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Moscow – A Stroll Through Red Square

August 14, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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They say in Russia all trains lead to Moscow, but in Moscow all roads lead to Red Square. The huge cobblestoned square is the heart of the city to which all surrounds, and with it’s history and beauty it’s not hard to see why. This vast and ancient capital city of Russia was all that I has expected and more, with the elaborate metro stations, iconic St. Basils Cathedral, and the unforgettable Kremlin armory.

Nowhere epitomizes Moscow quite like Red Square. The enormous Red Square lies in the heart of Moscow and on its four sides stand the Kremlin, GUM Department Store, State Historical Museum and St. Basil’s Cathedral and not to mention it centres of government, commerce, history and religion. Red Square was established in the 15th Century, under the rule of Ivan III, and was originally called Trinity Square after the Trinity Cathedral, which used to stand on the site where St. Basil’s stands now. Sometime later the name “Krasnaya Ploschad” became popular, meaning beautiful square in old Russian. Common assumptions are that the Red in Red Square referred to Communism, blood spilt, or even the color of the monuments, all which are in fact not true. The square served as a meeting place for celebrating religious festivals, public gatherings, and speeches. The most notable display that took place in the square was in 1941 when lines of Russian tanks rolled through on their way to a front line confrontation with the Germans.

Inside the square you will find St. Basil’s Cathedral. The Candyland-fantasy exterior, is quite possibly Russia’s most iconic symbol. The cathedral was built by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of the Tartar stronghold of Kazan in 1552. The design displays nine colorful onion domes to represent the nine different chapels inside. It is believed that after the construction of St. Basil’s was complete Ivan blinded the architect to prevent him from contracting a more splindid building for anyone else. Hopefully this horrible fact is not true, because this cathedral was by far my favorite part of Moscow, and maybe one of my favorite Cathedrals ever. The fantasy like structure could capture your attention forever, and is so unique to anything we had ever seen.

The famous GUM Department Store, the largest in Russia, lines the east side of Red Square. This now luxury department store used to be a place where necessities such as pen and paper were bought and shelves were often more empty than full. If you seen the splendor of it now it’s hard to imagine it was ever any different, with it now being more of a museum of clothes than a mall.

At the northern end of the square sits the State History Museum with its huge collection of artefacts charting Russia’s past right back to the stone age.

The square is also home to Lenin’s tomb, a gleaming granite mausoleum to the revered founder of Socialism, a system that, like Lenin himself, is dead but not forgotten. After Lenin died in 1924 Stalin ordered that his body be perserved and put on display as a tribute to the man responsible for Russia’s revolution.

The Kremlin, seat of the Russian government and home to some of the world’s most infamous leaders, ranks alongside Red Square as one of Russia’s top tourist attractions. Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev and Yeltsin all cast their individual marks on the pages of history here at one time.

Kremlin is actually the term given for the fortified stronghold of any city, and many other kremlins exist in large towns throughout Russia and acted as seats of power for local rulers. Moscow’s Kremlin began in the 1150s, on a much smaller scale than it exists now, and as time went on with each ruler it grew in wealth and power. Constructed from the 15th Century right up to the 20th, you will find a number of bold and grandiose architectural styles in these edifices, which combine to reflect the glory and splendour of Russia through the ages.

You enter the Kremlin through the Trinity Gate Tower. The Trinity is the tallest of the tower fortifications. It was under this gate that Napoleon’s troops both entered and fled from the Kremlin. Its basements were used as a prison in the 16th Century. Right inside the gate you will find one of the best parts of the Kremlin, The Armory. Built in 1511 as a weapons and arms store, the Armoury has spent most of it’s life as an unofficial museum of royal treasures. Today it holds an impressive collection of gold and silverware, thrones, carriages and Faberge eggs. Some of the most important pieces include the crown of the first Roman Czars, the carriage used at Nicholas II coronation, and Catherine the Great’s wedding dress. We couldn’t take any pictures! =(

