombs. It once housed over a thousand monks, now there are 120 monks (but with an average age of 35, it is not the remnants of a dying community, unlike western European religious centres). The complex was started in 1051 by Saints Antony and Feodosiy during the reign of the Kievian Rus. The catacombs are the oldest part of the complex, with housing and Churches only being developed on the surface after the catacombs were filled in the 11th and 12th centuries.
The complex was quite beautiful, and world heritage listed, but I just wasn’t really feeling it. It was raining and there was lots of standing around listening to tour guides, killing my feet. I think that at this point I was just churched out for the trip. There was one church I found rather amusing though, above the entrance it had a painting of Jesus throwing the merchants out of the church for using it to sell goods, and just past the entrance, like almost every other Ukrainian church we visited, was a small booth selling post-cards, icons and prayer books, without even a hint of irony.
Another interesting part was the museum of micro-miniatures, filled with the art of Nicolai Syadristry under microscopes. At first we couldn’t get in because just as we got there it started raining and the sign on the door clearly said “at the time of atmospheric precipitation exhibition is not function”, but our guide banged on the door until they let us in. There were such pieces as the portrait of V. V. Andreev engraved on a poppy seed, the world’s smallest book (with twelve pages at 0.6mm2), a 3mm hair with “long live peace” engraved on it in five languages, a tiny chessboard on the head of a pin, the world’s smallest watch, a lock only 27 microns across, a flea with tiny horseshoes on its feet, and a portrait of Lenin made by writing his complete works in miniature (a feat which took 12 hours a day for six months).
We also went through the national treasury, which contained gold ornaments from the Scythians, Sarmatians and Cimmerians, dating back to the 4th century when they lived as agricultural communities trading via the Black Sea Greeks. The treasury also had artifacts from the Kievian Rus and old Ukrainian churches.
Finally in Lavra we went to the catacombs. Most of it is used by the monks, but they put aside one corridor for tourists to visit. Lydia couldn’t go in, unfortunately, because the monks are quite aggressive in their policies, and insist that women had to have covered heads and couldn’t be wearing makeup or trousers (they also banned opening your mouth in the catacombs). The atmosphere inside seemed quite unhealthy for human life anyway, with the slowly decaying remains of saints on display in the humid and stifling air.
After Lavra everyone felt relief when we could get off our feet and rehydrate over a slow meal at the nearby CCCP restaurant (with both cheap and good food). We then walked past the Patriotic Museum, with WWII tanks on display, and ‘Rodina Mat’, the defence of the motherland monument, with striking Soviet scenes display in wrought iron along the concrete pass leading to the 62m tall titanium statue of a stern woman holding a sword and shield.
We then caught a taxi to Andriyivsky Uzviz, the winding cobblestone road from the base of Saint Andrei’s Church (built 1754), where Lydia did some shopping, and moved on to Independence Square. Independence Square (and the offshoot road vulitsa Khreshchatyk, which becomes a pedestrian street on weekends) was full of people shopping, talking, hanging out, and (in front of McDonald’s) break-dancing. In front of the post office at the corner, graffiti from the Orange Revolution is preserved under glass as an informal monument. It was very nice to walk around slowly, people watching and having dinner on the street before catching the metro back to our hotel.
Tomorrow we are just going to laze around in Kiev before flying back to Seattle.