History of Russian Architecture

History of Russian Architecture; c.1450 – c.1750: A Class-Structured State of Sorts.

Many people refer to the time between 1450 and 1750 as “the rise of Russia,” perhaps because the country truly came into its own during this time. Indeed, the Eastern European world as we know it, and especially as it pertains to Russia, was really formed in this period.

Power balances were changed and reorganized in this time, not just in Russia but in all of Eurasia. Russia made its first “power move” by freeing itself from Mongol Domination. Then, the country began to expand eastward. Eventually, it would even have a good relationship with the Western world, though it managed to maintain its own unique culture and “personality,” as well as its own unique brand of architecture.

Moscow Kremlin;

History of Russian Wooden Architecture ?

“Kremlin” is the Russian word for “citadel,” and though there are many of these structures throughout Russia, none are quite as well known as the Moscow Kremlin, built in 1485. The Moscow Kremlin is made up of palaces, cathedrals, towers, and a large wall. Currently, it is home to the president of the Russian Federation.

Boasting a triangular shape, the Kremlin takes up a massive 90 acres and is situated near many other important sites, including Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral. Despite all of the important structures in close proximity to the Kremlin, it is still the most architecturally distinct and intriguing locale in the vicinity.

In fact, even the Kremlin’s crenellated walls, which were erected in the 15th century, draw great attention. The walls are topped by twenty towers, including the renowned Spasskaya tower, which is situated above the main gate and features chimes.

Along these celebrated walls stand massive palaces, such as the Granovitaya Palata, the Oruzheinaya Palata, and the Grand Palace.

Also notable is Cathedral Square, an area that boasts several impressive churches, including the Uspenski Cathedral, built in the late 15th century; the Blagoveschenski Cathedral, and the Arkhangelski Cathedral. Each cathedral is not only important architecturally but also because of the important political and royal events each once hosted.

Most would argue that the Arkhangelski Cathedral is the most impressive architecturally because of its separated bell tower and its richly decorated gold cupola. The Cathedral also happens to house the tombs of important czars.

It is important to note, however, that the Kremlin people see today is not the Kremlin as it once was. A wooden version of the Kremlin was actually erected in the 13th century, followed by an Italian Renaissance style Kremlin, and a more modern Kremlin designed by Catherine the Great in the 18th century. Despite the many changes it has undergone, the Kremlin is impressive simply because, unlike almost all of Moscow’s other structures, it has managed to continue standing all this time.

Red Square

Next to the famous Kremlin lies the Red Square. In fact, the Red Square separates the Kremlin from the nearby merchant quarter. The square was originally created as a central marketplace but would eventually become the site where important public ceremonies would take place. Indeed, the site is still used for public ceremonies today.

While the Red Square is certainly an important and celebrated site, it is actually the structures around the square that are of the most value and interest architecturally. From around 1508 to 1516, respected architect Aloisio the New designed a moat, now known as the Alevizoz moat, and placed it in front of the Eastern wall. The moat is 541 meters long and is constructed with limestone and cogged brick.

Three square gates can also be seen around the square. These gates were named after important, historical icons of the 17th century and give a glimpse into the minds and beliefs of Russian peoples of the time. The three “patron saints” of the gates, if you will, include Constantine, Helen, Jesus Christ, and St. Nicholas.

Though the structures surrounding the Square and the Square itself would go through many changes, they are still true enough to their original form to provide an authentic glimpse into the architecture of the period.  One final structure that must be noted is the Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin or “Saint Basil’s Cathedral,” which lies under the aforementioned moat.

Old Palace, Kolomenskoye

When most people think of Kolomenskoye, they think of the Old Palace, also known as the Grand Palace. However, Kolomenskoye is more than just the palace itself; it is actually an entire royal estate and features many important structures, though the palace does certainly take center stage.

The palace was commissioned by Tsar Alexis I. He wanted to create something new that would be a testament to his great power and leadership, so he had all of the wooden structures that once filled Kolomenskoye destroyed. He replaced those structures with yet another wooden structure, the original version of the palace that is now so famous. To its credit, the palace was also famous in its own time, though it looked quite different than it does today.

Part of the reason for the palace’s initial fame was that few people had seen anything like it. Alexis did not hold back at all, creating swooping, storybook roofs and filling the palace with an astonishing 250 rooms. Perhaps what is even more astonishing was that the palace, beautiful as it was, was not created using complex tools. In fact, no saws or hammers were even used in its construction.

Unfortunately, Catherine II was not happy with the palace, especially after it began to show wear and tear. Following in Alexis’ footsteps, she had the original structure torn down in 1768. Since she was not interested in a power play and had much more modest tastes, the palace she had created was smaller and made of stone and brick.

