November 01, 2015

The Italians Who Built the Third Rome

Long ago, in the 1470s, a new age dawned in Rus. The medieval past, benighted by its endless feuds, was being left behind; a new Russia was being born. Yesterday had ended, but tomorrow could not yet begin, and Muscovites had very little certainty of their future. Prince Ivan III of Moscow (“Ivan the Great”), decided to set the bar high: he married a Byzantine princess and then surrounded himself with Greek and Italian thinkers. The goal? To strengthen and adorn the new capital of the new realm: the future Third Rome.

During Ivan’s rule, Muscovy not only shed the Mongol yoke, but it also subjugated all the other major rival cities, from Yaroslavl to Novgorod, thereby earning Ivan III the moniker “gatherer of the Russian lands.” Naturally, this meant that the capital of the new Rus needed to present a new and distinguished architectural visage.

In 1472, Ivan married Sophia Paleologue, niece of the last Byzantine emperor. Her dowry included the glory of the “Second Rome,” the city of Constantinople, which had fallen to the Ottoman Turks 20 years before. Immediately after the wedding, work began on the Cathedral of the Dormition.

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