The Kremlin is a vast citadel with gilded onion-dome churches and government offices, surrounded by a massive wall with spiky towers and grand entrance gates. Perched on 40-meter-high (125-foot-high) Borovitsky Hill, next to the Moscow River, this medieval complex has been the center of Russian and Soviet power for more than 400 years.

The Kremlin is where Ivan the Terrible unleashed his reign terror, where Napoleon set up his headquarters, where Lenin established his dictatorship of the proletariat, where Stalin gave out commands for purges and Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin issued their reforms, and orders and consolidated their power. Today the Kremlin is both a major tourist attraction and the home of the Russian government. Maintaining order are policemen and KGB agents who blow whistles and wave you down if you take one step outside of the area designated for tourists.

The Kremlin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO: “At the geographic and historic centre of Moscow, the Moscow Kremlin is the oldest part of the city. First mentioned in the Hypatian Chronicle in 1147 as a fortification erected on the left bank of the Moskva river by Yuri Dolgoruki, Prince of Suzdal, the Kremlin developed and grew with settlements and suburbs which were further surrounded by new fortifications - Kitaigorodsky Wall, Bely Gorod, Zemlyanoy Gorod and others. This determined a radial and circular plan of the centre of Moscow typical of many other Old Russian cities.” [Source: UNESCO]

“In 13th century the Kremlin was the official residence of supreme power - the center of temporal and spiritual life of the state. The Kremlin of the late 15th – early 16th century is one of the major fortifications of Europe (the stone walls and towers of present day were erected in 1485–1516). It contains an ensemble of monuments of outstanding quality.”

History of the Kremlin

Kremlin means fort. The first structure to stand here was a wooden stockade built in the 12th century by a group of Rus-Viking traders along the Moscow River. During the Mongol period in 13th and 14th century, fires swept through Moscow every 20 years or so. The only structures left from this period are a chapel and a crypt.

The Kremlin became the center of the Russian Orthodox Church when the church moved its headquarters from Vladimir to Moscow in the 1320s. A white limestone wall went up in the 1360s, roughly surrounding the area occupied by the Kremlin today.

Ivan the Terrible raised the huge fortress walls and brought in foreign architects to design the palaces and churches inside. Two of the three main cathedrals were designed by Italian architects between 1475 and 1510 based on domed churches in Vladimir. The project took 30 years to complete. By the time it was finished the entire city of Muscovy was contained within it walls.

The tsars that came after Ivan enlarged the Kremlin, as the Russian empire itself expanded to the Black Sea and across the Urals to the Pacific. The Kremlin fell into a state of decay after Peter the Great moved the Russian capital to St. Petersburg in 1712. Both Catherine the Great and Napoleon had plans to destroy it.

According to UNESCO: From the early 18th century, when the capital of Russia moved to St. Petersburg, the Kremlin mainly played a ceremonial role with religious functions. By the end of the century the architectural complex of the Kremlin expanded with the Arsenal reconstructed after the Fire of 1797 by Matvei Kazakov. The Senate was built in 1776–1787 according to the plans of the same architect as the home of the highest agency of State power of the Russian Empire - the Ruling Senate. Today it is the residence of the President of Russia. [Source: UNESCO]

“From 1839 to 1849 a Russian architect K.A. Thon erected the Great Kremlin Palace as a residence of the imperial family which combined ancient Kremlin buildings such as the Palace of the Facets, the Tsarina’s Golden Chamber, Master Chambers, the Teremnoi Palace and the Teremnoi churches. In the Armory Chamber built by K.A. Thon within the complex of the Great Kremlin Palace, there is a 16th century museum officially established by the order of Alexander I in 1806.”

The Kremlin was not brought back to life until the Bolsheviks returned the capital of Russia to Moscow 1918 and established their base there. In 1922, when the Soviet Union was created, it became the center of power of that entity. Stalin tore down the original entrance to Red Square and an 18th century chapel there so that tanks could drive into the square for parades.

Visitors have been able to visit the the Kremlin for only a little more than half a century. After Lenin's Soviet government took over Kremlin in March 1918, the area acquired a special status. First, monks and church officials were expelled from the Kremlin, then,in 1922, two functioning monasteries in the Kremlin were demolished: the Ascension Monastery and the Chudov Nunnery. By 1934, the only persons authorized to visit the Kremlin were government officials and employees holding special permits issued by the Sovnarkom (the Council of People's Commissars). Those officials not only worked but also lived in the Kremlin during the Soviet era. Even the Grand Kremlin Palace, the former residence of the Russian tsars, had dozens of apartments for high-ranking officials and their families. The Kremlin was opened to the public by decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union only in 1955. In the 1990s,the Kremlin could be visited for free. Today, however, you must buy a ticket to enter the Kremlin. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

Orientation at the Kremlin

The Kremlin walls form a northward-pointing triangle. Each wall is about 750 meter long and the area inside them is about 69 acres. On the south side of the walls is the Moscow River. On the east side is Red Square. On the west side is Alexandrovskii Gardens. The latter used to be occupied by a river, but the water was subverted into an underground pipe.

