Russian architecture portrays the ideas of many cultures. From onion-shaped domes to Neo-Gothic skyscrapers, Russian style has emerged distinctively over the centuries.
Religion has had a great influence on Russian architecture. Sharp-sloping roofs, dome-like structures, tent-shaped spires, etc., are some of the common characteristics of their style of architecture. Onion-shaped domes was one of the most distinctive features of Russian architecture. Its shape is similar to a candle flame, which was believed to be the flame of faith reaching up to the heavens. These domes help shed rain and prevent snow build-up. Another characteristic of this architecture is that the church’s icons are mounted on the altar in a hierarchical fashion.
11th century Russian architecture was greatly influenced by Byzantine models. This was the period when the church fundamentals started to appear. Apart from being inspired by Byzantine models, building construction was also hugely inspired by the Romanesque culture of Western Europe. The Byzantine-inspired churches usually had a dome structure, and more importance was given to the interiors. The churches were mainly made either by circular or axial plans. Structures had vaulted exteriors in order to form a cross.
St. Sophia Cathedral
Year: 1045 – 1050
It was built to replace the Oaken Cathedral in the middle of the 11th century, making it the oldest cathedral and oldest building that is still being used.
During the 12th century, church architecture drifted a bit from the regular circular dome-shaped churches to tall churches. Kokoshnik, i.e. a curved structure above the dome was created. Even pyramidal-shaped structures were seen in a few Muscovite churches. The construction of the tent-roofed structures began in this era. The usage of limestone instead of bricks also became popular during this century.
Golden Gates at Vladimir
Year: 1158 – 1164
It is the only standing ancient Russian city gate. The structure was reconstructed in 1795.
Church of the Intercession on the Nerl
This is an orthodox church made in white stone. It is built at the confluence of the Nerl and Klyazma rivers.
Year: 1158 – 1160
Architect: Aristotele Fioravanti (Rebuilt Structure)
This cathedral in Moscow is considered to be the mother church of the medieval Russian era. It covers an area of 1,178 sq. meters.
Ancient Kremlin at Suzdal
This cathedral was the first church in Suzdal. However, due to its weak foundation, it was rebuilt in the 16th century, after being in ruins for almost 80 years.
It is considered to be the oldest cathedral in Suzdal that was built not for exclusive use by the king, but it had to be rebuilt as the foundation began giving way, after just about half a century of its construction. It was again renovated in the year 2005.
The 13th century saw the rise of the Novgorod period, where the concept of the sloping roof was introduced. The domes were now helmet-shaped and structures usually had one dome. The three-fold division of the exterior walls and pointed domes were seen in the constructions of this era. Also, art flourished in the regions under the Tatars. The rise of tower churches with vertical arrangement of chapels and porches marked the church architecture during this period.
Krutitsy Patriarchal Metochion
This 13th century orthodox church contains structures from the 17th century, but it was shut down in the 1780s. After the Second World War, it was returned to the church.
During this century, a lot of foreign architects were hired to design buildings, and they have gone on to become major tourist attractions today. This era also saw a few wooden edifices that were constructed, the Kizhi being a prominent one. The first frescoes were painted in fresh colors in many monasteries. Many churches were built that had wooden carvings on them.
This monastery was once the largest church in Medieval Russia. However, it was later ripped off its glory when Empress Catherine the Great turned several parts of the monastery into a prison. The walls and towers of the monastery are very thick.
This monastery has a holy water spring in its yard. It has the Dmitrievskaya Church, Conception Cathedral and Yakovlevskaya Church in its premises.
Many multi-domed buildings were constructed during this period. The revival of bricks in many constructions were seen in regions like Novgorod and Pskov. The first cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin complex was constructed in this period. There was also a fall in wooden constructions, as the then Tsar Ivan III ordered demolishing of all wooden structures that were surrounding the Kremlin. Glimpses of Italian influence can be seen in the structures of this period.
Architect: Antonio Gislardi
This tower is named so because it houses a water supplying machine, and in Russian, Vodovzvodnaya means ‘to lift water’. The original tower was blown up by the French army in 1812, and the current tower was rebuilt between 1814 and 1819 by Osip Bové.
Architect: Pietro Antonio Solari
This tower, bordering the Red Square, was believed to possess miraculous powers that protected the Kremlin from enemy invasions.
