Yaroslav the Wise was a versatile and talented personality. Among his many virtues was his talent as a builder. During his reign, the size of Kiev grew several times over, many other cities and fortifications were built, educational institutions were organized, and churches and monasteries were constructed. Most of the objects from this era have come down to us in altered form, but this does not prevent us from making conclusions about the scale of construction.
The city is first mentioned in “The Tale of Bygone Years” in 1071. There are several legends about its founding, but there is no evidence to confirm any of them.
Several large constructions are associated with Yaroslav the Wise’s Kiev principality. Construction took place in different places and for different purposes.
Construction in Novgorod
The origins of this courtyard date back to the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries. The phrase “Yaroslavl courtyard” was first mentioned in the Hypatian Chronicle under the year 1149, which rules out the possibility of this toponym arising in connection with the name of another Russian prince.
The relatively late but still preserved fragments of the ancient Novgorod Chronicle, the Novgorod III Chronicle (under the year 1030), explain the origin of the name of the area “Yaroslavovo dvorishche” as follows:
«…The great prince Yaroslav lived in the Trade Land, near the Volkhov River, where now stands the stone church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, which is still called Yaroslavl courtyard.»
This remark is important because archaeologists have never been able to find the remains of the princely palace.
During the reign of Yaroslav the Wise in Veliky Novgorod, the Yuriev Monastery was built, which later became the spiritual center of the Novgorod land. One of the oldest male monasteries in Russia was founded in 1030. It was named after George, the heavenly patron of Yaroslav the Wise. In Russia, the names George and Yuri were not distinguished. Initially, the monastery consisted of a wooden complex of two buildings – the Yuriev Monastery itself and the Cathedral of St. George. In 1119, Mstislav the Great laid the foundation for the stone St. George’s Cathedral. Today, Yuriev Monastery includes St. George’s Cathedral, which is the main temple, the Exaltation of the Cross Cathedral, the Savior Cathedral, and a bell tower that is 52 meters high.
Construction in Kiev
In Kiev, a large-scale project was carried out to strengthen the city, which included the construction of a new defensive line and the Golden Gates from 1019 to 1026. The length of the fortifications was 3.5 kilometers. The fortifications were earthen ramparts with wooden walls reaching 16-18 meters in height, with three entrances organized within them. The most durable was the central entrance – the stone Golden Gates, fragments of which have survived to this day. In front of the gates, there was a moat about 8 meters wide and 15 meters deep. The gate was crowned by the Church of the Annunciation, built in honor of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Mother of God, the patroness of Kiev.
Saint Sophie Cathedral
In addition to fortifications, Orthodox churches were also built. The main acquisition of Kyiv during the reign of Yaroslav was the Hagia Sophia, the construction of which lasted about 10 years from 1037 to 1047. It was founded on the site of the victory over the Pechenegs in 1036. Architects from Constantinople took part in the construction of the main stone cathedral of Ancient Rus’. At the cathedral, a metropolis, a book-writing school and a library were established. The library at St. Sophia Cathedral is the first library in Rus’.
Saint Sophia Cathedral became the spiritual center of all of Ancient Rus, and it was here that the first Metropolitan of Russian origin, Illarion Rusin, sat in 1051-1054. The cathedral has been well preserved to this day, but several reconstructions have significantly changed its appearance. It was here that Yaroslav found his final resting place, where he was buried after his death in 1054.
Churches of St. Irene and St. George
Also in 1037, two churches were built in Kiev in honor of the heavenly patrons of the princely couple. They were located along the main street of Kiev, opposite each other. The first church was named after St. George, while the second was named after St. Irene, the heavenly patroness of the wife of Prince Ingegerd. One of the first female monasteries in Rus operated near the Church of St. Irene.
The consecration of the Church of St. George took place between 1051 and 1054, as, according to the Old Russian church collection Synaxarion (Prologue), the consecration was carried out by Metropolitan Illarion. The fate of both churches was tragic. The Church of St. Irene was almost completely destroyed during the siege of Kiev by the hordes of Khan Batu in 1240. Only ruins and one of the four pillars remained, which were dismantled in 1840 during the construction of Vladimirskaya Street. The Church of St. George also suffered from the Mongol attack in 1240. From 1744 to 1752, a stone church was built on the foundation of the old church, but it was also destroyed in 1934 by the Soviet authorities.
Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Church
Initially, the monastery was founded in the forest, in a cave that Illarion had dug for himself. After the monk Illarion was appointed Metropolitan of Kiev, his cave was taken over by the monk Antoniy, who attracted followers to it. The main construction of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra took place during the reign of Svyatoslav II Yaroslavich, son of Yaroslav the Wise.
Other construction projects
During the reign of Yaroslav the Wise, cities such as Yuryev (now Tartu, Estonia), Yuryev (now Bila Tserkva, Ukraine), Torchesk, Korsun-Shevchenkovsky, Tripoli, Volodarev (now the village of Volodarka), Boguslav, Steblev were built. Yaroslavl was founded, and according to some sources, Novgorod-Seversky was also founded. In addition to the listed cities, there were also cities that did not survive to the present day, such as Dveren, Rostovets, Bakozhen, and Roden.
Most of the cities listed were part of the Poros defensive line. The Poros defensive line was an earthen rampart stretching about 75 kilometers and a group of fortresses on the Ros River, built to protect the state from raids by steppe nomads. It includes Yuryev (Bila Tserkva) (founded in 1032), Torchesk, Korsun-Shevchenkovsky (founded in 1032), Tripoli, Volodarev, Boguslav, Steblev, Dveren, Rostovets, Bakozhen, and Roden. Most of the cities were built in the 1030s.
The earthen rampart was a structure made of earth and logs up to 3.5 meters high and up to 7 meters wide, with ditches up to 6 meters wide and 2 meters deep dug in front of it. Only partial remains of it have survived to the present day. Its remnants are located near the villages of Yagnyatyna and Fursovo.
The city of Yuryev (Tartu) was founded in 1030. There is a record of this event in the Tale of Bygone Years:
«In the same year, Yaroslav went to the Chuds, defeated them, and founded the city of Yuryev».
The city was founded on the site of the Tarbatu fortress, which was located in the territory conquered by the prince during a military campaign against the Estonians. Tartu is now the second-largest city in Estonia.
Yaroslav’s son Vladimir Yaroslavich also distinguished himself in large-scale construction in Novgorod, where he was appointed by his father and ruled from 1034 to 1052. In 1044, the construction of the Novgorod Detinets (Novgorod Fortress) began.
This project included the construction of a wooden oak Kremlin with fortress walls and a stone St. Sophia Cathedral, founded in 1046 and consecrated in 1052 by Bishop Luke. Yaroslav the Wise personally attended the laying of the St. Sophia Cathedral. Vladimir Yaroslavich was buried in St. Sophia Cathedral in 1052, a few months after the completion of construction.