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Cultural Fact

The art of icons

Coming from the greek word “icone”, icona means “holy image”. Indeed, above the painting, an icona traditionally is a guide to the Holy Spirit.

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An icona should be representing things that are invisible and can’t be represented by the non-religious arts. That’s why the Orthodox art of iconas painting defined its rules and models more than 10 centuries ago…and never changed it since then! Indeed, how painting Holy iconas could be something else than pure truth and perfection?

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One of the first principle of iconas painting is the minimisation of material and physical objects. Usually, iconas are made on lime tree covered by linen. According to the millenary tradition, painters rely on the soak technic. They must also use golden leaves to represent the Holy light around Saints.

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In Russia some icons remain more important than others due to their spirituality or their beauty. Among them, we can think of the Virgin of Vladimir, the Virgin of Kazan and the Holy Trinity.

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Religion in Russia

Did you know? Religion remains a discussed topic in Russia, or at least when speaking of Russia.

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From the Soviet times during which religious activities were forbidden, to the current reemergence of the Orthodox Church on the public scene, religion is a thing. Currently, whereas 34% of the Russian population says that religion (so not only orthodoxy) is important in their life, about half of the population thinks that religious organisations should support public morals and ethics, and 30% that religious organisations should help to preserve cultural traditions.

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Therefore religion remains important in Russian lives and culture but according to them it doesn’t have to be imposed in private spheres or even influence the government decisions. And if orthodoxy is the first religion in Russia, and the most visible and influential one, it is crucial to remember that due to its multi-ethnicity, vastness and cultural richness, Russia knows a high percentage of islamic, buddhist and catholic believers!   

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Top 10: Orthodox Russia

Despite the USSR’s attempt to eliminate religion, Russia can’t barely be pictured without cupolas, monasteries, icons and everything that looks more or less orthodox. Fortunately, these archiectural and artistic masterpieces offer tourists, expats and Russians some wonders of the world that everyone must visit! So being religious or not, follow this top and dive into one of the most important dimension of the Russian culture and history!

  • Sergiyev Posad (Moscow)

Sergiyev Posad is a small town, 2 hours away by train from Moscow. So why putting it first? Because Sergiyev Posad is considered to be the Russian Vatican. Built around a Lavra (aka a very important monastery), Sergiyev Posad must be visited for its spirituality and the magnificence of its cathedrals. Seriously, it’s beautiful, everything is located in the same place and very Russian.

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  • Suzdal (Moscow)

Another very important religious center, Suzdal is a bit futher from Moscow than Sergiyev Posad, but is as important and stunning. If you’re visiting only one of the Golden Ring’s cities, go for Suzdal. This city has been kept away from industrialisation and succeeded in  preserving the treasures given by the Russian Princes through centuries. So if you take a picture in the right angle, you’ll be able to pretend that you spent some days in the Russian countryside… as the true adventurer that you are.

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  • Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood (Saint-Petersburg)

While technically not being consecrated, and so not a church, Christ the Savior on the Spilled Blood is an orthodox mausoleum. Indeed, the church has been built to mourn Alexander II’s assassination on March 1881. This is a must-do in St-Petersburg, so you should visit it. First, because everyone knows this building. Second, the inside, all covered-up by golden mosaics, is absolutely stunning. Third, because you’ll appear as super knowledgeable among your coworkers when you’ll explain them that this is not St Basil’s cathedral.

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  • Peter and Paul Cathedral (Saint-Petersburg)

Very small and definitely not as impressive on the inside as others, the Peter and Paul cathedral hosts the grave of almost all the Romanovs. In a way, the cathedral is far more impressive on the outside, but it has the perks of being really important to those who celebrate the Russian Tsars. Especially because the cathedral hosts the remains of Nicholas II and his family, butchered in 1918 by the Soviets.

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  • Kolomenskoye Domain (Moscow)

While all orthodox churches and monasteries look similar, you’ll find in the Kolomenskoye domain a simple one. I mean a church WITHOUT cupolas. So why visiting it you’d say? Why visiting something that you could find in your country? Because the Church of the Ascension is classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site. And between us these guys rarely mess things up. Indeed the Church of the Ascension is the first church made of stones in an octagonal shape in Russia! Not so common isn’t?

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  • Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (Saint-Petersburg)

St Isaac’s is interesting for two things. First it has been built and decorated taking St Peter’s of the Vatican as a model. I don’t know if you ever been in St Peter, but it’s just wow! Second because St Isaac’s Cathedral has also been thought as a museum of Russian stones. As a result you have a stunning big church made of gold, icons and colored-marbles from all Russias. You definitely have to go inside, you’ll be able able to make great pics.  

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  • Christ the Savior (Moscow)

This one has to be seen for its history. Christ the Savior was an old white church in the very heart of Moscow. However, it has been destroyed in 1931 by order of Stalin, and replaced by a public swimming pool. While Muscovites got used to it and loved spending afternoons in this pool, the Russian government decided to destroy it and rebuild the Cathedral of the Christ the Savior, but this time as the largest of Russia.

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  • New Jerusalem Monastery (Moscow)

Politico-religious dream of the patriarch Nikon, the New Jerusalem Monastery intended to make Moscow the center of the orthodox world. To achieve this, the patriarch Nikon ordered in the middle of the 17th century the building of a monastery based on the Christ church of Jerusalem. But if the Istra river became the Jordan and the building are based on the same architecture, the inner decoration is fairly different. Today, the New Jerusalem Monastery hosts religious arts and must be visited!

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  • Alexander Nevsky Lavra (Saint-Petersburg)

Despite being central in the romanced history of St-Petersburg, the Alexander Nevsky Lavra is a beautiful and peaceful monastery in the heart of the Northern Capital. Maybe because of its pastel-colored buildings, its parks or simply because of its mission, the Lavra has a serene atmosphere. Enter the Lavra and dive in another world, away from the noise and the crowd.

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  • The Kremlin (Moscow)

Moscow’s Kremlin remains first and foremost known for its political dimension. But if you enter the domain, you’ll realise that it is a grouping of church behind defencing walls. Within the Kremlin, the church are older than the usual ones and still ornamented of traditional Russian arts. Plus, each church has its role and mission. Because, why building a single church when you have the space and the resources to build 3 of them?

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Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood

Did you know? Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood isn’t an usual church (despite its name) but rather a memorial!  Do you struggle identifying Church on the Savior on Blood and Saint Basil’s Cathedral? Well, no worries, in fact the architecture of the first mentioned was inspired by the lattest, which explains why they resemble each other so much. You’ll get more comfortable with it by reading about both of them.

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The Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood cathedral has been built in 1907 following the orders of Tsar Alexander III. However, it has been erected as a memorial and mourning place following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the Liberator, on March 1st 1881.

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In fact, and even if weekly requiem and sermons are given to remember Alexander II, Christ the Savior on the Spilled blood became a cathedral only in 1923. It has been closed about nine years later on the orders of the Soviet leadership to become a garbage dump. Nowadays Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood is an annex of St Isaac’s museum due to its stunning mosaics. That’s why if many believes that this world-known building is one of the most important church of St-Petersburg, it rather is, due to its history and architectural style, a memorial symbolising the Russian dilemma between liberalism and conservatism. And of course, it demonstrates (if needed) the Russian savoir-faire when it comes to architecture and religious art.

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