St Basil's Cathedral

One of Russia’s most iconic images is undoubtedly St Basil’s Cathedral, with its riotously colourful tent roofs and twisting onion shaped domes, each with their own distinctive pattern and colour scheme. Located on Red Square in Moscow, opposite the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 to mark the 1552 capture of Kazan from Mongol forces. It was designed by architect Postnik Yakovlev and completed in 1561. According to legend, Ivan was so ‘blown away’ at the beauty and intricacy of Postnik’s work; he had him blinded so that he would never be able to design anything as fantastical again! A chapel was added in 1588 above the grave of Basil Fool for Christ- a Russian Orthodox saint, after whom the cathedral was popularly named. Its official name is ‘The Catheral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat’.

The whimsical cathedral consists of nine small individual chapels built on a single foundation, the interior design of cathedral is suprisingly understated, each chapel is filled with icons and the walls are decorated with beautiful floral designs in muted colours. Connecting the chapels are narrow corridors, a gallery and winding staircases. In front of the Cathedral is a large bronze statue of Pozharsky and Minin, two prominent figures in Russia’s army when the Time of Troubles hit.

No visit to Moscow is complete without a trip to Red Square. Interestingly the word ‘red’ doesn’t refer to the colour of the bricks or to Communism. In Russian, Moscow’s famous Red Square is called Krasnaya Ploschad. The word Krasnaya simultaneously means ‘red’ and ‘beautiful’, the latter of which was originally used to refer to stunning St Basil’s Cathedral at the southern end of the square.

Red Square is not only famous for St Basil’s Cathedral, here you’ll also find the GUM Department store - Moscow’s original department store - a kind of hangover from the Soviet era, which runs along one side of the square. Located at the northern end of Red Square is the History Museum housed in the 19th century church of St John the Divine Under the Elm which boasts an enormous collection covering the whole Russian empire from the Stone Age onwards. Red Square is also home to the eerie, almost macabre mausoleum of Lenin – the creator and sustainer of Communism. Following Lenin’s passing way back in 1924, and against his wishes, it was decided to preserve the former Soviet leader’s body for national pride and posterity. A secret embalming process was perfected and his wax-like cadaver lies peacefully in a dimly lit, almost macabre setting. in a large Art Deco style, red granite monolithic structure. Humourless guards ensure that visitors remain at all times respectful. Without stopping, you are able to walk round three sides of a glass case in which Lenin lies. Behind the mausoleum on Red Square is the walls of the Kremlin, Russia’s political power house.

All of our Russia tours that feature Moscow include a visit to Red Square, where you can see the wildly coloured St Basil’s Cathedral. To wet your appetite, please see the selection below.

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