For a city so concentrated, small and comfortably close to the capital, even by Ukrainian standards, the city of Chernihiv boasts a disproportionate amount of glistening golden churches, nature and impressive views. However, what may only be a local hub in modern times once competed with Kyiv and was the capital of its own principality under the medieval Kievan Rus Kingdom because of its location on the convergence between the Rivers Desna and Strizhen. It’s great Orthodox Christian importance was rivalled in terms of powers and holiness only by the Princes of nearby Kyiv. Like most cities in Ukraine, it’s history has not been smooth sailing, being passed from Kingdom to Tsardom, occupation to Republic. 24 hours in this quaint, northernly city are optimum for jumping into the historical deep end of Ukraine, with some of the oldest religious sites in the country and beautiful green, open spaces- a welcome break from the big city as a day trip from Kyiv or as a little stopover on your way to Belarus. Here are 4 brief ideas of things to do…
Chernihiv Val (Чернігівський Вал)
The Val is the historical epicentre of Chernihiv, a short walk down the Alley of Heroes from the Central Square, with the Dytynets Park being not only a relaxing place to have a stroll but also a treasure chest of history. The 11th century Our Saviour Transfiguration and Sts. Boris and Gleb’s Cathedrals dominate the park, being the oldest buildings in the city. The Transfiguration Cathedral is noticeably different from most Orthodox sites in Ukraine, with Byzantine domes and gold-topped, round Romanesque towers either side of the main façade. You can’t help but stare in awe at the contrast between the bright white exterior and the dark, regal interior of marble, magnificent chandelier crystals, fading oil wall paintings and intricate gold adornments. Look out for the tomb of Prince Mstyslav, whose decree led to the construction of the church.
Other sites at the Val include the St. Catherine’s baroque Cathedral, built during the Cossack era in the 17th and 18th centuries, which strikes the visitor from afar with its snow-white cross-shaped body and gilded domes and crosses. No visit to the Val is complete without a photo of the cannons, lined up atop the cliff-like edge, facing the river and the main (and only) road leading to Kyiv. These are one the last remains of the once impenetrable strategic Dytynets Fortress, protecting Chernihiv’s administrative and political centre, demolished at the end of the 19th century.
Pretty or Red Square (Красна площа)
Chernihiv’s central square, the name of which literally translates as beautiful square in Old Slavonic or Red Square in modern Ukrainian, much suits the former rather than the latter. It is the socio-cultural centre of the city, with a wealth of coffee shops and restaurants on the streets around. This vast paved square once housed an outdoor market of stalls with red painted roofs gave the square its name, but now sits empty, not allowing itself to be shadowed by the grandeur of the buildings surrounding its parameter. Most public events and attractions happen on and around this square, with the columns of the Taras Shevchenko Regional Academic Music and Drama Theatre being undeniably the focal point. What was in under the Kievan Rus a suburb outside the fortress is now the beating heart of the city for both locals and tourists.
Trinity Monastery (Троїцький Собор) and the Anthony Caves (Антонієві печери)
A little walk (or ride in Marshrutka) away from Pretty Square is the Elias-Trinity Monastery, clearly visible in the distance from the heights of the Val. It was founded in the 11th century by Anthony of Kiev, a famous monk in the Kievan Rus and one of the co-founding monks of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. The main cathedral is one of the most emblematic of Chernihiv and was built completed in 1790 on the highest plateau. From this Cathedral to the Monastery’s underground churches and chapels to the two-tiered St Anthony Caves built Boldyn hills, Elias-Trinity is still used as a theological college, an important tourist heritage site and is a world to its own to discover, having thrived despite its turbulent, violently destructive 10- century-long history. Even if you don’t want to linger in the buildings, what makes this place so peaceful is the bottle green nature surrounding the walled complex. Buy a coffee and sit in the adjacent park or up the canary yellow ornate bell tower, admiring the beautiful Monastery buildings and the rooftops of the city below.
The Central Market (Центральний ринок)
The bustling Central Market on the main Myru Avenue is a treasure trove of bargains. There is nothing that this permanent market doesn’t sell! You’ll be amazed at what you can find, with fresh, locally sourced ingredients for cooking and snacking, clothing and little souvenirs from your time in the city. Just weave your way through the inside and outside stalls, chat with the sellers and always ask for a little try before you buy. The highlight of this market has to be inside the main building, where competitors fight for your attention as they present their handmade cottage cheeses, sour creams, kefir and milk products!