The second palace is interesting architecturally but cannot compare to the original design, which is why the Moscow Government ordered an authentic reconstruction of the original castle in 2010. Therefore, those who visit the Old Palace will not be seeing the true original structure but will still get a very authentic glimpse into history.

Other structures in the area that are worth studying include the Church of John the Baptist, built in the 16th century; the Church of Saint George, and the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, built in the 17th century.

History of Russian Architecture; Winter Palace

From 1732 to 1917, Russian monarchs lived in the immense Winter Palace, located in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The palace stood next to both the Palace Embankment and the Palace Square, and though an impressive structure, it was not the first to stand in its place. The grounds of the Winter Palace once housed Peter the Great’s own Winter Palace, built between 1711 and 1712.

The Palace that now stands and that is now considered The Winter Palace is actually the fourth version of the structure, having been constructed near the end of the 1730s and regularly updated. The palace even managed to come back after a fire in 1837; restoration work was quickly completed, proving just how important the palace was to people of the time.

This fourth version of the Winter Palace is immense in size; indeed, it was designed specifically to demonstrate and to stand as a symbol of the great power of Imperial Russia. Because the structure was so large and complex in its design, several architects worked on it, including Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Rastrelli’s designs were so innovative that they led to the creation of a new style, known now as the Elizabethan Baroque style.

The palace is green and white in color, rectangle-shaped, and has 1,500 rooms. Many elements of the palace, including its grandiosity, are considered to be exemplary of the Rococo style.

Though St. Peter’s Winter Palace may no longer be standing, it too marked important architectural achievements. Its commissioner, Peter I of Russia, wanted to create not just a palace, but an entire Empire and a city to mark that Empire. Therefore, his original palace was a testament to his desires and to his tendency toward Westernization.

Both the palace Peter created and his new city reflected a rejection of the once-standard Russian architecture with Byzantine roots and an embracement of the Petrine Baroque style. Peter commissioned architect Domenico Trezzini to work on the structure. Since security was not as much of a concern as it had been in previous years, Trezzini did not focus on commonplace features like fortified walls and instead focused on beauty and design. The palace featured a simple but elegant slate roof and had light decorative elements, a far cry from the ostentatious palaces to come after it, and a once-tangible symbol of the innovative design trends of the time.

Log Buildings, Kolomenskoye; 18th-century Houses

As mentioned, Kolomenskoye is and was more than just its “old palace.” It was an entire estate and featured several important structures, structures that were not only important at the time but that have also become important to the study and understanding of architecture.

Many charming log cabins dot Kolomenskoye, but none are more important or respected than Peter the Great’s Log Cabin. The cabin was created during a short window of a few days in 1703 by local soldiers. The soldiers used the basic form of traditional Russian country homes, known as izbas, and the Dutch Baroque style to create a very unique little cabin. The cabin truly is “little” too, featuring only three rooms and encompassing a small area of approximately 60 meters. Because the cabin was designed for use in warm weather, chimneys and fireplaces are not present in the cabin.

Delightful 18th-century houses can also be found in Kolomenskoye. In fact, near the stable yard, small wooden cottages can be found perched just above a ravine. These miniscule cottages provide a perfect glimpse into common living quarters of the time. A single 18th century cottage can be found near the gatehouse, this one from Preobrazhenskoye, and near the main gate, a row of incomplete wooden houses can be observed.

History of Russian Architecture; Anichkov Mansion

The Anichkov Mansion, also known as the Anichkov Palace, was named for the adjacent Anichkov Bridge. The mansion was designed to suit the tastes of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia and thus is done in the Baroque style.

While there is no conclusive evidence to support the belief, many scholars claim that Bartolomeo Rastrelli and/or Mikhail Zemtsov may have been the architects behind the mansion.

Whoever is behind its construction, the building of the mansion first got underway in 1741, and the project was not completed until 1754. After completion, Elizabeth almost immediately gifted the structure to Count Aleksey Razumovsky. When he died, the crown once again took control of the palace until Catherine the Great of Russia gifted it to Prince Potemkin.

Following the prince’s orders, Ivan Starov, a respected architect of the time, renovated the palace to suit the then-popular Neoclassical style. When Potemkin died, the mansion was again returned to the crown, under whose ownership it regularly underwent changes to suit modern taste and style.

Today, the mansion is now known as the Young Pioneer Palace, where after school programs are held for young children.  While this is definitely an acceptable use for the structure, it can only be observed from the exterior without special accommodations, a fact that disappoints many students of architecture.