The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat (Russian: Собор Покрова пресвятой Богородицы, что на Рву) or Pokrovsky Cathedral (Russian: Покровский собор) - both are official names used by the Russian Orthodox Church - also known as the Cathedral of St. Vasily the Blessed but popularly as Saint Basil's Cathedral (Russian: Собор Василия Блаженного), is a Russian Orthodox church erected on Red Square in Moscow in 1555–61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible. It 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 original building, known as "Trinity Church" and later "Trinity Cathedral", contained eight side churches arranged around the ninth, central church of Intercession; the tenth church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local saint Vasily (Basil). In the 16th and 17th centuries the church, perceived as the earthly symbol of the Heavenly City, as happens to all churches in Byzantine Christianity, was popularly known as the "Jerusalem" and served as an allegory of the Jerusalem Temple in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the Patriarch of Moscow and the tsar.
The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no analogues in Russian architecture: "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 2011, 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.
Because the church has no analogues, in preceding, contemporary or later architecture of Muscovy and Byzantine cultural tradition in general, the sources that inspired Barma and Postnik are disputed. Eugène Viollet-le-Duc rejected European roots for the cathedral; according to him, its corbel arches were Byzantine, and ultimately Asian. A modern "Asian" hypothesis considers the cathedral a recreation of Qolsharif Mosque, which was destroyed by Russian troops after the siege of Kazan.
Nineteenth-century Russian writers, starting with Ivan Zabelin, emphasized the influence of the vernacular wooden churches of the Russian North; their motifs made their ways into masonry, particularly the votive churches that did not need to house substantial congregations. David Watkin also wrote of a blend of Russian and Byzantine roots, calling the cathedral "the climax" of Russian vernacular wooden architecture.
The church combines the staggered layered design of the earliest (1505–08) part of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, the central tent of the Church of Ascension in Kolomenskoye (1530s), and the cylindric shape of the Church of Beheading of John the Baptist in Dyakovo (1547), but the origin of these unique buildings is equally debated. The Church in Kolomenskoye, according to Sergey Podyapolsky, was built by Italian Petrok Maly, although mainstream history has not yet accepted his opinion. Andrey Batalov revised the year of completion of Dyakovo church from 1547 to the 1560s–70s, and noted that Trinity Church could have had no tangible predecessors at all.
Dmitry Shvidkovsky suggested that the "improbable" shapes of the Intercession Church and the Church of Ascension in Kolomenskoye manifested an emerging national renaissance, blending earlier Muscovite elements with the influence of Italian Renaissance. A large group of Italian architects and craftsmen continuously worked in Moscow in 1474–1539, as well as Greek refugees that arrived in the city after the fall of Constantinople. These two groups, according to Shvidkovsky, helped Moscow rulers in forging the doctrine of Third Rome, which in turn promoted assimilation of contemporary Greek and Italian culture. Shvidkovsky noted the resemblance of the cathedral's floorplan to Italian concepts by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Donato Bramante, but most likely Filarete's Trattato di architettura. Other Russian researchers noted a resemblance to sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, although he could not have been known in Ivan's Moscow. Nikolay Brunov recognized the influence of these prototypes but not their significance; he suggested that in the mid-16th century Moscow already had local architects trained in Italian tradition, architectural drawing and perspective, and that this culture was lost during the Time of Troubles.
Andrey Batalov wrote that, judging by the number of novel elements introduced with Trinity Church, it was most likely built by German craftsmen. Batalov and Shvidkovsky noted that during Ivan's reign, Germans and Englishmen replaced Italians, although German influence peaked later, during the reign of Mikhail Romanov. German influence is indirectly supported by the rusticated pilasters of the central church, a feature more common in contemporary Northern Europe than in Italy.
The 1983 academic edition of Monuments of Architecture in Moscow takes the middle ground: the church is, most likely, a product of the complex interaction of distinct Russian traditions of wooden and stone architecture, with some elements borrowed from the works of Italians in Moscow. Specifically, the style of brickwork in the vaults is Italian