Kiev Pechersk Lavra has many names. It is often referred to as Kyievo-Pecherska Lavra or Lavra Monastery. A lavra is the senior monastery of the region, while pechersk or pecherska means ‚located in caves'. The Greek monk St. Antony founded this monastery in 1051, after Orthodoxy was adopted as Kyivan Rus official religion. He and his follower Feodosy progressively dug out a series of deep caves, where they and other reclusive monks worshipped, studied and lived. When they died their bodies turned into mummies, without any embalming, due to the caves' cool temperature and dryness of the air. The mummies survive even today - confirmation for believers that these were true holy men.
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The monastery prospered above ground as well. From the XI century the monastery had been undergoing an intensive construction. The Uspenskiy Cathedral, Troitskaya Church and refectory were built on the territory of the monastry. The monastery played very important role in Ukrainian culture development — the first printing-house was established here, many famous chroniclers, writers, scientists, painters, doctors lived and worked there. In 1113 Chronicler Nestor wrote his «Tale of Bygone Years» («Povest vremennyh let») — the main source of knowledge about the times of Kyiv Rus.
Wrecked by the Tatars in 1240, the Lavra went through a series of revivals and disastrous fires before being mostly rebuilt, with its prevailing baroque influences, in the 18th century. It was made a museum in 1926 but was partly returned to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in 1988.
Set on 28 hectares of grassy hills above the Dnipro River, the monastery's cluster of gold-domed churches is a feast for the eyes. The complex is divided into the upper lavra (owned by the government and Kyiv Patriarchate) and the lower lavra (which belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate and contains the caves). Hundreds of explored narrow passages and caves where monks once lived are beneath the lower Lavra. Over 100 bodies remain there mummified in niches carved in stone walls of the caves.
To enter the caves women must wear head scarves and long skirts, men are not allowed in shorts and hats. The Lavra Excursion Bureau sells two-hour guided tours in various languages. As Kyiv’s single most fascinating and extensive tourist site, you will need at least half a day to get a decent introduction.
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To learn more about the history of Kyiv, its religious traditions and eventful past visit Museum of Historical Treasures located at the rear part of Upper Lavra. This museum showcases a rich collection of rare historic items, precious stones, metalwork and jewelry. Its spectacular collection of original Scythian Gold items is the most notable one.
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