Moscow is home to some of the most iconic and famous cathedrals in the world. Moscow’s famous skyline has been compared to an ice cream cake, and the onion-domed great churches form part of the rich architectural history of Russia — a country that has had a turbulent history when it comes to political power and the place of religion in society.
These beautiful cathedrals have stood the test of time (although some have been rebuilt completely). Gold turrets, stunning fresco paintings, rich mosaics, decorative domes…they all form part of the wonders that can be seen in these stunning cathedrals. They represent the Orthodox Christian heritage of Russia. No visit to Moscow and its famous Red Square would be complete without visiting these treasures.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
Moscow’s Red Square has many Cathedrals and churches, but Saint Basil’s is the most famous. It was also used as the primary focal area of political parties over the years.
It as an iconic image of political power and a reminder of the complex relationship between Church and State. Saint Basil’s Cathedral is a symbol of Russia and was constructed between 1556 and 1561. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a museum that is also open to the public. The Cathedral of Saint Basil is to Moscow as St. Peter’s Basilica is to Rome.
In the northeastern corner of the square is Kazan Cathedral, previously known as ‘Cathedral of Our Lady Kazan.’ Lady Kazan is one of the most famous icons of Russia, and the church was once one of the most important in the country. It is smaller and has several tiers of ‘kokoshnik’ with a single dome.
The belfry is tented. The church was reconstructed after Stalin ordered its destruction in 1936. From both a historical point of view and as a testament to the strength of the human spirit in overcoming the trials of Russia’s political past, Kazan Cathedral is especially noteworthy and well worth a visit.
Cathedral of the Dormition
This is the oldest church and has a rich national history. It is the place where Russian royalty were crowned between 1547 and 1896. It is also known as The Cathedral of Assumption. This historic church was built in 1479 and is the mother of Muscovite Russia.
It is located within the Kremlin complex and is one of the most historically significant Russian churches. Remembering the complex history of the former Soviet Union, it is a remarkable and poignant part of the country’s history.
Ivan the Great Bell Tower
Serving the three cathedrals that surround it, Ivan the Great Bell Tower is named after Duke Ivan Kalita. The tower was built in 1508 and was once the tallest structure in Moscow. For a time, no other buildings were allowed to rise above its towering 81 meters.
Not only did it serve a religious purpose, but its 21 bells could be rung to warn of an approaching enemy. Remarkably, the largest bell in the world to this day finds its home here too. With a diameter and height of more than six meters, we suggest you do not try to ring it.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Along the banks of the Moskva River, you will find the majestic Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world and has a completely white exterior topped with golden domes on vertical turrets.
Known as Khram Khrista Spasitelya, if you would like to try your hand at a little Russian, it is a functioning church and you can attend daily worship there. Built during the 19th century, this beautiful church was destroyed during Stalin’s reign and reconstructed. There were even plans to build a palace in its place, but thankfully, those plans were stopped during the war.
Church of St. Nicholas
Further south along the Moskva River is the beautiful five-domed Church of St. Nicholas, completed in 1694. The architectural style is late Muscovite Baroque, and it features kokoshnik-type crowns and gables.
It is one of many bonfire temples in Moscow. Though it was badly damaged in a fire in 1812, it was restored and reopened in 1849. Church records date back as far as 1625. The main church building was completed first. The refectory and bell tower were completed at a later stage.
From the stark white walls of the Church of Christ the Saviour, the Novodevichy Convent has a completely unique red exterior. It is further south along the river and its red exterior and crown towers form part of the beautiful Muscovite classical architectural heritage.
While red may have been a strong symbolic color of communism, it also has especially strong religious significance. In the Communion, Resurrection and death of Jesus, the shedding of blood has great spiritual significance. It is important to note that the church is not a convent itself but a cloister of religious buildings, including a cathedral, refectory and residential quarters.
Notably, it has never been damaged during wartime or Stalin’s reign, standing unaltered today as it has since its construction in the 17th century. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.