Moscow's Saint Basil's Cathedral Is 450
One of the iconic Russian monument, the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat, popularly known as St. Basil's Cathedral, is celebrating its 450th anniversary in 2011.
The unique church was commissioned by Tsar Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the victory over Kazan in 1552. The building took some 9 years, and in 1561 the church was solemnly opened. The 450-years old Cathedral was erected on the place of the Trinity Cathedral where Moscow's "holy fool", Vassily, had been buried.
The names of the master masons who worked on the construction were only discovered in the state documents in the 19th c. - Barma and Postnik Yakovlev. The popular legend has it that the architects were blinded by Ivan's order for fear that they would later design something that could surpass the beauty of the Cathedral. Although it is assumed to be untrue, the legend clearly refers to the well-known cruelty of the Russian Tsar.
In its 450 years, the Cathedral saw mutinies, protests, and military parades in the Red Square. The monument to the Prince Pozharsky and Dmitry Minin, the heroes of the Russian war against the Polish Intervention of the 17th c., marks the spot in front of the Cathedral. In a short distance is another landmark - Lobnoye Mesto where the documents were read to the crowd. In 1966, 7 Soviet protesters against the invasion of Czech Republic gathered there with boards for a short peaceful demonstration. Joan Baez subsequently commemorated one of the participants, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, in the eponymous song. The Cathedral stands close to the famous Spasskaya Tower (a kind of Russian Big Ben, thanks to its clock) and the no-less-famous GUM - the building packed with boutiques of luxury brands.
The Cathedral had known several renovations, the one in 1860s being the most considerable to date. Between mid-2000s and 2011 the cathedral was once again undergoing reconstruction that cost $14mln in state and sponsor funding.
In its long history, the Cathedral was at least twice under the threat of extinction. In the Soviet times, the Government had shortly considered its demolition, to "free" the space for military parades. The architect Pyotr Baranovsky vehemently protested, thus saving the monument. Only recently, in July 2011, an unknown man threw a smoke bomb into the cathedral. The building did not suffer in the attack.
The recognisable unique and exquisite outer design is fairly modern: it was only introduced in the second half of the 19th c. The original structure is likely to have been less complex and definitely white, not red, to match the then white Kremlin walls. One cannot fail to notice a similarity in design between St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow and the Cathedral of Our Saviour on the Blood in St. Petersburg. The latter was built on the place where the Emperor Alexander II was assasinated in 1881. It clearly takes the inspiration from St Basil's Cathedral, but one should not forget that the Moscow cathedral's design had also undergone changes in the 19th c. One may remember the deep interest in folklore and medieval Russian art and culture that marked the most of Russia's 19th c. Most likely, it was this interest that dictated the colouring and outside decor of both cathedrals.
Since 1928, St Basil's has been a branch of the State Historical Museum. Although the services are held at the church on Sundays, some parts of the building are also available for exhibitions. Some 10 years ago, for instance, the Cathedral housed an exhibition of English medieval armour.
Being one of the most popular and best-known Russian landmarks, St Basil's Cathedral is a must spot for posing for photos both for Muscovites and tourists alike. Its 450th anniversary will be celebrated until October 14, the Russian Day of the Intercession of Our Lady. Celebrations include a memorial virtual tour of the cathedral and several programmes prepared especially by one of Russian TV channels.