Hidden Architectural Gems of Russia

The most spectacular architectural religious sites in all of Russia have withstood fierce weather, world wars and even plans to be demolished. Find out what makes these three sites so special.

By now most people are aware of the dazzling religious sites of Western Europe. However, many may not know about the plethora of religious architectural wonders that await in Russia.

All across the world’s largest country are cathedrals, mosques and temples that will delight visitors, whether architecture buffs or not. The following three sites are among the most appealing.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

st. basil's

St. Basil’s Cathedral

Located in Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral was ordered to be built in 1555 by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) and was complete in 1561. Legend has it that once the cathedral was finished, Ivan IV blinded the architects, so they would never be able to create something as beautiful again.

st. basils ceiling

St. Basil’s Ceiling

Sadly, however, the iconic landmark is no stranger to threats. One threat came from Josef Stalin, who thought the cathedral stood in the way of his military parades and ordered the building to be destroyed. The plans were made, but the architect, Piotr Baranovsky, protested and Stalin reconsidered.

When looking at this cathedral, it is no wonder it has withstood the test of time. Now a museum, the eight churches encompassed around a ninth is filled with 400 icons from famous 14th to 19th century painters.

st. basils hallway

Hallway of St. Basil’s

On tours, visitors are led through narrow hallways and up a spiral wooden staircase that was not found until the 1970s, since it was hidden away in a wall. All this leads to the central church where visitors get a glimpse at the extraordinary tented roof that makes this the most famous building in all of Russia.

Not only is the interior a marvel, but the stunning exterior will delight your group as well. Colorful swirls of paint adorn the domes that were added in 1860 to the then all-white cathedral.

Kul Sharif Mosque, Kazan

Kul sharif

Kul Sharif Mosque

Muck like St. Basil’s, Kul Sharif Mosque has felt the wrath of Ivan the Terrible too. The mosque was burnt to the groundby Ivan the Terrible’s army and a reconstruction plan was not put into place until 1990. The new design plan focused on honoring the original structure.

minarets of kul sharif

The Minarets atop of Kul Sharif

The mosque has been able to escape natural disasters such as landslides and other fault disasters that are common in the area. Although the plans were as close to the original design as possible, architects did add columns and a dome that is said to represent the crown of Kazan khans.

The reconstructed mosque re-opened in 2005. It is now a symmetrical building, with its base formed by two criss-crossing squares meeting at a 45 degree angle – the well-known Muslim symbol meaning “the blessing of Allah.” At the top of the eight intersecting lancet arches rests a dome. The interior of the mosque can hold up to 1,500 people, making it the largest place of worship for Muslims in Europe.

The interior of Kul Sharif houses a museum of Islamic culture, a publishing house which features ancient manuscripts in libraries, and the Imam’s administration center.

Kazan Cathedral, St. Petersburg

Completed in 1811, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan was built to imitate the temples of the Roman Empire and modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Cathedral was built by architect A. Voronikhin in collaboration with the best sculptors and painters of the first half of the 17th century.


The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, St. Petersburg, Russia

In the shape of a Roman basilica, the cathedral is divided by four rows of monolithic granite and Corinthian columns on the three corridors. Both the interior and exterior of the cathedral is richly decorated with works created by some of Russia’s best sculptors. The floors are lined with beautiful marble and the crowning dome rises 234 feet, making it one of the tallest in the world. The grounds feature a small garden, the central fountain and the Tsar’s Gates, which are made of silver and gold and decorated with precious stones.

kazan side view

A side view of the Cathedral

The cathedral was meant to be the country’s main Orthodox Church and after the war of 1812 became a symbol for Russian victory. Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, who played a key role in defeating Napoleon, is buried inside the church.

kazan fountain

The  Central Fountain

In 1932, the church was converted into a museum housing religious artifacts and anti-religious propaganda. Today it holds regular services and is still a museum.

These are just three of the hidden gems you will find when traveling in Russia. Many more awe-inspiring sites are open to the public for tours or worship. Consider the world’s largest country for your next religious travel destination and you may be delighted with what you find.

By: Lauren Jacobsen