Saint Basil's Cathedral (Moscow, 16th century)

Saint Basil's Cathedral (Moscow, 16th century)

The church consecrated to Saint Basil was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible.

Visual Arts


Vasily Blahzenny, Vasily the Blessed, cathedral, Yakovlev, church, Moscow, Russia, architecture, building, World Heritage, Red Square, Ivan the Terrible, orthodox, 16th century, symbol, onion dome

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  • central tower
  • main church
  • 8 separate onion domes
  • ornate dome cap

Main church

Smaller churches around the central core



The Vasily Blazhenny, or Saint Basil's Cathedral, is situated in Moscow's Red Square. The church complex was commissioned by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in the mid-16th century.

The tsar ordered the construction of the cathedral to express his gratitude to God, as he thought God had helped him in his successful campaign against the Tatars in 1552. He wanted separate churches built to commemorate each of his victories. However, one of the architects responsible for the construction, Postnik Yakovlev, designed a single complex of 9 buildings instead. The individual churches were dedicated to saints who were commemorated on the dates of the key battles. The church was originally known as the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat; it was named after Saint Basil in the late 16th century.

The building is unique in many respects. It is shaped like the flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no parallels in Russian architecture. The central member of the complex is a 57 m tall tower with a small onion dome. It belongs to the main church, which is surrounded by 8 smaller side churches. These were built tightly together so that each church could easily be entered from the other. Each of the side churches is topped with a unique, colourful onion dome, thus rendering the church complex spectacular.

Together with the Kremlin and Red Square, St Basil's Cathedral has been included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites since 1990.

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