Two names – one Cathedral!
Created from 1555 to 1561 this masterpiece of architecture would become the world-known symbol of Russia. The cathedral was built to commemorate the victory over Tatar Khanates by the order of the tsar Ivan the Terrible. Dedicated to the protection of the Virgin Mary, it was officially named the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat. Almost from the beginning the cathedral carried the name of St. Basil the Blessed (1468-1557), the wonderworker of Moscow, who was known for his prophetic powers. In the summer heat or winter severe cold he would be seen wondering, nearly naked and barefoot, in the streets of Moscow. This, his feat of foolishness, lasted 62 years. There was a tenth chapel added to the eastern side of the cathedral to house the grave of St. Basil.
St. Basil’s Cathedral, nowadays, is known as a symbol of Russia. Located in the Red Square it receives most attention due to its unique architecture. The mixture of colours, patterns and shapes makes you wonder about the style of the construction. It looks so different from each of the sides that you feel compelled to go around its entirety to capture the whole picture of the building.
The cathedral’s apparent chaotic shapes hide the symmetry and logic of the planning. It is an extraordinary structure with eight separate domes representing eight different churches around an incredibly tall central one named “The Church of Protecting Veil of Mother of God.” Originally the larger churches, with onion shaped domes, placed on the four major compass points, were octagonal and the four diagonally placed smaller churches were cuboid. With the later additions and outside design patterns these shapes are not that recognizable now to the viewer. At the time of the construction the colour of the cathedral was white matching the white stone of the Kremlin. Starting in the 17th century the façade and golden domes of the churches began to be painted. This is the picturesque way we see it today.
This cathedral is unique and there is no similarity to it in Russian architecture. We wonder who created it? One version is that there were two Russian architects named Barma and Postnik, another one is that it was an unknown Italian architect. As for the architecture of the building, it appears likely from early Russian traditional wood and stone craftwork blended with the art of Italian Renaissance. Many researchers have suggested they see Byzantine roots in it, some say that there are elements of the design from the Kazan Qulsharif mosque, the symbol of Khanate, incorporated into the cathedral. As we stroll around the cathedral we will enjoy the opportunity to create our own personal legend explaining the beauty of the architecture.