Saturday, July 16, 2011


Red Square is a huge, stark, enclosed square in the heart of Moscow that includes a big, ugly, concrete government building called The Kremlin, right?
Red Square, May Day Parade, 1957
 That's what I thought, but I was so wrong.

Red Square is separate from the Kremlin, although it does share one wall with the Kremlin.  That notched wall goes all around the Kremlin, an area of 68 acres, and is made of red brick and studded with twenty beautiful Italianate towers.  The word "Kremlin" means "fortress," and so it makes sense that the Kremlin encloses quite a number of buildings.

From Red Square looking towards the Kremlin wall

The Savior's (or Spasskaya) Tower at the main entrance to the Kremlin

Outside the Kremlin wall is the Russian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with its two guards:

Upon entering the Kremlin gates (for which we had to have a ticket), the first building we saw deviated drastically in style from the rest of the complex.  Built in 1961, this eerily transparent structure originally housed the Soviet Congress in its 6,000 seat auditorium.  Now, however, it is home to theatrical and musical performances. 

 The rest of the large buildings in the Kremlin (which are called "palaces" in the guide books) looked more like this:
Kremlin Military Academy

A cannon and a Cannon (You wouldn't believe how many of these pictures we have from various sites around the world.)

The former Supreme Soviet building, now the headquarters of the President of Russia

The Senate Building, which includes private quarters for the Soviet and Russian Presidents.  Both Lenin and Stalin lived here for a time, but the current president Medvedev has a private home just outside of Moscow.

The double-headed eagle, national symbol of Russia, decorating the cornices of the Grand Palace.

The Tsar Cannon, which has the largest caliber of any cannon in the world.  It weighs 39 tons.  Each of those cannonballs in front (which are actually too large to fit in the Cannon barrel--oops) weighs a ton.

I LOVE this lion head on the frame holding the cannon.  It makes me think of Aslan.

The Tsar Bell, the largest bell in the world, weighs 201 tons.  (Ring that, Quasimodo!)

It has just one little problem--there was a fire in the foundry and when workers doused the fire with water, they accidently doused the bell as well and this slab cracked off while the bell was still in the casting pit.  That shard weighs 11 tons all by itself.  A Russian legend says that on Judgment Day, this bell will be healed, lifted into heaven, and rung.  That would be awesome.  Considering its size, perhaps we'll hear it here in the United States.

There are four large cathedrals in the Kremlin, all very close together.  When we were traveling with Mom in Germany, she told us that some churches are built for God (example: Ulm Cathedral), and some are built for power (example: Speyer Cathedral).  I think these cathedrals built so close to the seat of power in the Kremlin must have been built as a show of power.  And yet, they are so hauntingly beautiful, so colorful and graceful, that one is still drawn to God in their sanctuaries.

Cathedral of the Dormition, also known as Cathedral of the Assumption, built under direction of Ivan the Great and completed in 1479.  It is considered the Mother Church of Muscovite Russia.  The tsars were crowned in this cathedral through the 1700s and many royal weddings have taken place within.  After the Revolution in 1918, all church services were banned, although there is one legend that Stalin ordered a secret service here in 1941 to pray for protection from the invading Nazis. That sounds a bit improbable, but it's a good story.  The Cathedral was returned to the Orthodox Church in 1990, although it operates largely as a museum.

