The cathedral stands on the Red Square, facing the Ivory Gate Chapel and was constructed from 1555 to 1561 by the order of Ivan IV ("Ivan the Terrible") 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 the construction was finished to prevent him from building another cathedral as magnificent as St. Basil's. Originally its sides were wooden but during the reign of Catherine II the Great the walls were reconstructed in the same stone seen today and covered in swirling colors and 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.
Today there are more than 400 icons painted between the 14th and 19th centuries by the most famous schools of Novgorod and Moscow hanging on the walls. A narrow pathway leads you from one alter to another, passing through a wooden spiral staircase so well hidden in a wall, that it was only found during the 1970 restoration of the cathedral.
Taking in the medieval aura and mystical spirituality of St. Basil’s imbues visitors with what can only be described as a quintessential Russian experience.