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“Kremlin” in Russian simply means fortress … add a simple “The” and it carries so much more meaning and history.

Stalin had the golden double-headed eagles on the towers replaced with Kremlin Stars

It’s odd visiting a place mythologised in its most recent incarnation – then peeling back the layers of history to find centuries of significance.

So this fortress started out in wood – pine, then oak after it had been destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th Century.  In the 14th Century it was fortified with white limestone – then in the 15th Century the “new” Kremlin was built in brick – and it has been red ever since.

In old Russian, the word for “red” also means “beautiful” .  Red Square is also Beautiful Square.  Red cheeks, red lips  … the colours of beauty.

So The Kremlin was built to be beautiful, admired, and significant.

After the fall of Constantinople, Moscow became the capital and centre of the Orthodox faith.  Ivan the Great marked this by inviting Italian master architects Solarius and Ruffus to assist with the makeover … so the Kremlin was rebuilt as a functional fortress in a wondrous mix of Russian and Renaissance styles.  Those walls and towers took just 10 years to put up between 1485 and 1495, and apart from a few additions and reconstructions, are what we see now.

Ivan’s reconstruction meant the demolition of  most of the 14thCentury churches. The last of those, the Church of our Saviour, survived until Stalin ordered its demolition in the 1930s – that’s the one that’s now been rebuilt outside the Kremlin walls. Quite a few churches went down then, to enable the building of the great grey Communist Party Congress Hall which was opened in the 1960s.    It’s a concert hall now  –  but the Kremlin still houses the President’s offices.

The 9 domes of the Cathedral of the Assumption rise over the Party Congress – now Concert – Hall

Stalin was, of course, just doing what previous rulers had done:  Ivan the Terrible made some major changes to his Grandfather’s work;  the early Romanovs went on a building spree; and then after the Kremlin had been more or less abandoned when Peter the Great decided to move the  capital to St Petersburg, Catherine the Great did a major makeover in the mid 1700’s with her favourite architect, the Italian Rastrelli.  Power means changing things, leaving your mark.

And sometimes things can be protected…  during WWII, the Kremlin was covered in camouflage, and a replica built over the river. The replica was bombed.  Today’s technology would not allow that subterfuge.

This Giant Cannon was placed in the Kremlin “to frighten Mongolian diplomats”. (The Mongols had destroyed the wooden Kremlin in 1237.)

Napoleon would have capped the lot –  he ordered the entire Kremlin to be blown up as he left his unsuccessful occupation of it.  Fortunately he wasn’t successful in that either – and the damage that was done was soon repaired.

This huge bell – the largest ever made – never made it into the bell-tower. During a fire, water and heat combined to crack it.
The Ivan the Great Bell-tower; built 1600, damaged by Napoleon, and until the Revolution, by edict the tallest building in Moscow. Nothing could be built higher than its 81 metres.

The post-Napoleon rebuild must have been a huge endeavour.

As well as the war damage, so much of Moscow had been destroyed by fire, to deny Napoleon a foothold there.

I imagine it looking like Christchurch post-earthquake, like the New Jersey shoreline post-Superstorm Sandy.

How, in those days, would the mobilisation of effort to rebuild have worked?   And how did that influence the next decisions – to rebuild the great palaces destroyed by the Germans?   More on the recent rebuilds when I (eventually) get to write about St Petersburg.

Given all that, how wonderful to see the 16thCentury structures –  still absolutely beautiful, admired and significant.

So  – I was open-mouthed in the rain,  and seeking shelter in ancient churches built to give metaphysical shelter to generations.

Sadly though, something was missing.  I am not a believer – but most times when I am in a place of worship I feel the sanctity of a place where generations of believers have brought their prayers.   You sense that accumulation of spirit, of  a desires for connection with something greater, the remaining emanations of  joy, hope, despair and all that human yearning for something…something beyond.

Here, perhaps it was just too many of us crowding in as tourists, too many people with too little time, straining to see, to hear…   And perhaps I was  carrying too many other meanings of The Kremlin in my mind.

More Pictures

Cathedral of the Dormition (completed 1479). Even when St Petersburg was the capital, the Tsars came here for coronations and weddings.

The Arsenal (1701). The large cannons are Russian – the small Napoleon’s. The Kremlin Guards are quartered here, and guard the eternal flame just outside the walls in the Alexandrovsky Gardens