Sunday March 30, 2014
Ukraine has an ancient and complex history, with cultural influences from a multitude of sources. It may be difficult to choose what to see in Ukraine, which is why lists such as the Seven Wonders of Ukraine
and Ukraine's Seven Wonderful Castles
are so handy. They narrow down Ukraine's attractions to those that experts and citizens find to be the most significant.
The major issue with these lists is the recent takeover of Crimea
by Russia. Each of these lists has one sight in Crimea, making the lists effectively lists of six items each. However, they are presented as originally voted on when Crimea was a part of Ukraine.
Lutz Castle photo credit: CC BY iSavoch
Friday March 28, 2014
St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
is Ukraine's oldest church, a World Heritage site, one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine, and a must-visit Kiev sight. St. Sophia was built in the 11th century when Kievan Rus
was at its height. Originally, it was constructed with the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (today's Istanbul) in mind, but later renovations, particularly those in the Ukrainian Baroque style, altered its appearance significantly. However, its significance cannot be underestimated. St. Sophia is a monument to Kievan Rus, important for its architecture and interior decorations--which include rare frescoes and medieval graffiti--and recalls the adoption of Orthodox Christianity by Vladimir the Great at a time when the Slavic tribes followed pagan rites and beliefs.
Thursday March 27, 2014
Russia often cites it historical predecessor, Kievan Rus
, when making claims to Ukrainian territory. The relationship is there, but what is sometimes overlooked is that Russia sprang from this medieval state, not the other way around. Kievan Rus left a long and lasting legacy, which affects culture, politics, language, and religion today. After all, it was during this period of rule from Kiev, particularly under the prosperous leaders Vladimir and Yaroslav, that Kievan Rus adopted Orthodox Christianity, which was made easier by the standardization of an alphabet and language after Cyril and Methodius visited the Slavic lands, united under this medieval state. Visitors to Kiev can view a symbol of Kievan Rus in the Saint Sophia Cathedral, which was inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople: When Vladimir chose Orthodox Christianity, he also allied himself with the Byzantine Empire and married the emperor's daughter.
St. Sophia Cathedral photo credit: iStockphoto/lior2
Tuesday March 25, 2014
Independence is an hot topic and strongly felt whenever a threat to that independence is perceived, especially in countries struggled to govern themselves after decades, or centuries, of rule from elsewhere. The countries of Eastern Europe that belonged to empires or survived under oppressive regimes, take their independence seriously. Independence days in Eastern Europe
are celebrated with parades, ceremonies, concerts, and speeches, and it's typical to see the national flag flown from houses and businesses on this day. Some countries actually celebrate more than one independence day owing to the events of history.
Flag Flown in Vilnius for Lithuania Independence Day photo credit: Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com