The Kremlin's massive castellated walls are up to three and half meters (20 feet) thick. At each corner there is a circular tower and over each gate is a rectangular one. Between the towers on the outside of the wall is good sled run. Surrounding the building inside are fountains, pathways, and gardens filled gladiolus and roses.

Buildings open to the public inside the walls include the Arsenal and the Armory, both now museums; and golden domed Archangel, Annunciation and Assumption cathedrals. Among the buildings closed to the public are the Presidium, Council of Ministers, Place of Congresses and the Grand Kremlin Palace, which are all used by the Russian government.

Despite being a bastion of atheism for seven decades, visitors enter the Kremlin through the through massive wooden doors of Holy Savior and Holy Trinity gates (Resurrection Gate) or the Savoir Clock Tower on Red Square. Resurrection Gate and the chapel are replicas of the originals torn down by Stalin. The chapel holds an icon that Muscovites believe will protect them from evil.

Russian government officials enter through Borovitskaia Tower which is right next to the water pumping tower which is on the opposite side of the Kremlin from Red Square. The best view of the Kremlin is from the upper floors of Sofiyskaya Naberezhnaya across the river.

Why the Kremlin in Important According to UNESCO

The Kremlin in important according to UNESCO because: 1) “The Kremlin contains within its walls a unique series of masterpieces of architecture and the plastic arts. There are religious monuments of exceptional beauty such as the Church of the Annunciation, the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Church of the Archangel and the bell tower of Ivan Veliki; there are palaces such as the Great Palace of the Kremlin, which comprises within its walls the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin and the Teremnoi Palace. On Red Square is Saint Basil the Blessed, still a major edifice of Russian Orthodox art.

2) “Throughout its history, Russian architecture has clearly been affected many times by influences emanating from the Kremlin. A particular example was the Italian Renaissance. The influence of the style was clearly felt when Rudolfo Aristotele Fioravanti built the Cathedral of the Dormition (1475-79) and grew stronger with the construction of the Granovitaya Palace (Hall of the Facets, 1487-91) by Marco Fryazin and Pietro Antonio Solario. Italian Renaissance also influenced the towers of the fortified enceinte, built during the same period by Solario, using principles established by Milanese engineers (the Nikolskaya and the Spasskaya Towers both date from 1491). The Renaissance expression was even more present in the classic capitals and shells of the Church of the Archangel, reconstructed from 1505 to 1509 by Alevisio Novi.

3) “With its triangular enceinte pierced by four gates and reinforced with 20 towers, the Moscow Kremlin preserves the memory of the wooden fortifications erected by Yuri Dolgoruki around 1156 on the hill at the confluence of the Moskova and Neglinnaya rivers (the Alexander Garden now covers the latter). By its layout and its history of transformations (in the 14th century Dimitri Donskoi had an enceinte of logs built, then the first stone wall), the Moscow Kremlin is the prototype of a Kremlin - the citadel at the centre of Old Russian towns such as Pskov, Tula, Kazan or Smolensk.

4) “From the 13th century to the founding of St Petersburg, the Moscow Kremlin was directly and tangibly associated with every major event in Russian history. A 200-year period of obscurity ended in 1918 when it became the seat of government again. The Mausoleum of Lenin on Red Square is the Soviet Union’s prime example of symbolic monumental architecture. To proclaim the universal significance of the Russian revolution, the funerary urns of heroes of the revolution were incorporated into the Kremlin’s walls between the Nikolskaya and Spasskaya towers. The site thus combines in an exceptional manner the preserved vestiges of bygone days with present-day signs of one of the greatest events in modern history.

Visiting the Kremlin

The Kremlin is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm. Sometimes visitors wearing shorts are not allowed in. The main visitor entrance is at Manezhnaya Tower, a couple hundred meters from Red Square. The ticket office is nearby.

Visiting the Kremlin requires a whole day. Buildings open to the public inside the walls include the Arsenal and the Armory, both now museums; and golden domed Archangel, Annunciation and Assumption cathedrals. Among the buildings closed to the public are the Presidium, Council of Ministers, Place of Congresses and the Grand Kremlin Palace, which are all used by the Russian government.

