Kremlin and Red Square of Moscow: The Power of Architecture

When in the 12th century, Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy founded a primitive city "made of wood" called Moscow, destroyed several times by multiple fires and rapidly rebuilt, a small stronghold had just been created. It occupied a twentieth part of the current Kremlin and in its surroundings were found the courtesan residences, as well as the artisans and merchant's ones. Some small religious buildings were also erected. In 1263, it was established the Grand Duchy of Moscow. In the middle of the 14th century, Prince Ivan Kalita walled the stronghold with solid and robust oak walls and in 1328 the capital of the Duchy was translated from Vladimir. Because of the continuous threat of invasions, in 1367 Prince Dimitri decided to raise the first stone walls.

The Kremlin and the Red Square




In 1453, when Constantinople was taken over by the Turks, Moscow became the headquarters of the Byzantine Church in Europe.

From 1485 to 1495, more than 2 miles of new walls and 20 watchtowers were constructed. The Dormition and Annunciation Cathedrals were built at this time and a few years later, started the building of the Cathedral of the Archangel and of the Palace of the Facets. In the 17th century, the Palace of the Patriarchs was erected, the residence of the ecclesiastical primate, the Church of the Twelve Apostles and the works for the Ivan The Great Bell Tower were finished. In the 18th century, new bastions and pits were built and the north wing was closed by Peter the Great's Arsenal. When Napoleon invaded the city, the walls and multiple buildings suffered serious damage from the fire and explosions. After the French lost, the best architects were called for the restoration of the city.

Since 1918, when the capital of the state was again translated from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, after 106 years, the Kremlin has been the hectic heart of the political machinery. It became the headquarters of the Soviet Government and, despite the economic difficulties at the time, its magnificent buildings started to be built by the express order of Lenin.

The Cathedrals of the Tsars

Inside its triangular enclosure of 70 acres, five gates open and its walls are strengthened by 29 towers, the most famous among them is the majestic and solid Spasskaya Tower, commonly known as "The Saviour Tower." These towers are projected beyond the cited walls.

As we have just said, the oldest cluster of buildings stayed towards the southwest, surrounding the Cathedral Square, the name came because it contains the Dormition Cathedral, Annunciation Cathedral, and the Saint Michael Archangel Church, as well as the Ivan The Great Bell Tower and other buildings. The Italian Rodolfo Fioravanti (whose nickname was 'Aristotle') directed the construction of the Dormition Cathedral. The architectonic works finished in 1479 and in the pictorial decoration of its interior participated Master Dionisius and his disciples. Here, in the Dormition Cathedral, also known as the Assumption Cathedral, were crowned the tsars for centuries, were celebrated the most formal events and the Orthodox Patriarchs were buried. A little later, circa 1489, it was built the Cathedral of the Annunciation. At first, it counted with 3 domes and was much smaller than nowadays, as it aimed to be a private temple for the Prince. By decree of Ivan IV The Terrible, two more domes were raised. Posterior reforms raised four wings and the four domes left.  The small, modest cathedral soon became the principal Church of the Russian Royal Family, with a  greatly-decorated interior of frescos, from an artistic point of view.

For his part, the Italian architect and sculptor Aloisio the New reviewed the works of the Cathedral of the Archangel, some years later (1505-1509.) Its primitive frescos have nearly disappeared and the current ones date back to the 17th century. The Cathedral of the Archangel was the pantheon of the Royal Family until Peter I The Great. The oldest from the 46 white-stone tombs, coated by copper is Ivan Kalita's tomb. Next to this Cathedral, is found the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, with its 266 feet, is the highest tower in the Kremlin. In 1600, by order of Boris Godunov, was added the final cylindrical tower and the golden dome. It creates a very typical complex with a large bell of 200 tons which is next to the entrance.

