St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow: Planning Your Visit

The church better known as Saint Basil's Cathedral is one of the most symbolic architectural pieces not only in Moscow but in all of Russia.

In fact, the salmon-colored church with its onion domes is probably the first image that comes to mind when most people think of visiting the country.

It is located on Red Square in the center of Moscow, a short walk from other important places in the city.

Today, this UNESCO World Heritage site is open to the public as a museum for the opportunity to learn more about its fascinating history and unique architecture.

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History

The church is officially known as the Church of the Intercession or Pokrovsky Cathedral and has 10 cupolas, with each cupola located atop an individual chapel inside.

One of these chapels houses the remains of Vasily, or Basil in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet, who is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and today the entire cathedral is commonly called by his name.

The church was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, a contemporary of Saint Basil, to commemorate his achievements in the Kazan region and was built between 1555 and 1561.

Urban legend says that after the church was completed, Ivan blinded the architects who built the church. .created. they could never create something so beautiful again, although it is probably more story than fact.

The building has survived all kinds of riots, from wildfires to nearly being blown up by Napoleon when he invaded the Russian Empire.

But perhaps the narrowest flight came after the Russian Revolution when Joseph Stalin secularized the country and considered the demolition of the entire church.

In the end, he took control of the building from the Orthodox community, prohibited Christians from praying there, and turned it into a state museum.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the government has maintained control of the church, but once again allowed the faithful to use it.

Architecture

The church's enduring fame is due to its distinctive, even eccentric design.

The onion domes and the vibrant clash of colors have become a symbol of Russian Imperial architecture, although the church has evolved and changed over time.

The domes were added a few years after the original structure was completed and damaged by fire, and bright colors were painted throughout the 17th to 19th centuries.

And while much of the church's history is shrouded in mystery, it appears that it was a pioneering piece of architecture in its day and possibly the first church in Russia to feature the onion dome, which is now ubiquitous in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Visiting the Cathedral

Every traveler to Moscow stops at Red Square to admire the striking design of Saint Basil, but the church is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside.

Since the cathedral still functions as a state museum, it is open daily for visitors who want the full experience (although it is sometimes closed for restoration).

The interior of the chapels is surprisingly small and richly decorated, with windows offering unique views of the cathedral and Red Square.

The stone floors bear the wear marks of nearly 500 years of steps taken by religious devotees.

The interconnected chapels with their doors, corners, works of art, and niches make the interior of San Basilio look like something out of a storybook, so even children have fun with this historic church.

Ticket prices range from 700 to 1000 Russian rubles, depending on the season, or around $10 to $14.

For a small supplement, you can also get an audio guide, available in English, French, Chinese, and Spanish, to really get to know the history and architecture of the church as you look at it.

Getting There

If you travel to Moscow, it is almost impossible not to see St. Basil's Cathedral.

It's right in the heart of the city on Red Square, conveniently located within walking distance of the Kremlin, the State Historical Museum, Lenin's Mausoleum, and the GUM shopping center.

As the main city center, it is easily connected to the Moscow Metro and the nearest stations are Okhotny Ryad, Teatralnaya, Ploschad Revolyutsii, and Kitay-Gorod.

You probably don't want to go outside in winter, but when the weather is nice, Moscow is a city where you can walk.

It's also hard to get lost, as the streets of Moscow are designed like a giant spider web, with Red Square at the center.

As you walk towards the church, it's easy to get distracted by the design and miss the bronze statue right in front of it.

The Minin and Pozharsky Monument commemorates the two men who helped unite a destroyed Russia in the early 17th century and drive out Polish invaders, ending a turbulent period known as the time of riots and giving rise to the Romanov dynasty.

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