At the heart of Ukraine's capital you find one of the country's most important attractions: the cave monastery Kiev Pechersk Lavra. Separated into Upper and Lower Lavra, it is home to more than 100 buildings above and below ground, including a number of churches and museums.
Lower Lavra: the monastery
Located at river Dnepr's west bank, in the south of Kiev's city centre, Pechersk Lavra counts over 1 million visitors each year. The focal point of every visit is the cave monastery located at the Lower Lavra. Ukraine's first and most ancient monastery holds relics of more than 120 saints. Moreover, it is still home to a number active of friars. They live inside small cells spread over the extensive artificially built caves. Within this seclusion, they try to approach God in their prayers.
You enter the caves through Gate Church of the Trinity, either with a guide or by yourself. Those who venture underground by themselves will find a number of signs pointing the way; and if you do get lost there are always friars present to assist in case of need. Sparingly lit, the narrow corridors have a very particular ambiance. This atmosphere is enhanced by the range of mummified corpses of monks who have been buried here over the course of centuries.
According to orthodox custom, women are expected to wear headscarfs as well as long, not too open clothes, while men are required to take off their hats.
Upper Lavra and the Site
Back in daylight, you can go for a stroll around the 20 ha area, enjoying the scenery. The hills offer a nice view of the cloister garden as well as river Dnepr. The buildings you will find here are constructed mostly in a 18th century Ukrainian baroque style. Typical orthodox pomp makes for impressive sights from the outside as well as the inside.
Furthermore, you can find various museums at the Upper Lavra. Especially the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine is worth a visit. Among its handcrafts you can find gold works dating back to the Scythian era, such as a golden pectoral from the 4th century BC. Another possibility for some culture is a visit to the Museum of Ukrainian folk art. Or you can go to the miniature exhibition, where exhibits are viewed through magnifiers or microscopes.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra has a long and eventful history. Founded by Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves in the 11th century, the cave monastery is first mentioned in writing by famous chronist Nestor, in the 12th century.
In 1688, the orthodox monastery recieived the honorary title of "lavra", a title only three Ukrainian monasteries have the right to hold today.
It was put under the command of the historical and cultural state reserve under Sovjet power; its caves were closed. One of the complex's most important cathedrals, Dormition cathedral, was destroyed by German occupants in 1941. It was not until Michail Gorbatschow changed the Soviet Union's general direction in the 1980s, that monasterial life returned to Pechersk Lavra. As the Sovjet Union collapsed and Ukraine gained independence, the monastery was returned to the orthodox church.
Since 1990, the cave monastery is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. The destroyed cathedral was rebuilt between 1998 and 2000.
How to get there
Kiev Pechersk Lavra is located at the centre of the Ukrainian capital, on river Dnepr's west bank. It can easily be reached on foot or with public transport (nearest stop: Arsenalnaja). The large area with its numerous orthodox towers is easy to spot.