Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Happy 450th Birthday, St. Basil's!

This is the Google header for today - the 450th birthday of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, which is the most breathtaking piece of architecture I've ever seen.

Red Square from inside St. Basil's, looking out

My parents and I inside St. Basil's

One of the several iconostasis (iconostasi for plural?) inside

St. Basil's

Looking up one of the onion domes from inside

In May, my parents and I toured the interior of the church. Its actually a collection of ten separate churches all clustered together, with those distinctive onion domes that a Russian Orthodox priest I knew referred to as "Dairy Queen swirls"! It is much easier to realize that there are ten individual churches once you are inside, as you make your way up twisting stairs and through arches to the different churches, all named after separate saints. The full name of the cathedral is the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, but it has always collectively been known as St. Basil's, named after Saint Basil (Vasily in Russian) whose remains can be found in the tenth church.

Who was St. Basil, anyway? Well, according to this information inside the church, he was a a "Fool for Christ and a nude walker." Wow. So this stunning historical artifact was named after a guy who was basically a streaker? Nice.

Anyways, if you go to Moscow, St. Basil's is an obvious must-see, but I also really encourage you to tour the inside of the church as well. Ticket prices are very reasonable (I think its around 150-250 roubles per person, about $5-7 CDN) and it offers a totally different visual perspective on Red Square, not to mention there are English-language pamphlets that explain some interesting history of the cathedral.

It is one of those sights that people just automatically associate with Russia, like the Eiffel Tower and Paris, but I promise you that as trite and touristy as it may seem from a jaded traveler perspective, IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. No words can truly describe how beautiful and other-worldly St. Basil's is. It is unlike anything in the world - magical and mystical, somehow encompassing the ancient power of Holy Rus and the might of a country that is simultaneously beautiful and barbaric. And it will be the sight that acts like a punch in the stomach to you, the sight that makes you fully realize, "Wow. I'm actually in Russia!"


  1. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  2. Although the onion domes are basically a Middle-East affectation as far as St-Basil's is concerned, they have a practical purpose in their homeland. The onion shape promotes interior airflow and cools the inside of the building, sort of a natural air-conditioner.

  3. Hi! I've really enjoyed reading your blog...I just found it a couple of days ago, and it has really helped me out because I'm fixing to embark on a similar adventure...also teaching with Language Link, also in a suburb school around Moscow, also just after graduating. I have some questions for you if you have the time. Looking back, would you have preferred a homestay over staying in a flat? Do you think that would have helped improve your Russian (I also studied it in college, and would really like to improve it while I'm over there!) Did you enjoy teaching / was it harder/easier than you thought it would be? Is there anything you regretted not taking with you, or anything you found out you didn't need once you were over there? Was it hard or expensive to get internet access? Sorry, I know this is a large number of questions! Thanks for any advice you can give me. -Hannah :)

  4. Thanks for the info about the onion dome architectural style, Mark! I didn't know that - very interesting!

    Hi Hannah! That is so cool that you are about to do the same thing I did this past year...you are going to have an amazing time!! What suburb school are you placed at? I'll do my best to answer your questions; if you have any more feel free to contact me at starr.katharine@gmail.com.

    - I preferred living in a flat as opposed to a homestay, although living with a Russian family obviously would have seen a huge increase in fluency. However, it was VERY easy to make friends with Russians (they are so eager to know more about foreigners and to show you around the city and help you out!) so that's a great way to improve your Russian. I also did this language exchange, where I taught a Russian woman one hour of English, and then we would switch and she would teach me an hour of Russian. I think as long as you make an effort to go out and about, to speak to people at the grocery stores and on the bus, and to ask your students for help you will definitely be able to improve your Russian. Just being immersed in it - from signs to radio to conversations on the street - helped me immensely.
    - I LOVED teaching!! To be honest, I was very nervous at the beginning (are you doing the internship first?) and that first class I taught was nervewracking!! But LL does a great job of preparing you, and the coursebooks we teach from are simple and laid out in a great format that makes lesson-planning very easy. Also, the students are incredibly warm, friendly, and encouraging. I would say the only difficulty would be some behavioural problems with teens (the whole "too cool for school" attitude!)
    - Hmm, I wish I had brought some multi-vitamins with me, because I found it difficult to make sure I was getting all my nutrients in (but I'm a vegetarian, which is a difficult thing to be in Russia so if you eat meat, you'll have no problem getting protein, iron, etc!) I wish I had brought another power adapter/converter, as well as a power surge protector (I ended up buying one there after a power surge completely killed my first laptop. Definitely have one because you never know when a surge will happen in your flat!)I also really wish I had bought a Kindle or some type of e-book before, because although there is an English selection at Biblio Globus, it is limited (and new releases are expensive; I ended up reading a lot of the cheaper old classics!) and of course you have to leave them behind when you fly back home because they take up too much room/weight!
    - I wouldn't worry about bringing a large supply of cosmetics/toiletries with you because you can get all the same brands in Russia (Herbal Essences, CoverGirl, tampax, bandaids, etc) I brought a fan but didn't end up needing it. Winter gear (scarves, hats, mitts) can be bought over there for cheap prices, and are super warm!
    - Internet is iffy. Apparently it really depends on the type of flat building you're in, as well as the company that provides internet access for your neighbourhood. The only company that could supposedly hook us up with internet was Nikos, and they were, quite frankly, pretty shitty. But it was 660 roubles/month for hi-speed wifi, divided by my two flatmates and I, so I only had to pay 220 roubles a month. Sometimes though it would just randomly stop working for a few days, and we were never told why. There are better companies to go with (Beeline, Megafon, and MTS) but your administrators at your school will help you with everything once you're there! Just be prepared to go a few days or even a few weeks without internet at your flat. There is however internet at the LL schools so you can always use that to email your parents/friends before you get your own hooked up!

    Hope this helps and again, if you have any more questions, feel free to shoot me an email! Best of luck and honestly, you are going to have the BEST year ever!!

  5. A mosquito net, Hannah. If you're going to be there over summer, it can get really humid, and if Moscow is anything like the Far East, bazillions of hungry little blood-drinkers. You'll likely have to leave your windows open because of the heat, but few have screens. A mosquito net scrunches up really small and doesn't take up much room, and you won't be sorry you took it. Don't think that if you're 10 floors up that mosquitos won't fly that high, either.

  6. Hey!

    My name is James, I'm 26, and I just moved to Moscow from Toronto for business. Just read your blog and you seem to know exactly what it's like being new here. You have any tips? I'd love to hear about your experiences. Add me on Skype if you use it - jameshfmackay.


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