The entrance to the Dormition Cathedral.  Note the black Deep Purple t-shirt on the man on the right.  Did you know that President Medvedev is a big Deep Purple fan?  Maybe this man is a Medvedev supporter.
The Cathedral of the Archangel, completed in 1508.  Victories of the Russian military were celebrated here, and 54 Russian tsars and grand princes are buried within, including Ivan the Great and Ivan the Terrible.
Another view of the Cathedral of the Archangel
The Cathedral of the Annunciation, completed in 1489 and expanded several times in the 16th century.  This cathedral hosted the royal families' private church services and is actually connected to the Grand Palace.
The Church of the Twelve Apostles and the Patriarch's Palace, completed in 1656, is the most recently built of the four cathedrals.  It was built specifically for the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of the time.  He had it built on a tall platform so it could compete with the other churches in Cathedral Square.  This one was definitely built for power.
In addition to these four beautiful cathedrals, there is one more structure that is taller than anything else in the Kremlin, and in fact was the tallest structure in all of Moscow until the 19th century: the Ivan the Great Belltower.  Completed in 1508, it was made even taller in 1600.  Considered to be the exact center of Moscow, it houses 21 bells that supposedly can be heard all over the city when they are ringing.  The square building to the left of the tower is the Assumption Belfry, which houses 24 bells.  The bells were rung for the last time on Easter 1918 and were not allowed to ring again until 1992. I wish we could have heard them ring while we were there!
We think this belltower and belfry look a lot like the LDS Temple in St. George, Utah.

Another view of the Ivan the Great Belltower. Note the beautiful landscaping and cute guy in the foreground.
A view of the Cathedral of the Annunication, Cathedral of the Archangel, and Ivan the Great Belltower that shows how close together everything is.
Our final stop was the Kremlin Armory Museum, Moscow's oldest and most prestigious museum.  Visiting it was like seeing the Crown Jewels in London times 100.  It is stuffed full with the wealth of the Tsar Years--crowns and jewels, coronation dresses and robes, gilt and bejeweled thrones, Cinderella carriages by the dozen, and gifts given to and by the royal families, including a large Faberge collection.

After all those bling-bling Fabrege eggs, my favorite
Fabrege piece was this stunning crystal dandelion.
 The picture doesn't come close to doing it justice.
My next favorite item was Catherine the Great's coronation dress.
Talk about a subtle way to camouflage your hips...

The Alexander Gardens just outside Kremlin walls.  (Picture by Scott Zimmerman)
View of the Kremlin from the other side of the Moskva River: the green-roofed Grand Palace, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Cathedral of the Archangel, and the Ivan the Great Belltower
Our guide Svetlana, who has every right to be proud of her beautiful city. (Photo by Scott Zimmerman)

In November 2014, more than three years after taking our trip to Moscow, I attended a lecture by award-winning children's book author and artist Eugene Yelchin, a man born and raised in the Soviet Union who immigrated to the United States in 1983 when he was 27 years old. His Newbery Honor book, Breaking Stalin's Nose, is the moving story of Sasha Zaichik, a ten-year-old Muscovite preparing for his induction into the Soviet Young Pioneers during the years of Joseph's Stalin's terrorizing dictatorship over the Soviet Union. On the day of Sasha's induction, however, things start to go wrong, starting with the arrest of his father, a member of the secret police and a communist hero. As the day progresses, Sasha begins to get a glimpse of a world that does not mesh with what he has been told about his glorious homeland.

This is a heart-wrenching loss-of-innocence story that gives a glimpse into the pervasive fear that filled every corner of the Soviet Union during the Stalin years. It's a quick read, and Yelchin's many illustrations add an extra level of anguish to the story. Though written for children, I would recommend this to any adult interested in what it was like to grow up in the Soviet Union.

NEXT: RED SQUARE (I just couldn't fit it in this post)


  1. Stunning photos, fascinating text. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. I love your beginning with the black and white photo. My same feelings exactly. The contrast between myth and reality is great.

  3. I would like to own that dress, please.

  4. So beautiful! That crystal dandelion looks amazing and I want to touch it. And I loved the mustard color of lots of the buildings. You're a great tour guide. Do you take notes? Just curious -- I would never remember the things you do. Thanks for the trip!

  5. Susan, we keep a travel journal and I takes notes on scraps of paper in my purse. Sometimes we have to do some extra research to fill in the gaps when we get home and can't figure out what my notes say. Not the most efficient way, but it works!

  6. I'm so trunky for Moscow! I hate this blog! Now I have to go to Russia!!

    Just kidding--I'm a big fan of all these posts, including the Faberge eggs, of which Queen Elizabeth in London also has a stash. I'm learning a lot--can hardly wait for the next part.