- Countless churches are the reason why Moscow is called the Golden-Domed City. Even today, distinctive onion domes can be seen from any elevated point in Moscow.
- The best place to start your acquaintance with Moscow churches is the Cathedral Square in the Moscow Kremlin. The Kremlin’s major cathedrals are of stunning beauty and grandeur.
- The 81-meter-tall Ivan the Great Bell Tower, formerly the tallest building of Old Moscow, features a viewing platform open to visitors.
- Don’t miss St. Basil’s Cathedral, located a few steps from the Kremlin and home to a museum, and the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square!
- One of Moscow’s oldest churches is the Cathedral of the Saviour of Andronikov Monastery on Yauza River, with walls painted, among others, by Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev back in the 15th
It is impossible to count all the churches in Moscow. The Moscow Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church officially includes about 1,000 churches and chapels. However, this count leaves out inactive churches, many of which are beautiful monuments of architecture. The magnificent Saint Basil’s CathedralRussian: khram Vasiliya Blazhennogo or храм Василия Блаженного and the less ornate but still incredibly beautiful Kazan CathedralRussian: Kazanskiy sobor or Казанский собор are found in the Red Square, and the Cathedral SquareRussian: Sobornaya ploshchad’ or Соборная площадь in Kremlin Russia contains as many as six ancient churches, each with a unique history and architecture. Moscow’s most ancient church is the Cathedral of the SaviourRussian: Spasskiy sobor or Спасский собор of Andronikov MonasteryRussian: Spaso-Andronikov monastyr’ or Спасо-Андроников монастырь, built at the beginning of the 15th century.
Moscow used to be referred to as a golden-domed city for good reason. Even today, you can spot the typical domes from any elevated viewpoint. The city is also home to over 20 monasteries, which have some interesting churches, too. The architecture is the most singular in the Novodevichy and Vysoko-Petrovsky MonasteriesRussian: Novodevichiy monastyr’ or Новодевичий монастырь, Vysoko-Petrovskiy monastyr’ or Высоко-Петровский монастырь (Baroque architecture) as well as the Marfo-Mariinsky ConventRussian: Marfo-Mariinskaya obitel’ or Марфо-Мариинская обитель (modern architecture). This article gives a brief description of the landmark structures that played a key role in Moscow becoming the centre of cultural and political life. Connoisseurs of both architecture and history will find it interesting to explore them.
CATHEDRAL SQUARE IN THE MOSCOW KREMLIN
Numerous churches and monasteries were built throughout the Kremlin’s long history. Many of these were later rebuilt, and some haven’t survived. Yet, the major Kremlin cathedrals — the Dormition CathedralRussian: Uspenskiy sobor or Успенский собор, the Cathedral of the ArchangelRussian: Arkhangel’skiy sobor or Архангельский собор, the Cathedral of the AnnunciationRussian: Blagoveschenskiy sobor or Благовещенский собор and the Church of the Deposition of the RobeRussian: tserkov’ Rizopolozheniya or церковь Ризоположения – continue to attract Muscovites and tourists with their beauty. Surrounding the Cathedral Square in the Kremlin, they form a mesmerizing ensemble. The Ivan the Great TowerRussian: kolokol’nya Ivana Velikogo or колокольня Ивана Великого, the highest point in old Moscow, some 81 metres high, contains a viewing platform from which you can see these ancient churches.
The construction of churches in the Cathedral Square began under Ivan I Kalita (1325‒1340). His reign cemented Moscow’s status as the political and religious centre of Russia. The cathedrals that are in the square today were erected by Italian architects under the rule of Ivan III (1462‒1505). The Dormition CathedralRussian: Uspenskiy sobor or Успенский собор was constructed by Aristotele Fioravanti, and the Cathedral of the ArchangelRussian: Arkhangel’skiy sobor or Архангельский собор by Aloisio the New. These architects contributed did much to improve techniques used in early Russian construction. At the same time, they enriched the ambit of Russian architectural decorations, introducing new elements such as the use of shell-shaped ornaments in arched gables.