Symbol of Power

The Palace of Facets, whose facade is also in Cathedral Square, was constructed between 1487 and 1491 under the supervision of architects Marco Ruffo and Pietro Antonio Solario. It's the main reception room of the Grand Kremlin Palace, and it owes its name to the fact that its walls are made of limestone slabs, carved into facets. Its interior is a room of 5,382 square feet (500 square meters), at the time of its construction was the largest in Russia, with cross-shaped vaults sustained on a robust central column. The interior was painted with biblical and ecclesiastical topics at the end of the 16th century and was restored in 1668 by Simon Ushakov.

The Grand Palace was erected under the instructions of architect Konstantin Thon. It encompassed, among other small palaces and rooms, the old Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built in 1393. Its south facade is 410 feet long, the base is made of tuff stone and the frames and other ornamentations are made of white stone. At first sight, it looks as it has three floors; but it's just an impression, as the second floor has two rows of windows. The Hall of the Order of Saint George, with a flamboyant shiny planking, is the most famous one, as it is where diplomatic receptions take place.

The Kremlin Armoury, also designed by Thon, is found next to the Grand Palace. Before Peter the Great translated the court to Saint Petersburg, the Kremlin Armoury was the imperial factory of weapons and the workshop where the clockmakers and smiths serving the tsars were established. Today, it gathers a rich collection of weapons and artworks like thrones, carriages, and suits, collected throughout centuries.

The Kremlin Senate, of triangular flooring, was built between 1771 and 1785 according to the plans of architect Kazakov and ordered by the empress Catherine the Great. Next to this building, were the Chudov Monastery ("Monastery of the Miracle") and the Ascension Convent, both destroyed in 1932. Kazakov also directed the construction of Petrovsky Palace, partially destroyed by the revolts of 1932.

A Historical Scenario

On the opposite of what many people think, the Red Square doesn't owe its name to the rise of the soviets after the October Revolution of 1917, but instead to the fact that krasni (red, in Russian means "wonderful, gorgeous, brilliant.") In the newspapers of 1434 the place was called the Torg (market or square). After the fire in 1493, it was named "Place of the Fire". In the 16th century, it was baptized with the name Tróitskaya, which means "Trinity" and, around 1660, it adopted its ultimate name. Throughout the centuries, this rectangle of 807,300 square feet (75,000 square meters) has been used as a scenario for several demonstrations and different historical events.

The square is closed in the south by the famous Saint Basil's Cathedral, without a doubt the most emblematic building in Russia. With its 9 bulbous domes of different colors and sizes and the large central tower, its appearance denotes the absolute perfection and fantasy adopted by the Byzantine-Slavic style of the mid 16th century, age when it was built. Its construction was finished in 1561 under the supervision of the architects Barma and Postnik, whose eyes, according to the myth, were pulled out by order of Ivan the Terrible so that they couldn't create a similar building somewhere else. In front of it, lies a statue that pays tribute to Minin and Pozharsky, military leaders of the popular militias in 1612.

In the eastern side of the Red Square, one of the biggest Russian malls are found, the so-called GUM (Main Universal Store, initials for the Russian translation.) Since their opening in 1893, they have always been full of visitors and buyers under their glazed galleries. In the northern face, it is situated the State Historical Museum, constructed throughout the 1870s. In 1930, the Kazan Cathedral was destroyed by the express order of Joseph Stalin. The building was originally built in 1633 by Prince Pojarski to celebrate his victory over Poland, as well as the neighboring monasteries (Spasskaya Tower, Church of Saint Nicholas, and the Epiphany Monastery.) At the center of Kremlin's facade, visitors can find the Lenin's mausoleum, designed by Shchusev, this monument has congregated long rows of followers, who visit it to pay tribute to their former leader.

The Red Square and the Kremlin, a unique complex of architectonic masterworks, gather the three old paradigms of the State Power: a fortified enclosure that is at the same time the symbol of the traditional political authority and headquarters of the patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps, there is no other place in the world, which represents so perfectly the power of architecture. The Kremlin and the Red Square form a city inside a spectacular city, witness and at the same time the main character of the long and prolific history of Russia.

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