World Travel GuidesSt Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

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View of St Basil's Cathedral, right, with Spasskaya Tower, left
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Bernt Rostad


St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
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David Crawshaw




St. Basil's Cathedral is one of the most recognisable icons of Moscow, Russia. It is located on the southeast end of the Red Square, right at the heart of Moscow, next to the Kremlin.

The St. Basil's Cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible between 1555 and 1561. Its construction was to commemorate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan, which happened on the feast day of the Intercession of the Virgin. Its official name, as chosen by Ivan the Terrible, is the Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat, referring to the feast day, and to the moat that runs beside the Kremlin.

The Cathedral is popularly known as Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed, or St Basil's Cathedral, almost from the beginning, in honor of St Basil the Blessed. Also known as Blessed Basil of Moscow, Fool for Christ, the Russian saint whose given name was Vassily Blazhenny impressed Ivan the Terrible when he correctly predicted in 1547 that a fire would sweep through Moscow.

When he died, Ivan himself acted as the pallbearer to carry his coffin to the cemetery. Basil was canonised around 1580, and his feast day is celebrated on 2 August, or 15 August according to the Gregorian calendar.

Inside St Basil's Cathedral
Inside St Basil's Cathedral
Author: © Deror avi

The design of St. Basil's Cathedral exemplifies the finest in Russian tented church architecture. Despite its small size in relation to the Kremlin next to it, its bold use of swirling colours makes it an astounding sight. St Basil's consists of nine chapels built on a single foundation.

Each chapel is topped with a unique onion dome. There were originally eight chapels, each representing an attack on Kazan. In 1588, Tsar Fedor Ivanovich added a chapel on its eastern side above the grave of St Basil. You can recognize that chapel by its green-and-gold dome studded with with golden pyramids. The design is highly symbolic, and is meant to represent the New Jerusalem as described in the book of Revelation.

According to legend, Ivan the Terrible had the architect Postnik Yakovlev blinded to prevent him from creating anything to better it. (Yakovlev in fact did design another cathedral, in Vladimir, despite the resulting handicap.)

The inside of St. Basil's is a maze of narrow, dimly lit corridors connecting the different chapels. A wooden spiral staircase takes visitors up to view its inonostasis that date from the 16th century.

In front of the St. Basil's Cathedral is a monument to Russian heroes Dmitry Mikhaylovich Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, the two men who rallied Russia's volunteer army to fight Polish invaders in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The Monument to Minin and Pozharsky is made of bronze, and was created by famous Russian sculptor Ivan Martos between 1808 and 1818. It was intended for the city of Nizhny Novgorod, where the two men came from, and whose inhabitants have collected funds for its construction. However Tsar Alexander I had it placed on the Red Square instead. Originally it was sited in the middle of the Red Square, with Pozharsky waving in the direction of the Kremlin. Its location was blocking Soviet military parades, so in 1936 it was moved to its present site outside the St. Basil's Cathedral.

Monument to Minin and Pozharsky, in front of St Basil's Cathedral
Monument to Minin and Pozharsky, in front of St Basil's Cathedral
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Alma Pater


St Basil's Cathedral was nearly demolished under Stalin. The Russian leader considered it an obstruction, and wanted it torn down. However architect Baranovsky protested the move. He stood on the steps of the cathedral and threatened to cut his own throat if St Basil's was destroyed. Stalin backed off, but for the act of heroism, Baranovsky earned five years in the gulag.

The St. Basil's Cathedral, along with the Red Square and the Kremlin, were inscribed by Unesco as World Heritage Sites in 1990.

Getting there

Address of St. Basil Cathedral: 4 Krasnaya Ploshad, Kremlin, Moscow
Phone: (095) 298 5880
Metro: Kitai Gorod
Open: Wednesday - Monday 11:00am - 5:30pm, closed on Tuesdays

What to see and do

Admire the exterior of St Basil's Cathedral with its jumble of towers ending with domes of a riot of colors. At first they appear like a confusing mess, but by careful observation, you can pick up the nine chapels. Look out for the one to St Basil, as described earlier. Inside the cathedral, a maze of galleries and stairways connect the chapels and chambers.

Visit the silver casket holding the relics of St. Basil the Blessed. It is in a chapel on the lower floor. Above it, at the Chapel of the Intercession are beautiful blue and gold iconostasis. The other chapels, in comparison, are quite plain in their design.

The statues of Pozharsky and Minin are still standing in a garden in front of the cathedral.

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