Visitors walk through Kufafya Tower and then walk across a ramp over what used to be the Neglinnaya River and then pass through the Kremlin Walls under Trinity Gate Tower. To the right after you enter the walls is the 17th-century Poteshny Palace, also known as Palace of Amusements, where Joseph Stalin lived. To the left is the Arsenal, which is surrounded by 800 cannons captured from Napoleon’s army. Arrangements for tours in English can be arranged.

In the 1990s, the Kremlin could be visited for free. Today, however, you must buy a ticket to enter the Kremlin. There are ticket offices in the Alexander Garden and the Kutafia Tower, selling tickets to visit various places. The cheapest ticket allows you to visit the ensemble of the Cathedral Square: the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Cathedral of the Archangel, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Church of the Deposition of the Robe, and the Patriarchal Palace. The the Ivan the Great Bell Tower costs extra. It cost about US$10 for a ticket to churches and their respective museums inside and another US$10 for the Armory. The Diamond Fund Exhibit cost an addition US$10.

Buildings in the Kremlin

According to UNESCO: Among the oldest civil buildings of the Moscow Kremlin, the Palace of the Facets (1487–1491) is the most remarkable. Italian architects Marco Fryazin and Pietro Antonio Solario built it as a great hall for holding state ceremonies, celebrations and for receiving foreign ambassadors. The most noteworthy civil construction of the 17th century built by Russian masters is the Teremnoi Palace. [Source: UNESCO]

State Kremlin Palace (near the visitor's entrance of the Kremlin) is a glass-and-concrete monstrosity built in the early 1960s for Communist Party Congresses. It houses a 6000-seat auditorium formally used for the party congresses and now used primarily as a concert hall. The Bolshoi Ballet and Opera company sometimes perform here. It is said to have excellent acoustics. In 1998, it hosted a Versace fashion show. Generally visitors are not allowed in unless they are attending a concert.

Buildings in the Kremlin Off Limits to Tourists

Senate (next to the Armory) is the focal point of Russian power. The president and many important figures in the government have their offices here. The yellow Senate is a triangular 18th-century classical building. Not surprisingly the area is off limits to tourists.

Presidium Building used to house the offices of the Supreme Soviet which in theory used to govern the country while the Communist party ruled it. Next door is the green-domed Council of Ministers where the President has an office and the Politburo used to meet on Thursday.

Supreme Soviet (next to the Senate) is a Stalin-era building with a 1,500-seat hall where the Supreme Soviet used to meet. It contains a huge podium where the president spoke and desks for the representatives, each of which was equipped with a 16-channel sound system that is supposed to provide translations for the former republics (usually only the Russian one worked).

Hall of Facets is one of the most famous chambers in the Kremlin. Designed by the Italians Marco Ruffo and Pietro Solario and built between 1487 and 1491, it features an Italian Renaissance facade and opulent interior with arched ceilings, walls decorated with 19th century murals placed on a gold background, bronze chandeliers and gilt doors and columns. This chamber also is closed to the public

The former throne room is now a reception hall where Russian dignitaries meet their foreign counterparts. The room where Gorbachev welcomed Reagan in 1988 is the same one where Ivan the Terrible met with English officials in 1553to discuss the Ivan's marriage proposal to Queen Elizabeth I.

Palaces in the Kremlin

Terem Palace (between the Grand Kremlin Palace and the State Kremlin Palace) is one of the most opulent of all the Kremlin palaces. It is a labyrinth of corridors, stairways, chapels and chambers. Each wing was built at a different time by a different ruler and many of the opulent rooms are completely over the top. The three tsars that followed Ivan the Terrible each have a chapel here. The most interesting room is thought to be Tsarina's Golden Chamber, decorated with 16th and 17th century paintings. In the mid 18th century while the tsar was in St. Petersburg the Terem Place was completely redecorated in a 17th century style and joined to the Grand Kremlin Palace. Unfortunately it is off limits to the public.

Patriarch's Palace (next to the State Kremlin Palace) was built in mid-17th-century for the Patriarch Nikon, the reformer who caused the Great Schism that led to the creation of the Old Believers. It now housed the Museum of 17th Century Russian Applied Art and Life, which contains icons, illuminated books, church vestments and other religious objects. It also incorporates five-domed Church of the Twelve Apostles.

Great Kremlin Palace (between the Armory and Annunciation Cathedral) is a 700-room place built between 1838 and 1849 as an imperial palace. The beautiful chambers and halls in the palace with their massive chandeliers and beautiful inlaid floors unfortunately are closed to the public. The palace it where Russian leaders such as Alexander III, Nicholas II, Stalin, Yeltsin and Putin have greeted heads of state from other countries. The traditional ritual is for the Russian leader and the leader from the other country to line up on either end of the palace's enormous St. George Hall and walked across a 65 yard long crimson carpet with their entourages and meet in the middle to shake hands and exchange small talk, in recent years, while the press looks on and photographs are taken.

