St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

Walking around the Red Square, made me tired physically. I was excited and awed at this place after being lost for a while, and thinking of the first building I visited, I decided to visit the most colorful and famous landmark of Russia. But as I was walking I saw a monument in front of it. I took some pictures and curious who it was. So here it is.

Monument to Minin and Pozharsky

The statue commemorates Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, who gathered an all-Russian volunteer army and expelled the forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under the command of King Sigismund III of Poland from Moscow, thus putting an end to the Time of Troubles in 1612.

The monument

The monument was conceived by the Free Society of Lovers of Literature, Science, and the Arts to commemorate the 200th anniversary of those events. Tsar Alexander I, however, decided the monument should be installed on Red Square next to the Moscow Kremlin rather than in Nizhny Novgorod. The competition for the best design was won by the celebrated sculptor Ivan Martos in 1808. Martos completed a model, which was approved by Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and the Russian Academy of Fine Arts in 1813.  However, in the wake of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the monument could not be unveiled until 1818.

The front of the base carries a bronze plaque depicting a scene of patriotic citizens sacrificing their property for the benefit of the motherland. On the left is an image of the sculptor Martos giving away his two sons (one of whom was killed in 1813)

Originally, the statue stood in the centre of Red Square, with Minin extending his hand towards the Moscow Kremlin. However, after the 1917 Revolution, the Communist authorities found the monument was obstructing parades on the square and discussed its demolition or transfer to some indoor museum. In 1936, the statue was moved closer to the cathedral where it remains to the present day.”

The monument from the church

The cathedral of St. Basil was a color candy church with its typical Russian architecture with unique swirling domes. To start off here is the full name of the church and the history.  Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat.

The History of St. Basil’s Cathedral

“The site of the church had been, historically, a busy marketplace between the St. Frol’s (later Saviour’s) Gate of the Moscow Kremlin and the outlying posad. The centre of the marketplace was marked by the Trinity Church, built of the same white stone as the Kremlin of Dmitry Donskoy (1366–68) and its cathedrals. Tsar Ivan IV marked every victory of the Russo-Kazan War by erecting a wooden memorial church next to the walls of Trinity Church; by the end of his Astrakhan campaign, it was shrouded within a cluster of seven wooden churches. According to the report in Nikon’s Chronicle, in the autumn of 1554 Ivan ordered the construction of the wooden Church of Intercession on the same site, “on the moat”. One year later, Ivan ordered the construction of a new stone cathedral on the site of Trinity Church to commemorate his campaigns.

Ivan the Terrible

Tradition held that the church was built by two architects, Barma and Postnik. Researchers proposed that both names refer to the same person, Postnik Yakovlev or, alternatively, Ivan Yakovlevich Barma (Varfolomey). Legend held that Ivan blinded the architect so that he could not re-create the masterpiece elsewhere, Many historians are convinced that it 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. Postnik Yakovlev remained active at least throughout the 1560s.”

I waited in line and paid the fees, knowing that the church has been converted into a museum. A lot of people wanted to see the interior and so was I. We entered on one of the side doors. I was amazed with its beauty, the eastern European ambiance. The painted walls, golden altars and paintings of saints and the most holy. As I explore around here is a timeline of the cathedral’s history.


“The original Trinity Church burnt down in 1583 and was refitted by 1593. The ninth sanctuary, dedicated to Basil Fool for Christ (the 1460s–1552), was added in 1588 next to the north-eastern sanctuary of the Three Patriarchs.  Another local fool, Ivan the Blessed, was buried on the church grounds in 1589; a sanctuary in his memory was established in 1672 inside the south-eastern arcade.

Interior of the church

The vault of the Saint Basil Sanctuary serves as a reference point in evaluating the quality of Muscovite stonemasonry and engineering. The craft was lost in the Time of Troubles; buildings from the first half of the 17th century lack the refinement of the late 16th century, compensating for poor construction skill with thicker walls and heavier vaults.


The second, and most significant, round of refitting and expansion took place in 1680–1683. The nine churches themselves retained their appearance, but additions to the ground-floor arcade and the first-floor platform were so profound that Nikolay Brunov rebuilt a composite church from an “old” building and an independent work that incorporated the “new” Trinity Church. What once was a group of nine independent churches on a common platform became a monolithic temple.

sketch of the church

The formerly open ground-floor arcades were filled with brick walls; the new space housed altars from thirteen former wooden churches erected on the site of Ivan’s executions in Red Square. Wooden shelters above the first-floor platform and stairs (the cause of frequent fires) were rebuilt in brick, creating the present-day wrap-around galleries with tented roofs above the porches and vestibules.

The old detached belfry was demolished; its square basement was reused for a new belltower. The tall single tented roof of this belltower, built in the vernacular style of the reign of Alexis I, significantly changed the appearance of the cathedral, adding a strong asymmetrical counterweight to the church itself.

The first ornamental murals in the cathedral appeared in the same period, starting with floral ornaments inside the new galleries; the towers retained their original brickwork pattern. Finally, in 1683, the church was adorned with a tiled cornice in yellow and blue, featuring a written history of the church in Old Slavic typeface.”

I walked around and came upon a singing choir of men and they were singing something religious in a different language. Their voices echoed across the empty halls and towers and it was powerful. I gave some tip and continue on my exploration of the cathedral.