The Dormition Cathedral became the site of coronation of firstly Tsars and then, beginning in the 18th century, Emperors. The Cathedral of the Archangel held the remains of the ancient Dukes of Moscow. Ivan III also ordered the construction of the Cathedral of the AnnunciationRussian: Blagoveschenskiy sobor or Благовещенский собор—the Tsars’ private chapel—and the Church of the Deposition of the RobeRussian: tserkov’ Rizopolozheniya or церковь Ризоположения, the private chapel of senior members of Moscow society. The construction of the Ivan the Great Tower wasn’t completed until the beginning of the 18th century.
CHURCHES AROUND THE KREMLIN
Whilst churches can be found in any part of Moscow, the city centre features the highest density. Many of these are easy to explore while walking around the Kremlin.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral (2 Red SquareRussian: Krasnaya ploschad’ or Красная площадь), also known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy TheotokosRussian: khram Pokrova Presvyatoy Bogoroditsy or храм Покрова Пресвятой Богородицы, is the closest church to the Kremlin. This is probably the most internationally recognised of Moscow’s cathedrals, as it is on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. This is not just a church—it’s a monument. Built in 1555‒1561 by Ivan the Terribleruled from 1533 to 1584 to honour the capture of the TatarMongol invaders of Russia and Europe capital of KazanRussian: Kazan' or Казань, this cathedral is crowned with nine domes of nine internal churches united into a single splendid cathedral. This cathedral is unique amongst Orthodox architecture, and for this reason, you shouldn’t expect to see a huge luxurious hall matching its picturesque exterior when you enter the cathedral. Instead, you will see crooked corridors and small prayer hall churches, decorated and consecrated to the feast days associated with winning the war against the Kazan Khanatea medieval Bulgarian-Tatar Turkic state that occupied the territory of former Volga Bulgaria between 1438 and 1552. The cathedral’s central church is consecrated to the Feast of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, as this was the day when the decisive victory was won. The cathedral also has curious interior decorations, including bright frescoes from the 17th century.
Apart from Saint Basil’ Cathedral, the Red Square is also home to the Kazan Cathedral (3 Nikolskaya StRussian: Nikol’skaya ulitsa or Никольская улица). The very first church was built here in the 17th century and went through a number of reconstructions in the years that followed. In the 1990s, the original design dating back to the 17th century was restored.
The iconic Cathedral of Christ the SaviourRussian: Khram Khrista Spasitelya or Храм Христа Спасителя (15–17 VolkhonkaRussian: Волхонка St), a Russian Orthodox cathedral, has a similar story. Divine services held at Christmas and Easter are given by the Patriarch himself. The existing building was constructed in the late 1990s, but the cathedral’s history dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. When the Patriotic War of 1812the war between the Russian Empire and Napoleonic France on the territory of Russia in 1812 was over, it was decided to build a monument in the form of a cathedral to commemorate the Russian soldiers who fell fighting Napoleon’s army. The construction was planned to the design by Konstantin Thonan official architect of Imperial Russia during the reign of Nicholas I, and turned out to be one of the longest-lasting construction projects of the 19th century. The foundation was laid in 1839, but the building was not functional until 1883. However, this was only the beginning of the cathedral’s long history. It was blown up in 1931 during the times of Stalin during the course of anti-religious campaigns. The majestic Palace of SovietsRussian: Dvorets Sovetov or Дворец Советов was going to be built on the plot of land where the cathedral once stood, but this project was never completed, and the foundations were transformed into a swimming pool. In the 1990s, it was decided to reconstruct the cathedral, restoring the key features of the 19th-century architecture. The construction was financed by the Russian Orthodox Church, the government and numerous private donors, just as it was in the 19th century. The project, led by architect Mikhail Posokhin and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, was completed in 2000, after which point it was officially consecrated.
Many churches are situated in Kitay-goroda cultural and historical area within the central part of Moscow; Russian: Китай-город: the ‘leaning’ Church of All Saints na KulichkakhRussian: Tserkov’ Vsekh Svyatykh na Kulishkakh or Церковь Всех Святых на Кулишках (1687‒1689, 2 Slavyanskaya SquareRussian: Slavyanskaya ploshchad’ or Славянская площадь), the Trinity Church in NikitnikiRussian: Tserkov’ Troitsy v Nikitnikakh or Церковь Троицы в Никитниках (1628‒1653, 3 Nikitnikov LaneRussian: Nikitnikov pereulok or Никитников переулок), Znamensky CathedralRussian: Znamenskiy sobor or Знаменский собор (17th century, Bld.1, 8 VarvarkaRussian: Варварка St), etc.
