St. Basil's was constructed from 1555 to 1561 by order of Ivan IV ("Ivan the Terrible") and in celebration of the defeat of Kazan, the last remaining grip of the Mongol Empire on European lands. Historians claim that Ivan the Terrible blinded the architect after he was finished to prevent him from building another cathedral as magnificent as St. Basil's.
St Basil's Cathedral, also called Pokrovsky Cathedral or The Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat, is the most recognizable Russian building. This Cathedral is to the Russians what the Eiffel Tower is to the French, an honorable symbol of their past, present, and future. Initially the Cathedral was wooden, but during the reign of Catherine II it acquired its present stone facade, covered in swirling colors and noticeable designs. When the Bolsheviks came to power the Cathedral was closed, the bells melted, and its arch-priest killed. In spite of the troubles that always seemed to surround it, St. Basil’s has remained the symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church, spirituality, and patriotism.
Another time the Cathedral fell under threat was when Stalin decided that it was an obstacle to his military parades. The demolition plan was prepared but the architect threatened that if the Cathedral was ruined, he would cut his throat on its steps. Miraculously, Stalin changed his mind, and the brave architect Piotr Baranovsky was granted a couple of years in prison for saving St. Basil’s.
Walking inside this atmospheric place, you will see why it earned such devotion. There are more than 400 icons from the 14th to 19th centuries painted by the most famous Novgorod and Moscow icon painting schools. The narrow pathway leads you from one church to another to a wooden spiral staircase hidden in a wall (it was found only in 1970 during the restoration works). This all contributes to the medieval aura and mystical spirituality that gives you a quintessential ancient Russian experience.