Tented-roof structures marked the architecture of this era. The Kolomenskoye Church was the first tent-like brick structure to be built. The development of architectural plans took place in this period, which is also known as the ‘High Renaissance’ architectural period in history. Also, tiered towers in churches were introduced, and the cupolas were substituted by bulb-like spires. The first clock was incorporated in a tower during this period.
Cast by: Andrey Chokhov
The Tsar Cannon is a 5.94-meter long cannon that is on display at the Kremlin in Moscow. However, researchers claim that it was never actually used in a war.
The Red Square was built to serve as the main marketplace. Coronation of the Tsars also took place here. The square’s name is not related to its color. The word was derived from ‘krasnyi’, which meant ‘beautiful’, but in contemporary Russian it means ‘red’.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
Year: 1555 – 1560
Architects: Barma and Postnik Yakovlev
This Cathedral was built to serve as a memorial to showcase the stronghold of Tatar in Kazan. It is said that Ivan the Terrible blinded the architect as he didn’t want him to build a cathedral that was more beautiful than this again.
Ivan the Great Bell Tower
It is the tallest tower in Moscow Kremlin with a height of 81 meters. It contains the biggest Kremlin bell, the Assumption Bell alongside other smaller bells.
Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye
The church was built to celebrate the birth of Tsar Ivan the Terrible.
This cathedral was built as a memorial to celebrate the conquest of Smolensk.
Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan
This mosque was built in the 16th century, and was named after Qolşärif who served there. However, it was destroyed by Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and was rebuilt in 1996 and inaugurated in 2005.
By the end of this century, the use of decorative elements increased in church architecture, and cult construction was on the rise. Large churches with bell towers, multiple cupolas, and aisles were built. The edifices, especially the churches, had asymmetric construction with oddly-shaped cupolas and arches. A lot of western architects were hired by the then Tsars to design a few key buildings.
New Jerusalem Monastery
Architects: Architects: P.I. Zaborsky, Yakov Bukhvostov, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, Matvei Kazakov, Karl Blank and others
The reason behind building this monastery at the said area was due to its striking resemblance to the Holy Land. The edifice was shut down in the year 1918, and was later blown up by German army. Currently, it is under renovation.
Church of Elijah the Prophet
Year: 1647 – 1650
This church was built by the wealthy brothers Anikey and Nifantey Skripin. The murals in the church, for the first time showed peasants working. Until then, it was not allowed to paint peasants on the walls of wealthy edifices.
This church was built in the 17th century, but was consecrated only in the year 1704. However, during the Soviet period, the church suffered heavy damages.
The Transfiguration Church, 37 meters tall, is one of the tallest log structures in the world. It is said that the entire structure is built without using a single nail!
The face of Russian architecture changed during this period. This era saw a more methodical construction pattern with symmetric structures and geometric shapes. The ‘rule book’ construction phase began during these times. Baroque-styled cathedrals were constructed in most of the eastern cities. Among other prominent architects, the rise of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli was the most significant development in the world of architecture. His magnificent structures were the highlights of St. Petersburg.
Peter and Paul Fortress
The very first building to be constructed in St. Petersburg is this edifice. The structure’s construction began in 1712 and was completed in 1733, a long 21 years later.
Architect: Bartolomeo Rastrelli (Rebuilt Structure)
Named after Catherine, the wife of Peter the Great, the palace exteriors have been made using around a 100 kilograms of gold.
Grand Cascade Lodge
Year: 1714 – 1728
Architect: Bartolomeo Rastrelli
Also known as the Peterhof Palace, this structure has a giant fountain – the Samson fountain situated at the center of the cascade. The fountain shows the moment when Samson tears open the jaws of a lion.
Year: 1748 – 1764
Architect: Bartolomeo Rastrelli
This edifice was built to house the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, when she opted to become a nun. Today, it is used as a concert hall.
Year: 1754 – 1762
Architect: Bartolomeo Rastrelli
This palace was the original residence of the Russian monarchs. The palace has approximately 1,786 doors, 1,945 windows, 1,500 rooms, and 117 staircases.
Year: 1747 – 1751
Architect: Bartolomeo Rastrelli
This was the traditional baptismal church of the children of the Tsars. However, it was open to public viewing in 1900. The church was damaged during World War II, and was converted into a post office.
St. Michael’s Castle
Year: 1797 – 1800
When one of the soldiers was guarding the construction site of this castle, he had a vision that Archangel Michael was guarding the castle alongside him. Thus, the castle came to be known as Mikhailovsky (St. Michael’s) Castle.
