Lonely Planet review
The Annunciation Cathedral, at the southwest corner of Sobornaya ploshchad, contains the celebrated icons of master painter Theophanes the Greek. They have a timeless beauty that appeals even to those usually left cold by icons.
Vasily I built the first wooden church on this site in 1397. Between 1484 and 1489, Ivan III had the Annunciation Cathedral rebuilt to serve as the royal family's private chapel. Originally the cathedral had just three domes and an open gallery round three sides. Ivan the Terrible, whose tastes were more elaborate, added six more domes and chapels at each corner, enclosed the gallery and gilded the roof.
Under Orthodox law, Ivan's fourth marriage disqualified him from entering the church proper, so he had the southern arm of the gallery converted into the Archangel Gabriel Chapel (Pridel Arkhangela Gavriila ), from which he could watch services through a grille. The chapel has a colourful iconostasis, dating from its consecration in 1564, and an exhibition of icons.
Many of the murals in the gallery date from the 1560s. Among them are the Capture of Jericho in the porch, Jonah and the Whale in the northern arm of the gallery, and the Tree of Jesus on its ceiling. Other murals feature ancient philosophers Aristotle, Plutarch, Plato, Socrates and others holding scrolls with their own wise words. Socrates' scroll reads: 'No harm will ever come to a good man. Our soul is immortal. After death the good shall be rewarded and the evil punished.' Plato announces: 'We must hope God shall send us a heavenly Teacher and a Guide.'
The small central part of the cathedral has a lovely jasper floor. The 16th-century frescoes include Russian princes on the north pillar and Byzantine emperors on the south, both with Apocalypse scenes above them. But the chapel's real treasure is the iconostasis, where restorers in the 1920s uncovered early 15th-century icons by three of the greatest medieval Russian artists.
Theophanes likely painted the six icons at the right-hand end of the deesis row, the biggest of the six tiers of the iconostasis. From left to right, these are the Virgin Mary, Christ Enthroned, St John the Baptist, the Archangel Gabriel, the Apostle Paul and St John Chrysostom. Theophanes was a master at portraying visible pathos in the facial expressions of his subjects, setting these icons apart from most others.
The third icon from the left, Archangel Michael, is ascribed to Andrey Rublyov, who may also have painted the adjacent St Peter. Rublyov is also reckoned to be the artist of the first, second, sixth, seventh and probably the third and fifth icons from the left of the festival row, above the deesis row. The seven at the right-hand end are attributed to Prokhor of Gorodets.
The basement - which remains from the previous 14th-century cathedral on this site - contains a fascinating exhibit on the Archaeology of the Kremlin. The artefacts date from the 12th to 14th centuries, showing the growth of Moscow during this period.