Some of the altars inside

In 1737 the church was damaged by a massive fire and later restored by Ivan Michurin. The church received its first figurative murals inside the churches; all exterior and interior walls of the first two floors were covered with floral ornamentation. The belltower was connected with the church through a ground-floor annex; the last remaining open arches of the former ground-floor arcade were filled during the same period, erasing the last hint of what was once an open platform carrying the nine churches of Ivan’s Jerusalem.


Paintings of Red Square by Fyodor Alekseyev, made in 1800–1802, show that by this time the church was enclosed in an apparently chaotic cluster of commercial buildings; rows of shops “transformed Red Square into an oblong and closed yard.” In 1800 the space between the Kremlin wall and the church was still occupied by a moat that predated the church itself. The moat was filled in preparation for the coronation of Alexander I in 1801.  The French troops who occupied Moscow in 1812 used the church for stables and looted anything worth taking. The church was spared by the Fire of Moscow (1812) that razed Kitai-gorod, and by the troops’ failure to blow it up according to Napoleon’s order. The interiors were repaired in 1813 and the exterior in 1816. Instead of replacing missing ceramic tiles of the main tent, the Church preferred to simply cover it with a tin roof.


Preservationist societies monitored the state of the church and called for a proper restoration throughout the 1880s and 1890s, but it was regularly delayed for lack of funds. The church did not have a congregation of its own and could only rely on donations raised through public campaigning; national authorities in Saint Petersburg and local in Moscow prevented financing from state and municipal budgets. In 1899 Nicholas II reluctantly admitted that this expense was necessary, but again all the involved state and municipal offices, including the Holy Synod, denied financing. Restoration, headed by Andrey Pavlinov (died 1898) and Sergey Solovyov, dragged on from 1896 to 1909; in total, preservationists managed to raise around 100,000 roubles.

Corridors and stairways inside

Restoration began with replacing the roofing of the domes. Solovyov removed the tin roofing of the main tent installed in the 1810s and found many original tiles missing and others discoloured; after a protracted debate the whole set of tiles on the tented roof was replaced with new ones. Another dubious decision allowed the use of standard bricks that were smaller than the original 16th-century ones. Restorers agreed that the paintwork of the 19th century must be replaced with a “truthful recreation” of historic patterns, but these had to be reconstructed and deduced based on medieval miniatures. In the end, Solovyov and his advisers chose a combination of deep red with deep green that is retained to the present.


During World War I, the church was headed by protoiereus Ioann Vostorgov, a nationalist preacher and one of the leaders of the Union of the Russian People. Vostorgov was arrested by Bolsheviks in 1918 on a pretext of “embezzling” nationalized church properties and was executed in 1919. The church briefly enjoyed Vladimir Lenin’s “personal interest”; in 1923 it became a public museum, though religious services continued until 1929.

Bolshevik planners entertained ideas of demolishing the church after Lenin’s funeral (January 1924). In the first half of the 1930s, the church became an obstacle for Joseph Stalin’s urbanist plans, carried out by Moscow party boss Lazar Kaganovich, “the moving spirit behind the reconstruction of the capital”. The conflict between preservationists, notably Pyotr Baranovsky, and the administration continued at least until 1936 and spawned urban legends. In particular, a frequently-told story is that Kaganovich picked up a model of the church in the process of envisioning Red Square without it, and Stalin sharply responded “Lazar, put it back!”

In the autumn of 1933, the church was struck from the heritage register. Baranovsky was summoned to perform a last-minute survey of the church slated for demolition, and was then arrested for his objections. While he served his term in the Gulag, attitudes changed and by 1937 even hard-line Bolshevik planners admitted that the church must be spared. In the spring of 1939, the church was locked, probably because demolition was again on the agenda; however, the 1941 publication of Dmitry Sukhov’s detailed book on the survey of the church in 1939–1940 speaks against this assumption.

1947 to Present

In the first years after World War II renovators restored the historical ground-floor arcades and pillars that supported the first-floor platform, cleared up vaulted and caissoned ceilings in the galleries, and removed “unhistoric” 19th-century oil paint murals inside the churches. Another round of repairs, led by Nikolay Sobolev in 1954–1955, restored original paint imitating brickwork, and allowed restorers to dig inside old masonry, revealing the wooden frame inside it. In the 1960s, the tin roofing of the domes was replaced with copper.

Pyotr Baranovsky,
the architect who saved the cathedral

The last round of renovation was completed in September 2008 with the opening of the restored sanctuary of St. Alexander Svirsky. The building is still partly in use today as a museum and, since 1991, is occasionally used for services by the Russian Orthodox Church. Since 1997 Orthodox Christian services have been held regularly. Nowadays every Sunday at Saint Basil’s church there is a divine liturgy at 10AM with an akathist to Saint Basil.”

The altars, the ceilings, and basically everything were elaborately decorated and designed. It seemed like a treasure itself. There were items in glass cases from gold boxes, manuscripts and parts of the building itself. There was also a small version of the cathedral. I took plenty of pictures and walk around, finding my way along the labyrinth of corridors, and stairs and ending up in the main staircase entrance. It was close so I just turned around went back to where I came from. It was a nice tour of one of Russia’s most iconic landmark.

Here are the links for more information:

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