Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

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in Arbat & Khamovniki

Statue of Tsar Alexander II at Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

This opulent and grandiose cathedral was completed in 1997 – just in time to celebrate Moscow's 850th birthday. The cathedral’s sheer size and splendour guarantee its role as a love-it-or-hate-it landmark. Considering Stalin's plan for this site (a Palace of Soviets topped with a 100m statue of Lenin), Muscovites should at least be grateful they can admire the shiny domes of a church instead of the shiny dome of Ilyich’s head.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour sits on the site of an earlier and similar church of the same name, built in the 19th century to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. The original was destroyed in 1931, during Stalin’s orgy of explosive secularism. His plan to replace the church with a 315m-high Palace of Soviets never got off the ground – literally. Instead, for 50 years the site served another important purpose: the world’s largest swimming pool.

The Cathedral replicates its predecessor in many ways. The central altar is dedicated to the Nativity, while the two side altars are dedicated to Sts Nicholas and Alexander Nevsky. Frescoes around the main gallery depict scenes from the War of 1812, while marble plaques remember the participants.

The original cathedral was built on a hill (since levelled). The contemporary cathedral has been constructed on a wide base, which contains the smaller (but no less stunning) Church of the Transfiguration. This ground-level chapel contains the venerated icon Christ Not Painted by Hand, by Sorokin, which was miraculously saved from the original cathedral.

It was here that the Pussy Riot punk collective staged its anti-religious and anti-Putin stunt, which landed them in prison in 2012.