A Journey into St. Basil’s Cathedral… For Free
For HSE Preparatory program students, who are not eligible for a student card, going to museums is always a pain in the neck. You are a full-time student, yet you have to pay the full price. In many museums in Moscow, the adult ticket price is usually around 700 rubles (as opposed 150 rubles for students), but when it comes to the St. Basil’s Cathedral, the architectural landmark of Russia, it is even more expensive.
From mid-May to August, the adult ticket price for non-Russian and non-CIS citizens is an exorbitant 1000 rubles. (At other times it is 700 rubles.) In fact, it is very difficult to find a museum in Moscow that has a higher entrance fee than the St. Basil’s Cathedral, but it is easy to understand. Who does not want to be in awe of possibly the most famous building in Russia? Especially for tourists who have travelled here from the other side of the world.
The St. Basil’s Cathedral, consecrated in 1561, was ordered to built by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), one of the most famous monarchs in Russian history, to commemorate the victory over the Kazan Khanate. Since the cathedral, which consists of 10 small churches, is the postcard building of Russia, hence often shown in news clips as representation of the Russian government, many foreigners mistake it for the Moscow Kremlin, which is located nearby.
To me, this cathedral with multi-coloured domes looks stunning from all angles. I have always wanted to explore what is inside those onion-shaped towers. Fortunately, this year on the “Day of St. Basil’s Cathedral (День Покровского собора, July 12),” admission to the cathedral is free! I immediately jumped at this opportunity.
I arrived at the cathedral in early afternoon, and there were already many people waiting in line. Most of them were Russians, since the sign was only in Russian. Tourists had to ask around to figure out what was going on.
After about half an hour, I finally set foot in the cathedral and immediately realized that it was totally worth the wait. The frescos and oil paintings of the image of the saints in each of small churches were stunning. Even the floral murals in the galleries were very beautiful. No wonder legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte liked it so much that he once planned to move it to France.
Some of the displays had English translations, which made the cathedral more tourist-friendly than the State Historical Museum, located just across the Red Square.
One more good thing about the St. Basil’s Cathedral – unlike the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, it actually allows amateur photography inside. (Through it is free to enter the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.) However, at the same time, people stopping to take pictures made it even harder to squeeze into those small churches. Whenever there were guided tours or choir performances, it was almost impossible to pass through.
After touring the cathedral for about an hour and a half, I left and saw that the queue outside the cathedral had grown even longer, which proved that it is always best to arrive early for free events. Even though it was far from the best visit I have had, I still managed to get a glimpse of this architectural gem. At least I know what to expect next time I saunter down the dark and narrow corridors into the churches and take a closer look at the invaluable paintings, which I will certainly do. Of course, not until I finally get a student card next year.
Prepared by Nicole Leung, Prep Year alumna and IO summer intern