Lomonosov Moscow State University
Architect: Lev Vladimirovich Rudnev
The university’s library was the only one that was open to general public, which was done in the year 1756. In 1941, it was named after the famous academician Mikhail Lomonosov.
The 19th century was mainly dominated by the Byzantine and Russian Revival. During the first quarter of this century, there was Greek Revival which prevailed up to the middle of the century. Reconstruction of the cities using massive design plans and technical advances was the main priority during that period. In 1918, Alexey Shchusev and Ivan Zholtovsky founded the Mossovet Architectural Workshop, where planning of the reconstruction of Moscow as a new Soviet capital took place. But after World War II, the focus was on reconstructing the destroyed buildings and building new ones. In 1945, Stalin changed the look of many post-war cities. After his death in 1953, social and political changes took place in the country, which brought an end to Stalinist architecture. As a result, the buildings became simple and square-shaped.
Monument to Minin and Pozharsky
Designer: Ivan Martos
It is the bronze statue that stands in front of the St. Basil’s Cathedral. It commemorates Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin who put an end to the Time of Troubles in Russia.
Uspensky Cathedral in Omsk
Architect: Ernest Würrich (Original Structure)
This cathedral was built in the year 1891, but was shut down after the Russian Revolution, and was blown up later in 1935. Later, it was rebuilt during the 21st Century.
Hospice of Count Sheremetev
Architect: Elizvoy Nazarov
This hospice was first built as a charity shelter to the poor, by Count Nikolai Petrovich Sheremetev, husband of Russian theater actress Praskovya. But after her demise, the hospice was reconstructed to serve as a monument in her memory.
Admiralty Building at St. Petersburg
Year: 1806 – 1823
Designer: Andreyan Zakharov
Currently serving as the headquarters of the Russian Army, this building was reconstructed in the 19th century. The spire has a weather-vane at its top.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
Year: 1818 – 1858
Architect: Auguste de Montferrand
St. Isaac’s Cathedral was the city of St Petersburg’s main church, and was built between 1818 and 1858. It has the capacity to accommodate 14,000 worshipers at a time.
Architect: Joseph Bové
This theater in Moscow was the place where ballet and opera were held. The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are the oldest and most renowned ones in the world.
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior
Architect: Konstantin Thon
The commissioning of this cathedral took place after the defeat of Napoleon, but was constructed in 1839. However, the original edifice was blown up in 1931, and in 2000, the new cathedral was built.
Architect: Alexander Pomerantsev
This store is located facing the Red Square, and was built in the year 1893. It was once the largest shopping mall in the whole of Europe.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Year: 1883 – 1907
Architect: Alfred Alexandrovich Parland
The ‘blood’ in the name of the church is because Tsar Alexander II was killed on this site. The church was earlier known as ‘Savior of Potatoes’, as it was used for storing vegetables during World War II.
Old Believers Church
The Old Believers Church is one of the main wooden marvels that is located in Russia.
20th century construction witnessed a mix of the neoclassicism and skyscraper style. The avant-garde architecture period marked this era’s architectural style. A few architects used a limited color range. Due to the downfall of the Soviet Union, many architectural projects were canceled or put on hold. The theme or height of a building was no longer the main criteria, and this improved the financial conditions and architectural rates in Russia. As a result, skyscrapers were constructed in Moscow city, though, some architects continued to follow the Stalinist architectural style, and constructed buildings like the Triumph Palace.
The Shukhov Tower
Year: 1927 – 1929
Architect: Vladimir Shukhov
It is the world’s only diagrid hyperboloid transmission tower. Today, there is a 128-meter pylon that stands with about five 25-meter sections of steel lattice.
The Anniversary Mosque
Year: 1924 – 1926
It was built as a memorial to mark the thousandth anniversary of the Islamization of the Volga Bulgars in 922.
Opera House in Chelyabinsk
Year: 1937 – 1956
This opera house was used as an ammunition factory during the Second World War. However, later on it became famous as an opera house.
Designed by: Nikolai Nikitin
The Ostankino Tower is the tallest freestanding structure in all of Europe, and has remained so for 42 years. It was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution.
Year: 1965 – 1981
The White House was damaged in the 1993 crisis and has black burn marks on it. Today, it houses the Russian government.
Russian architecture highlights the history, culture, ethnicity and religious diversity of its people. This architecture can be regarded as one of the richest and magnificent architectures in the world.