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Home> Destinations> Europe> Moscow> See> Historical

The Kremlin

Updated: 2014-07-29 / (moscow.info)
[Photo from moscow.info]

From medieval citadel to modern power centre, the Moscow Kremlin has played a dominant role in Russian life for over eight hundred years.

A potent symbol of two mighty imperial cultures - that of medieval Muscovy and that of the Soviet Union - the Kremlin is at once fascinating and foreboding, a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy, and its eclectic mix of architecture reflects these paradoxes and seismic cultural shifts.

Today, the Kremlin remains as alluring and enigmatic as ever. Two thirds of the citadel territory are closed to visitors, but the remaining third contains enough treasures to occupy several days of sightseeing. Not only one of the largest and most interesting museums in the world, but also the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin is the perfect place to begin your tour of Moscow.

Short History of the Kremlin

Although there is evidence of human habitation on the site of the Kremlin dating back to 500 BC, Moscow's history really begins around 1147, when Yuri Dolgoruky, Grand Duke of Kiev, built a wooden fort at the point where the Neglina and Moskva Rivers converge. The city grew rapidly and, despite being razed by the Mongols in 1208, was soon powerful enough to attain primacy among the Russian principalities, acknowledged in 1326 when the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church moved there from Vladimir.

At the same time, stone buildings began to appear in the Kremlin and, by the end of the 14th Century, the citadel was fortified with stone walls. Under Ivan the Great (1462 - 1505), the Kremlin became the centre of a unified Russian state, and was extensively remodelled, as befitted its new status. Meanwhile, Moscow spread outside the walls of the citadel, and the Kremlin became a world apart, the base of the twin powers of state and religion. This period saw the construction of the magnificent Cathedrals of the Assumption, the Annunciation and the Archangel, and the uniquely Russian Terem Palace, the royal residence. The addition of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower completed Sobornaya Square, and added to the imposing effect of the Kremlin skyline.

Ivan's descendents further developed and adapted the Kremlin complex and, even when Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersburg, Russia's rulers continued to leave their mark on the medieval town. Peter himself built the Kremlin Arsenal, originally planned as a military museum and now occupied by a barracks, and the 18th and 19th centuries brought Neoclassical masterpieces such as the Senate Building and the Great Kremlin Palace. After the 1917 Revolution, the Kremlin regained its rightful place as the seat of the Russian government, and the legacy of the Communist era is still visible in the large red stars that top many of the defensive towers, and in the vast, modern State Kremlin Palace, originally the Palace of Congresses.

The Squares and Streets of the Kremlin

In the distant past the Kremlin was a self-contained medieval town, seething with the bustle of everyday life. Nowadays, the citadel's division into squares and streets has a considerably more formal flavor, although some have kept their original names down the centuries. Buildings from the 15th to the 20th century combine to create unique ensemble of architecture on Sobornaya, Ivanovskaya, Dvortsovaya, Senatskaya, and Troitskaya Squares, and also on Spasskaya, Borovitskaya, and Dvortsovaya Streets. It's worth taking a closer look at two of the main squares of the Kremlin National Park Museum - Sobornaya and Ivanovskaya.

The existing walls and towers of the Kremlin were erected during the reign of Grand Duke Ivan III, from 1485-1495, under the supervision of the Italian architects Antonio Gilardi, Marco Ruffo, Pietro Antonio Solari, and Aliosio de Carcano, who came to Moscow to work on the project by special invitation.

Kremlin Walls and Towers

The towering red-brick Kremlin walls, following the contours of the Kremlin hill as they have done for over 5 centuries, form an irregular triangle, with its southern flank against the Moskva River, its western wall rising high above the Alexandrovsky Gardens, and its north-eastern side following the edge of Red Square. The walls are a total of 2,205 metres long, between 3.5 and 6.5 metres thick, range from 5 to 19 metres in height, and are topped by swallow-tailed crenellations. Punctuating the walls are no less than 20 separate defensive towers of varying heights and shapes, topped with green tent roofs and gilt weathervanes or red stars. Each tower has its own name, distinctive features, and absorbing history. Running along the top of the walls is a walkway up to 4 meters in width. In this way, walking from one tower to the next, it is possible to complete a circuit of the citadel's perimeter, and get a closer look at the mighty towers that have protected Moscow's heart since medieval times.

Churches of the Kremlin

Several magnificently preserved historic cathedrals and churches stand within the Kremlin walls. Constructed at different times, by master craftsmen of the age, under varying historical circumstances, these magnificent churches have background stories which are at least as interesting as the monuments themselves. Each of these churches played a vital role in the history of the Orthodox Church, and of the Russian state itself.

The Palaces and Buildings of the Kremlin

Extremely varied, even eclectic in style - from ancient Russian to classical and even pseudo-gothic - the palaces and buildings of the Kremlin nonetheless form an organic whole. This unique combination of styles and eras lends the Kremlin's architectural ensemble a quite incomparable charm. Each historical era has left its immortal traces on the facades and interior appointments of the palaces and chambers of the Kremlin.


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