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Moscow Saint Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathederal

Moscow St. Basil's Cathederal

The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat is a Russian Orthodox church erected on the Red Square in Moscow in 1555-61. Built on the order of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, it marks the geometric centre of the city and the hub of its growth since the 14th century. It was the tallest building in Moscow until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600.

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). In the 16th and 17th centuries the church, perceived as the earthly symbol of the Heavenly City, as happens to all churches in Byzantine Christianity, was popularly known as the "Jerusalem" and served as an allegory of the Jerusalem Temple in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the Patriarch of Moscow and the tsar.

The building's design, shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, has no analogues in Russian architecture: "It is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to fifteenth century ... a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design." The cathedral foreshadowed the climax of Russian national architecture in the 17th century.

St. Basil's Cathederal

Moscow St. Basil's Cathederal

A victim of state atheism the church was taken from the Russian Orthodox community as part of the Soviet Unions anti-theist campaigns and has operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928. It was completely and forcefully secularized in 1929 and, as of 2011, remains a federal property of the Russian Federation. The church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. It is often mislabelled as the Kremlin owing to its location on Red Square in immediate proximity of the Kremlin.

Layout: Instead of literally following the original ad hoc layout (seven churches around the central core), Ivan's architects opted for a symmetrical floor plan with "eight" side churches around the core, producing "a thoroughly coherent, logical plan" despite the erroneous latter "notion of a structure devoid of restraint or reason" influenced by the memory of Ivan's irrational atrocities. The central core and the four larger churches placed on compass points are octagonal, the four diagonally placed smaller churches are cuboid, although their shape is barely visible through later additions. The larger churches firmly stand on their massive foundations, while the smaller ones were placed on a raised platform, as if hovering above ground.

Although the side churches are arranged in perfect symmetry, the cathedral as a whole is not.The larger central church was deliberately offset to the west from the geometric center of the side churches, to accommodate its larger apse on the eastern side. As a result of this subtle calculated asymmetry viewing from north and south presents a complex multi-axial shape while the western facade, facing the Kremlin, appears properly symmetrical and monolithic. The latter perception is reinforced by fortress-style machicolation and corbeled cornice of the western church of Entry into Jerusalem, mirroring real fortifications of the Kremlin.

Inside the composite church is a labyrinth of narrow vaulted corridors and vertical cylinders of the churches. The largest, central church of the Intercession is 46 metres tall internally but has a floor area of only 64 square metres. Nevertheless, it is wider and airier than the church in Kolomenskoye with its exceptionally thick walls. The corridors functioned as internal parvises; the western corridor, adorned with a unique flat caissoned ceiling, doubled as the narthex.

The detached belfry of the original Trinity Church stood south-west or south from the main structure. Late 16th-and early 17th-century plans depict a simple structure with three roof tents, most likely covered with sheet metal. No buildings of this type survived to date, although it was then common and used in all pass-through towers of Skorodom. August von Meyerberg's panorama (1661) presents a different building, with a cluster of small onion domes.

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