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Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye

Cultural criteria: ii
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 1994

The village of Kolomenskoye that entered Moscow’s city limits in 1960 is situated south-eastward the Russian capital, on the high right bank of the Moskva River.

This settlement’s history, for the first time mentioned in 1349, and during several centuries served as a country summer residence of Russian governors, is closely connected with many important events of the Russian political life of the late Middle Ages.

The architectural ensemble of this village was formed mainly in the period of the XVI–XVII centuries, but subsequently it was many times reconstructed and completed as well.

Thus, among the oldest structures dating from the XVI century are the Church of the Ascension, the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist и the belfry of St. George. The travel gate with a horologium, Order and Colonel palaces, Vodovzvodnaya (Water) Tower, Pantry House (Sytniy dvor), the Kazan Church remained of structures of the XVII century.

In the 30s–50s of the XX century the following monuments of the Russian wooden architecture of the XVII century were transferred here: the corner fortress tower of the Brethren's stockaded town from Siberia, the gatehouse tower of the Karelian Monastery of St. Nicholas, the house of Peter the First from Arkhangelsk.

But the main remarkable sight of this ensemble was and remains the Church of the Ascension, and it was in 1994 included in UNESCO World Heritage List.

One believes that this church was laid by order of Grand Prince Vasily III either in 1529 as a church of worship about giving a son heir, or in 1530 – in commemoration of birth of a son Ivan (in the future – the tsar Ivan IV the Terrible). Dedication of the church (in point of fact – official opening) took place in 1532. But finishing work, where both Russian and Italian masters apparently took part, continued thereafter as well.

In the first half of the XVI century the Russian architects added to their stone construction elements of a steepled church – pillar-shaped structure with unprecedented design of the top in the shape of a high marquee. It meant departure from the established tradition of cross-domed churches construction. The steepled Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye is one of the first creations of this sort; furthermore it remained almost in a primordial state.

The composition of this outstanding structure, 62 meters in total height, has an obvious centric nature. Vertically the church is composed of four main elements: ground floor, strong tchetverik with ledges-vestibules (in plan it is cruciform-shaped), octagon and the hipped roof proper with a small glavka (dome) at the extreme top. The inside area is not large – only 8.5 by 8.5 meters, but its height is considerable – over 40 meters, and that is why one has the impression of its endless direction high into the air. The walls are up to 3 meters thick. And on perimeter in its lower part the church is belted by a gallery on arcades with flights of stairs, thanks to which the whole structure blends in with the relief of the high bank of the Moskva River. The church’s décor is also splendid, here, particularly, remained the white stone throne with a fretted roofing in the shape of a shell (“tsar's place”).

It is obvious that architects were creating this church to be well viewed from the outside, from far away and apprehended as a symbol of Moscow grand-prince's throne’s power. However, it was also meant for “internal” aims: because from here one could perfectly survey faraway environs.

The example of the Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye then became widespread all over the country – till the middle of the XVII century, when under Patriarch Nikon a ban was imposed on construction of such steepled churches.

In 1923 a branch of the State Historical Museum was opened in Kolomenskoye, where collections of Russian applied art are exhibited. And since 1971 Kolomenskoye obtains the status of a reserve museum (modern status is a State Art Historical-Architectural and Environment Reserve Museum).