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Russian Style in Architecture – What is it?
August 21, 2007 14:00

What features of the modern Russian architecture pertain to the authentic Russian tradition?

Already in the late 19th this question stirred up the minds of zealous researchers of Russian architecture. Under the influence of the Slavophil and Narodnik ideas popular at that time they created a new style, which was called pseudo-Russian and which should not be confused with the genuine Old Russian style. The authors of the “pseudo-Russian style” freely interpreted decorative motifs of the architecture of the 16-17th cc. when creating terems (tower-chambers) with arched ceilings, narrow windows framed with wrought-iron lattice, and carved “big-bellied” columns. St. Basil’s Cathedral (built in the 16th century and many times remade afterwards), a mixture of Gothic, Old Russian, Byzantine and Indian styles was taken as a paragon and a model for imitation. The motifs of the fairy “Heavenly City” used in St. Basil’s Cathedral were repeated in this or that way in all the pseudo-Russian Moscow buildings, such as Pogodinskaya Izba (Peasant House) (1856), State Universal Store (GUM) (1893), the State Duma (Lenin Museum) (1892), State Historical Museum (1872), and others.

Izba, the National Folk Abode

Izba, the famous Russian log hut is probably the most optimal and salubrious variant of a dwelling house for the Russian climate. Our forefathers used to build log houses easily and dexterously, gathering altogether and using only spades, axes, ropes and knives (and no nails at all!) as instruments. The timber (mainly pines and fir-trees) for building was selected following certain beliefs: one could not build anything from a tree grown by somebody, from a too gnarled tree, or from a tree that fell wrongly (i.e. northwards or on the crowns of other trees) when being cut. Usually the plan of the house was marked out right on the ground with the help of a measuring rope; then the builders dug out a pit 20 to 25 cm deep, added some sand to cover this area and put the first “fourth” – a quadrangular timber set along the perimeter of the future house. There was a custom to put wool, frankincense and coins under the corners so that the house would stand longer and living in it would be wealthy and healthy.


Unfortunately, not many really old wooden terems have come to us: time and fires have done their part. In the olden days noble and rich people used to live in splendid terems (tower-chambers) which had a great variety of multi-level premises and annexes, such as inner porches, passages, staircases hid in the walls, and so on. Usually the owners of the house did not stint decor: the terems were lavishly decorated with painting, carving, and were even crowned with gilded roofs, like temples.

National Decor: Carving and Glazed Tile

Artful wood carving was a distinctive original decoration of Russian wooden buildings; and that is one of the few traditions kept alive and remaining popular till date. There was relief carving and “through” carving.

The technique of glazed tile spread in Russia only in the epoch of Peter the Great, though much earlier, from the Kievan Rus, colourful glazes were used, and before it, relief drawings on terracotta clay (certainly, with pagan motifs) were popular.

Where Can One See Authentic Russian Style?

Not so many authentic Old Russian buildings have been preserved in Moscow; naturally, the majority of them are located in the centre. First of all this is the carved white stone Terem Palace of the 17th century in the Kremlin. A construction of almost the same time has survived in Krutitsy Metochion: the gates with an outstandingly beautiful red-brick terem decorated with glazed tiles. Besides, Moscow has some old stone chambers preserved: this is certainly the famous Palace of Facets (15th c.) in the Kremlin, chambers of the Old English Court (16th c.) and chambers of the boyars Romanovs in Varvarka Street, where a branch of the Historical Museum is housed nowadays.



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Russian Handicraft of Wood Turning, Part 2 Russian Revival Style in Moscow Architecture: Most Famous Buildings (Part 1) The Russian Revival style Russian Engraving Art and its Development, Part 3 Russian Tradition of Pottery Craft, Part 1

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