A kremlin, the fancy Russian word for fortress, is not an entirely rare sight across Russia but only one has the distinction of being THE Kremlin.
Moscow and its Kremlin were founded in the 12th century. Prior to the 1900s many people lived inside the Moscow Kremlin walls just as they would in any village. Soviet government moved in and forced residents out during 1918, and the Kremlin was closed to the public until 1955 when it was reincarnated as a museum.
My pick for this entry is the Red Army Choir “Kalinka” that I sing to myself more often than anyone should. I love that they all look like they are about to lose their composure laughing the entire time, and which other country has a singing army with line of domra and accordion players? WHOSE ARMY?
If that was not enough, here is a super lit version. Continue listening after “Kalinka” and you will hear another one of my favourites “Katushka.” Breakdancers, a flautist who strictly makes bird noises, acrobatic dancers with swords and pointy hats, Rom “gipsy” circle dancers, cheerleaders, and tiny trampolines- this video has it all.
Russia has a complicated, long history that even Dostoevsky could not fit into one volume. Orthodox Faith and Tsar Rule demanded Byzantium and Roman architecture until austere Soviet design laid its claim to the region.
Moscow’s connection to the Orient and Middle Eastern influences make it one of the most visually unique cities, best showcased in the Kremlin and Red Square.
We walked through the gardens of the Moscow Kremlin and purchased our basic “Territory and Cathedrals” admissions. It costs only 500 Rubles ($7-8 USD) but you can pay extra to go inside the Armory, Diamond Fund, and the Bell Tower.
The Moscow Kremlin is the powerhouse of Russian politics and military activity, and it is fortified by ominous red brick walls. Each side of the Kremlin walls runs approximately one quarter mile between 20 connecting towers, a total span of over 7,200 feet. The original walls were built with wood but savagely burned down during an invasion.
Napoleon himself once occupied the Kremlin for a few weeks before running out of rations, losing scores of his army to the brutal cold, and having no luck waiting on the Russian guards to return. They packed their supplies and fled when they caught word of Napoleon’s attack.
Now, Kremlin guards monitor turnstiles and check passports or state-issued papers for visitors, not unlike going through Customs. The guard who checked us in asked repeatedly why an American woman would want to come there with a Russian man. I did not understand what all was said between him and some others, but he seemed amused that I answered for myself in Russian and he waved us on.
The Armoury Chamber of the Kremlin Palace
In 1851, Moscow’s “treasure house” was complete and soon the country’s most prized possessions were moved in.
Each grand hall contains thousands of pieces of weaponry, shields, tools, and you guessed it, armour. You will also find traditional clothing, household goods, furniture, silverware, coins, jewelry, shoes, military regalia, war medals, crowns, scepters, art, letters, books, instruments, sculptures, and more.
My favourite part was the carriage room where the most intricately carved and wildly embellished carriages were on display. Most of them are made of carved wood or metal and covered in gold leaf or bronze.
The interiors are mostly red or burgundy velvet and the exteriors hand- painted. You can see some of them near the bottom of this page.
The Armoury also holds the Kremlin’s regiment, who can be found working all around the complex securing its walls, escorting officials, parading around in a comical high step, or shouting/blowing their whistles at visitors for the slightest infraction.
These infractions can include stepping outside the painted crosswalks, standing in the wrong place, lingering too long, or making any sort of commotion.
Photos are not allowed in the Armory but I could not resist sneaking one of this beautiful green and white ceiling in Hall 2. I was later informed the rule pertained to the weaponry and carriages, etc. and not so much the ceiling, so once again I was in the clear. Check out this link to learn more about the Armoury.
The Cathedral square is comprised of several Cathedrals- the Assumption (Dormition), Annunciation, Archangel Michael, Deposition of the Virgin’s Robe, and the Patriarch’s Palace private chapel among other structures.
Cathedral of the Archangel Michael is also a tomb that was used by Tsars and their families beginning in the 1200s. Over 50 tombs have been found here to date, including Ivan the Terrible right beside the son he infamously killed.
Cathedral of the Assumption (aka Dormition)
Until 1887, Cathedral of the Assumption was the largest church in all of Russia, and it was used for centuries to host important royal events and celebrations.
Inside, the Cathedral is lined floor to ceiling with paintings and loaded with diamond chandeliers. This was my favourite of the group.
