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The Saint Basil’s Cathedral a central point of Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow was built under the commission of Ivan the Terrible in order to commemorate the capture of Astrakhan and Kazan. It has been marking the city’s geometric center ever since the 14th century. Until 1600 when Ivan the Great Bell Tower was completed, it was considered to be the tallest building in Moscow.

Known as either the “Trinity Church” or the “Trinity Cathedral”, the initial building was made of 8 side churches that were arranged around the ninth church. In 1588 the 10th church was raised in order to venerate a local saint called Vasily (Basil). Because it was perceived later on, i.e. in the 16th and 17th centuries, as an earthly image from the Heavenly Jerusalem, it was also known as the allegorical image of the Jerusalem Temple. The building was designed into the shape of bonfire flames rising towards the sky. There is no other such building in Russian architecture. There can be found no other similar building throughout the whole millennium of Byzantine traditions.

During the time of the Soviet Union, the cathedral has fallen prey to state atheism. Thus, it was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community and it was used as a division of the State Historical Museum starting from 1928. The cathedral was forcefully and entirely secularized later on, in 1929. Nowadays, it is still a Russian Federation property, and has become part of the Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.

The Trinity Church marked the center of the marketplace, and it was built of the same type of white stone as Dmitry Donskoy’s Kremlin and its cathedrals. To celebrate each victory of the Russo-Kazan War, Tsar Ivan IV built a wooden memorial church next to Trinity Church’s walls. There is a sketch report in the Chronicle of Nikon, saying that during the autumn of 1554, Ivan the Terrible gave order to erect a wooden Church of Intercession on the very same site. Then in 1555, Ivan commissioned the construction of another stone cathedral on the Trinity Church’s site, which was meant to commemorate his war campaigns. At that time, it was a huge novelty to dedicate a church to a military victory. The church was placed outside the Kremlin walls in order to make a political statement favoring posada commoners and directed against hereditary boyars.

The name of “Red Square” comes from the Russian word “krasnaya”, which means both “red” and “beautiful”. It was firstly used for designating St. Basil’s Cathedral, and then the name extended to the whole square. Moscow is not the only Russian city owning a “red square”. There are several other Russian cities in which the main squares are also called “Red Square”. The architecture of the building and the multitude of its colors make it a universally valuable monument, unique and without equivalent in the whole world. The cathedral astonishes the viewers by its vivid colors which can shine so bright, despite the hard times Russian people went through across their troubled history. This strongly Eastern project which is represented by the St Basil’s Cathedral reflects both its localization between Europe and Asia, and also its historical origins.

Some Tatar scholars sustain certain speculations according to which the Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow may contain elements of the Qolşärif mosque. These elements include a central cupola and eight minarets, which are atypical for the Russian architecture in general. The possible justification for such theories maybe Ivan’s desire to celebrate his great victory over the Kazan. The mosque has been rebuilt in Kazan Kremlin since 1996. Nonetheless, its appearance is significantly modern. The mosque was inaugurated in July 24th 2005. This event was a mark of a series of celebrations which were dedicated to the Kazan Millennium.

The towers and domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral seem to be placed randomly, chaotically. However, their arrangement does have a certain logic and strong symbolism. The cathedral is covered with eight domes which may in fact symbolize the tsar’s eight attacks of the Kazan Empire. Four of these domes are octagonal and wide and the other four are smaller and square. In their center there is a spire covered by a small golden dome. This cathedral is worth visiting.