St. Basil's Cathedral

Moscow / Russia

Think of Russia and you probably picture the ornate salmon-colored church with its onion-shaped domes overlooking the Moscow skyline… A jaw-dropping stone flower, architectural jewel boasting its multi colored facets, sensational creation of ingenious medieval architect, biggest tourist lure of Moscow, one of the world’s most photographed sights according to Instagram ranking… to be continued…


The church was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his conquests of the Kazan Khanate of the Tartars, and was built between 1555 and 1561. The basilica is officially known as the Temple of the Intercession and it features 10 domes, with each dome sitting on top of an individual chapel inside. One of these chapels is home to the imperishable relics of a much revered local saint Basil the Fool, or Basil the Blessed, and today the entire cathedral is commonly referred to by his name. Basil was a seer, a healer, and many of the miracles he performed were recorded in people's memory. Even the violent Tsar Ivan the Terrible had a lot of respect for the holy fool, often asked him for advice and invited to share his feast in the Kremlin chambers. Usually, Basil, a simple and humble man, refused, but one day he came... Big boyars sit with an air of importance, the tables are bursting with food. The cupbearer pours wine into Basil's cup. But he pours it out the window! The servant fills the goblet once again, and for the third time. And Basil pours the wine away every time. The Tsar angrily says his strange guest to stop it, and he replies, "I'm putting out a fire in Novgorod." Everyone laughed at the weirdo. And 3 days after, a messenger came from ancient Novgorod and told that a great fire had happened there, and it would have destroyed the whole city and a lot of people, when suddenly thunder rumbled from a clear sky, a heavy downpour fell and helped to extinguish the flame! And it turned out that heavenly waters opened up on the very day and hour when Vasily poured wine on the ground at a feast in Moscow!


Amazingly spectacular domes of the basilica are once volute-shape, once resembling a flower bud, or a spiny mace, or a pine cone… Its distinctive — even eccentric — design, a unique and magnificent architectural display, each of its 10 domes differing in décor, and vibrant clash of colors made American filmmaker Martin Scorsese exclaim as he saw the temple for the first time: “Definitely, 3D was invented by the Russians!..” Truly, panorama of the church ensemble never fails to send the traveller’s heart aflutter, especially at night.


While St. Basil's Cathedral is now a can't-miss attraction in Moscow, it's interesting to know that, at certain points in history, the structure was slated for destruction. The building has survived all types of turmoil, from raging fires to nearly being blown up by Napoleon when he invaded the Russian Empire in 1812. But perhaps the narrowest escape came after the Revolution of 1917 as Joseph Stalin secularized the country and considered demolishing the temple which hampered moving of military equipment on Red Square during parades and political displays on the days of national holidays. It is almost a miracle that St. Basil's Cathedral is still standing today!


Nowadays, Saint Basil’s, the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, is open to the public as a museum for the chance to learn more about its dramatic and fascinating history and one-of-a-kind architecture. In addition, every day, the Doros male choir performs spiritual music in the cathedral. Thus, visitors enjoy not only an inimitable beauty of the temple interiors but also divine singing inside.


There's a widespread legend that as soon as construction was completed, Ivan the Terrible ordered to blind the architect Postnik Barma so that he would not build anything yet more gorgeous in other lands. But this is just a scary myth, due to the infamous cruelty of the Tsar. On the contrary, the chronicles say that 10 years later Postnik successfully worked on the restoration of the Kremlin in Kazan. Yes, yes, the fortress and spiritual center in the very city in honor of capturing of which St. Basil was built... The progressive helix of Russian history...


According to one theory, the basilica symbolizes Heavenly Jerusalem, in other words the Kingdom of God, whose walls are decorated with precious stones. While mystics claim that the nine heads of the temple going around the main and tallest one are not random and strictly correspond to the planets of our Solar System. Let’s crack the mystery and discover legends and puzzles of the iconic St Basil’s together!