You don’t have to be in Moscow for very long before seeing the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. At 338 feet in height, it’s the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world, and besides its palatial size, it’s crowned with golden domes. This not-so-subtle regal grandeur is impressive, but it’s also what got the site — which took more than 40 years to build — demolished in 1931 on the order of Joseph Stalin. The plan was to replace this relic of Tsar Alexander I’s with a Palace of the Soviets, but all plans were halted when the Nazis invaded the USSR during World War II. Eventually, the site was flooded by the nearby Moskva River and turned into the largest open-air swimming pool in the world.
The church took five years to rebuild, and was reopened in its entirety in August 2000. Visitors can enter the active church, which is just as opulent inside. But what I found the most fascinating wasn’t the frescoes, marble floors and gold, but the fact that, despite several decades of government-mandated atheism, the church buzzes with believers. In fact, Cathedral of Christ the Savior is where Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin pray during the holidays. The cathedral is also the famous site of Russian punk group Pussy Riot’s protest against Putin in 2012, for which they were jailed.
Niche operator Exeter International can arrange for small groups to get escorted to the top of the cathedral — at the level of the sparkling domes — for an unparalleled view of Moscow and its all-telling architecture.