St. Basil's Cathedral

Colorful onion domes atop St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow
Photo by Kapuk Dodds/Moment Open Collection/Getty Images

While St. Basil's Cathedral is a can't-miss attraction in Moscow, it's easy to take for granted. While beautiful, it is such an expected part of Red Square that it may go under-appreciated, but at certain points in history, the structure was slated for destruction. Learn more about this important landmark.

St. Basil's Cathedral vs. the Kremlin

St. Basil's Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Intercession, is located on Red Square, beside the Moscow Kremlin. St. Basil's Cathedral is not the Kremlin, nor does it reside within the Kremlin's walls. However, more than the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral has stood to represent Russia and its apparent exoticism as seen from the perspective of the West. It is Moscow's - and maybe even Russia's - most recognizable sight and one of its architectural treasures.

One Cathedral, Many Names

St. Basil's Cathedral was named for Basil the Fool, or Basil the Blessed. "Basil" is the anglicization of the Russian name "Vasily." Saint Basil, also known as Basil Fool for Christ, was contemporary with Ivan the Terrible, who had the cathedral built. The cathedral is also known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat, but it is most popularly and familiarly called "St. Basil's."

Ivan the Terrible's Legacy

Ivan the Terrible is responsible for the construction of St. Basil's Cathedral in the 16th century. Popular legend has it that Ivan the Terrible had the architect of St. Basil's eyes put out after the cathedral was completed so that the architect would not be able to build an equally beautiful structure anywhere else.

Saved from Destruction

It is almost a miracle that St. Basil's Cathedral is still standing today. After all, another legend tells of Napoleon, who, realizing he could not count St. Basil's Cathedral among his war spoils, wanted it destroyed. The fuses lit by his men were supposedly snuffed by a sudden downpour. In addition, Stalin decided against tearing the cathedral down even though it would have opened up Red Square for the more convenient presentation of political power displays.


Hundreds of years have taken their toll on St. Basil's Cathedral, but restoration has taken place. Decorations on the interior have been replaced where they were damaged by age and neglect. The colorful exterior of the cathedral is also maintained with regular fresh coats of paint.

Viewing the Cathedral

If the cathedral is open, it's possible to its interior. The inside of the chapels, though surprisingly small, are nevertheless richly decorated. Their windows offer unique views of the cathedral itself as well as of Red Square. The stone floors exhibit the wear marks of 500 years' worth of steps taken by the religiously devoted. The interconnected chapels, with their doors, nooks, artworks, and niches make the interior of St. Basil's seem like something out of fantasy.

St. Basil's Cathedral should be open every day except for Tuesday, from 11 am to 5:30 pm. The cathedral may not be open if restoration work is being undertaken. Nonetheless, if Red Square is open (occasionally, it will be closed), it's still possible to view St. Basil's from the exterior and take photos of this symbol of Russia.