Red square: does not really mean ‘red’ but means ‘beautiful’ square.
If you arrive on Red square from the South side, Saint Basil’s church is the building you see first. It is a colourful church that immediately makes you think of sweet pastries. Saint Basil’s church is in fact nine churches in one and and officially named “The church of the intercession of the Virgin by the Moat” (the moat being one that originally ran beside the Kremlin). It’s popular name; “Saint Basil’s” is derived from the smallest of the nine churches: ‘Saint Basil church’ which is built over the tomb of Vasily (Basil) the Blessed. Basil wanted to become a monk but couldn’t and therefore feigned he was mentally ill. In Russian orthodox belief the mentally ill can talk directly to God because they are not restrained by reason. After his death several miracles were attributed to him. Because in winter his small church was the only one heated, people commonly said they would go to pray at Basil’s church, and over time the name stuck.
The church was saved from the demolition of churches under Stalin, because Stalin’s architect threatened that if this church was to be torn down it would be with him inside. The other legend states that when someone on Stalin’s table size model of the Red Square took the cathedral away Stalin said the Red square was not the Red square any more and decided the church could stay.
In front the cathedral stands a statue of two Russian heroes. One is a common man, the other a prince. They led the rebellion that defeated the Polish oppression.
The first tower of the Kremlin on the South side is the Nikolskaya Tower, named after the icon of Saint Nicholas of Mozhaysk, placed above the entrance of the gate. On top of the Kremlin gates originally stood a two headed golden eagles symbol of Moscow. They were replaced by starts originally made of stainless steel and decorated with semi-precious stones. These stars were too heavy for the structures underneath and thus replaced by lighter ruby glass stars with lights inside, which can turn with the wind. The tower bells may not look extremely big from down below on the square, but they are actually gigantic. A metro train can pass through the bell tower windows. At New Year’s eve the bells of the Kremlin gates ring at midnight and Muscovites have to make their wishes and take 12 sips of champagne in the time of the twelve chimes for their wishes to come true in the new year.
Kremlin means ‘fortress inside a city’ and nowadays acts as the White House of Moscow. The first Kremlin was built in the 11th century, the first two ones were built in wood. The third one was built in 1366 in white limestone and only later the first brick one was built (in 1485). The round platform on the Red square was not as popularly believed for executions , but for announcing Royal decrees and for open-air religious ceremonies. The common people were actually executed by throwing them from the alarm tower. This technique was cheaper but wasn’t always successful from the first attempt.
The mausoleum for Lenin’s body, was first in built in wood. Later when was decided to embalm Lenin a building in stone was erected. A large team of very well paid scientists keeps the body in shape by replacing rotten parts with synthetic replacements. It is whispered that more than 50% of Lenin’s body is now synthetic….
On the northern side of Red Square stands a large red building: The State History museum, that incorporates all Russian building styles in one complex. On the left side stands Saviour gate tower: this is the sacred official exit of the Kremlin onto Red square. Even with the capital in Saint Petersburg, royals were still coronated at the Kremlin. The processions would exit through this gate onto the square.
The small church: Kazan cathedral, was also demolished by Stalin as was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The little church was only rebuilt in 1993. The entrance gate of Red square, named ‘Resurrection gate’ together with a little chapel in front (Chapel of the Iverian virgin) was demolished by Stalin under the pretext that military vehicles could not pass under the gates. A replica of the gate was built in 1995.
On the site of the Gum was once an ugly market place with wooden stalls. The Gum was initially a department store where products from all departments of Russia were sold. Some areas of the department store were only accessible to communist party members.
The zero km point, now indicated in front of Resurrection gate, is actually not the real zero point, the real one lies a bit further on the square. Go and stand on the zero km point, indicated within a golden circle on the pavement, say a wish and throw a coin over your shoulder. If the coin falls within the circle your wish will come true.
Poetin only works but does not live in the Kremlin. There are two helipads inside the Kremlin for the president to come to work, one for him and one for his security personnel.
You enter the Kremlin through Alexander Garden. You get of at metro station Aleksandrovsky, and take the underground tunnel that gets you straight into the park where the ticket booth is located. The Kremlin is closed on Thursdays.
It surely pays of to get your tickets for the Kremlin in advance online, to avoid the queues. Online tickets are available two weeks in advance via the official Kremlin website: http://www.kreml.ru/en-Us/museums-moscow-kremlin/ You have to exchange your online vouchers at window 11 or 12 (indicated: prepaid tickets and tours). If there is a line outside, go past it and go directly inside the ticket building. There is usually no queue at the prepaid ticket counter. Exchange your voucher for tickets. Do not forget to bring your passport because you have to show it in order to receive your tickets!
You can take small bags and rucksacks inside the Kremlin but they get checked before entering the Kutafya tower gate. Take an umbrella. THERE IS NO SHELTER – queuing-up for the security check – along the stairs leading to the security detection machinery hall. Walk over the bridge under Trinity gate (1495). The first building you see is the bombastic State Kremlin palace where concerts and ballet performances are held. It is home to the Kremlin ballet. Next to it is the Patriarchs palace where temporary exhibits are held.
