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St. Basil’s Cathedral. Moscow, Russia. Completed 1560.
Officially named for the Virgin Mary, St. Basil’s Cathedral (after Vasili, the ‘Holy Fool’) commemorates the victory of Russian forces over the former Golden Horde (Mongol) Khanate of Kazan in 1552. Although the original cathedral is much different from the one at present (they just kept adding domes, stairs, etc.) it is one of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in Russian history.
The onion-shaped domes resemble Indian and Islamic architecture (much like the domes at Britain’s Brighton Palace), although many believe that the church was meant to imitate the buildings of the holy city of Jerusalem. The idea of Russia as the ‘new Israel’ was a very popular idea, as many Russians believed that they were the last true Christians on earth (keep in mind that Russia’s mentor, Byzantium, had fallen hardly a century earlier to the Ottoman Empire, no doubt a sign of God’s wrath). In medieval Russia—really, up until the reigns of Tsar Alexei and then Peter the Great- the Orthodox Church was a central force in politics as well as daily life.