Areas and Bird Life in the Kremlin

Sobornaya Ploshchad (beyond the Patriarch's Palace) is the main square and open space in the Kremlin. It is a nice to place to pause and admire the exterior of the Kremlin's most beautiful buildings. On the northside is Assumption Cathedral. On the south side is the Archangel Cathedral. In the middle is Ivan the Great bell Tower.

Secret Gardens was purportedly entrance way to a network of underground tunnel that guarded so tenaciously you would tend to thinks it true. Napoleon supposedly retreated from Moscow via these passageways when he was welcomed to a city in flames.It is off limits to tourists. Taynitsky Garden is a small quiet garden inside the Kremlin. Guards will whistle you to stop if you attempt to set foot in it.

Lenin's Apartment is where Lenin lived and worked during his five years in the Kremlin was left exactly like it was on the day he died. Photographs of him as a child and as a old man after a stroke are lined up on a desk. Chipped plates in the cabinets and cheap Brentwood chairs are testimony the he did in fact live a very spartan existence. It too is off limits to tourists.

Lenin lived with his wife and unmarried sister and the three of them used make music together with Lenin on the piano and the women singing. In Lenin's library are over 8,000 books. Visitors are not allowed to visit the apartment but you can visit the Central Lenin Museum which contains his study and his car. When Boris Yeltisin was President of Russia visitors to Lenin's apartment need an escort even to go to the bathroom. Why? President Yeltsin's office is nearby.

Crows at the Kremlin: The crows that inhabit the Kremlin are greatly admired by the people who work there. The birds have been observed sliding down the snow covered roof of the Annunciation Cathedral launching themselves into space; and dropping chestnuts down metal drainpipes and listening to rattle against the inside. When the chestnut reaches the bottom they pick it up with their beaks and do it again. In an effort to get rid of the crows the Kremlin formed a falconry team after it was decided that setting off explosives or shooting the birds was not the way to handle the problem in a place like the Kremlin. After a wet day the falcon’s feathers are dried off with driers in the rest room...or at least they used to do that

Kremlin Towers

The Kremlin’s 20 towers are among its most impressive sights. They were built along the massive Kremlin wall between 1485 and 1500, with some roofs added in the 17th century. The Savior Gate Tower is the official entrance on to Red Square. It contains the Russian equivalent of Big Ben, a clock tower's whose chimes can be heard on the hour on state radio. In the tsarist era it was used in processions. Unfortunately, tourists are not allowed inside the towers and cannot look inside,

Among the most famous towers are Kutafya Tower, which served as the bridge-head, and the Tsar's Tower built in the middle of the Kremlin wall. Tsar Tower is located near where Ivan the Terrible used to watch executions. He used Annunciation Tower as prison. Konstantine-Yelna Tower is also known as Torture Tower. The oldest tower, the Taynitskaya Tower, was built in 1485 and the most recent towers, constructed on the Neglinnaya River, facing Alexander Gardens, were built in the 16th century.

The main tower of the Kremlin is Spasskaya Tower. Its gate was intended for ceremonial marches, and it was here that tsars and foreign ambassador made their entrance. Now the members of the government use the Borovitskaya Tower, the only tower which is suitable for automobiles. In the past, it was the entrance to the area of the Kremlin's household outbuildings. Trinity Tower was used as a rehearsal studio for the Kremlin Commandant's Exemplary Band, who perform at many state functions. When journalist Jon Thompson visited the studio they were making multi-track recordings of heavy-metal numbers.

The third tower with an entrance to the Kremlin is the Troitskaya Tower. It is now the point of entry for tourists into the Kremlin. They first go up Kutafia Tower, and from there they continue over the bridge to the Kremlin. Nikolskaya Tower is another tower that has a gate. The remaining 15 towers were not used as entrance gates, apart from those which had underground passages to the river. One of these is Taynitskaya Tower (the Russian name of the tower sounds like “the tower with a secret”).

Many towers have several names. The Troitskaya (Trinity) Tower has changed its name more than any other tower of the Kremlin. It has had five different names in different eras: Trinity Tower, Epiphany Tower, the Tower of Lord's Robe Deposition, the Tower of Our Lady of the Sign, and Kuretnaya Tower. Some names are related to adjacent buildings, such as Arsenalnaya and Senatskaya, while other names explain the functions of the tower: the Water Tower had a water pumping machine used to bring water to the gardens of the Kremlin.

