Arsenal (fr.) is a factory for repair, manufacture and storage of weapons. “Mystetskyi Arsenal” is a large-scale cultural project of national and international importance the aim of which is to create a district of culture in the historic center of Kyiv.
The total area of the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex is 9.8 hectares. Exhibition area of the Old Arsenal building is 56,000 sq.m. The Old Arsenal building is a historical and architectural monument of national importance in the conservation area of the Old Kyiv-Pechersk fortress. It was built by Ivan Meller, the general-lieutenant of artillery, in 1784-1801 years. The Old Arsenal is the first building designed in the style of classicism in Kyiv.
The Old Arsenal is the first building made out of yellow bricks without the use of external plaster. Due to the properties of the local clay, the brick acquired yellow and amber color, which allowed the contemporaries to call the Arsenal “porcelain”.
For the period of 2005-2009 years, there were extensive archaeological researches conducted by members of the Institute of Archaeology of the NAS of Ukraine within the “Mystetskyi Arsenal”. In the area of about 30,200 sq. m. three chronological components corresponding to the stages of development of this area were explored:
- Pechersk town objects before the beginning of the XVII century;
- Complex of domestic and religious buildings of the Voznesensky Monastery (XVII century);
- Various artifacts of the artillery yard and the Arsenal (XVII-XX centuries).
Archaeologists investigated more than 220 households (residential buildings, outbuildings and pits), as well as more than 250 graves. Total number of archaeological finds is more than 23,500 units.
- Presidential Decree of December 15, 2000 # 1343 “On the celebration of Ukraine’s accession to the third millennium”;
- Presidential Decree “The establishment of the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex” of May 22, 2006 # 415/2006;
- Decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine “On the establishment of the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex” # 49-r of March 3, 2005;
- Presidential Decree “On the granting of national status to the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex” of February 3, 2010 # 94/2010.
The Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex is located in the very heart of Pechersk district – one of the three historical parts of Kyiv the name of which comes from the Old Slavic “pechera”. Its deep-rooted history goes back to the times of occurrence of the Sviato-Uspensky monastery and further development of Pechersk town and fortress around it.
In 1051, monk Antoniy founded here cave monastery. In 1073, there was built Uspeniya Presviatoy Bogoroditsy (Dormition of the Theotokos) temple around which the architectural ensemble of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra had been formed for centuries.
Soon, there was a settlement not far from the monastery; its residents’ lifestyle was closely linked to the needs of the monastery. In XIV-XVII centuries that part of the region, which was known as Pechersk town, had an extensive system of wooden fortifications and, in fact, was a large fortress.
The area, where the Old Arsenal building is located today, in front of the Kyiv-Pechersk monastery remained unsettled for some time. But, at the beginning of the XVII century there appeared Voznesensky convent, the first written mention of which was in 1619. It was surrounded by wooden fence: with a wooden church, steeple, cells and a well behind it.
In 1640, Guillaume de Boplan noted that up to hundred nuns lived at the monastery. Pavel Aleppsky reported that most of them belonged to noble families, and Abbess Magdalena Beletskaya was a relative of the King of Poland. The same author wrote that all nuns were well educated: they could not only read, but were competent in philosophy and literature as well. Voznesensky monastery was an important cultural and spiritual center. There the famous gold embroidery factory of Ukraine was located. Articles of that factory were of exquisite taste and, therefore, were in high demand among the clergy and fashionistas of that time.
In 1688-1707 years, Maria Mazepina (in schema – Maria Magdalena) was the Abbess of the monastery. Thanks to the patronage of her son Ivan Mazepa, Voznesensky monastery lived its best years.
In 1701-1705 years, by means of Maria Magdalena, a magnificent stone five-domed cathedral with three altars and a bell tower, and the Church of the Intercession of the Virgin were built instead of wooden Voznesenskaya Church. Since the beginning of the Kyiv-Pechersk fortress development Voznesensky monastery was abolished. During 1711-1712 years, nuns were transferred to Florovsky monastery at Podol. However, later both temples became parish and then, were dismantled during the construction of the Arsenal in 1798.
Even in our time there were found the remains of stone foundations of the Voznesenskaya church and significant funeral complex during archaeological excavations in the middle of the courtyard of the Old Arsenal. By 1711 the cemetery functioned as monastery and from the XVIII century – as a parish one. The burial of the civil governor, Major-General Semion Ivanovich Sookin (died in 1740) was identified. The tombstone was found during the research of the church foundations.
Also, archaeologists found a variety of physical evidence: pottery, architectural and decorative items, art glass finds, coins of Polish and Lithuanian, Swedish and Baltic, and Russian coinage from XV to XIX century. Among unusual finds are four ivory chess pieces dated XV-XVI centuries and the collection of pottery dated XVI-XVII centuries, which is unique in Europe.