Cathedral of the Annunciation, Church of the Deposition, and the Patriarch’s Palace are definitely worth the time to visit. Be aware that Russian Orthodox churches require women to cover their head, and you must be modestly dressed or you will be denied entry. A simple silk scarf tied around the chin or at the nape of the neck will do; another reason I rarely leave home without one.
Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack of) there is no denying that there is an ancient energy inside these monumental churches. Towering grey and white walls with sky-scraping gold and silver domes create a humbling environment.
Ivan Bell Tower Complex
The most outstanding structure in the Kremlin is the Ivan Bell Tower, standing almost 270 feet. Aside from the tower, you can also see the the Assumption Belfry and the Filaret’s Annex. The towers were built, rebuilt, and remodeled countless times over the course of more than 300 years. Here is some more info about them.
By the tower is The Tsar Cannon. This gigantic cannon was created in 1856, is nearly 18 feet long, and weighs almost 40 tons. It is the largest in the world despite having never actually been fired.
The 200-ton Tsar Bell is also quite useless aside from a popular photo op. It was damaged while still curing inside a wooden pit that caught fire.
As the pit went up in flames, villagers poured cold water over it. This created a huge crack in the bell, and a 12-ton chip immediately dislodged itself. Its size makes it impossible, or at least undesirable, to repair, and so it sits.
As we approached the State Building, I learned the hard way not to let a single toe violate the border of a painted crosswalk. One of the guards started shouting and blowing his whistle furiously so we didn’t stick around that corner too long. Because of this, I missed the chance to take a photo of Putin’s HQ.
Putin does not live in the Kremlin but conducts official business and often lands here… in his helicopter… on his official Kremlin helipad. Curious visitors remain mystified, because as of yet no one has been able to figure out how he gets inside the building without being seen.
Speaking of flying things, here is a video I found on Youtube that shows an aerial view of the Kremlin (no sound).
As you exit the Kremlin, Alexandrov Gardens also connect on the other side with the Manege (Manezhnaya Square), spacious equestrian-style grounds complete with horse sculptures and fountains.
Here also is the Okhotny Ryad mall and the World Clock Fountain that displays the time all around the world.
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On the same side of the world, only further away, is a different sort of Kremlin…
A major contrast to the highly guarded seat of Russian politics in Moscow, the Izmailovo Kremlin is an entertainment complex that is also known as Russian Disneyland. It was built in 2007 in the Izmailovo District, historically part of the Romanov Dynasty territory, and in the style of popular Russian fairy tales.
By car it takes around half an hour to reach Izmailovo from the Moscow Kremlin, and by Metro it can take more than an hour. There is no cost to get inside but it can be uncomfortably crowded during warmer months.
The following three photos are shared from likealocalguide.com to show how beautiful Izmailovo is in the daytime, taken by a real camera.
We arrived as the sun started to set and businesses were all closing, so we practically had the place to ourselves to run amok like doofy kids. A couple shop keepers saw us window shopping and when my friends advised them I was from the US, they invited us inside.
Izmailovo has a massive antique and flea market in addition to dozens of souvenir shops and gift boutiques supplied by local crafters. I purchased a few gifts for family and these wooden Matryoshkas for myself:
There are several museums here, including the History of Vodka museum, the Russian Navy museum, and Museum of Bread. Art and design classes such as ironwork, woodwork and pottery, painting, doll and charm-making, and other crafts are offered too.
You will also find a variety of restaurants and art galleries too. My favourite was the Tamburin Gallery.
We were invited into the Tamburin Gallery to view the newest exhibit being installed. Each piece was featured around a letter of the Russian alphabet and the images, colours, shapes, etc. in it all began with that letter.
The paintings were geared to adults as well as children, but as someone who was still learning Russian it was fun to discover how many words I knew.
I had the absolute pleasure of being introduced to the work of Russian artist Piotr Frolov. He draws and paints images of the complicated, beautiful, messy, intimate, but often unseen aspects of the lives of women with the sort of insight one can only gain by earning trust and treading carefully. His work is tender; sometimes comical, sometimes heartbreaking.
I met a Wise woman there who gave me the postcard below. She told me I needed to unpack some things, and I understood what she meant.
An employee of the shop gave me this one also:
Check out this Piotr Frolov Pinterest page to see more.
As we were leaving, some ladies gave us mulled wine, fresh apples, and candies. Everywhere I turned in Russia I was welcomed and given gifts. It was late October and I had unsurprisingly caught a cold (that I later discovered was bronchitis) so all of their kindness and warmth was greatly appreciated. I will not forget it.
As the Russians say, на помнуть, for remembrance.
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