Moscow, Onion Domes - Travel Report


Feb 16th, 2017, 07:32 PM
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Moscow, Onion Domes - Travel Report

Russia, to me, used to be cold, closed and, mysterious. It seemed like the country unwelcomed any outsiders and much more approachable until recent years. For our Russia Trip, we joined the Moscow Free Tour and it gave us a great overview of the Red Square and the nearby landmarks. Then we had to actually enter and explore the sites on our own. Check out
for information about the free tour and travel tips!

* About the Onion Domes *

This episode is about the onion domes. They are the signature to Russian architecture, and they could be seen basically anywhere in the country. This architectural style is, in general, not exclusive to Russia but somehow the Russian made it much more adorable. Theories about how the Russian started the onion fest were diverse. Some suggested this feature was brought to Russia from Muslim countries. The domes of Byzantine churches, however, were broader and flatter (called helmet domes that looked like the shape of Hershey Kiss); the domes of Russian churches had a wider drum and a higher tip, which looked much more like an onion (so-called onion domes).
Check out for the photos and history about the the onion domes in Moscow!

* Novodevichy Convent *

As an appetizer of our onion domes adventure, we ventured to the Novodevichy Convent, it’s not exactly in the historic city center but also not that far away. We took a 10-minute walk from the Sportivnaya subway station and soon the skyscrapers in the Presnensky District could be seen. The UNESCO World Heritage Site may not be as famous as the landmarks like the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, yet it has great historic value with its cloisters remained virtually intact since the 17th century, unlike others in Moscow.

The complex is so similar with the Kremlin and it’s a combination of buildings including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk, Octagonal bell tower, and almshouses. How the houses are transformed into exhibition rooms to showcase valuable artworks. Visit the church store, I found some very nice worship items in there at a good price.

* St. Basil’s Cathedral *

Of all the ‘onions’ that existed on earth, I believe the Saint Basil’s onions were the most iconic and memorable. Although basil typically tastes the best with tomatoes, the St Basil’s shined with 8 flamboyant onions popping around the tallest church in the center.

The uniqueness of its beauty was based on a legend that Ivan the Terrible, the Tsar who ordered the build in 1555, gorged out the architect’s eyes in order to prevent him re-creating the masterpiece elsewhere.Now, the cathedral is not a cathedral anymore, it is a museum. I am not sure if it was the Kremlin or GUM that looked so massive, or it really was true; my first impression of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral was kind of …. tiny. Once I got into the museum it didn’t has a grand hall that most cathedrals had and instead, there were passages that connected us to different rooms of different churches. Each tower is a ‘church’ and technically, there is a total of 9 churches in Saint Basil’s (the churches actually consisted of eight churches around the central core.). Anyway, the small size was made up with amazing frescos and valuable artifact on display. The museum has 2 floors – the ground floor is a foundation of the building and the churches are on the second floor.

Interesting, though, the layout of the cathedral was in perfect symmetry – a core in the center, four middle-sized churches built on the four compass points, and other smaller churches diagonally placed between the middle-sized churches. With multiple colors, size, and careful placements, the architectural wonder looks great and different in any angles and distance.

Check out more about my favorite cathedrals at!

The structure consists of 8 flamboyant onion domes and each of them was originally a stand-alone church. I love the fresco of the churches so much I took some photos of the soft and colorful patterns and made it my iPhone’s wallpaper until I replaced it with Joan Carmella's work.

* Cathedral of Christ the Saviour *

As much as the St. Basil’s Cathedral was impressive, my friends shared with me that he was actually expecting something… bigger. As a first-time traveler in Europe, he was hoping to see a cathedral with grandiose. So I brought him to the here, a rather new, but giant church built on the North bank of the Moskva River, while the Kremlin and Saint’s Basil’s Cathedral are in sight from the Patriarshy Bridge. The current church was a second built, completed in 2000, while the original was destroyed in 1931. Given that it’s a new cathedral, it was an important site of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although the cathedral is a reconstruction, the exterior of the church was decorated with life-like statues and the interior of the church has some beautiful paintings and décor that worth a visit.

* Moscow Kremlin *

As stated previously about the Moscow Free Tour – the Moscow Kremlin (or, the Kremlin) is one of the three “must-sees” in Moscow and I agree. “Kremlin”, as a general term, means “fortress inside a city” - a major fortified central complex. But since the Moscow Kremlin is so famous, it is always referred as “the Kremlin”. The complex is enclosed by Kremlin walls with 18 towers, and there are five palaces, four cathedrals, and a Grand Palace within. It is the Russian White House where is opened as a museum, but also where the President of the Russian Federation lives.

The site was inhabited since the 2nd century BC and continuously expanded as it remained the core of the country. When you are there, don’t miss the Cathedral Square, Armoury Chambers, and Alexandrovsky Garden.

From the outside of the complex, the Savior’s Tower and the Saint Nicholas Tower are the most eye-catching towers; and the ticket office is at the Trinity Tower.

The Alexandrovsky Garden is free to visit, and there are few monuments to see such as Monument to Alexander I; The Armoury Chambers is considered the best history museum in the history and it has 4 exhibition time a day. The ancient museum-depository was constructed in 1844-1851.

Before I entered the Cathedral Square – I had no idea I would be overwhelmed by so much onion domes. As I turned I was surrounded by golden domes and they are all in one place. Chronically, the Assumption Cathedral was erected in 1475-1479 as a major church of the state in which all Russian Tsars were crowned; The Annunciation cathedral was built in 1484-1489 by Pskov craftsmen. It was the home church of Moscow Great Princes and later Russian Tsars; The Church of Laying Our Lady’s Holy Robe was erected in 1484-1485, also constructed by Pskov craftsmen. It was the home church of Russian Metropolitans and later Patriarchs. The Archangel’s Cathedral was constructed in 1505-1508, and was used as a burial vault for Moscow Great Princes, Appanage Princes, and Russian Tsars; The Patriarch’s Palace and the Twelve Apostles’ Church was built 1653-1655 for Patriarch Nikon. The ground floor of the Single-column chamber is now an exhibition hall of the museum.

The tallest building in the square is The Ivan The Great Bell-Tower Ensemble. It was built in the 15th century. Nowadays, the ground floor of the Assumption Belfry houses is an exhibition hall of the museum.

Check out for the photos and history about the the onion domes in Moscow!
knycx_journeying is offline  
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Feb 18th, 2017, 10:29 PM
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You visited the most popular for tourists places, but I don't think that Moscow Free Tour goes to some places which are popular between people who live in Moscow. Maybe they are not as interesting as Kremlin or Onion Domes, but they show real life in Moscow. For example, Hitrovskaia ploschad, where was the center of usual city life in 18th century or Patriarschiie prudy (ponds near the true center of Moscow) are part of everyday life in this beautiful city.
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Feb 20th, 2017, 09:22 PM
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Thanks Mike_NG, I think the Free Tour also gave us some info about Moscow's way of life. We did see some places around Red Square as well. Could you tell us a little bit more about "Hitrovskaia ploschad"?
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Oct 31st, 2017, 08:33 AM
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Thanks for sharing
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