This five-dome cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Great (1440–1505), whose reign witnessed much new construction in Moscow and in the Kremlin in particular. The cathedral was built in 1505–09 to replace an earlier church of the same name. The architect was the Italian Aleviso Novi, who came to Moscow at the invitation of the tsar; note the distinct elements of the Italian Renaissance in the cathedral's ornate decoration, particularly in the scallop-shaped gables on its facade. Until 1712, when the Russian capital was moved to St. Petersburg, the cathedral was the burial place of Russian princes and tsars. Inside there are 46 tombs, including that of Ivan Kalita (Ivan "Moneybags"; circa 1304–40), who was buried in the earlier cathedral in 1340. The tomb of Ivan the Terrible (1530–84) is hidden behind the altar; that of his young son, Dmitry, is under the stone canopy to your right as you enter the cathedral. Dmitry's death at the age of seven is one of the many unsolved mysteries
in Russian history. He was the last descendant of Ivan the Terrible, and many believe he was murdered because he posed a threat to the ill-fated Boris Godunov (circa 1551–1605), who at the time ruled as regent. A government commission set up to investigate Dmitry's death concluded that he was playing with a knife and "accidentally" slit his own throat. The only tsar to be buried here after 1712 was Peter II (Peter the Great's grandson; 1715–30), who died of smallpox while visiting Moscow.
The walls and pillars of the cathedral are covered in frescoes that tell the story of ancient Russian history. The original frescoes, painted right after the church was built, were repainted in the 17th century by a team of more than 50 leading artists from several Russian towns. Restoration work in the 1950s uncovered some of the original medieval frescoes, fragments of which can be seen in the altar area. The pillars are decorated with figures of warriors; Byzantine emperors; the early princes of Kievan Rus' (the predecessor of modern-day Russia and Ukraine), Vladimir and Novgorod; as well as the princes of Moscow, including Vasily III, the son of Ivan the Great. The frescoes on the walls depict religious scenes, including the deeds of Archangel Michael. The carved baroque iconostasis is 43 feet high and dates from the 19th century. The icons themselves are mostly 17th century, although the revered icon of Archangel Michael is believed to date to the 14th century.