Kievo-Pecherska Lavra – a World Heritage Site:
The word Lavra is used to describe high-ranking monasteries for monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Kyiv’s World Heritage Lavra is the city’s most extensive and amazing sightseeing attraction. Locally called Kievo-Pechersk Lavra, the name of the monastery is also translated as Kiev Cave Monastery, Kiev Caves Monastery or the Kiev Monastery of the Caves. The word Pechera means cave.
The Lavra or Monastery of the Caves was founded by its inhabitants at the beginning of the 11th century.
It’s believed that Antony, a Greek Orthodox monk from Monasteriki returned to Rus and settled in Kiev as a missionary of monastic tradition to Kyivan Rus. He chose a cave at the Berestov Mount that overlooked the Dnieper River and a community of disciples soon joined. Prince Iziaslav I of Kiev gave the whole mount to the Antonite monks who founded a monastery built by architects from Constantinople.
The architectural expansion to the part of the monastery above the ground began under the monastery’s first abbot, Fedossi. The caves then served as subterranean tombs for the monks. The monastery has been divided into two parts since that time. The Upper Lavra on the mountain and the Lower Lavra consisting of the so-called Near and Far Caves.
The Mongolian-Tartar attack did a lot of damage to the monastery and the first attempt to rebuild the monastery dates back to the second half of the 15th century. The subterranean labyrinth of the near Caves is more than 500m long and the single caves are connected with one another through passageways. The mummies of the monks are laid out in the passages.
The Kiev Pechersk Lavra contains numerous architectural monuments, ranging from bell-towers and cathedrals to underground cave systems and strong stone fortification walls. The main attractions of the Lavra include the Great Lavra Bell-tower, a landmar k feature of the Kiev skyline, and the Dormition Cathedral – destroyed in World War II and fully reconstructed in recent years.
Other churches and cathedrals of the Lavra include: the Refectory Church, the Church of All Saints, the Church of the Saviour at Berestove, the Church of the Exaltation of Cross, the Church of the Trinity, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, the Church of the Conception of St. Anne, and the Church of the Life-Giving Spring. The Lavra also contains many other constructions, including: the St. Nicholas Monastery, the Kiev Theological Academy and Seminary, and the Debosquette Wall.
The walk to the caves is along a long, steep and uneven road downhill so good walking shoes is recommended. No photography is allowed inside and you can buy a candle to light your way through the caves. Torch lights are frowned upon.
The caverns are a very complex system of narrow underground corridors (about 1-1.5 metres wide and 2-2.5 metres high) and in some spots you do have to bend a little to pass through. Because it’s a busy place, you also have to keep moving along and can’t linger around.
We are told that there are coffins of 120 monks in the caves, although these days they no longer bury monks down there. It seems that the bodies of the monks were naturally mummified and we were told that the temperature in the caves is about 15C. We’re here in summer and it’s actually quite hot in the caves and definitely not the 15C temperature that we were told about. It may be that with so many tourists going through the place and the burning candles, it’s got much hotter these days.
To get a adequate appreciation of the complex will require at least a half day visit and we’ve only just scratched the surface during our visit here.