The Assumption Cathedral located on the top of the Cathedral Hill is the main tourist attraction of Smolensk. Smolensk is located in a hilly area so the domes of the cathedral can be seen almost from everywhere.
The town of Smolensk was founded on the Cathedral Hill where the Kremlin with wooden walls was located in 11-12 centuries. At the end of 11 century, in 1073-78, Vladimir Monomakh, a grandson of Yaroslav the Wise, was the appanage prince of Smolensk. Later he was the prince of Chernigov, Pereslavl and finally Kiev. However, he attached great importance to the development of Smolensk, so he had the first stone cathedral built there in 1101. It was the Assumption Cathedral.
For over 500 years the cathedral remained intact but in 1609 Smolensk was besieged by the troops of the Polish king Sigismund. The residents defended the town for about 20 months but on June 3, 1611 the Poles stormed into it. As a result of the explosion of the gunpowder magazines located near the Cathedral Hill, the roof of the Assumption Cathedral was completely ruined.
Afterwards the Poles recovered the roof of the cathedral and turned it into a Polish Roman Catholic church. Smolensk had been under the power of the Poles for several decades, until 1654, when the troops of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich besieged the town and the Polish garrison surrendered. There was an attempt to reconstruct the cathedral of Vladimir Monomakh but it was impossible to restore the building. So it was decided to pull down the old cathedral and build a new one.
The construction of the new Assumption cathedral began in 1677. It took only a year and a half to erect the high walls but because of design errors the construction was stopped for over 50 years. In 1728 an architect Anton Shendel began to rebuild the walls and correct the errors of the previous architects. In 1740 the cathedral was consecrated. But in 1760 the dome didn’t withstand the load and collapsed. They had to close the cathedral again and strengthen its structures. By 1772 the restoration works were finished and it is just that cathedral we can see today.
The Assumption cathedral was built in the style of Russian baroque. The walls of the cathedral reach the height of 70 meters. By capacity it is one of the largest churches in Russia. Its area is 2000 square meters. The five-tier iconostasis of 28 meters was made in 1730. It is an outstanding example of Russian baroque art.
The Assumption cathedral was not damaged during the war of 1812, as well as during the Great Patriotic War. However, during the German occupation the main sacred thing of the cathedral – the miracle-making Smolensk icon of the Virgin Mary – disappeared. It was kept there from the time of Vladimir Monomakh. After the war it was replaced by the Hodigitria Smolensk icon of the Virgin Mary given to the church by Boris Godunov in 1602.
Two other relics are kept at the cathedral: the embroidered shroud «The entombment» made in the workshop of Princess Euphrosyne Staritskaya, the aunt of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, as well as the sandals of St. Mercurius, the valiant defender of Smolensk from the Mongol troops in 13 century.