The Architectural Wonder of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow

To celebrate his victory in Kazan, Ivan the Terrible, Tsar of Russia, ordered an impressive cathedral to be built in Moscow's Red Square. The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin, better known as Saint-Basil-the-Blessed, is a masterpiece of Orthodox architecture. Its multi-coloured bulbs have become the emblem of Orthodox Russia and it is one of the most visited monuments in Moscow.

Extract from the documentary “Wonders of Men – Russia / The Cathedral Saint-Basil-the-blessed”


At the time of the construction in 1555 it was not yet known as Saint Basil's Cathedral. After his victory in Kazan against the Tatars, Ivan the terrible, first tsar of Russia, built this cathedral. It was formed of several chapels to celebrate the triumph of orthodox faith against Islam and the unification of Russia into a huge empire. The colored domes crown each of the eight chapels, symbolizing the eight battles that led to victory against the Tatars. A complex connected by galleries which surround the central church, surmounted by an octagonal roof. The Church of the Intercession of the Virgin. At the top its golden dome echoes those of other churches in Moscow, whose multiple domes shine like a flame. One that illuminates the churches, one that represents faith, and one, the resurrection of Christ. Saint Basil's geometric patterns, with their bright colors, unique and orthodox architecture have a round surprise throughout history, but for Irina Alexievna Chugriva, who works for the conservation of this priceless heritage, they have a real meaning. They symbolize heavenly Jerusalem, Paradise on Earth.

"It's like a fantastical city. Several chapels form a circle between them, and it makes us think of the image of the Holy City, or of the sky from where incredible colors emerge. And all the elements that make it up are a kind of infinite ornamentation, a gilded vine that flourished and gave life to supernatural flowers. It must elevate us spiritually and bring us closer to a form of beauty that has no equal on Earth."

At the heart of the cathedral are the motifs of the Garden of Eden  in the many passages that connect the shrines to each other. The various chapels of saint basil's complex were built in only six years, an incredible speed for the time.  They are attributed to a Russian architect, Posnek Jakovlev, but there is still doubt as to the real identity of their creator.

"Some compare the cathedral with Indian palaces. Some still today search for shared Islamic architectural features." 

For the architect Andre Batulov, director of Kremlin museums, the architecture of Saint Basil was perhaps influenced by the wonders of the Renaissance in Europe.

"Many representations similar to the plans of this cathedral can be found in Renaissance architectural treaties. Of course, we cannot forget the many church drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. It is one of the only churches in the world that materialized the most ambitious ideas of the theorists of the Italian Renaissance. One can then imagine how new it was for Moscow, where traditional medieval Russian architecture reigned at that time."

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