HISTORY OF THE ANNUNCIATION CATHEDRAL'S BASEMENT

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Annunciation Cathedral

The basement (podklet) of the Annunciation Cathedral is a unique monument of early Moscow architecture. It was built as the downstairs of a private church of Grand Princes of Moscow at the end of the 14th century. The exact time of the construction is unknown, and researchers date it variously from the 1360s to the 1390s.

The church was dismantled in 1416 up to the basement, and a new cathedral was erected on it. It was taken apart to the basement again in the second half of the 15th century, and in 1484-1489 the present building was constructed, which finally took its shape in the 16th century during the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

Today the ground floor of the Annunciation Cathedral is one of the two oldest monuments of early Moscow architecture. The second one – the late 14th-century Church of the Nativity of the Virgin – is also situated in the Kremlin. These constructions are the only original monuments of Moscow architecture of the 14th century available for direct study, a precious link in the evolution of the early Moscow architecture, which prepared the flowering of Russian architecture in the late 15th - early 16th centuries.

The basement is a square-shaped room under the central part of the cathedral. It is built of small blocks of white stone. A massive pillar in the centre of the podklet bears low arches and basket arches resting on them. A small apse joins the main building to the east. The doorways in some places are covered with big ashlars laid on the arch abutment. It was covered with white stone and brick in the 15th century to build a larger construction than the former one.

Annunciation CathedralAnnunciation Cathedral

The basement is a square-shaped room under the central part of the cathedral. It is built of small blocks of white stone. A massive pillar in the centre of the podklet bears low arches and basket arches resting on them. A small apse joins the main building to the east. The doorways in some places are covered with big ashlars laid on the arch abutment. It was covered with white stone and brick in the 15th century to build a larger construction than the former one.

The study of the Annunciation Cathedral's podklet presumably reconstructed the church of the 14th century as a small one-apse columnless chapel raised on a high basement. This type of temple was a surprise – it had no analogues in the Moscow architecture of that time. It is most likely that the ground floor of the cathedral served as a place for storing the Grand Princely treasury from the very beginning. Therefore, the opening of the exposition "Treasures and Antiquities of Moscow Kremlin" in this unique monument of architecture has its historical justification.

Placing a new exhibition in the basement was preceded by restoration works in 2005-2011. In the course of these works, the late brick setting at the northern wall of the room was dismantled, and the white-stone masonry of the walls and the central pillar were reinforced with grouting. Electrical and heating networks were buried under the basement, and the stone paving was rebuilt. The white-stone floor and steps were reconstructed at their original level in the south doorway and north aisle.

The white stone of the walls and vaults of the basement was thoroughly cleaned from dirt, cement grouting and metal fasteners hammered into the masonry later.

The entry to the cathedral's basement is currently carried out through an opening made in its northern white-stone wall in the 19th century. The entry reveal was bricked up at that time. During recent research, the brick lining in the doorway was removed to confirm the presumption that the wall had a double-layer construction, similar to that of the southern wall, which was built in two phases. The probes showed that the wall was rebuilt during the cathedral's construction, but there are two rows of facing blocks in the lower part of the wall, dating from the second half of the 14th century. In those places, the probes were decorated with window displays.

The white-stone walls in the southern part of the basement contain interesting graffiti – architectural sketches of the early 16th century. Among them, the drawing of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower with its intended hipped roof is of particular interest. The eastern wall of the south entry bears two sketches of cathedral toppings with domed ceilings, crowned with a rather slender tent topped with small domes and crosses. The west wall of the south entry has two rows of graffiti which are more complex.    

 Annunciation CathedralAnnunciation Cathedral

In March 2012, there was a presentation of a new archaeological exposition of the museum in the basement of the Annunciation Cathedral, which includes the above mentioned elements of the architectural archaeology of the monument itself.