Within the Boulevard RingRussian: Bulvarnoe kol'tso or Бульварное кольцо is the small but refined Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos at PutinkiRussian: Tserkov’ Rozhdestva Bogoroditsy v Putinkakh or Церковь Рождества Богородицы в Путинках (1649‒1652, 2/2 Malaya DmitrovkaRussian: Малая Дмитровка St).
The Smolensky CathedralRussian: Smolenskiy sobor or Смоленский собор of Novodevichy Convent (1 Novodevichy PassageRussian: Novodevichiy proyezd or Новодевичий проезд) is worth seeing, too; it is also on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. Many monastic structures (e.g. the bell tower and the gate church) were built at the end of the 17th century using red brick and white decorations in the Moscow Baroque style. The Smolensky Cathedral is a rare surviving example of 16th-century churches. It was founded by Grand Prince Vasili IIIthe Grand Prince of Moscow from 1505 to 1533 in the early 16th century to celebrate the successful siege of the ancient Russian city of SmolenskRussian: Смоленск and its liberation from Lithuanians. This event served as the basis for the consecration of the central church to the legendary Smolensk Icon of the TheotokosRussian: Smolenskaya ikona Bozhiey materi or Смоленская икона Божией матери, painted, as legend has it, by Luke the Evangelist himself. A replica of this icon is kept in the Smolensk Cathedral.
Besides the gorgeous Kremlin and Red Square, there are a lot of outstanding historical landmarks in Moscow. You should visit Novodevichy convent, Moscow cathedral of Annunciation and other unique sights. You can read about them on our website pages “World religions in Moscow” and “History and Architecture”.
MOSCOW’S MOST ANCIENT CHURCHES
The church architecture in Moscow developed hand in hand with its history. Moscow was mentioned in the Hypatian CodexRussian: Ipat'evskaya letopis' or Ипатьевская летопись as far back as in 1147 – this is the first written reference to the city and for this reason is thought to be when the city was first founded. We know little about the earliest churches of Moscow. As was the case with any structure built during that time, they were wooden and thus vulnerable to fire. For example, the Epiphany ChurchRussian: Khram Bogoyavleniya Gospodnya or Храм Богоявления Господня is the only surviving structure from the original Epiphany MonasteryRussian: Bogoyavlenskiy monastyr’ or Богоявленский монастырь (2 Bogoyavlensky LaneRussian: Bogoyavlenskiy pereulok or Богоявленский переулок) that was rebuilt in the Moscow Baroque style after the fire of 1686.
The Cathedral of the SaviourRussian: Spasskiy sobor or Спасский собор (10 Andronyevskaya SquareRussian: Andronyevskaya ploshchad’ or Андроньевская площадь), the gem of the Andronikov Monastery founded on the left bank of the YauzaRussian: Яуза River in 1357, is one of the earliest monastery churches still in existence. Its murals were painted in the 15th century with the participation of local monk Andrei Rublev, the famous icon painter and the maker of the TrinityRussian: Troitsa or Троица Icon, now kept in the State Tretyakov GalleryRussian: Gosudarstvennaya Tretyakovskaya galereya or Государственная Третьяковская галерея.
The Church of St. Sergius of RadonezhRussian: Sergievskiy khram or Сергиевский храм, built during the reign of Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725, is a remarkable part of Vysoko-Petrovsky MonasteryRussian: Vysoko-Petrovskiy monastyr’ or Высоко-Петровский монастырь (Bld.2, 28 PetrovkaRussian: Петровка St) dating back to the 14th century. This church has a well-lit main hall (refectory), a feature that is atypical of medieval Russian churches. The history of this place is closely connected to the dynasty of Naryshkin, of which Peter the Great’s mother was a descendant, so the style ‘Naryshkin Baroquea particular style of Baroque architecture and decoration which was fashionable in Moscow from the turn of the 17th into the early 18th centuries’ carries a special meaning here. Pay attention to the Tolga ChurchRussian: Tolgskaya tserkov’ or Толгская церковь; it is a small church with its altar painted with frescoes, a rare case in Russian church architecture. The monastery itself contains a range of church structures dating back to the 16th–19th centuries.