If you look carefully at the towers and the walls, you may notice that there are many interesting details. Only corner towers have a round bases, while the others have rectangular ones. One tower — Tsarskaya Tower, or Tsar’s Tower — has no base at all. The name of this tower is misleading. Historians say there is no evidence to support the claim that the tsars sat there when presiding over activities in Red Square. The tower housed the bells for the fire service. The name of this tower was probably due to its appearance: it sort of looks like a Tsar's throne.

Bell Tower of Ivan

Bell Tower of Ivan (near Assumption Cathedral) is a double- golden-domed tower that is the highest structure in the Kremlin and for centuries the highest structure in Moscow. Only after World War II when Stalin built seven tall, pointed "Stalinist Gothic" structures did the tower lose its ranking.

Built between 1505 and 1508 under Boris Godunov and designed by the Italian Marco Bono, it is 81 meters high and is still visible form 59 kilometers away. Inside is a 60-toon bell. It is not clear who the tower is named after, but it was it not Ivan the Great or Ivan the Terrible.

Tickets to visit the Ivan the Great Bell Tower cost extra. From the top there are fabulous views of the Kremlin. There are legends about the strength of this Tower. When Napoleon's army was retreating from Moscow, they tried to blow up the Ivan Bell Tower together with the adjacent church of John of the Ladder, but the tower of the main bell was not harmed.

The Ivan Bell Tower ensemble consists of the St. John Climacus Church and Bell Tower, the Assumption Belfry, and Filaretov's Annex. The Assumption Belfry contains an exhibition space for the Moscow Kremlin Museum. In the Bell Tower itself multimedia projectors display images of the Kremlin from different epochs and from unrealized projects on the walls. In addition, visitors have access to a roundabout gallery which offers a panoramic of the Kremlin. The exhibition is open only in the summer.

Tsar Bell: World's Largest Bell

Tsar Bell (outside the Bell Tower of Ivan) is the largest bell in the world. Cast partly with the remains of 130-ton bell, it weighs over 202 ton and cracked before it was ever rung. An 11.5 ton piece cracked off in 1737.

Despite the fact that he never rang the bell is striking for its size. It 6.24 meter tall and 6.6 meters in diameter. The bell was cast between 1733 and 1735 years at the Cannon Yard of Ivan and Mikhail Motorin.

The Tsar Bell was cast on the orders of Empress Anna Ioanovna. Two years after the casting the bell was still cooling off in a special pit. A terrible fire broke out in the Kremlin in May 1737. While extinguishing the fire, water was splashed on the hot metal bell, causing a huge slab weighing 11.5 tons to fall off. This monument of Russian casting was removed from the pit only in 1836 and was set on a pedestal, where it stands today.

Tsar Cannon: World's Largest Cannon

The Tsar Cannon (near the Tsar Bell) is the world's largest cannon. It weighs 44 tons, is 5.34 meters (17½ feet) long, and has a 35 inch bore. Cast in 1586 for Fydor I, whose likeness is on the barrel, and today is aimed at a spot between the Presidium and the Ivan Bell Tower. The massive cannon balls piled up next to the cannon are too large to fit in the barrel.

Located in a building constructed in 1810 by architect IV Egotov for the Armory, the Tsar Cannon by some measures is the largest caliber weapon in the world. The barrel has a 890 millimeter. It was cast by Andrei Chekhov in Moscow at the Cannon yard on the banks of the river Neglinnaya (modern Theater Lane). Soon after it was cast it was placed near the Spassky Gate to frighten enemies.

The outer diameter of the barrel is 120 centimeters. The diameter of patterned belt at the muzzle is 134 centimeters. The cannon is decorated with reliefs and belts. On the right side of the muzzle is the image of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich (wearing a crown and a scepter in his hand) on horseback. The barrel is flanked on each side by four brackets for fastening ropes while moving the gun. Above the front right bracket poured over the image of the king are the words, "the grace of God the king and the Grand Duke Fedor sovereign and Autocrat of All the great Russia."

Tsar Cannon is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest gun ever created. (The heaviest gun ever created was the German "Dora", which weighed 1,350 tonnes but had a smaller caliber (800 mm) than the Tsar Cannon. It was long thought that the Tsar Cannon was never fired. In 1980, the cannon was examined in Serpukhov by specialists at the Dzerzhinsky Artillery Academy. According to their findings, the cannon has a classical bombard barrel designed to fire stone balls weighing about 800 kilograms. Researchers found that of the Tsar Cannon was shot at least once.