You can take photographs in the Kremlin area, but not inside the churches. The demonstration of the ceremonial of the equestrian and pedestrian procession of the President regiment takes place at noon on Saturday on Cathedral square and is worth visiting the Kremlin on a Saturday, especially with good weather! Get in the Kremlin a bit earlier to get a good spot. The parade almost looks like a circus performance and is very entertaining. It includes ground soldiers, cavalry and a brass band. The performance lasts about 20 minutes, and there is a gun salute somewhere halfway.
After the military parade everyone flocks to the different churches, so if you have time, wait 30 minutes, drink a coffee at one of the drink carts near Trinity gate. It becomes a lot less crowded a bit later on when all the visitors who viewed the parade are done visiting the churches. In each church visitors can find leaflets with explanations in different languages.
The small church of the deposition of the robe of the holy virgin, on the left side of the Assumption cathedral, is small but very beautiful. It used to be the private chapel of the patriarchs and tsars, and was directly connected to the tsarina’s and princesses rooms. It dates back to the 17th century.
The Assumption cathedral is the main cathedral of the Kremlin and of the tsardom of Russia (1326). Here princes and tsars were crowned, heads of church were chosen and enthroned, state acts were made public and patriarchs were buried. Impressive is the five story high iconostasis on the northern wall. On the opposite side a huge fresco depicts the last judgement. In the middle you see Christ, under him Adam and Eve, heaven, hell and paradise, the snake with all human sins, the angels, saints and the apostles. In hell a doll depicts Judas. This church holds the oldest pre-Mongolian icons, which when found, were covered with a black oxidised layer but are now restored to show their beautiful pictures of the Holy Virgin Eleusa and of St. George on the reverse side.
The Annunciation cathedral on the other side of the square dates back to 1484 and was the private church of princes and tsars, the multi-tier iconostasis holds almost a hundred icons in six rows.
The Archangel cathedral opposite the Annunciation cathedral is the burial church of princes and first tsars of Russia and is dedicated to archangel Michael, patron of the Russian army. (1333)
You have a great view over the South of Moscow from cathedral square.
Do not miss the the huge Tsar bell next to the Ivan the great bell tower, that never chimed. It cracked the moment it was cast in 1737. It was so heavy it could not be lifted for a hundred years after it was made. Everyone at the time donated jewellery to make the huge bell for empress Anna Ivanovna. Before the 20th century the Bell tower was the highest structure in Moscow and it was forbidden to build anything higher.
For a visit of the Armoury there is a separate entrance through Borovitsky tower gate. A visit to the Armoury is in several time slots: 10.00, 12.00, 14.30 and 16.30. Sessions last 1 hour 45 min. For the Armoury you can buy tickets in advance online and exchange them at the ticket counters 11 and 12 on the day of your visit.
The Lenin mausoleum on Red square is free but can only be visited in the morning until 1PM. The Lenin mausoleum is closed on Mondays and Fridays. You will probably have to queue a bit to get in. Behind the mausoleum is the Kremlin cemetery or necropolis where several important Russians are buried like Jozef Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev and Inessa Armand who was rumoured to be Lenin’s lover.
Beware: visiting the Kremlin can be a tiresome event, so enjoy with moderation, don’t overdo it. If you have several days in Moscow shoot for a day with good weather, it makes all the difference. Apart from the little trucks that sell drinks and some simple snacks like a cookie or an ice-cream, there are no places to eat or drink inside the Kremlin, so eat before or after or pack a snack. We did not visit the Armoury or The Diamond fund, we enjoyed the military ceremony at noon, and visited the four cathedrals and the exhibition at the Patriarch’s palace. For us, that was more than enough for one day. The rest of the day we enjoyed walking other parts of Moscow and eating, especially since it was a day with sunny weather.
We took a metro from the Kremlin (Aleksandrovsky station) to Tretyakovskaya station. Here we first looked for a place to eat, and wound up in Villa della Pasta for lunch. It is a decent place for a good Italian meal.
We walked towards the Tretyakov gallery, from there towards the river, and visited the Red October chocolate factory from the Southern side of the river. Red October has lost its pull a bit but you can still visit the Strelka Institute for some modern art, or the Lumiere Brothers photography centre for some contemporary photography.
Back on the Southern embankment we followed the Russians to their favourite weekend hangout: Gorky Park, where you are welcomed by a great collection of statues under which many of the torn down statues of communist leaders fallen out of grace (Lenin, Stalin, Breznev…)
Gorky park is a great place for a drink, an ice-cream or a bite. You can rent bikes or in-line skates to discover the 16 km of bike lanes in this green belt. If you cross the Krymsky most bridge between the New Tretyakov and Gorky Park, you can take the metro at station Kultury Park.
We walked Ul. Arbat but we’re disappointed, nothing noteworthy to see here. My advice: just skip it, you miss nothing!