by Paul Nedwell

IN 1982 THE PEOPLE OF UKRAINE are celebrating the 1,500 anniversary of the founding of the city of Kyiv. Soviet Ukrainian historians and others do not all agree as to the actual founding date of the city of Kyiv; but, regardless of this, one of the beneficiaries of the celebrations marking the 1,500 anniversary of the founding of "the mother of all Rus cities" might well be one of Ukraine's oldest surviving historical monuments - the Golden Gates of Kyiv. In conjunction with these celebrations, the authorities have deemed it appropriate that restoration should at last be undertaken of this important ancient structure of the Ukrainian past.

Already back in 1971, a Soviet Ukrainian historian, Serhiy Vysotsky, in an article which appeared in the October 29th issue of "Literary Ukraine" in Kyiv, had some words to say on the matter. In the article, entitled TheGolden Gates of Kyiv, Vysotsky gave a brief historical account of theGolden Gates and of the half-hearted measures taken to preserve thisancient structure. And, in it, he asked:

"But are these measures adequate to preserve the monument? We must admit with sadness that they are not. In spite of regular upkeep, the Golden Gates are progressively falling into ruin. Even over the past few decades their appearance has markedly changed. Back in the 1920s, there was a large slide of bricks in the passageway near the western wall. Several smaller slides occurred during the Great Patriotic War. These slides are the result of atmospheric precipitation and drastic changes in temperature, from which the monument is not protected in any way. Exposed to the open sky, the ancient brickwork simply cannot be protected by existing means forever. Such half measures as shoring up or repairing are not good enough. More effective measures must be applied if the monument is to be preserved.

Vysotsky then goes on to speak of the measures that should be taken to restore and preserve this precious reminder of a princely Ukrainian past. He goes on to state that it is imperative that reconstruction of the Golden Gates be done in such a way as to include the original remains of the most ancient walls in the organic whole of the reconstructed Golden Gates. Only in such a way, he states, will this architectural wonder of the Kyivan Rus period of Ukrainian history truly be preserved for future generations. Now perhaps with reconstruction finally underway, we will finally see Vysotsky's hopes realized.

The remains of the Golden Gates of Kyiv stand in a small public park at the corner of Volodymyrska and Velyka Pidvalna Streets. Before reconstruction began, all that remained of the Golden Gates were two parallel stone walls. The distance between them was 7.5 meters (approximately 25 feet), their height 9 meters (approximately 30 feet),and the thickness of each wall 3 meters (approximately 10 feet). Iron rods had been used as braces and crisscrossed between the two walls. Abutments had been added to the outside wall, and the tops of both walls were each covered with an iron roof.

IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 11th CENTURY, the nomadic Pecheneg tribe began to attack the Ukrainian populace living in the border regions of the Ukrainian state of Kyivan Rus. And, in the year 1036, the Pechenegs approached Kyiv itself, stopping just before the city ramparts. It is said that the Ukrainian sovereign of Kyivan Rus at that time, King Yaroslav the Wise, was extremely distressed at seeing this enemy encampment just outside his great city. Knowing it would not be an easy task to rout the Pechenegs, it is said that he prayed fervently to the Blessed Virgin Mary, promising her that he would build a church in her honor if he obtained victory in the difficult battle ahead.

There was indeed a fierce battle for possession of the city of Kyiv; but, though the military might of the Pechenegs was great, King Yaroslav inflicted a devastating blow upon the army of the Pechenegs and virtually drove them off Ukrainian soil. With the war over, he ordered the construction of the magnificent Cathedral of St. Sophia on the spot where the decisive battle took place. He also ordered the construction of the metropolitan church, the Monastery of St. George and the Convent of St.Irene.

Since it would also be necessary to protect this new part of the city with walls and ramparts, King Yaroslav ordered the construction of new fortifications. And, through these new walls and ramparts, he also ordered the construction of a strong main gateway - the Golden Gates. The other new gates were the Liadsky Gate on the eastern side and the Lvivsky Gate on the western side.

And how did these Golden Gates look during those distant times? According to archeologists, the structure was a huge rectangular tower with a high arch, its upper part of decorative masonry. Overlooking the field were three tiers of apertures which also served as windows. The high stone arch itself was nearly 25 meters (approximately 82 feet) long,7.5 meters (approximately 25 feet) wide and nearly 12 meters (approximately 39 feet) high. The foundation of the stone walls of this great gateway were lain to a depth of 3 meters (approximately 10 feet). Great stone blocks of granite and quartzite were used as construction material and a rose-colored limestone mixture was used as a mortar. The arched walls were more than a meter (roughly 3 feet) in thickness and were constructed with intermittent layers of natural stone and yellow and red bricks. The layers were mortared with the aforementioned rose-colored mortar.

On top of this structure stood a small stone church, the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a single golden dome resembling the surviving Trinity Gate Church of the Kyivan-PecherskaLavra. The church was ornamented with frescos, ceramics and woodcarvings.

The gate itself was reinforced and decorated with metal. The entranceway could be closed off with heavy doors of oak panels bound together with sheets of gilded copper. The arch itself was crowned with notches and semicircular niches, an architectural feature peculiar to the architecture of Kyivan Rus. Outside, the structure was girded by a deep moat spanned by a drawbridge.

In the year 1048, a French delegation arrived in Kyiv. King Henry I had authorized his envoys to ask King Yaroslav for his eldest daughter's hand. The Golden Gates were ceremoniously opened on this occasion. The French were struck by the beauty of the capital of Kyivan Rus with its golden domed churches, strong ramparts and distinctive wooden houses and mansions of stone.

In the National Library of Paris, there can be found royal deeds with the seal of Princess Anna Yaroslavna of Kyivan Rus. The seal depicts an iris,the symbol of royalty, and a gate, which, according to French experts, depicts a stylized version of the Golden Gates of Kyiv.

And so we come back to the present fate of the Golden Gates of Kyiv. In an article, "The City's Golden Gates," by Olexander Yemchenko, which appeared in the July 1981 issue of the Soviet Ukrainian publication "Ukraine", we read:

"So, the Golden Gates have not sunk into oblivion. Their builders meant them to stand forever; and, so they will, restored to their original beauty, as our forebears' message to many more generations to come.

"A protective superstructure will soon restore the look of Kyiv's Golden Gates to what it had been some nine centuries back."

This writer for one looks forward to seeing the Golden Gates of Kyiv restored to their former splendor and glory.


Asyeyev, Y S. "Architecture of Kyivan Rus from the 10th to the Beginning of the 12th Century:'' In: History of Ukrainian Art, "October' Press, Kyiv, 1966, Vol. 1, pages 148-155.

Nedwell, Paul. "The Golden Gates of Kyiv: A Historical Sketch and Commentary" In: America: Ukrainian Catholic Daily, Philadelphia, February 17, 1972, No. 32, Vol. LXI, pages 3-4.

Vysotsky, Serhiy. "The Golden Gates of Kyiv" In: Literary Ukraine, Kyiv, October 29, 1971.

Yemchenko, Olexander. "The City's Golden Gates" In:Ukraine, Kyiv, July 1981, No. 7 (S9), pages 12-13.


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Copyright © 1982 Paul Nedwell

Reprinted from FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 52, Fall 1982

since January 18th 1998