Churches in the Kremlin

According to UNESCO: “The most significant churches of the Moscow Kremlin are situated on the Cathedral Square; they are the Cathedral of the Dormition, Church of the Archangel, Church of the Annunciation and the bell tower of Ivan Veliki. Almost all of them were designed by invited Italian architects which is clearly seen in their architectural style. The five-domed Assumption Cathedral (1475–1479) was built by an Italian architect Aristotele Fiorvanti. Its interior is decorated with frescos and a five-tier iconostasis (15th–17th century). The cathedral became the major Russian Orthodox church; a wedding and coronation place for great princes, tsars and emperors as well as the shrine for metropolitans and patriarchs. [Source: UNESCO]

“In the same square another Italian architect, Alevisio Novi, erected the five-domed Church of the Archangel in 1505-1508. From the 17th to 19th century, its interior was decorated by wonderful frescos and an iconostasis. In this church many great princes and tsars of Moscow are buried. Among them are Ivan I Kalita, Dmitri Donskoi, Ivan III, Ivan the Terrible the Terrible, Mikhail Fedorovich and Alexei Mikhailovich Romanovs. The Cathedral of the Dormition was built by Pskov architects in 1484–1489. Inside the cathedral some mural paintings of 16th–19th century have been preserved and the icons of Andrei Rublev and Theophanes the Greek are part of the iconostasis.”

Church of the Deposition of the Robe (next the west door of Assumption Cathedral) is a small single-domed church built by craftsmen from Pskov between 1484 and 1486 on the site of an ancient temple. Designed by Russians and used as private chapel by tsars, it served as a chapel for Orthodox church leader such as Metropolitans and Patriarchs and was later transferred to the Grand Prince's residence. . The interior is covered with 17th-century frescoes and contains a collection of 15th- to 17th-century woodcarvings. Cathedral of the Dormition was founded in 1326 and for several centuries served as the burial place of the heads of the Russian Church, including metropolitans and patriarchs.

Annunciation Cathedral

Annunciation Cathedral (near the Archangel Cathedral and connected to the Great Kremlin Palace) is the house-church of the Russian royal family. Designed by Russian master from Pskov and built between 1484 an 1498, it is smaller than other buildings and is decorated with nine delicate golden domes: three on the original structure and six added by Ivan the Terrible, who also added an extension to the church where he could sit after his forth marriages prevented him from entering the main church.

Annunciation Cathedral is the best place in the Kremlin to observe icons. It contains some of the finest works by Theophanes the Greek (1340-1405), regarded ny many as Russia's most brilliant early icon maker. The cathedral also contains some famous icons painted by A. Rubylev and his apprentices. The central part of the church is paved with translucent golden-brown jasper stones. Most of the murals in the walls date to the 1560s.

The main attraction of the church is its magnificently-painted iconostasis. The six icons on the right hand side of the largest, central row — “Virgin Mary,” “Christ Enthroned,” “St. John the Baptist,” “Archangel Gabriel,” “Apostle Paul” and “St. John Chrysoston” — are believed to have been painted by Theophanes. What makes these icons special is the realness of the figures. The third and forth icons — “Archangel Micheal” and “St. Peter” — are by Rublyov. He is also believed to have painted many of the icons on the row above the largest row. Adjacent to Annunciation Cathedral is the Archangel Gabriel Chapel. It has a colorful iconostasis that dates to 1564.

Assumption Cathedral

Assumption Cathedral (past the State Kremlin Palace) is where many tsars — including Ivan the Terrible — were married and crowned. It was the main center of the Russian Orthodox church from the 1320s to the 1900 and is where many Patriarchs and important figure in the church have been buried. Today it is the first major Kremlin building that visitors see that they can actually enter.

Assumption Cathedral is recognizable by it five massive, helmet-shaped golden domes and four semicircular gables. Almost every inch of the cathedral's interior is covered with icons, frescoes and religious paintings, even the columns. Church officials say this is because "the columns support the ceiling and the saints support the church." Another reason is that most people who entered the church around the time it was built couldn't read and the various images told them the stories of the saints.

The Cathedral of the Annunciation was the main church of the Russian tsars for about 150 years, and as a rule its superiors were spiritual advisers of the tsars. The building was designed by the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti after a tour of Vladimir and Suzdal and built between 1475 and 1479. It replaced a smaller cathedral built in 1326. In 1812, the French used it as a stable and looted 295 kilograms of gold and five tons of silver (most of it was later recovered). During the Communist era the cathedral was turned into a museum. In October 1989 the first Russian Orthodox Service was held there is in 70 years.

Interior of the Assumption Cathedral

The tomb of many religious leaders are near the north, west and south walls. Next to the south wall in the tent-roofed wooden throne made in 1551 for Ivan the Terrible and known as the Throne of Monomakh because it contains carved scenes of the life of the 12th-century Grand Prince Vladimir of Monomakh of Kiev.

