It is considered that the city of Zhytomyr was founded in 884. According to a legend its name originates from the name of one of the body-guards of the Kyievan princes Askold and Dir – Zhytomyr, who settled on a rock at the confluence of the Kamyanka and Teterev rivers. However, some researchers link the name of the city with the words “myr” (peace) and “zhyto”(rye), or with the tribe of Zhytychi who were part of the tribal union of Drevliane.
In 1240 Zhytomyr was attacked by the horde of Batu-khan. A hundred years later the city was rebuilt and became the property of Lithuanian princes. But in the course of its history Zhytomyr was ruined more than once, reviving again and again. In 1444 the city was granted Magdeburg rights. The castle, re-plastered and fortified in the 1540 s by the local architect Semion Babynsky, became the city’s center and main structure. After Lublin union of 1569 Zhytomyr became part of Rzeczpospolita.
In 1594-1596 a folk revolt flared up under the leadership of Severyn Nalyvayko and Hrygory Pobeda. The liberation war of the Ukrainian people headed by Bohdan Khmelnytsky gave rise to a new upsurge of the people’s movement. In 1648 the army of Bohdan Khmelnytsky seized Zhytomyr castle, and in 1651 in the northern outskirts of Zhytomyr the Cossack detachments of Ivan Bohun defeated the 17-thousand-strong army of the Polish prince Czetvertinski. At that time Bohdan Khmelnytsky visited the city. The Polish gentry chose Zhytomyr the place of judicial punishment of the insurgents. In the village of Kodnia near Zhytomyr there were executed about three thousand participants in the revolt. A memorable sign was set up on the burial mound where the lost were buried. In 1802 the fortress burnt down again and has been restored never since. In 1804 under the decree of czar’s government Zhytomyr became the administrative center of the Volhynian province. In 1846 on the instructions of the Temporal commission on the consideration of ancient acts the city was visited by Taras Shevchenko. The fates of the writer
Sholom Aleykhem (1859-1916) and the poet Khaim-Nakhman Bialik (1873-1934) are linked with Zhytomyr. Tragic for the city became the 20 th century. After the revolution of 1917 power in the city changed thirteen times. In those stormy times Zhytomyr even happened to be the capital of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. It was only in 1920 that the army commanded by S.Budionny did manage to establish Soviet power in the city. During the first hours of the Great Patriotic war of 1941 -1945 the city was subjected to heavy bombardment. During occupation the Nazis set up near Zhytomyr a death-camp where they annihilated more than 100 thousand peaceful habitants and prisoners of war. In the post-war years Zhytomyr turned into a developed industrial center. The Transfiguration Cathedral (1866-1874, 12/14 Peremohv Sq.) was built in place of St. Basil’s Church (1777) after the project of the architect K. Rokhau in Byzantine style combined with elements of old Russian architecture. The temple is decorated with granite and labradorite from the quarries of Zhytomyr region. (As a matter of fact the local stone was used for building the mausoleum of Lenin and many other monuments in Moscow). The main bell weighing 500 poods was mounted on the bell tower of the temple. Workers who erected Isaak’s Cathedral in Petersburg took part in the construction work.
Serhiy Koroliov, the outstanding designer who opened a path into outer space for mankind, was born in Zhytomyr on January 12,1907. In 1970 a memorial museum was opened in the house of his parents (from 1987 it is S. Koroliov Zhytomyr Museum of Cosmonautics, 5 Dmvtrivska St.). The exhibition displays models of space technology, cosmonaut’s equipment and outfit, documents, photographs. A separate stand is devoted to the development of cosmonautics in Ukraine. V.G.Korolenko literary-memorial museum operates in the city as well.
The monastic cells of the Jesuitic Monastery are the oldest surviving structures in the city (1724,15 Cherniakhovskv St.). They are a component part of the Jesuitic collegium founded in Zhytomyr in 1720.
St. Sophia Roman Catholic Church (1737-1751) and the bell tower (1743-1746), the oldest architectural monument of the city, is situated in 24-A Kafedralna Street. Built in the style of late Renaissance and baroque, the temple is located in the old center of town, on Zamkova Hill. In 1801 it was capitally reconstructed in classic style. The facade is parted into two tiers with towers. The height of the bell tower is more than 26 meters. Inside one of the pylons is decorated with the bas-relief portrait of the prominent Polish pianist-virtuoso and composer Juliusz Zarembski (1854-1885).The former neo-baroque palace of bishops, which is situated nearby, today houses Zhytomyr museum of local lore (1 Zamkova Sq., tel.). The museum of nature occupies the premises of the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (19 th cent., 14 Kafedrafna St.).