Saint Basil’s Cathedral is a former church in Red Square in Moscow, Russia. The original building, known as Trinity Church and later Trinity Cathedral, contained eight side churches arranged around the ninth, central church of Intercession; the tenth church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local saint Vasily (Basil).
The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no analogues in Russian architecture. Dmitry Shvidkovsky, in his book Russian Architecture and the West, states that “it is like no other Russian building.
The church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. It is often mislabeled as the Kremlin owing to its location on Red Square in immediate proximity of the Kremlin.
The church combines the staggered layered design of the earliest (1505–08) part of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, the central tent of the Church of Ascension in Kolomenskoye (1530s), and the cylindric shape of the Church of Beheading of John the Baptist in Dyakovo (1547), but the origin of these unique buildings is equally debated.
The Church in Kolomenskoye, according to Sergey Podyapolsky, was built by Italian Petrok Maly, although mainstream history has not yet accepted his opinion. Although it’s known to everyone as St. Basil’s, this legendary building is officially called “The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat”.
The Cathedral was ordered by Ivan the Terrible to mark the 1552 capture of Kazan from Mongol forces. It was completed in 1560. That’s pretty much all the genuine history that’s known about this celebrated landmark.
There, however, scores of legends. Nothing is known about the builders, Barma and Postnik Yakovlev, except their names and the dubious legend that Ivan had them blinded so that they could not create anything to compare.
In the 17th century a hip-roofed bell tower was added, the gallery and staircases were covered with vaulted roofing, and the helmeted domes were replaced with decorated ones. In 1860 during rebuilding, the Cathedral was painted with a more complex and integrated design, and has remained unchanged since.
The Cathedral is now a museum. During restoration work in the seventies a wooden spiral staircase was discovered within one of the walls. Visitors now take this route into the central church, with its extraordinary, soaring tented roof and a fine 16th Century iconostasis.
St. Basil’s was built to commemorate the capture of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan in 1552, which occurred on the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin. Although the towers and domes appear chaotic, there is symmetry and symbolism in its design.
There are eight domed chapels symbolizing the eight assaults on Kazan: four large and octagonal and four small and square. In the center is a tent-roofed spire topped with a small golden dome.
The interior is a maze of galleries winding from chapel to chapel and level to level via narrow stairways and low arches. The walls are painted in floral and geometric patterns.