Saint Sophia’s Cathedral is a monument to Byzantine art and architectural styles. Dating back to the 12th century, the baroque church took 20 years to build, and features 5 naves, 5 apses, and 13 domed cupolas on a cross-in-square plan.
The cathedral’s proximity to the Royal Palace made it a regular site of events like coronations and the signing of treaties. Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, during whose reign the cathedral was finished, founded Ukraine’s first library there. Many rulers have been interred in the cathedral over the years. Prince Yaroslav’s sarcophagus has been there since his burial, though his remains are believed to have been carried off during World War II.
Between 1169 and the 1585, the cathedral changed hands many times and was significantly damaged. During its reconstruction in the 1600s and early-1700s, baroque details like pear-shaped cupolas were added, as were a bell tower, a residence for the Metropolitan (local church head), and ornamented western gates. It was during this time that the exterior was stuccoed and whitewashed and the central cupola was gilded.
Frescoes and mosaics that date back to Saint Sophia’s origins decorate the interior. The most famous piece is the 20-foot stone and glass mosaic of the Virgin Mary praying, thought to be indestructible since it survived the centuries of punishment the church suffered. Since 1934, having survived post-Russian Revolution plans for its destruction, Saint Sophia has mostly ceased functioning as a church and been used as a museum of Ukraine’s Christian history.