Sunday, June 16, 2013

Moscow: Kremlin and Red Square

When people think of Russia, the image that often comes to mind is St. Basil's Cathedral. Given that this cathedral with it's multi-colored domes is located in Red Square and right next to the Kremlin, it was natural for us to spend our first day in Moscow here.

St. Basil's Cathedral

The cathedral is named after St. Vasily the Blessed who is buried underneath the cathedral. Religious services are no longer held here; instead, the interior has been converted to a museum that is open to visitors on most days. Except Mondays, apparently. Since we were there on Monday and the museum was closed, we decided to pass by St. Basil's again later in the week. It was definitely worth the return trip because the interior of the cathedral is awe-inspiring!

Iconostasis inside St. Basil's Cathedral

The thing I love about Russian Orthodox churches is that they always feature impressive iconostases (see photo above), which is a wall of icons that separates the nave (or the main section of the church where most people stand) and the sanctuary or altar. Cathedral interiors are also often covered in beautiful frescoes (I say often because in some cases, which I will write about later on, the walls and columns are covered in beautiful mosaic).

Entrance to the museum is 250 rubles (or about 300 PHP), although a group of 2 adults and 1 child can get in at a discounted price of 450 rubles. The experience inside the cathedral is definitely worth the price of admission. One thing to note, however, is that once you head up to the second floor, you can't go back down (the staircase is one way). Since I missed seeing certain sections of the first floor, I had to head out of the exit and request the guard at the entrance to let me in again. Thankfully I was allowed to re-enter.

We were also quite lucky when we where there because a Russian vocal group called Doros where in the Intercession cathedral (or the most central and tallest part of the church) and my mom and I caught them singing a couples of song. Their voices were absolutely incredible and the performance was made even more impressive by the brilliant acoustics inside the church.

St. Basil's Cathedral is situated at one end of Red Square, or Krasnya Ploshchad. According to my book, this square doesn't get its name from the fact that the color red is linked to communism, nor from the red buildings and walls that border parts of the square. Apparently, the word 'krasnya' used to mean 'beautiful' in old Russian and only came to also mean 'red' in the 20th century. Nevertheless, the name has become quite appropriate because even the main entrance to the square, the Resurrection Gate, is made of red brick...

Resurrection Gate is the State History Museum. (Preparations for Russia's Victory Day celebration on May 9 were in full swing when we were there.) I wanted to go inside but my mom didn't seem that interested so we just had our picture taken outside.

State History Museum

There's a beautiful view of the square from the second floor of St. Basil's Cathedral.

Red Square

We had a quick lunch before spending the afternoon inside the Kremlin. There are quite a few places of interest inside the walls of this political center of Russia and you could easily spend a lot more time inside. There are four different tickets you can purchase at the entrance:

  • Architectural complex of the Cathedral Square, which includes entrance to the five museums-cathedrals and the Patriarch's Palace, exhibitions in the Assumption Belfry and One-Pillar Chamber of the Patriarch's Palace (350 rubles)
  • Ivan the Great Bell Tower, which apart from entrance to the Ivan the Great Bell Tower also includes admission to the all museums-cathedrals and the Patriarch's Palace (500 rubles)
  • Armoury Chamber, which includes access to the Armoury only (700 rubles)
  • Diamond Fund, which includes access to the Diamond Fund only (700 rubles)


I wanted to get the Ivan the Great Bell Tower ticket but unfortunately, the tower was closed when we were there. (We actually planned to visit again on the Saturday before we left Moscow for St. Petersburg so that we could watch the ceremonial parade of the Presidential Regiment, which is staged every Saturday at noon. However, when we got there, the line at the Kremlin was extraordinarily long so we decided to abandon that plan.) As such, we decided to just get the standard ticket to the Architectural complex of the Cathedral Square or Sobornaya Ploshchad. This ticket allowed us to enter the Assumption Cathedral, the Annunciation Cathedral, and the Archangel Cathedral.

Annunciation Cathedral in Cathedral Square

Of course, we still got to see and take photos of Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower

We also got tickets to the Armoury Chamber which has several interesting displays, including gifts to the Russian kings and queens over the centuries, important Russian artifacts and relics, and an impressive set of royal carriages and coaches. Several important FabergĂ© eggs were also part of the exhibit, although it was quite unfortunate that the Grand Siberian Railway egg which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful ones wasn't on display when we were there. Photography is not allowed inside. My mom and I bought a couple of  souvenirs at the shops located at the entrance of the Armoury Chamber. Important note: large bags are not allowed inside the Kremlin so make sure you lave your bag at the Kremlin left-luggage office (I think it costs 70 rubles per bag).

After our visit to this museum, we spent the rest of the afternoon going through the rest of the Kremlin. We visited the Patriarch's Palace - entrance here is included in our Cathedral square ticket and photography is also not allowed inside - then we swung by the Tsar Cannon and the Tsar Bell. The Tsar Bell which is on display on the grounds of the Kremlin, is the largest bell in the world and is actually too heavy to be hoisted at the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. You can read more about the history of this bell and why a huge 11-ton piece of the bell was broken off here.

Tsar Bell

Technically, the word 'kremlin' means fortified stronghold in the center of a city or town. The one in Moscow has become the most important one in the entire Russia and as such, it is often referred to simply as the Kremlin (and not as Moscow Kremlin). Outside, there's a beautiful park and several fountains. Makes me wonder if the canal outside used to be a moat.

Aside from the Ivan the Great Bell Tower which we weren't able to enter and the ceremonial parade on Saturday which we missed, we were also unable to visit Lenin's Mausoleum because it was closed when we were there (apparently, it was only going to be open to the public again on May 15). Nevertheless, our Red Square and Kremlin experience was a great start to our tour of Russia. Next post: more Moscow sights.

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