Also inside the Kremlin Gates are three important cathedrals; the Assumption Cathedral, Church of Deposition, and Archangel Cathedral. The Assumption Cathedral is the oldest and most famous of the many Cathedrals that adorn the Kremlin. It was built by the architect Aristotile Fioravanti, and some say that Ivan the Great was so pleased with the Italian’s work that when Fioravanti requested to return home he was thrown in prison instead, to prevent him from creating a replica anywhere else. The Church of the Deposition of the Robe is a modest structure, built by Russians in the Russian style. This church was the private chapel of the religious big-wigs and today it houses a fascinating collection of wooden figures and carvings. The Archangel Cathedral is the most Italian of the Kremlin’s churches and the last of Ivan the Great’s contributions to Cathedral Square. Archangel Cathedral was the official church for all coronations, royal weddings and burials until 1690, when Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersburg.

The Grand Kremlin Palace is probably the most incredible part of the Kremlin. Sadly we weren’t able to take a visit as it had to be booked far far in advance but I’ve heard it was by far the most impressive place inside the Kremlin walls. The palace was constructed by Konstantin Thon in the Byzantine-Russian style, and was built as an Imperial residence for Nicholas I. It contains a whopping seven hundred rooms. Whoa!

Two more interesting objects inside the walls are the Tsar Cannon and Bell, which just happen to be two cases in point refuting the old adage “bigger is better”. The Tsar Cannon and Bell are as impressive as they are useless. The 40 ton cannon, designed to add to the Kremlin’s defensive fire-power, never fired shot, and the 202 ton bell never rang on account of an 11 ton chunk falling off during the cooling period of its construction.

You exit the Kremlin through the Saviour Gate Tower, which was another tower favored by the Tsars. They lead their ceremonial processions underneath its gothic spire. The 25 ton clock chimes every 15 minutes.

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, famous for its impressive collections of impressionist and post-impressionistic paintings, housed one of the most famous and my favorite Henri Matisse masterpiece of all time, making this a must visit place during our stay.

Russia’s largest church, The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, has quite the soap opera history. It was originally commissioned by Emperor Alexander I to celebrate the defeat of Napolean it was finally completed in 1881, only to be torn down by secular Communists in 1933. Stalin’s idea was to build a mighty Palace of the Soviets on the site, but when this plan was dismissed, due to architectural difficulties, a giant outdoor swimming pool was constructed instead. Finally in 1997, Yuri Lushkov, the Moscow mayor, realised his dream and had the Cathedral reconstructed to its former splendour. Today the golden domes are back by the river, forming once more one of the most recognisable landmarks of the entire city.

The Seven Sisters are the architectural legacy of one of the most ambitious building programmes ever conceived. Built on the orders of Jozef Stalin, the towers were constructed for the glorification of the Soviet State after WWII, and were intended to rival the USA’s skyscrapers that had gone up in the 30s. Each Sister was designed according to Stalin’s specifications, in a so-called wedding-cake style, that concentrated the eye towards a central tower. Stalin also insisted that all of the Seven Sisters be given a spire, in order to distinguish them from their American counterparts.The Seven Sisters of the city include the Moscow State University, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Transport, Hotel Ukraina, Hotel Leningradskaya, Kudrinskaya Square, and the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.

Moscow is home to some of the most beautiful metro stations in all of the world. While most all of them were elaborate and unique in some way, the Komsomolskaya station was by far the most beautiful station is our opinion.

We took a visit to a very unique grocery store by the name of Yeliseev. This specialty grocery store was a glimpse of prerevolutionary grandeur, as it is set in the former mansion of the successful merchant Yeliseev. The store sells an array Russian delicacies as caviar and such.

For a little shopping we decided to visit the Izmaylovo Bazaar, which is a three story outdoor vintage shopping park with numerous stalls hawking their wares, from military medals and sickle bags to china tea sets and local paintings. We made sure to visit on the weekend when the better booths were out, but first you have to have a little fun passing through all of the Russian souvenir dolls, and faux faberge eggs and fur hats.

Moscow gave us an incredible glimpse into the Russian history, people, and culture, which is far from anywhere we have visited prior to it. Russia is a very special place, and we can’t wait to experience a little more of this interesting country at our next stop, St. Petersburg. Until then!



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