Onion Domes and Churches inside the secretive Kremlin

Moscow Kremlin!!

The Moscow Kremlin is a symbol of the RussianState, one of the greatest architectural complexes in the world, a treasure house of magnificent relics and monuments of art.

I delayed my visit to the Kremlin so that I could do this with my friend Riena who came to visit me in August 2011 all the way from South-Africa. I was very glad I got to share the wonders of the Kremlin with her.

The Moscow Kremlin is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the MoskvaRiver (to the South), Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square (to the East) and the Alexander Garden (to the West). It is the best known of Kremlin s (Russian citadels) and includes four palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin wall with Kremlin towers.

The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.

From the metro station we walked along the red Kremlin wall and through the flower covered Alexander Gardens in front of it. I was so excited at finally getting to visit the main attraction in Moscow!!

We passed the graves of the unknown soldiers and the eternal peace flame burning next to them. We walked along the red brick walkway and entered the Kremlin through one of the towers.

The existing Kremlin walls and towers were built by Italian masters over the years 1485 to 1495. Its overall length is 2235 meters, but the height ranges from 5 to 19 meters, depending on the terrain. It would have been great if you could actually walk on top of the wall and view the city that way, but unfortunately half of the Kremlin is still in official use and not accessible to the public.

As we entered there were guards on our right making sure we don’t enter the Kremlin palace or the grounds behind it where we could see official looking cars and people arriving and leaving.

Row of cannons at the entrance
We passed a whole row of old war cannons on our way to the Cathedral Square which is the heart of the Kremlin. It is surrounded by six buildings, including three cathedrals.

I love Cathedrals and this was like a playground for me, each Cathedral was unique with a different history and story and we spent quite a lot of time exploring them.

The first Cathedral we entered was the Cathedral of the Dormition which was completed in 1479. It was the main church of Moscow and is where all the Tsars were crowned. The massive limestone facade, capped with its five golden cupolas was the design of Aristotele Fioravanti. Several important dignitaries and patriarchs are buried here and their stone coffins stand along the one wall on the inside of the Cathedral.

The second Cathedral we went into was the gilded, three-domed Cathedral of the Annunciation which was completed next in 1489.

The cathedral is famous for its magnificent iconostasis (screen) which shields the sacred part of the church from view. This magnificent gold structure kept my attention for quite a while as it has very detailed work and paintings of all the saints on it.

Through the window of the Cathedral of the Annunciation
The Cathedral of the Annunciation was originally built as the domestic church of the Grand Dukes and Tsars and was connected (along with the Cathedral of the Archangel) by passages to the private quarters of the royal family. The Cathedral was used to celebrate name-days, weddings and baptisms. Unfortunately the Cathedral of the Annunciation was badly damaged during the Revolution, when the Kremlin came under attack from artillery fire. In 1918, the Cathedral was closed as a place of worship and now it operates officially as a museum.

On the South-East side of the square we were greeted by the much larger Cathedral of the Archangel Michael (1508), where almost all the Muscovite monarchs from Ivan to Alexis I of Russia are buried. The Archangel Michael, the heavenly figure for war, was chosen as the patron saint of the rulers of Moscow in the 14th Century.

The inside of the Cathedral was dark and atmospheric, decorated with an abundance of rich, earthy colours. The Cathedral’s frescoes were painted between 1652 and 1666 by nearly one hundred artists.

The Cathedral of the Archangel contains the tombs (46 altogether) of all the rulers of Moscow and Russia from the 14th Century until Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersburg. All the stone coffins fill the church and it feels more like a cemetery inside than a church.

Entrance to the Cathedral
There are two domestic churches of the Metropolitans and Patriarchs of Moscow, the Church of the Twelve Apostles (1653–56) and the exquisite one-domed Church of the Deposition of the Virgin’s Robe, which was filled with superb icons and frescoes from 1627 and 1644
.One of greatest treasures of the Cathedral is the burial vault of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan was the first to take the title of Tsar and therefore merited a special burial chamber, the construction of which he oversaw himself. Nearby are the tombs of Ivan’s sons, Ivan Ivanovich (killed by his father) and Fyodor Ivanovich (who succeeded his father.)

The other notable structure that we couldn’t miss was the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, which is said to mark the exact centre of Moscow and resemble a burning candle. Until the Russian Revolution it was the tallest structure in the city, as construction of buildings taller than that was forbidden. Its 21 bells would sound the alarm if any enemy was approaching.

The Tsar Bell, the largest bell in the world, stands on a pedestal next to the tower. This bell unfortunately broke while they were transporting it and was left standing right next to the bell tower.

To enter the Armoury building which holds the treasures of all the Tsars you have to buy a separate ticket and re-enter the Kremlin through another gate. It is currently a museum housing Russian state regalia and the Diamond fund. We got ourselves an audio guide which was very useful as we could walk through the Armory admiring the treasures while listening to how it all came to be there. The Armoury tour takes about 2 hours but is definitely worth it if you have the time. Here you actually get to see and experience unbelievable extent of the wealth and treasures that existed in Russia during the Tsars reign.

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