Hanging from the ceiling are huge chandeliers and lined up on the walls are priceless icons. The iconostasis was raised in 1652. The oldest icons are on the lowest level. They include “Savior with the Angry Eyes” (made in the 1340s) and an early 15th century, Rublyov-school copy of the “Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God” (the original is at the Tretyakov Gallery). The oldest icon, St. George, made in Novgorod, dates back to the 12th century. Most of the murals were painted in the 1640s. A group of three on the south wall date back to the time when the church was built.

The cathedral's most prized procession is the skull of St. John Golden Tongue, believed to watch over anyone who possesses it, and only recently given back to the church. A close second is a silver tabernacle called the Great Jerusalem. Decorated with likenesses of the Twelve Apostles, the silver vessel was a gift from Ivan the Terrible.

Archangel Cathedral

Archangel Cathedral is where all of Russia's leaders and tsars, but one, who ruled from the 1320s to the 1690s are buried. The exception is Boris Godunov, who is buried in Sergeiev Posad. Peter the Great and all the tsars that followed him, but one, are buried in St. Petersburg. The exception here is Peter II who is buried in Archangel Cathedral.

The Cathedral of the Archangel was founded by Prince Ivan Kalita. Dedicated to the Archangel Micheal, guardian of Moscow's princes, the cathedral was designed by the Italian Alevsio Novi and built between 1505 and 1508. Built on the site an earlier church constructed by Ivan Kalita in 1333, it has five domes, and built in Byzantine-Russian style with Renaissance and Venetian decorations.

The rows of sarcophagi that occupy most of the floor space were cared mostly in the 17th century. The real Dimitri lies under a painted stone canopy; Mikaial Romonav, the founder of the Romonav dynasty lies nearby. Ivan the Great is in front of the iconostasis. The tombs of Ivan the Terrible and his two sons, Ivan and Fyodor, unfortunately are hidden behind the iconostasis. On the south wall are portraits of many of the people buried here.

Venetian architect Aloisio the New succeeded at combining ancient Russian style with Renaissance motifs in the architecture. The cathedral houses the tombs of the rulers of Muscovy and their close relatives. At present, the church and the tombs serve as a museum.

Kremlin Armory

Kremlin Armory (part of the Great Kremlin Place) houses many important Russian historical treasures and a mind-numbing collection of opulent objects. A separate tickets is necessary to enter the armory. The lines to get in are often long. During the summer tourist season, people are required to enter prescribed times that are posted at the ticket office outside the Kremlin.

The armory collection is housed in nine rooms. Nos. 1 to 5 are upstairs. Nos. 6 to 9 are downstairs. The most crowded rooms include No. 3, with its collection of Fabrage eggs and No 6 with its display of thrones and royal regalia. Individual visitors to the treasury museum use their phones as electronic guides. To find out more about the online version of the electronic guide of the Armoury Chamber visit their website.

The Armoury Chamber is located in the building constructed in 1851 by architect Konstantin Ton. It home to ancient state regalia, ceremonial tsar’s vestments and coronation dress, vestments of the Russian Orthodox Church’es hierarchs, the largest collection of gold and silverware by Russian craftsmen, West European artistic silver, ceremonial weapons and arms, carriages, horse ceremonial harness.

The museum collection consists primarily of treasures and objects created in the Kremlin workshop and items received as gifts from embassies and leaders of foreign states. Many items were kept for centuries in the tsar’s treasury and the Patriarch's sacristy. The museum is named after one of the oldest Kremlin treasury vaults. The museum displays around 4,000 artefacts of decorative and folk-art from the 4th to the early 20th centuries from Russia and countries of Europe and Asia. They have a very high artistic level and historical and cultural value.

Objects in the Kremlin Armory

Among the over 100,000 objects kept in the Kremlin Armory are gold and silver vessels, enamelled saddles, silver bridles, antique weaponry, gem-encrusted vestments, thrones, crowns, gifts from ambassadors, and splendid examples of Russian needlework. Everything the tsars owned seemed to encrusted with jewels even their bibles.

Catherine the Great's coronation dress, embroidered with golden eagles, is displayed next to a tapestry, portraying her as a kindly old grandmother. You can also see her wedding dress. In the collection of carriages you can see Catherine the Great's gold carriages. One carriage has a sculpture of St. George and the Dragon on the axle and another that was a gift from one of Catherine’s lovers.

Also check out the two Persian war masks, which give you some idea of how far the Russian empire spread; decorated breastplates, each featuring a lion sucking on a cannon, the symbol of the tsars's artillery unit; the collection of 300 antique guns with their theatrically designed flints; and the display of gold-framed ivory buttons, which are said to have been carved by Peter the Great himself for his own coat.

