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Russia’s St Basil’s Cathedral re-imagined in seven different architectural styles

A 'what if' look at the world famous St Basil's Cathedral

The colourful and characterful St Basil’s Cathedral is undoubtedly one of the most iconic landmarks in all of Russia, and the very image which comes into many people’s head when picturing Russia.

It is no surprise that this magnificent building in Moscow has made such an impression on the entire world. The spectacular building possesses a truly unique architectural style encompassing everything from Byzantine and Muslim architectural influences, to a splash of Russian renaissance – but the truth is that this striking structure fits no one single architectural style, it truly is an entity of its own. Its mix of styles has never been recreated; it is truly a one-off. 

Given this, it is no surprise that travellers to Russia flock to the ancient cathedral to marvel at its famous onion domes, swirling patterns and fairy-tale colours.

The Cathedral, which is officially named the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, was first commissioned by Ivan the Terrible – Russia’s first ever Tsar – in the mid-1550s. Many would state that the stunning building was primarily a glory project of Ivan IV, a symbol to mark his conquest of Kazan, which is often the case with grand buildings and structures ordered by power-hungry leaders.

Despite the building’s controversial creator, the beauty of the building cannot go unrecognised. The cathedral gained its second, more commonly used name, of St Basil’s after Basil the Blessed, a local man who it was said could see into the future, and who had been one of few people to publicly criticise the Tsar.

The cathedral is built from wood and brick – which was a new material at the time of building and comprises nine chapels; the ninth of which was added in memory of St Basil. The signature colouring of the building wasn’t added until the 17th century, with a Biblical description of the Kingdom of Heaven said to have inspired the design.

The unique architecture of the famous cathedral is one the most important elements that make this building so special for Russia, and the whole world. Nothing else could ever compare to the magnificent beauty of the cathedral, but we thought it would be fun to imagine how the building would have turned out had it been built using some of the most popular architectural styles from throughout history.

Have a look below for our alternate architectural designs.

Classical

St Basil's Cathedral re-imagined in Classical style

When we talk about ‘Classical architecture’ we are referring to the age-old style of architecture used by the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, dating back to 5th Century BC Greece and 3rd Century AD Rome.

Classical architecture was traditionally built using marble, though other durable stone, as well as concrete and brick, have also been used to create Classical structures. As such Classical architecture is typically white, or light, in colour.

One of the most notable features of Classical architecture is its use of columns, which are a common theme in the ancient Greek and Roman structures still standing today. Use of arches and domes are also commonplace in Classical architecture styles, as can be seen across basilicas, baths and amphitheatres built in this style.

Chinese

St Basil's Cathedral re-imagined in the Chinese architectural style

Traditional Chinese architecture is surely one of the most iconic architectural styles in the world, so what would St Basil’s have looked like had it been built in ancient China?

One of the most recognisable features of traditional Chinese architecture is its use of timberwork. Chinese buildings are largely comprised of wooden framework. Another standout feature of Chinese architecture is of course the intricate handicraft of the building’s painted artwork, utilising detailed patterns and rich colours. 

Chinese buildings most typically feature curved roofs, and often utilise tiered pagodas – giving every building a sense of grandeur. 

Gothic

St Basil's Cathedral re-imagined in the Gothic architectural style

Gothic architecture can be found in many of Europe’s most famous cathedrals, including Notre-Dame, Westminster Abbey and Duomo di Milano, so it is certainly interesting to imagine how St Basil’s would have looked had it been built in a similar style to many of Europe’s other religious buildings.

This style of architecture originated in France in the mid-1100s, as the development of many of Paris’ grand churches were underway. Distinctive features of Gothic architecture include tall spires, archways, buttresses used to support the walls, and intricate window pattern-work.

Many of Gothic architecture’s most distinguishable features were simply practical solutions to create tall buildings which allowed a large amount of natural light to shine through, which ended up being aesthetically pleasing too.

Tudor

St Basil's Cathedral re-imagined in the Tudor architectural style

Tudor architecture is the style of architecture dominant in Britain during the Tudor period, -from 1485-1603 - and was the last of the Medieval architectural styles in Britain.

This style of architecture has some similarities to Gothic architecture - including the presence of pointed arches and spires – while also incorporating some elements of the Renaissance style.

The most notable element of many Tudor structures, separating them from Gothic architecture, is the use of black and white colouring. Another distinctive feature of Tudor buildings is their half-timbered natures – buildings were constructed from wooden frames with the spaces between filled with sticks and wet clay.

Victorian 

St Basil's Cathedral re-imagined in the Victorian architectural style

As with Tudor architecture, Victorian architecture is named after the era in which it developed in Britain – under the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837-1901.

When envisioning Victorian architecture, you may well picture a traditional doll’s house, a style which is quintessentially British.
 
Interestingly, the profession of architecht largely developed during the Victorian times, which is when roles such as developers and surveyors started to emerge – allowing architects to focus purely on the creative.

Victorian architecture encompasses a mixture of many other styles, including Georgian, Renaissance and Gothic. Alongside Gothic features such as pointed windows and roof gables, Victorian architecture can be identified by features including porches, bay windows and terracotta tiling.

Art Nouveau

St Basil's Cathedral re-imagined in the Art Nouveau architectural style

Art Nouveau literally translates from French to mean ‘new art’, which makes sense given that this style of design was a reaction to the restrictive academic arts of the 19th century. 

Art Nouveau took off in the 1880s and 1890s, and was short-lived having already started to die out by the 1910s. Art Nouveau was popular in the US and Europe, most notably in cities including Prague, Barcelona, Brussels and Riga. 

Art Nouveau architecture is identifiable by features including curved lines, rounded windows and doors, ornate balconies, fencing and stairwells, and elaborate stylings.

Modernism

St Basil's Cathedral re-imagined in the Modernist architectural style

Modern architecture developed in the early 20th century and is recognisable from its use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete. This style of architecture became dominant in the aftermath of the WWII and the destruction that this caused across Europe.

Modern architecture is much less intricate and ornate than previous architectural styles, featuring many bold and solid shapes resulting in a minimalist appearance – and one which is often met with mixed feedback.

Some of the most iconic modernist building in the world include the Sydney Opera House and the Louvre Museum in Paris.


St Basil’s is such an interesting building, that it looks fabulous in every style – but let’s face it, nothing will ever beat the original.

Maybe that’s why it is rumoured that Ivan the Terrible blinded the building’s architect so that he could never again build anything as beautiful.

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