St. Sophia’s Cathedral: Europe’s Most Beautiful Church

Incredible churches in Europe are everywhere, but some get much more attention than others. The enormous Notre Dame of Paris or St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City ranked as the best on the continent and accordingly receive massive amounts of tourists. My personal favorite church is much more low-key in both size and fame, yet it’s still the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine doesn’t have the same level of fame as some of its counterparts, yet it’s incredible interior and centuries-old old age make it one of the best in Europe.

From the outside, St. Sophia’s Cathedral is impressive but not overwhelming. The golden-capped Byzantium domes coupled with the green rooftops is appealing enough. The 78-meter bell tower is also impressive. However, it’s not the exterior that makes St. Sophia’s worthy of its Unesco World Heritage designation. Instead, it’s the remarkably preserved interiors that make the cathedral so spectacular.

Photo by Jordan Pickett.
Photo by Jordan Pickett.

The cathedral was constructed back in the 11th century and the frescoes that still line the walls and ceiling are original. The paintings are almost 1,000 years old and look great considering their age. They predate the Notre Dame De Paris by several hundred years, after all. The views from the second-level are fantastic, and the abundance natural light basks everything in a soft glow.

St. Sophia’s Cathedral was named in homage to the equally amazing Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as part of the Byzantine Empire. The monastic buildings on the church grounds, which now house museum exhibits, were built much later in the Baroque style of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The church managed to survive pillaging by Russia and Mongolians, yet it was almost destroyed in the 20th century during the Russian Revolution. Fortunately, the church was spared by the anti-religion revolutionaries and was designated by Soviet authorities as a historic site in 1934.

Why Isn’t It More Famous?

So why is St. Sophia’s Cathedral so little known compared to other European churches? Part of it has to do with the location, as Kiev isn’t the most popular destination for tourists. That’s especially the case in the past few years with Ukraine dealing with ongoing armed conflicts that made some parts of the country unsafe. Kiev, however, is largely unaffected by the fighting.

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Another reason that St. Sophia’s doesn’t get the attention it deserves is that photos aren’t allowed in the interior. This is presumably done to preserve the 1,000-year-old artwork, but it means that it’s difficult for people to get a glimpse at what makes the cathedral so spectacular. As striking as the exterior grounds are, it’s no comparison to the beautiful interior. The upside to all this, however, is that crowds are fairly sparse.

Full admission to St. Sophia’s Cathedral costs 70 Ukrainian Hryvnia (less than $4) and includes admission to exhibits in the surrounding building and the bell tower. You can save a little less than a dollar by opting not to go up the tower, but you’d be missing a fantastic view of the city. The cathedral is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Thursday to Tuesday. On Wednesdays it closes at 5 p.m.

Photo by Jordan Pickett

 

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Photo by Jordan Pickett
Photo by Jordan Pickett

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Karge

Karge

I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?