The Church of the Ascension in KolomenskoeRussian: tserkov’ Vozneseniya v Kolomenskom or церковь Вознесения в Коломенском (Bld.1, 39 Andropova AvenueRussian: prospekt Andropova or проспект Андропова) is also an exceptional example of early Moscow church-building. Constructed in 1530‒1532 to celebrate the birth of Vasily III’s long-awaited heir Ivan, who would later become Ivan the Terrible, it was probably designed with the assistance of an Italian architect. Interestingly, the church is topped with a tented roof instead of the more traditional dome. Using tented roofs on churches was not permitted in the 17th century, so the Church in Kolomenskoe is a rare example of this type of architecture.
ARCHITECTURAL STYLES OF MOSCOW CHURCHES
Stone architecture became widespread in the 17th century, and churches dating back to that time used variations of the same popular architectural motifs. Moscow churches were sumptuously decorated with variously shaped moulded window surrounds, multi-coloured murals, the ‘foam’ of kokoshniksa semicircular or keel-like exterior decorative element, and ornate iconostases. The overall style is referred to as uzorochye‘patternwork’. This style is also featured in the Trinity Church in Nikitniki, the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos at Putinki, the Church of St. Nicholas in KhamovnikiRussian: tserkov’ Nikoly v Khamovnikakh or церковь Николы в Хамовниках (1679‒1682, 2 Lva TolstogoRussian: ulitsa L’va Tolstogo or улица Льва Толстого St), etc. Outstanding adornments are also featured in Krutitsy MetochionRussian: Krutitskoe podvorye or Крутицкое подворье (11–13 Krutitskaya StRussian: Krutitskaya ulitsa or Крутицкая улица). The Metochion served as a residence for bishops from Southern Russia for several centuries. The walls are decorated with glazed tiles and stone carvings, with the majority being built in the 17th century.
Naryshkin Baroque, sometimes referred to as Moscow Baroque, differentiated into an independent branch of Moscow church architecture in the late 17th century. This style shares a number of common qualities with the European Baroque tradition. It also gravitates towards an abundance of sculptural decorations. However, unlike the largely stone-based European architecture, Moscow Baroque churches are made of brick. They are easily recognised due to their eye-catching combination of red walls and white sculptural decorations. This style is used in the Church of the Intercession at Fili Russian: tserkov’ Pokrova v Filyakh or церковь Покрова в Филях(1690‒1693, 6 Novozavodskaya StRussian: Novozavodskaya ulitsa or Новозаводская улица) and the Resurrection Church in Kadashi SlobodaRussian: khram Voskreseniya Khristova v Kadashakh or храм Воскресения Христова в Кадашах (7 Pervy Kadashevsky LaneRussian: Pervy Kadashevskiy pereulok or Первый Кадашевский переулок).
Classical Baroque elements were the predominant feature in the 18th century. St. Clement’s ChurchRussian: tserkov’ Klimenta papy Rimskogo or церковь Климента папы Римского (1762‒1769, Bld.1, 26 Pyatnitskaya StRussian: Pyatnitskaya ulitsa or Пятницкая улица) is a remarkable example of Baroque architecture in Moscow, yet by the end of the century, the classical style was on the rise. The Church of St. Philip the Metropolitan of MoscowRussian: tserkov’ Filippa Mitropolita or церковь Филиппа Митрополита (1777‒1788, designed by Matvey Kazakovne of the most influential Muscovite architects during the reign of Catherine II, 35 Gilyarovskogo StRussian: ulitsa Gilyarovskogo or улица Гиляровского) is one of the earliest churches built in this style in Moscow. Classical architectural principles continued to be applied into the beginning of the 19th century. Yet, it is the fire of 1812 and the subsequent reconstruction works that allowed Moscow to take on a new appearance. One of the churches built during that epoch is the Greater Church of Christ’s Ascension at Nikitskie VorotaRussian: ‘Bol’shoe Voznesenie’ u Nikitskikh vorot or «Большое Вознесение» у Никитских ворот (36 Bolshaya Nikitskaya StRussian: Bol’shaya Nikitskaya ulitsa or Большая Никитская улица). The church became famous as the site of the wedding of Alexander Pushkin and Natalya Goncharova.
The Marfo-Mariinsky Convent (34 Bolshaya Ordynka StRussian: ulitsa Bol’shaya Ordynka or улица Большая Ордынка) is a curious monument of the early 20th century, with its main church being a rare example of modernist church architecture.© 2016-2019 moscovery.com