Stepping Into the Red Square

in City Guides, Sightseeing

Moscow's Red Square. Photo: © Olga Demchishina

Having received decades of free publicity from a large number of espionage movies, it’s hard to find a film-exposed individual who hasn’t heard about the Red Square. Its popularity, however, is not only due to an unwarranted attention by Cold War crazed film-makers. The Red Square is massive and humbling, especially for those familiarised with crowded cities and cramped streets; the sheer open space and massive size of the buildings surrounding it will make you feel exceptionally small (ironic, considering both are products of human achievement.)

The square separates the royal citadel (the Kremlin, currently the official residence of the country’s president) from the Kitai-gorod, a merchant quarter of Moscow. Major streets radiate from its centre and turn into highways as they slither outside the city; because of this, the Red Square is often considered the centre of Moscow and, by extension, of all of Russia. The site pulls crowds throughout the year and it would be a crime to miss it on your first visit to the city.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

Saint Basil's Cathedral. Photo: © Oleg Doroshin

Standing at the South-East end of the Red Square is the St. Basil’s Cathedral. Also known as The Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, it is one of the country’s most popular attractions and quite possible the most recognisable building in the whole of Russia. The origins of the cathedral go back to the time of Ivan the Terrible, who commissioned it to celebrate the capture of Kazan after over a century of intermittent wars with the Tartan Mongols. Named after Basil the Blessed (a holy figure whom Ivan the Terrible was fond of) the edifice was erected on the site of the old Trinity Cathedral and eventually became the final resting place of the man who had inspired its name.

St. Basil is hard to miss even from the distance; the cathedral wears an array of swirling colours that saturate its domes and redbrick towers. The layout comprises a total of nine individual chapels (the last of which houses the remains of Basil the Blessed), each built in commemoration of a battle in the long siege of Kazan. The nine chapels are topped by onion domes, each unique, which are one of the building’s most impressive features. The design pays homage to Christian symbolism and was created to become an architectural representation of the New Jerusalem.

While St. Basil’s exterior is whimsical and colourful, its interior is quite different. Once inside the church, visitors can wander through a number of small and dimly lit chapels connected by a literal maze of corridors all bathed in soothing pastel colours. The transition is abrupt but serves to put the emphasis on the themes of introspection and meditation that permeated the ethos of the Russian church during the 16th Century.

St. Basil’s Cathedral is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer.

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