Saint Basil’s Cathedral is the centerpiece of Moscow’s Red Square, and one of the most iconic buildings in Russia. It was built from 1555–61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible and commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.
St. Basil’s marks the geometric center of Moscow. It has been the hub of the city’s growth since the 14th century and was the city’s tallest building until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600.
The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no analogues in Russian architecture. Dmitry Shvidkovsky, in his book Russian Architecture and the West, states that “it is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to fifteenth century … a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design.” The cathedral foreshadowed the climax of Russian national architecture in the 17th century.
As part of the program of state atheism, the church was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community as part of the Soviet Union’s anti-theist campaigns and has operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928. It was completely and forcefully secularized in 1929 and, as of 2012, remains a federal property of the Russian Federation. The church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. It is often mislabelled as the Kremlin owing to its location on Red Square in immediate proximity of the Kremlin.