Intercession/ Saint Basil’s Cathedral

Pokrovsky sobor/ khram Vasiliya Blazhennogo

One of Russia’s seven wonders, Intercession Cathedral on Red Square was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and built in 1555-1561 to commemorate the conquest of Kazan. The chronicles mention Postnik and Barma as the Cathedral’s architects. The legend has it that Ivan the Terrible ordered the architects to be blinded to make sure they would never build anything as marvellous. But this legend proves unfounded since Postnik later reappears in the chronicles as the author of several other buildings. Tsar Ivan IV, later nick-named the Terrible, has not always been worthy of such an epithet. At the beginning of his reign he was wise and talented, in love with his beautiful wife. The year of the Intercession Cathedral’s completion was saddened by the death of the young tsarina from suspected poisoning. This marks the beginning of the darker half of Ivan’s rule.

The Cathedral consists of nine churches standing on the same foundation united with a roundabout gallery and internal arched passes: eight churches with onion-shaped domes are arranged around the tallest ninth dedicated to the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos with a tented roof topped with a small dome. In the late 17th century the gallery was roofed, and in the 18th century its ceiling was decorated with murals. There are 9 icon screens inside the Cathedral painted by the artists from Novgorod and Moscow in 16-19 centuries. The Cathedral symbolizes the Heavenly city of Jerusalem. The intricately shaped domes appeared on the Cathedral in the late 16th century. In the 17th century they were painted with a bright variety of colours. Though the exact meaning of this rainbow palette of the domes remains a mystery. Until the construction of Ivan the Great Bell-Tower the 60 meters high Cathedral had been the tallest building in Moscow.

In 1588 the complex was extended with the tenth sanctuary dedicated to a local saint Basil the Blessed, hence the second name of the entire Cathedral. Structurally this is a separate church with its own entrance. It was built over the burial site of Basil the Blessed, a widely revered saint. According to the legend, the fool for Christ had been collecting and bringing money to Red Square for the construction of the Cathedral. The story has it that the tsar was personally carrying the saint’s coffin. A carved canopy arches over his grave. In the 1670s a tented bell-tower was added to the complex.

In 1923 a museum was opened at the Cathedral. However in the 1930s the Cathedral came under a threat of being demolished, but was saved by a famous restoration architect Petr Baranovsky, who sent a petition in a telegram addressed directly to Joseph Stalin. Immediately after World War II renovation works began in the Cathedral, and by 1947, when Moscow celebrated its 800th anniversary, the museum was welcoming the visitors again. The Cathedral’s facade is often used for video-mapping.

Address: Red Square (Krasnaya ploschad)
Opening hours: daily from 11 am to 6 pm from September 1 to November 6, and from 11 am to 5 pm from November 8 to April 30, closed on the first Wednesday of every month.
How to reach: Okhotny Ryad, Ploschad Revolutsii, Teatralnaya or Kitay-Gorod metro stations
Coordinates: 55.752562, 37.623007