St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil’s Cathedral


in Moscow, an outstanding monument of Russian architecture. St. Basil’s Cathedral was constructed in 1555-60 by the architects Barma and Postnik (there has been speculation that they may have been one and the same person) to mark the victory over the Khanate of Kazan.

Originally known as Pokrovskii Cathedral on the Moat, St. Basil’s Cathedral was erected on the southern side of the main square in Moscow (modern Red Square) in front of the Kremlin. The commission specified that the cathedral was to consist of eight separate churches symbolizing the days of decisive battles for Kazan. The builders of the cathedral interpreted the commission creatively by designing an original and complicated plan: standing amid four axial pillarlike churches are others, less high; all of them are crowned with onion-shaped domes and grouped around the ninth pillar-like church that rises above them and is topped by a tent with a small cupola. All the churches stand on a common foundation surrounded by a gallery (which was originally open) and interior arched passages. The cathedral was built of brick, and its foundation, the socle, and a number of other parts were built of white stone. In 1588 St. Basil’s Chapel, which gave the whole structure its modern widely known name, was added to the cathedral. In 1670 a tent-shaped belfry was constructed.

The exterior of the cathedral was at first more severe and restrained in style, but it already had certain individual traits—composition in many parts, lack of an accentuated main facade, predominance of a fluid, rich exterior with relatively small interior spaces, the important role of decorative elements (spires on pillars, various decorations shaped like women’s headdresses at the base of the drums and under the tent, and so forth). All this gives the building the character of a unique monumental construction (designed, like sculpture, to be seen in the round from the outside), a monument to the glory of the Russian state. The same characteristics link the cathedral with the traditions of national architecture in wood and 16th-century stone memorial churches (in the villages of Kolomenskoe and D’iakovskoe, both of which are now within the Moscow limits). Later, asymmetrical extensions, tents over porches, the intricate ornamentation of the cupolas, and ornamental wall paintings both outside and inside the cathedral intensified its picturesqueness, colorfulness, and closeness to the imagery of the folk imagination and underscored its importance as a link between the monumental architecture of the Kremlin and the intricate fragmented construction of the suburbs. The cathedral thus acquired secular and popular characteristics typical of 17th-century urban culture. St. Basil’s Cathedral—one of the most unique and impressive monuments of world architecture—is to this day one of the dominant structures on Red Square. It completes the longitudinal compositional axis of the square and lends to its solemn aspect a note of joyous splendor and bold imagination. Today, St. Basil’s Cathedral is a branch of the State Historical Museum.


Sobolev, N. N. Vasilii Blazhenyi (Pokrovskii Sobor). Moscow, 1949.
Snegirev, V. L. Pamiatnik Arkhitektury—Khram Vasiliia Blazhennogo. Moscow, 1953.
[Iakovlev, I. V.] Pokrovskii Sobor (Khram Vasilia Blazhennogo: Putevoditel’ po muzeiu). Moscow, 1957.
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