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Go to Foreigners in Russia / RT projects / Russiapedia / Foreigners in Russia / Pietro Antonio Solari (Pietro Fryazin)

Foreigners in Russia: Pietro Antonio Solari (Pietro Fryazin)

The Palace of the Facets (RT Photo / Irina Vasilevitskaya)The Palace of the Facets (RT Photo / Irina Vasilevitskaya)

Pietro Antonio Solari  (also known as Pietro Fryazin) was an Italian-Swiss architect brought to Russia by Ivan III to assist him with his renovation and reconstruction of the Kremlin around 1490.Together with his fellow Italian architect Marco Ruffo, Solari helped design and construct several structures in Moscow and in the Kremlin, including the Palace of Facets and several of the now famous Kremlin towers and walls. 

Origins and travel to Russia

Very little is known about the origins of Pietro Solari, so little in fact that dates for his birth and death can only be approximated. Most sources generally agree that he was born around 1450 in Carona, a small municipality of Ticino in Switzerland.Ticino’s unique location in the southern-most part of the country meant that it shared a border with Italy, and to this day the district in which Carona is located is the only district in Switzerland where Italian is the official language.  Solari was of Italian descent, and was born into a family tradition of artisanship; Carona was well-known for its local architects and artists.  Pietro Solari apprenticed with his father Guiniforte Solari in his workshop, and was in charge of several projects in Carona until 1487 when he was invited by Tsar Ivan III to participate in the reconstruction of the Kremlin.

The reign of Ivan III

Russia was undergoing great changes under Ivan’s rule.Ivan III (also known as Ivan the Great) was in the process of consolidating power and incorporating many new territories into the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which would eventually become the foundation for the Russian Empire.In addition to adding land, however, he put significant effort into reconstructing the Moscow Kremlin (or armory) and making it the seat of power for his expanding territory.To this end, he invited several Italian architects and artists, among them Pietro Antonio Solari.Solari arrived in Moscow around 1490, and was immediately put to work assisting fellow Italian architect Marco Ruffo in the design and construction of the Kremlin walls and towers and the Palace of Facets.Many of these projects were already under development by Ruffo, but were in fact completed by Solari. 

Upon his arrival in Russia, Solari was given the alternate surname Fryazin, whichcomes from the ancient Russian word fryag (or frank in English) which meant simply ‘Italian’.This surname applied to several individuals in Russia of foreign descent, including Marco Ruffo.

The Palace of Facets

According to most sources, work on the Palace of Facets (named for the intricate design of its façade) was started in 1487 by Marco Ruffo, but not completed until around 1491.Since Solari arrived in Russia around 1490, after the beginning of the construction of the palace but before its completion, it is safe to assume that Ruffo started the project himself, being responsible for the original idea and construction of the palace, while Solari was responsible for the architectural decorations on the façade and interior.While this theory is only speculation, similarities can be seen between the decorative work on the inside of the palace and Solari’s earlier work in Italy, and the theory would fit the timeline of the palace’s construction.

The Kremlin Towers 

It is possible that Solari contributed more to the construction of the Kremlin towers than any of the other foreign architects working with him at that time. From 1490 to 1493 he finished construction on the Borovitskaya, Konstantino-Yeleninskaya, Spasskaya, and Nikolskaya towers.It is important to note that Marco Ruffo also participated in the construction of the Nikolskaya and Spasskaya towers, but it is historically unclear as to what exactly that participation included, and how much of the work was Ruffo’s as opposed to Solari’s. 

Out of these, the Spasskaya Tower completed in 1491 deserves special note, as it became the main entrance to the Kremlin.The great clock-tower remains a recognizable symbol of the Kremlin to this day, its giant bells still ringing over Red Square, and is watched by Russians worldwide every New Year’s Eve, as the clock chimes away the last moments of the old year and welcomes the new one.  In 1935, the Soviets removed the double-headed eagle (the symbol of Imperial Russia) on top of the tower and replaced it with a giant red star, which remains to this day.Over the gates of the Spasskaya Tower there is an inscription in Latin praising Tsar Ivan III and Antonio Solari, and commemorating the year of the towers completion in 1491.

Antonio Solari is thought to have died in1493, not long after the completion of the Arsenalnaya Tower in 1492.  The Italian architect responsible for so many contributions to the Kremlin’s design did not live to see the age of 50.

Written by Adam Muskin, RT

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