The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate is a unique fortification monument, some parts of which have survived until nowadays.

 It was constructed in 1017-1024 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise.

Historians still quarrel as to the origin of its name. Some of them think it reminds the famous entrance to Constantinople. Others consider that to pass it through one had to pay a coin of gold. The third version says it took its name from gilded decorations.

However the Gate was originally named the Southern. It was one of the three passes to the city.

Prince Yaroslav 10 times enlarged Kiev territory and built a stone fortification around it. Though it stretched for only 2.5 miles, so that one could walk round it for less than an hour, it was a great city for that time. Foreigners compared its beauty with the capital of Byzantine Empire. As the chronicle goes, it had 400 churches and 8 markets in it.

The two other gates were Lvivsky located nearby today’s Lviv Square and Ladsky at present Maidan Nezalezhnosti(that is Independence Square).

 Prince Yaroslav the Wise destroyed powerful Pecheneg hordes that had regularly attacked Kiev. The place of Golden Gate building is the very site of their final battle. Before the battle Yaroslav prayed and begged the Virgin to help him promising to build a church. To fulfill his promise he ordered to top the gate with the gilded-domed Annunciation church. The total height of the Gate and the church was about 30 m. Until 1699 it was decorated with the image of Our Lady of Kazan.

Contemporaries are said to call the Golden Gate the Sky Gate. They admired how the rays of the rising sun as if passed it through.

In front of the Gate there was a large moat 15 meters wide and 8 meters deep. Its traces can be seen nowadays.

The Gate has never been destroyed from outside. Some historians assume this defensive structure to be impregnable. Others say it was inconvenient and unprofitable to storm the city here because of the topography.

In any case even Baty-Khan having Chinese siege machines stormed the less fortified Lvivsky gate and destroyed the Golden gate only from inside.

The crown jewel of Polish kings – the Szczerbiec sword – has a notch from which the sword got its name. According to the legend it formed when Boleslaw II hit the gate with his sword.

They say, some other invaders observed this ritual too. Being unable to get into the city through the gala gate they hit it and stormed another, more vulnerable gate.  

Since 1240 the Golden Gate was gradually falling into ruins. Despite its poor condition it was often used for ceremonies up to the middle of the 18th century. The hero of our national liberation struggle Bohdan Khmelnitsky passed it through after his victory over Rich Pospolyta troops in the battle of Yellow Waters. So did Russian ambassadors in 1654, the year of Ukraine and Russia union.

In 1751 the local military engineers considered the ruins to be dangerous to pass through and buried it into the earth wall.

The second birth of the gate occurred 80 years later. But the archeologists succeeded to excavate only two badly damaged walls. Visiting Kiev the Russian Tsar Nicolas I ordered to preserve the historical monument. The walls were stitched with metal ties and reinforced in so many ways that it became rather difficult to recognize the Gate.

 In the XXth century neither the Civil nor the Second World War damaged the Gate. But the walls gradually collapsed under the impact of natural phenomena. So in 1970ies it was decided to construct a pavilion that would protect the ruins and reproduce the original look of the gate. The pavilion was opened in May 1982. It was timed to the celebration of the 1500 anniversary of Kiev foundation.

Unfortunately we have no image of the Gate dated to Kiev Russ so its reconstruction is a scientific guess basing on the remnants measurement and the view of similar structures of Novgorod and Pskov.

While wondering inside let’s try to find the very ruins of the 11th century building. Look at the walls nearer to the floor. They are made in a (точно!) mixed brickwork.  Do you see it? There are rows of big stones and thin plinfa bricks, fastened with pinkish solution. (It has such a color because of the added ceramic).

On the right and on the left side of the gate there are restored sections of the shaft with an exposition space inside. There is a staircase leading to the crest of defensive earthworks with a beautiful view over the city. If you go up there, you will be able to take beautiful photographs. But be careful going upstairs: the sealing is too law in some places.

And will also be able to visit the church. As you know, it was almost completely destroyed, so today interior is not original, it is only an imitation. Archeologists found small mosaic cubes and pieces of fresco plaster. These findings suggest that the church was decorated with mosaics and fresco paintings. That is why its floor was arranged to resemble the floors of St. Sophia cathedral built in the same period.

To facilitate the vaults special jugs called golosniki were used. Their name comes from the Russian word golos that means voice. To put them inside walls was a common way of improving church acoustics in ancient Russ.  

On the gate walls signs graffiti were found. For historians graffiti mean texts or pictures scratched on the walls by visitors. The name came from the Italian to scratch.Graffiti may tell some interesting facts and show the educational level of ordinary people. They make clear the ability to read and write of those society sections, who were considered to be illiterate.InKiev region graffiti is one of the main sources of information about speaking and spelling of old times as there were no birch-bark letters here like those in Novgorod.
As most of the old Russian graffiti are written on the walls of temples, they often contain prayers to God or a saint.Sometimes there alsoare humorous texts and jokes or evenmagical spells. It seems funny that a widely-spread modernwritingI have been here could be found on the ancient walls as well. Many graffiti contain an exact dateof their inscription, thus being important historical, linguistic and palaeographic sources.