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The Moscow Kremlin

The Moscow Kremlin is the heart of Russia's capital, and Europe's largest fortress. It is Moscow's main sightseeing attraction, as well as being an official residence of the President of Russia.

Fascinating Facts

  • Archaeologists have found traces of ancient people within the boundaries of the Kremlin, who lived there during the Bronze Age – during the second millennium BC.
  • There is a network of labyrinths beneath the Kremlin. The underground constructions beneath the buildings stretch as far as the Garden Ring Road.
  • Some historians believe that Leonardo da Vinci was involved in the building of the Kremlin. There may be no direct evidence of this, but circumstantial evidence has been discovered – varying from almost exact correlation of the Kremlin walls with sketches by Leonardo, through to the 'empty periods' in his biography from 1499 to 1502.
  • The Kremlin has not always been red. In the 18th and 19th centuries, its walls were white.
  • Some of the Kremlin towers are capped with red stars. Each of them weighs over a tonne. They are designed to rotate, so as not to face directly into strong winds. If there is strong wind in Moscow, the stars will turn away from it.
  • Experts have calculated the value of the Kremlin, and came up with the figure of $50 billion dollars.
  • The total length of the surrounding walls of the Kremlin is 2,235 metres. Their thickness at some points exceed 5,5 metres, while they can reach 19 metres in height – which all made the Kremlin impregnable.
  • Two of the Kremlin's twenty towers were never given official names, and are known as 'Nameless 1' and 'Nameless 2'.

History

The first Kremlin fortress was built in Moscow in the 12th century, not long after the founding of Moscow itself (1147). The original fortress was composed of tall, wooden fencing. Its purpose was to protect the city from enemy attacks. This wooden Kremlin burnt down during attacks by Tatar-Mongol forces.

By the 14th century, the Moscow Kremlin had been rebuilt in white stone. As well as numerous Ducal residences, its walls encompassed several monasteries, convents, and cathedrals.

In the 15th century after the Tatar-Mongolian overlords were driven out, Tsar Ivan III decided to rebuild the battered Kremlin – and invited Italian military engineers to undertake this task. This is the period when new, brick-built walls were erected. The final visual appearance of the Kremlin came about during the accession of the Romanov dynasty to the throne in the early 17th century – the time when the iconic Spassky Tower (or Saviour Tower) was built – which today is considered the symbol of the Kremlin. Tsar Peter the Great moved the Russian capital to St. Petersburg, and thus Moscow lost its status of a royal residence.

The Kremlin suffered extensive damage after Moscow was briefly overrun by Napoleon in 1812. The French Emperor ordered the demolition of numerous buildings and historic landmarks.

Moscow regained the title of capital during the Soviet period – and the Kremlin once again became the residence of Russia's rulers. The Soviet period saw extensive rebuilding in the Kremlin, and many cathedrals and monasteries within the Kremlin were demolished wholesale, to clear the way for the triumphal architecture of the new regime.

Throughout the Second World War, the Kremlin was camouflaged – even to the extent of the outlines of residential buildings being painted on its walls, to deter air raids. However, the camouflage did have the result of preventing more serious damage.

In 1955, the Kremlin – which had always had the status of a military fortress – was partially opened to the public, and was reclassified as a State Open-Air Museum.

In 1990, the Kremlin was listed by UNESCO as a monument of world cultural heritage.

What to see

The world-famous Kremlin cathedrals:

  • The Archangel Michael Cathedral – which served as the burial place of the early Grand-Princes and Tsars of Russia, until the establishment of St. Petersburg in the early 18th century.
  • The Annunciation (Blagoveschensky) Cathedral – famous for the ikons and frescoes by famous ikon-painters, including Andrei Rublev and Theophanes the Greek.
  • The Assumption (Uspensky) Cathedral was built by the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti, and was used for the coronations of the Tsars.
  • The Church of the Deposition of the Robe today houses an exhibition of wooden sculpture from the 15th to 19th centuries
  • The Verkholsky Cathedral is closed for visitors, but you can appreciate its external beauty.
  • The Ivan The Great Bell Tower – the tallest bell-tower within the Moscow Kremlin, with 34 bells hanging in its belfry.

Palaces:

  • The Patriarch's Palace & its Church of the Twelve Apostles. The upper storey of the palace has an exhibition about Russian culture in the 17th century. The museum collections include costly ceremonial vessels, jewellery, royal hunting items, and historic furniture.
  • The Terem Palace is one of the official residences of the Russian President. The palace was built in the Russian baroque style.
  • The Great Kremlin Palace. Its many halls are used for ceremonial events, the award of state honours – and for presidential inaugurations.
  • The Poteshny, or Amusements Palace. Used as the residence of Russian boyars (feudal lords). Today it is the residence of the Commandant of the Kremlin.
  • The Senate Palace is the 'office' of the Russian President. Due to the high security, only topmost officials may gain entrance.
  • The Armoury Chamber. The former Armoury is today a museum containing the 'Treasure of The Tsars' – gifts made by foreign ambassadors. The collections of priceless art treasures is considered one of the world's most important art museums. The collections include royal regalia, the famous Fabergé Eggs, jewellery, artworks, and militaria.
  • The State Kremlin Palace. A concrete modern building, erected in the Soviet era as the seat of the USSR State Congress. Today it functions as a concert-hall and theatre giving ballet performances.

Other things to see:

  • The Tsar Bell was cast to celebrate military victory in the 18th century. Its weight is 202 tons; it is a 6.24-metre tall, 6.6-metre diameter. However, a fire broke out during its casting, and over-eager workmen poured cold water onto the red-hot bell, causing fatal fissures. It has never been hung or rung. The external decoration makes it an example of bell-foundry art and it stands outside in Cathedral Square.
  • The Tsar Cannon. This titan of the artillery world was a one-off weighing 39,312 kilograms. There is doubt if it was ever fired – certainly not with the cannonballs exhibited adjacent, which don't fit. Dating from the 17th century, it remains one of the largest cannons ever made.
  • The Kremlin towers. There are 20 of them, and each is unique.

Guided Tour to The Moscow Kremlin

You can book a tour in English on our website.

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