House with Chimaeras: An Art Nouveau Building in Kyiv That Became a Symbol of Ukrainian Resistance
min Read24 February 2023
House with Chimaeras (or Horodecki House) is one of the most known Art Nouveau buildings in Kyiv, a city decorated with many architectural treasures. It also serves as President’s Residence. On 26 February 2022, two days after Russia launched a brutal invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his famous video message to Ukrainians, standing in front of the House with Chimaeras. “Our weapon is truth” – said the President confronting misinformation about the government losing control over the capital. Truth and knowledge is indeed a powerful weapon, and the history of this building tells a lot about the Ukrainian past and present.
The History of the Building
The famous Polish-Ukrainian architect Wladyslaw Horodecki (Владисла́в Городе́цький) built the House with Chimaeras and, given the complexity of the project, its construction was quick, starting in 1901 and finished in 1903.
In those days, the house was stunning not only in terms of its appearance but also through its use of innovative technologies. Its construction demanded unusual solutions, not least due to its location. The building is asymmetrical because it stands on a steep slope. It has three floors on the Bankova Street side and six on the Ivan Franko Square side. Also, it was built on concrete piles, and the finishing material was cement, something which had hardly been used before.
On the facade, you can see whatever you want, both four-legged and two-legged creatures – rhinos, frogs, elephants, lizards, deer, eagles, etc. Anything, but not chimeras. A chimera is a creature with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon. And you will not find them there. All animals and underwater inhabitants depicted in the sculptures are real. Apparently, the name clung to the building because of its gloomy atmosphere.
The amusing sculptures are indeed a visit card of the building as they create an obscure impression of something you could see on the facades of gothic churches. They were created by Milanese sculptor Elio Salia.
Inside the House
The house inside is even more impressive than the outside. Each floor was considered to be a separate apartment. Each apartment had 8-10 rooms though this does not take into account another 2-3 rooms for servants. Although the price of rent was quite high, rich people have always wanted to live in the House with Chimaeras. By the way, Horodecki was one of them. He and his family occupied a luxurious apartment on the third floor.
Horodecki the Hunter
An interesting fact. Horodecki was so obsessed with hunting that he planned a safari trip for years. This “pleasure” was not cheap, but the architect did not want to abandon his plan. So, in 1911, less than ten years after the construction of the House with Chimeras ended Horodecki pledged it, and with the proceeds went hunting on a safari for six months. Upon his return, he described his adventures in the book In the Jungle of Africa, illustrating it himself. However, the architect had no money to disburse a loan, so he had to say goodbye to his architectural creation and sell the house.
The House Today
The house has very bright rooms with typical Modernist floral ornaments.
Legends of the House with Chimaeras
Rumors and legends, of course, are in the air of the unusual building with a gloomy atmosphere. It seems that people did everything to make the building even more mysterious. One of the most famous rumors – Horodecki built a “terrible house” as a sign of grief over the loss of his daughter, who drowned in the Dnipro River from unrequited love. Hence the motifs of the seabed in the interior of the house. However, the rumors turned out to be just rumors. The biographers of the architect found out that his daughter was alive and in good health. In fact, she lived much longer than her father.
According to another legend, when Horodecki was evicted from the house, he cursed it such that none of the inhabitants would get along with the creatures of the house, except his own descendants.
Some people are also convinced that Horodecki built a house because he fought for a bet. Others claim that the architect erected a grand building for his mistress, and the third party is convinced that the actual creator was not Horodecki at all.
How to Get Inside
Since 2005, the House with Chimaeras has been the Small Residence of the President of Ukraine. Here four of Ukrainian Presidents have held negotiations and official meetings with high-ranking guests from other countries. Currently, you can not visit the building. Before the war, The Museum of Kyiv History used to offer tours of the building on Saturdays and Sundays for 400 hryvnias (around 10 euros). We hope that soon enough this devastating war will end and all of us will be able again to enjoy all the unique sites of Kyiv in peace.
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