Fun Facts About Ukraine: The Great Gate of Kiev

Exalted by a suite of fifteen classical pieces by Russian composer, Petrovich Mussorgsky, the Great Gate of Kiev, is not actually a gate but a design submitted by artist Victor Hartmann to commemorate the attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander II in the city of Kiev in 1866.

Hartmann’s majestic design for The Great Gate of Kiev caused a sensation, and the artist believed it was the finest work he had ever done. The sketch for stone gates to replace the wooden gates of Kiev incorporated a cupola in the form of a Slavonic helmet. In the design, the archway rested on granite pillars and its peak was to be decorated with a huge headpiece of Russian carved designs including the Russian state eagle.

To commemorate what was referred to by the Tsar as “the event of April 4, 1866”, a design competition commenced. Though proposals poured in including a drawing by Hartmann, Russian authorities scrapped the effort and while the Tsar may have been relieved to dodge assassination, explicit acknowledgement of the event may have led to the cancellation of the competition.

Hartmann’s early death at the age of thirty-nine devastated Mussorgsky, a close personal friend. Distraught by his friend’s passing, Mussorgsky agreed to become involved in a commemorative art exhibition of over 400 paintings by his friend. The exhibition inspired Mussorgsky to complete a classical piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition, representing pieces of Hartmann’s artwork.
Sadly, Mussorgsk’s homage to his friend was universally ignored until Ravel arranged the work to be played by a symphonic orchestra. While Pictures in an Exhibition has since been orchestrated by at least ten different composers, Ravel’s work is easily the most popular finishing with a bombastic, enthusiastic interpretation of The Great Gate of Kiev, fully reflecting Hartmann’s celebratory design.

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