Walks With Folks - Travel Russia Blog

Saint-Basil Cathedral - Most Notable Church of Moscow


Brief History of the Cathedral

Saint Basil's Cathedral was built between 1555 and 1561 by Ivan the Terrible in Moscow, Russia. 

The site where the church was historically, a busy marketplace between the St. Fool's (later Saviour's) Gate of the Moscow Kremlin. Tsar Ivan IV marked every victory of the Russo-Kazan War by erecting a wooden memorial church next to the walls of Trinity Church. It is interesting to note that the construction of the church outside the Kremlin walls was a political statement in favor of common people and a bit of a provocation of the boyars.

According to an ancient legend the cathedral's architects were blinded post-construction so that a structure of this beauty could never be built again.  Multiple historians are more than convinced that this is a myth, as the architect later participated in the construction of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow as well as in building the walls and towers of the Kazan Kremlin.



Architectural Structure

The design of the cathedral draws from architectural designs found in Jerusalem, and holds strong religious meanings. When seen from the top, the eight domes surrounding the ninth dome in a circular fashion appear to form a star. 

Because the church has no analog—in the preceding, contemporary, or later architecture of Muscovy and Byzantine cultural tradition, in general—the sources that inspired Barma and Postnik are disputed.

Ascension Church in Kolomenskoye  has become an improbable influence on the St.Basil Cathedral.  Another enormous influence had the influence of Italian architects. There was a large group of Italian architects and craftsmen continuously worked in Moscow in 1474–1539, as well as Greek refugees who arrived in the city after the fall of Constantinople. These two groups, helped Moscow rulers in forging the doctrine of Third Rome, which in turn promoted assimilation of contemporary Greek and Italian culture. Many historians noted the resemblance of the cathedral's floorplan to Italian concepts by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Donato Bramante, but most likely Filarete's Trattato di architettura. Other Russian researchers noted a resemblance to sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, although he could not have been known in Ivan's Moscow.  The interior of the St Basil's Cathedral greatly differs compared to its exterior, comprising of modest decorations and narrow corridors.

Present Day


In the first years after World War II after certain damage to the cathedral - renovations began! The renovators restored the historical ground-floor arcades and pillars that supported the first-floor platform, cleared up vaulted ceilings in the galleries, and removed "unhistorical" 19th-century oil paint murals inside the churches. Another round of repairs followed in 1954–1955, restored original paint imitating brickwork, and allowed restorers to dig inside old masonry, revealing the wooden frame inside it while the final renovations being completed in September of 2008.