Stretching boundaries between Europe and China, Russia is neither East nor West. The vast expanse of the field, forest, and the desert has seen Mughal rule, czarist reigns of terror, European invasions, and communist rule. The architecture of Russia reflects the ideas of many cultures. Yet, from onion domes to neo-gothic skyscrapers, a distinctly Russian style emerged. From the Russian era, the Byzantine Empire influenced the architecture and culture of Russian. 

The earliest stone buildings of Russia reflected the strong influence of Greek Byzantine styles, notably in the churches of ancient Russia. To the right lies St. Sophia, founded in the 11th century in Kyiv. To the left lies St. Vladimir in Novgorod representing the medieval architecture of the north. The evolution of Russian architecture includes early wooden churches in the north, develops through fabulous onion-domed structures that have become iconic images of Russia, and culminates in classic imitations of European styles in massive secular structures. 

Below is the list of 10 such structures:

1. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow

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Cathedral of Christ the Saviour Exterior ©

Announcing its vast copper domes which dominated the Moscow skyline; the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is the highest orthodox temple in the world. Strategically centred near the Kremlin and next to the Moska river, the church has magnificent surroundings which also makes it a tourist destination describing the nation’s religious and political history. The cathedral had a short yet turbulent history ranging from construction, consecration, and restoration over time. This church sets an example of Russian Revival architecture with a stone façade and white marble dominating the structure. 

2. The Church of Transfiguration, Kizhi Island

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The Church of Transfiguration Exterior ©

Constructed in 1714 during the rule of Peter the Great, The Church of Transfiguration was ornamented with 22 onion domes with innumerable aspen shingles. During its construction, there was no use of nails which in turn today many of the spruce legs are weakened by insects and rot. It was the time when the Russian Churches began as simple and sacred spaces with wood as an important material. However, with time many wooden churches were destroyed with rot and fire. Even in this Church, the shortage of funds has resulted in neglect and poorly executed restoration efforts.

3. St. basils Cathedral, Moscow

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St. Basil’s Cathedral Exterior ©

The reign of Ivan IV (the Terrible) brought a quick resurgence of interest in traditional Russian styles. And to memorialize the victory of Russian over the Tatars at Kazan, Ivan erected this cathedral just before the Kremlin gates in Moscow. St. Basil’s may be a carnival of painted onion domes within the most expressive of Russo-Byzantine traditions. It is believed that Ivan the Terrible had the architects blinded so that they might nevermore design a building so beautiful. St. Basil’s Cathedral is also termed as the Cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God. After the rule of Ivan IV, architecture in Russia was influenced majorly from European rather than Eastern styles.

4. Smolny Cathedral, St. Petersburg

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Smolny Cathedral Exterior ©

European ideas reigned during the time of Peter the Great. His namesake city, St. Petersburg, was remodelled after European ideas, and his successors continued the tradition by bringing architects from Europe to design palaces, cathedrals, and other important buildings. Designed by the renowned Italian architect, Rastrelli, Smolny Cathedral celebrates the Rococo style. Rococo is a French Baroque fashion known for its light, white ornamentation, and complex arrangements of curving forms. The blue-and-white Smolny Cathedral is like a confectioner’s cake with arches, pediments, and columns. Only the onion-dome caps hint at Russian tradition. The cathedral was to be the centrepiece of a convent designed for Empress Elisabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. But, at the end of her reign, funding for the convent ran out. Construction stopped in 1764, and the cathedral was not completed until 1835.

5. Hermitage Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

Hermitage Winter Palace Exterior ©

With Baroque and Rococo flourishes usually impacted for furnishings, the noted 16th-century architect Rastrelli created what is most certainly the most famous building of imperial St. Petersburg: The Hermitage Winter Palace. Built between 1754 and 1762 for Empress Elisabeth (daughter of Peter the Great), the green-white palace is a lavish confection of arches, pediments, columns, pilasters, bays, balustrades, and statuary. Not an onion dome is to be found on this strictly European creation. The Hermitage Winter Palace served as the winter residence for every ruler since Peter III. Later, when Peter’s wife Catherine the Great seized the throne, she took possession of her husband’s quarters and redecorated. 

6. Tavrichesky Palace, St. Petersburg 

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Tavrichesky Palace Exterior ©

Elsewhere in the world, Russia was mocked for crude, exuberant expressions of Western architecture. Catherine the Great wanted to introduce more dignified styles. She understood the engravings of classical architecture and new European buildings, and she made neoclassicism the official court style. The architecture of Palladio, based on classical ancient Greek and Roman buildings, was the style of the day and influenced what is often called Tauride Palace or Taurida Palace. Prince Gregory’s palace was starkly neoclassical with symmetrical rows of columns, a pronounced pediment, and dome just like many of the neoclassical buildings found in Washington, DC.

7. Lenin’s Mausoleum, Moscow

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Lenin’s Mausoleum Exterior ©

Interest in the old styles was briefly awakened during the 1800s, but with the 20th century arrived the Russian Revolution. The avant-garde Constructivist movement celebrated the industrial age and the new socialist order. Designed by Alexei Shchusev, Lenin’s Mausoleum has been described as a masterpiece of architectural simplicity. The mausoleum was originally a wooden cube. The body of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union, was displayed inside a glass casket. In 1924, Shchusev built a more permanent mausoleum made of wooden cubes assembled into a step pyramid formation. In 1930, the wood was replaced with red granite (symbolizing Communism) and black labradorite (symbolizing mourning). 

8. Cathedral of our lady of the sign 

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Cathedral of our Lady of the Sign Exterior ©

This was erected for keeping the icon Our Lady of the Sign that protected Novgorod from an attack from the city of Suzdal in 1170. Currently, the church stands as an example of 17th century Moscow architecture. Its facades are decorated with frescoes and pieces of tile. The interior was painted in 1702 by masters from the city of Kostroma. Been preserved till these days their paintings are remarkable for the presence of some secular plots. The perfect acoustics transforms the cathedral’s experience into a perfect place for chamber choir music concerts that make it possible to feel better all the beauty of the artistic design of this marvellous architectural palette.

9. Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

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Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius Exterior ©

The trinity Sergiuslavra is standing as a world-famous spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox church. The Architectural palette of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius Holds all the components representing its Outstanding Universal Value. The conservation of the ensemble has been maintained through the creation of a State museum-reserve from the beginning of the 20th century. Along with the approval of the boundaries of the buffer zone, the integrity of the ensemble is provided by legally warranted and registered boundaries of the land occupied by the buildings and architectural structures of the ensemble. Among the factors that hurt the property is the construction of monuments and other forms of development pressure within the buffer zone, which impacts adversely on the Lavra’s historic appearance, and the increasing number of tourist and pilgrim groups.

10. Bolshoi Theatre

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Bolshoi Theatre Exterior ©

This historic theatre is one of the faces of 20th century Neoclassical architecture in Russia. This building functioned for ballet and opera performances. The main building of the theatre was constructed multiple times throughout its history making it a landmark of Moscow and Russia. 


Jaival Mehta, being a third-year architecture student, is always keen to read and explode the theme of subject matter. If he had the time and stamina to do so, he would cycle around the world, with a pen, camera and a notebook. He is a literature and design enthusiast and his favourite word is ‘why’.

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