In the XVII century the focus was increased on the development of the defense of Pechersk: in 1679 (the period of war with the Ottoman Turkey) Cossack troops led by hetman Ivan Samoilovych strengthened town with moats and ramparts. On August 15th, 1706 Pechersk citadel was laid here in the presence of the Russian Emperor Peter I. Fortifications covered the territories of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Voznesensky monastery, Feodosiy Pechersky and Spas in Berestove churches, reduced by Cossack regiments under the supervision of Ivan Mazepa. A chronicler testifies that “Mazepa was in no small grief” as he had to destroy the shrine which was so carefully sustained by his mother. Maria Magdalena died at the end of 1707. There is a theory that she was buried in the cemetery of Voznesensky monastery. However, this seems unlikely since it was already known about the transfer of nuns to Podol. Researcher O.V.Sitkareva claimed that most likely the mother of Hetman was buried at Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
In 1711 administrative offices were moved to the newly built fortress, and a seat of Kyiv governor was determined there. Existing fortifications with well-developed monastic economy, food storages, firmly established network of wells became the basis of the fortress. The territory of the former Voznesensky monastery, near its preserved temples, was adapted to the needs of the military department: there were special rooms for storing engineering equipment, and later a big powder warehouse was built there. Since 1734 the former territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Voznesensky monastery was already in charge of artillery department.
In the second half of the XVIII century military threat towards Kyiv disappeared, but the presence of strong fortifications and its strategic importance led to the decision to transform the city into a large rear base in the south-western direction. Decree on construction of the big “Magazeyn”, i.e. Arsenal, in Kyiv (workshops for the manufacture of ammunition and individual parts for guns, their assembly and repair) was signed by Empress Elizaveta Petrovna in 1750, but to put in into practice took several decades. The first wooden building “Magazeyn” was built in 1750-1763 years. The following year the Arsenal started to function as industrial enterprise engaged in the manufacture of necessary artillery supplies.
Another Decree on the Arsenal was signed by Yekaterina II in May 1783. Estimate of construction, which had to be built in six years, was to make 300,000 rubles. The first “right plan” of the Arsenal brick building was made by lieutenant- general of artillery and engineer Ivan Meller in September of the same year. Construction works started by military engineer Charles de Chardonnay were completed by Kyiv merchant Mikhail Grigorenko only in 1801. On May 25th, 1803 the Arsenal was transferred to the War Department under the command of major general of artillery Poletayev.
In the plan the Arsenal building is of rectangular shape (168 x 135 m), has a courtyard with four gates located along the axis of the facades. The walls, about 2 meters thick, and the arch were made out of Kyiv bricks. Contemporaries called the Arsenal “porcelain” because of light yellow colored bricks that served as a facade material without plaster. It was during the construction of the Arsenal that the manufacture and use of such bricks began. Prince I. Dolgorukov wrote: “Look at the Arsenal deeper: it is worth our attention. The building is wonderful, built from the local brick, does not require finishing, does not get red of fire; yellow clay, which is produced in the province of Kiev, always retains its color in it, so that the walls of the Arsenal seem like earthenware. It is not plastered, only cleaned to preserve its pale yellow color”.
Arsenal workplaces were located as follows: on the ground floor there were workshops, duty room and duty officer’s team; on the second floor – workshops, office management, office and drawing room. Guns (unicorns, mortars), equipment for them, carriages, hearse for mortars, machines for mortars, as well as grenades, bombs, cannon balls, grapeshot, harness, edged weapons, bullets of various calibers were produced and repaired there. The Arsenal also served as storage of weapons. During a war the building served as a defensive structure; during the siege a garrison of two thousand people and over 2 thousand pounds of gunpowder in barrels could fit in there.
Mrs. Shishkina, who visited Kyiv in 1845, noted: “It’s nice to walk along the huge halls of the Arsenal, two of which are more than seventy square cords each; they are supported by thirty six pillars, which, like the walls, are covered with weapons around: there are only more than eighty thousand rifles”. On September 21st, 1850 the Emperor Nikolai I visited the Arsenal. According to sources, guns and the pyramids made of cannon balls were installed around the Arsenal building for his arrival.
In the 30s of the XIX century the Old Pechersk fortress completely lost its defensive role and became a manufacturing and warehouse complex that served only to the New Pechersk fortress.
In the coming years, the majority of the entrance gates citadels were demolished; holes were made through the ramparts in order to pave streets, walkways and even make a railway track. In the ХХ century the function of the building did not change.
During the World War II, the western corner of the Arsenal was destroyed by explosion. After the war, the roof and interior brick columns in the western, southern and eastern parts of the building were demolished. Instead, a system of steel trusses with a glass roof was built to create open space for production purposes. During that period, there also appeared auxiliary buildings in the territory of the Arsenal.
In 1979 the Arsenal complex with its adjacent territory got the status of architectural monument and military engineering. But that did not prevent from using the protected area for defense needs. The documentation of the Kyiv executive committee and the state administration reveals that from January 1951 to the end of the 1990s the Arsenal was under the Ministry of Defense. Kyiv repair plant was located there. Of course, the area of that object remained sort of “closed zone” in the very heart of the ancient Pechersk. Only at the end of 2000 it was decided to turn the militaristic object into an institution that would serve to culture and art. Now, the construction of the Old Arsenal is the main object of the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex.
Meller’s words became prophetic: “The time will come and you will see that I built this construction not for the fortress, but for people”. The building he designed, where once guns, tanks and components for missiles were produced now turns into the Mystetskyi Arsenal. Construction works continue to turn the Old Arsenal building into museums where various artistic events take place at the same time.