The sun never made an appearance during our three days in Moscow, but nothing could dim my excitement at discovering this remarkable city. There is so much more to the Russian capital than I had ever imagined. This is the first of several posts sharing our sights and experiences.
Fun fact #1: Red Square has nothing to do with a political party or movement, or from the preponderance of red brick buildings, but stems from the fact that the Russian word красивая (pronounced krasivaya) means red and beautiful. The square is the literal and figurative center of Moscow, with the major streets emanating from it. Its origins date to the late 15th century when the land was appropriated by to create a central market.
Perhaps Russia’s most famous landmark, The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed or St. Basil’s (official name: Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat) looms large over the southern end of Red Square. It was constructed from 1555–61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible. Its unique architecture is said to represent a bonfire reaching into the sky.
The interior is a magnificent compilation of many individual chapels, each decorated with iconostases and other religious scenes. Originally, there were eight chapels around a central core and a tenth was added in 1588. This labyrinthine interior is quite a contrast to the imposting exterior.
To the west of St. Basil’s, Lenin’s tomb lies adjacent to the Kremlin wall. His preserved body has been on public display there since shortly after his death in 1924, other than during WWII when it was moved to Siberia for safety. Rising behind the wall, the Moscow Senate Building is now the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.
GUM Department store spans almost 250 meters along the eastern side of Red Square. Originally known as Upper Trading Rows, and constructed in the early 1890s, its glass-roofed design was the first of its kind. GUM is currently more of a shopping center with several three-level arcades. The arched skylights above the interior passages provide illumination and are quite impressive – each has 20,000 panes of glass and weighs 740 tons.
In my ignorance, I thought “The Kremlin” was equivalent to “The White House.” Fun Fact #2: Kremlin is Russian for fortress and it lives up to this name including four palaces and four cathedrals. The existing Kremlin walls and towers were built at the Moskva River between 1485 to 1495 under the orders of Ivan the Great.
Spasskaya Tower built in 1491, was the main entrance to the Kremlin until 1999. Its name derives from the wall-painted icon of Spas Smolensky (Smolensky Saviour), seen above the opening. The clock or Kremlin chimes (Кремлёвские куранты) appeared between 1491 and 1585 and designates official Moscow time. Through the archway, you get a sneak preview of Archangel Cathedral and the wonders within the walls.
Visitors enter via Troitskaya Tower on the northwest side of the fortress. The first stop is the Armoury Chamber, a purpose built museum that houses a remarkable collection of applied arts spanning 15 centuries. Highlights include the Imperial Crown of Russia, Monomakh’s Cap, the ivory throne of Ivan the Terrible, as well as some absolutely amazing imperial carriages. Unfortunately (but understandably), no photos allowed, but thanks to technology, you can take a virtual tour.
Sobornaya Square was the junction of all the main streets of the Kremlin. The square’s name relates to the great cathedrals that stand here . The Tsars’ coronations were held in this square as were celebrations of major holy days. Entering the square, and proceeding clockwise, there are four magnificent edifices. The following photos will give you an idea of the splendor we beheld.
The Cathedral of the Annunciation was the Muscovite Tsars’ personal chapel. It was built in the late 15th century on the location of an earlier cathedral. It connects directly to the Grand Kremlin Palace.
The Dormition Cathedral also known as the Cathedral of the Assumption was built in 1475–1479. The dormition or “falling asleep” of Mary is an extremely important holy day in the Eastern Orthodox church.
The 81-meter tall Ivan the Great Bell Tower was built in 1508, as its three neighboring cathedrals did not have belfries. Until the building of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 1883, nothing could be constructed exceeding the Bell Tower’s height.
The Cathedral of the Archangel was constructed in 1505-08 and was the main necropolis of the Tsars of Russia until the capital moved to St. Petersburg in the early 18th century. All in all, a most remarkable group of buildings.
We were not the only ones visiting the Kremlin – there were many groups of schoolchildren, including the ones above. We were lucky that relatively few people choose to visit at this time of year, though.
On our way to the exit, we passed the State Kremlin Palace, originally built as to host Communist Party congresses and now a performing arts center. As you might imagine, its location in the midst of the historic 15th century buildings caused an uproar. However, in a way it actually reinforces the grace and beauty of its neighbors. Red Square and the Kremlin were designated as World Heritage sites in 1990, so no further construction will occur.
I think that is enough for one post and I have only scratched the surface. I hope you will click on some of the links to learn more about Red Square and the Kremlin. In the meantime, stay tuned for more on Moscow!