Added in the late 1990s and early 2000s are 299 pieces of the 13th century silver jewelry which were discovered in a wooden box by a workman digging a hole in a basement snack bar under the Savior Tower. Among the pieces are bracelets decorated with human-head creatures, breast plates with angels, a jeweled gold ring with Arabic inscriptions, heavy star-shaped pendants covered with thousands of silver granules and silver money bars. One of the museum curators believe the cache belonged to Prince Vladimir himself. "Only the wealthiest family could own such objects," she said. Another old piece is a 13th century helmet discovered in 1808.

Thrones, Faberge Eggs and Royal Regalia in the Kremlin Armory

The thrones in the Kremlin Armory include the joint coronation throne used by Peter the Great and his half brother Ivan. Both seats contain secret compartment used by Peter's manipulative mother, the Regent Sophia, to prompt them. You can also see the throne used by Peter father, Tsar Alexey. It is made from solid ivory and adorned with 800 hundreds of diamonds.

The Cap of Monamakh was used to crown the tsars between 1498 and 1682. It is made of two pounds of gold, jewels and sable, and shaped like a fur-lined yamaka. The jewel imbedded Cap of Kazan commemorates Ivan the Terrible's defeat of the Tatars in Kazan in 1552. Crowning the Cap of Peter the Great is a diamond cross supported by a ruby. The are several sable-trimmed crowns. The three middle bands alone of the Orb of Tsar Alexis boast 36 diamonds and 136 rubies;

Usually only some of the ten jewel-and-enamel Fabergé eggs in the collection are displayed at one time. One opens up like a clamshell, revealing a gold- plated globe inside. Decorated with tiny portraits of the Romonav family, this tiny work of art was a gift from Nicholas II to his wife Alexandra in 1913. Another one made from jade, rubies and diamonds open to a gold model of the Alexander Palace, the favorite home of the royal family. Another open to reveal a gold Trans Siberian train with a platinum engine and a ruby headlamp.

Ivan the Terrible Objects in the Armory include a ruby and sapphire book of Gospels given to the Annunciation Cathedral by Ivan the Terrible; The Measure Icon was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to celebrate the birth of his son Ivan. The 18-inch icon — depicting John of the Ladder, the boy's patron saint — is the same length as the boy when he was an infant. Ivan was eventually murdered by his father.

A beautiful jewel encrusted golden chalice that was presented to the Archangel Cathedral upon his death by Ivan the Terrible's wife Tsarina Irina is also on display. A likeness of the real Dmitri (impersonated by the imposter known as the false Dmitriis) decorates a 14th century tomb cover also in the museum.

Diamond Fund Exhibit and the Russian Crown Jewels

Diamond Fund Exhibit is a unique collection, based on the Royal Crown jewels. It includes a dazzling array of diamond, emerald, ruby, sapphire and pearl jewelry once worn by the tsars and their families as well as objects dug up in Siberian mines. This exhibit has been set up for foreign citizens only and requires a separate ticket.

The magnificent Russian Imperial Crown, designed for Catherine the Great in 1762, features 4,936 diamonds, topped by a 399-carat spinel (not a ruby) supported on a jewel encrusted arch and framed by pearls.

The 189.62-carat Orloff diamond is a blue gem reputed stolen from the statue of a Hindu God in India and eventually given to Catherine the Great by her lover Girgory Orloff. The diamond is now sits below the double eagle in the Imperial Scepter.

The 88.7-carat Shah is a yellow diamond once own by the builder of the Taj Mahal. It was taken out of India during a Persian invasion and later given to tsar Nicholas I in 1829 as a peace offering from the Persian shah.

The collection also contains some the largest diamonds in the world. The 232-carat Star of Yakutia and the 342-carat 26th Party Congress (a joking reference to the fact the diamond is "huge and formless") may not be sold. Both gems were taken from massive open-pit Mirny (Peace) and Udanchni (Lucky) diamond mine in Yakutia, Siberia.

The collection also houses gold and platinum jewelry; one of the world's largest blue sapphires; several emeralds more than 100 carats each; and rubies of 18 and 40 carats. You can also see a huge gold nugget in the shape of horses' head, several rough diamonds (the largest, nearly 106 carats), a huge piece of emerald ore almost half a foot high.

Before World War I the Russian crown jewels were kept in the Winter Palace (present-day Hermitage) in St. Petersburg. When the World War I started they were moved to the Kremlin. Their whereabouts was lost during the Bolshevik Revolution. In the 1922, they were discovered in some crates in the Armory basement. Lenin ordered that they be used to back the Soviet currency. Trotsky ordered the objects catalogued and suggested all the objects be sold off. More than 100 lots were auctioned off in 1927 when the Communist government was desperate for cash. Other auctions in 1931 and 1932 reduced the collection to two thirds of what it once was.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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