St Basil’s Cathedral | Attraction Guides | History Hit

St Basil’s Cathedral

Moscow, Moscow, Russia

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: dimbar76 / Shutterstock

About St Basil’s Cathedral

St Basil’s Cathedral is a strikingly ornate red brick building bordering Moscow’s Red Square and crowned with several vividly coloured domes, which bear a striking resemblance in shape to flames licking at the sky.

History of St Basil’s Cathedral

St Basil’s Cathedral was originally constructed in 1555, under the orders of Tsar Ivan IV (also known as Ivan the Terrible). Ivan’s intention in building St Basil’s Cathedral was to celebrate his victory in the Russo-Kazan Wars, specifically the siege of Kazan and the cathedral’s name was derived from that of a Russian Orthodox saint called Vasily (Basil) the Blessed.

There has been much dispute over who actually designed St Basil’s Cathedral, but one particularly gruesome legend says that, after they did so, Ivan arranged for the architect’s eyes to be removed so that they could not create anything to rival its beauty. This is almost certainly untrue, given records show that they were employed 25 years later to add an extra chapel. In fact, St Basil’s Cathedral was quite an innovation in Russian architecture. Nothing like it had existed before.

The interior of St Basil’s Cathedral is arguably disappointing when compared with the building’s exterior. This is due in large part to the scale and design, which lacks a focal point. The chaos of the domes hides the fact that the interior is essentially comprised of 9 chapels. Look out for the chapel dedicated to St Vasily the Blessed, a holy fool who commanded the fear and respect of Tsar Ivan himself: the chapel was commissioned after his death.

The interior does contain some interesting medieval paintings – particularly those of icons – and today forms part of the State History Museum. Look out for the tomb of St Basil himself.

St Basil’s Cathedral today

St Basil’s remains an iconic building for a reason: its colourful riot of onion domes still excites even the most jaded traveller when they view it for the first time. The cathedral is open year round, although with seasonal hours, and the maze of chapels inside can be confusing, especially when it’s busy. Whilst the interior is interesting, it’s the exterior which is the most impressive aspect of the cathedral. It can be bitterly cold inside in the winter!

Getting to St Basil’s Cathedral

It’s pretty hard to miss St Basil’s: it remains the focal point of Moscow’s famous Red Square. It is most easily accessed via the trio of metro stations – Okhotnyy ryad (line 1), Teatralnaya (line 2), Ploschad’ Revolyutsii (line 3). All three are a five minute walk away from Red Square. Approach via the Marshal Zhukov monument for the most memorable impression. Multiple roads in the city lead here, and any and every taxi driver will know where you’re heading!

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