Taste the Rainbow: GUM and St. Basil

Though I’ve since returned to Yaroslavl, I’ve still been thinking a lot about Moscow while sorting through the hundreds of photos I took there.  A few places in particular stand out to me, both in terms of their brilliant colors and designs, and also their rich history.  These two buildings, located diagonally from each other on the Red Square, represent very different institutions and very different eras but are equally beautiful (if a little strange).

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

St. Basil’s is probably the most iconic image of Russia.  You can’t leave without getting a picture of yourself standing in front of it, and half the souvenirs sold outside the square have its image plastered on them somewhere.

I always found it ironic that such a bright and seemingly joyful cathedral was constructed under the orders of Ivan the Terrible.  It puts a damper on the whole “Candyland” theme.  The cathedral was constructed in the late 16th century to commemorate the final battles of the Russo-Kazan War, when the Russians captured Kazan and Astrakhan.

Today the cathedral serves as a museum (which you can pay approximately $8 to walk through), having been confiscated from the Orthodox church and secularized during the Soviet era.  Walking around within it, I felt like I was in a labyrinth of Meghan-sized corridors.  Every bit of the walls and arched ceilings seemed to be painted with colorful designs, even the interior of the onion domes.


Pronounced like “goom”, not like chewing gum, the State Department Store (Государственный универсальный магазин) is today a shopping mall that stetches along one side of the Red Square.  GUM was constructed in the 1890s, though before the 1920s it was known as the Upper Trading Rows.  What makes it so spectacular is the glass-ceiling design, which you can see in the photos below.

GUM has an interesting history (more of which you can read about here), particularly how it evolved during and after Soviet times.  After being privatized after the end of the Soviet Union, the name was changed slightly (Gosudarstvennyi  (‘state’) to Glavnyi  (‘main’)), so that the same abbreviation could still be used.

Today, GUM houses designer boutiques, cafes, and stunning displays.  I strolled along the main corridor for an hour, staring longingly at shoes in bubbles and soda fountains and ice creams stands and strange floating bicycles and balloons.  To me, it seems like a strong declaration of “don’t worry, we’ve got this capitalist thing down pat,” with names like Cartier, La Perla, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Salvatore Ferragamo lining the walls.

* Bonus creepy fact I learned from Wikipedia: “After the suicide of Stalin’s wife Nadezhda in 1932, the GUM was used briefly to display her body.”

GUM’s beautiful glass-ceiling design

Looks like it says my name, but it actually says “honey” in Russian (“myod”).



More photos of Moscow here.


  1. This blog entry is very inspiring indeed. The colors, the vibrance and the life just got me lost (which is a giddy-good feeling). I’ve never been outside of Southeast Asia and looking at the pictures and reading the words were a real treat.

  2. I’m going crazy! I looove the colors! I love everything! I’m picturing myself in those places! I’ll probably act madly!

    My 8-year old brother always tells me that he wants to go to Russia but I don’t mind him. Now, I think I want to go to Russia, too!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. The colours of the cathedral are absolutely incredible. Truly stunning. And I love the balloons at GUM. Wow, these are really gorgeous photos. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing them with us.

  4. Wonderful photos. St Basil’s looks like something from a fairground. You mention it was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible. I think it’s just the sort of church a dictator would want

  5. Claire Frances

    Hi, I have pinned some of the pictures to my design board on pinterest : http://pinterest.com/HippyGirlClaire/designs-oh-my/ also there are two on my architecture board: http://pinterest.com/HippyGirlClaire/architecture-structures/
    Many thanks for letting me use them. And if you ever want to join Pinterest (you could share your awesome photos) then you can message me with your email and I will send you an invite. Thanks for letting me add the pics too my board. They are gorgeous!. Thanks again, Peace. x

    • Thanks so much for letting me know, Claire. I’m glad you like the photos! And I actually just remembered I do have a Pinterest account, I just never use it. Maybe this will inspire me to take advantage of it more!

