St Basil’s Cathedral
The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, commonly known as St Basil’s Cathedral. Must see for any visitor.
THE HISTORY OF ST BASIL’S CATHEDRAL
St Basil’s Cathedral stands majestically at the head of Moscow’s Red Square, facing the Ivory Gate Chapel.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable buildings in Russia. St Basil’s Cathedral is unique to Russian architecture. The wide range of shapes, patterns and bright colors shaped like a bonfire flame rising into the sky. Originally sided with wood, it was during Catherine II the Great’s reign that the walls were reconstructed with the colourful stone we see today.
St Basil’s history dates back to 1552 where it was commissioned to commemorate Ivan the Terrible’s crucial victory over the Khan of Kazan. Since that date, the cathedral has remained one of Russia’s most prolific structures. As a result, it’s Moscow’s most visited tourist attractions.
The cathedral is vast, reaching around 156 feet tall and consisting of nine main chapels. Unlike most cathedrals, St Basil’s initial structure leant towards a symmetrical floor plan with eight side churches around the core. The cathedral’s architects designed it in such a way to reflect logic and coherence.
Four of the octagonal-towered chapels names:
- The Church of Sts Cyprian & Justina,
- Church of the Holy Trinity,
- Church of the Icon of St Nicholas the Miracle Worker,
- The Church of the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem
All towers designate their position between heaven and earth.
Many stories and myths surround the history of Ivan and the building of St Basil’s. The most famous myth tells of Ivan blinding the architects once the cathedral was completed to ensure that they could never replicate the design or build anything comparable.
VISITING ST BASIL’S CATHEDRAL
Visiting the exterior of St Basil’s is completely free and often one of the first attractions tourists will do when arriving in Moscow. Located next to Moscow’s Kremlin in the Red Square, the cathedral is easily accessible.
A trip inside the cathedral will allow you to see some of the historic art and architecture held within. Visitors often describe the interior tour as intimate and atmospheric. Sometimes described as a labyrinth, the cathedral contains narrow pathways and spiral staircases, leading you from one alter to another.
The inner walls and vaults of St Basil’s covered with over 400 frescoes and oil paintings depicting historic images of saints. Chamber choirs still practice within the cathedral so there’s always a chance that a visit will coincide with their performance.
Church services are still performed on occasion within the church. But for the majority of the days of the year, it works as a historical site and museum.
St Basil’s declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, along with the entire Kremlin. With such an iconic structure, entirely unique to Russia, St Basil’s is a must-see for any history-lover and Moscow visitor.
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