I am besotted with the domed roofs of the Moscow Kremlin. Fair warning. I have tried to keep them to a manageable number in this post but I can’t help but think you’ll love them too and either forgive their frequent appearances or be hankering for more.
The Kremlin is the 275 000 square metre (68 acre) heart of a megacity of 1080 square kilometres. It is fitting that it is strong, defined and eye-catchingly beautiful for it beats with power. The words ‘The Kremlin’ reference the government, first of the Soviet Union now of the Russian Federation, and the place itself is the official residence of the President.
Many Russian (and ex-Russian) cities have a kremlin – a major fortified central complex. A fortress existed in Moscow in the Iron Age and the area has been occupied since the second century BC. Situated at the top of a hill above the convergence of the rivers Moscow and Neglinnaya and at the crossroads of trade routes, it became a centre of trades and crafts.
The Kremlin has something of a phoenix history, being damaged and rebuilt repeatedly. It was, for example, completely destroyed in the 13th century. Ivan III who, in his greatness, expanded Russian territory, also reconstructed the Kremlin from 1485-95 (with some input from Italian architects and Russian workers). He was not alone in seeing Russia as a future world empire and Moscow as the third Rome.
With a couple of exceptions, the towers around the perimeter are named after their function or notable people. Even the nameless towers have names – the first Nameless Tower and the second Nameless Tower. Historian I.F. Zabelin noted that adding the ‘tent-shaped’ top to the towers from 1624-85 didn’t improve their defense capabilities but gave the Kremlin “some other, eternal, strength and expressed the poetry and spirit of the old pre-petrin Rus”.
Centuries later, the Kremlin was a red rag to Napoleon’s bull. The little Corsican ordered it destroyed when he left Moscow in 1812. The vast majority of it was saved by rain which dampened the fuses of the explosives.
Churches, cathedrals and palaces fell to own-fire from tsars and soviets who felt they were not up to scratch and needed replacing with something more befitting the person or the times. Stalin did some cosmetic remodelling, removing the golden eagles of the tsars from the towers and replacing them with stars.
The cathedrals and churches are rich with frescoes, paintings, shrines, graves and relics. These spaces were co-opted as giant canvases and galleries to tell stories of life as the religious powers wanted it seen.
In one cathedral, a white-walled room houses a superb collection of sculptures by Henry Moore. The pieces are compact but, such is the man’s genius, each transcends its physical boundaries, providing an experience, an entire world of engagement and response. Quietly and calmly one is held.
Cathedral and art exhibition: reflecting life, however one understands and chooses to live it.
If there’s a touch of the Aladdin about you, you simply must visit the Armoury. To say it is filled with treasure is something of an understatement. Carriages with diamonds in the wheel hubs (puts those funky downward shining lights underneath today’s cars in perspective), garments, crowns, thrones, silverware, goldware, chinaware, icons, Faberge eggs, even armour, are displayed in room after room. As always, the audio tour contributed to my enjoyment and understanding. Pick up a free headset inside.
At the end of the day, we stood in the huge square between the cathedrals where tsars had met foreign ambassadors and ceremonial processions had paraded from the Cathedral of the Assumption during coronations and festive sermons.
Nearby, several army folk assembled a sound system. Eventually, the troops came marching out, stomp stomp stomp.
A small tourist was busy taking photos, unaware of their approach. The BB, our Russian child and I watched, captivated, at some distance, as they bore down on her. They did not flinch and she did not hear. It was going to be interesting. Would they swerve or knock her over? And having done the latter, would the ranks step on her or neatly part and reform? All bets were on. Unfortunately for ‘Funniest Home Videos” she heard them in the nick of time and skibbled out of the way.
The Kremlin is closed to visitors on Thursdays. Buy tickets at the booth in the Aleksandrov Gardens or Kutafiya Tower. You’ll be ushered out a little before 5pm so allow plenty of time. Tickets for The Armoury are separate and one enters via a different route. These are sold at specific times. The queue at the entrance gate may be long but relax, it moves fairly quickly and there is plenty of room inside.