  6. Claire Frances

    Two wonderful buildings. So full of colour. May I pin some of these images to Pinterest?. An online pinboard where you put pictures and stuff, and people share them. If you say no of course I will not. But lovely pictures anyhow. x

      • Claire Frances

        Yes, I will make another comment when I have posted them on Pinterest so that you can see them. If you request an invite from Pinterest they will send you one in a few days, then you can join and pin stuff and share stuff. Many thanks.

  7. Every single post you write entices me more and more to want to go to Russia, Meghan! I love the cathedral! Have you been to St. Petersburg? Ahhhhh…..if only I could travel the world….!

    • I’m sure you’ll visit some day, Nicole. And when you do, I can’t wait to see your photos! I will be in St. Petersburg for a week at the end of the month, which I’m very excited about (White Nights).

  8. You hit it right on the head with the Candy Land comment. I love looking at the photos and the intricate design with the beautiful bright colors.

    I really love the photo with the flowers in focus 🙂 Good eye for photography!

  9. electricbohemian

    Reblogged this on electricbohemian and commented:
    dreaming of russia and so I thought it was all big black cloaks and smoggy air, naughty secrets and dark alleys instead the most colourful city I have ever had the pleasure to see.. and so it moves up and up my list in speed I hope to be there one day in the not too distant future!

  10. So colourful! Funny that in the West Russia is associated (whether this is fair or not) with being very hard-lined, strict, solemn, etc…and yet their architecture is so fun and colourful! Wonderful photos.

  11. The colors really are so amazing. It’s the icons and these bright hues that I love so much in Orthodox churches. I remember visiting GUM (after taking my de rigeur photo with St. Basil’s of course). I did not know the bit about Stalin’s wife…um yeah.

  12. Moe

    Meg all the color in your pictures have inspired me. I am having the inside of my house painted and have picked out some very bold colors! You have to come visit when you get home.

    • Well of course! Even though I think we still have half a bottle of aguardiente to finish off…

      Viktor, my driver, took me on a special excursion to the supermarket the other day just to show me which vodkas are worth buying for gifts and which are not. Good man.

      • Mike C

        I know, I have no one to drink guardiente with until you get back! Kay and I did have a bunch of beeritas this weekend though! Viktor sounds awesome. And I don’t care if Ensamer doesn’t like him!

      • Mike C

        Always ready to make more! Can of Limeade, then fill it with Patron, dump it in a pitcher, add four beers, and you are good to go!!! It is great on a hot July day!! And it completely kicks your ass!

    • Thanks Gisele! Aren’t those shoes cute? I had to keep reminding myself I’m on a volunteer’s salary now (aka zilch) and need to stay far, far away from designer boutiques!

  13. I wonder if they did some renovations inside St Basil’s since I last went…
    Did you hear the legend about Ivan the Terrible and the architect? Supposedly, once St Basil’s was built, the Tsar asked the architect if we could build a more beautiful church. The guy said, “Well, yes, I think so.” And the Tsar had his eyes poked out so that the poor guy could not build a more beautiful church for somebody else.
    Horrid, huh?

    • Someone told me that story the other day! That Ivan had some serious issues (as evidenced by the eye-pokings and son-murderings and all of that). He’s like the ultimate fairy tale villain.

    • In school at the Russian Medieval History lessons we were always being said that Ivan the Terrible had blinded the architect or architects. But in fact there is no true version so far 🙂

  14. Sid Dunnebacke

    Oh, the colors. I can’t help but wonder if Russia just IS so colorful or if your eye for a great picture is THAT fabulous to get such colorful photos. Either way – I’ve not seen the inside of St. Basil’s, so thank you for sharing (again)!

    • Sid, I do admit, I work hard to dig up brightness and beauty just about anywhere. I tend to see things half-full more often than not. But even I have been shocked by the usage of color here. Russia really is more vibrant than we’re led to think it is!

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