Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Memories of Moscow - Red Square and the Kremlin.



When Lei and I were trying to decide on where to go in 2008, Lei mentioned that she would like to travel to Russia. Back in 1996, I had a work assignment that took me to Moscow, Russia. When I got home from work that night, I pulled out the photos of my trip to Moscow, my journal and was overcome by a flood of fond memories!

When I was offered the chance to work in Moscow, I jumped at the opportunity to visit a place that had long been forbidden for travel by Malaysian citizens, which I was at that time. It had only been 5 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union and Russia was not a popular tourist destination at that time. According to the entry in my journal, I had a hard time finding guidebooks on Moscow and the ones that I found were not up-to-date. At the time that I set foot on Russian soil, all I knew about Moscow was from news reports on the former Soviet Union - people standing in breadlines in the bitter cold stick out in my mind. Of course, there were also the romantic images courtesy of Hollywood. Who can forget Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago? And my mother, who had always taught me to admire art, was the first person to introduce me to Fabergé eggs and I have been a admirer since I first laid my eyes on one in a museum.

I would finally get to experience Moscow for myself and what a wonderful experience it turned out to be. I only spent two weeks in Moscow and despite the fact that the week days were filled with work, we were able to fill our off hours with visiting the more notable sights in the city. I spent my time in Moscow with two colleagues - Farhad Nourbakhsh and Drake Warrick. Farhad and I flew over from Paris together and we met up with Drake a day later. We were staying at the Metropol Hotel which is located just a few minutes walk away from Red Square.

With Red Square so close by, it was our first sightseeing stop. The main entrance to Red Square is Resurrection Gate. The original gate was built in the 1600s, but like many things in Moscow it was destroyed by Stalin, who considered it an impediment to the massive army parades across Red Square. I was seeing it less than a year after it was rebuilt in 1995.

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Red Square is how immense in size it is. It's no wonder the former USSR regime could parade the largest vehicles in its military fleet through the Square!












At one end of the Square sits its most famous structure, St. Basil's Cathedral which was built by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) from 1555 - 1561.







Located in Red Square is Lenin's tomb where his body is interred. I had wanted to go and pay a visit but the lines were always so long. With so little time to see all the sights, I ended up skipping out.

Running the entire length of one end of the Square is one of the walls of the Kremlin - which is not a single building but a complex of government buildings, palaces, towers and cathedrals. The Alexander Gardens are also on the grounds of the Kremlin.

The main entrance to the Kremlin lies outside Red Square - you enter through Trinity Tower. That's the red brick structure that's behind Drake in the photo below. To the left of the Tower is the Palace of Congresses and to the right is the yellow façade of the arsenal which runs for just about the length of a city block.



Once you enter the grounds of the Kremlin and walk pass the arsenal, you see St. Nicholas Tower which was built in 1491 and commemorates St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker. During the French invasion of Russian in 1812m the upper part of the tower was blown up by Napoleon and his retreating French army but was completely restored just four years later. The red star at the top which was erected in 1937.












One of the most famous buildings on the Kremlin grounds is the Cathedral of the Annunciation. Built between 1484-1489 by Ivan III, the Cathedral was used as a private place of worship by the tsar and his family, and is where royal marriages and christenings took were celebrated. After a fire, Ivan IV added a few more chapels and domes to the original structure. Today, the Cathedral houses some of the finest artwork in the Kremlin including priceless icons.

We had signed up with the hotel concierge to tour the Kremlin. Three other guys joined us on the tour. I can't remember their names but in the picture below, they are standing alongside Farhad and Drake. Behind them is the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the mustard color building behind the Cathedral is the Great Kremlin Palace.

Another famous building on the Kremlin grounds is the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great. Built in the 1500s, the tower which stands at 267 feet is the tallest building in the Kremlin. Until the last century it was also the tallest structure in the entire city - a law prohibited the construction of any buildings of a greater height.




The Ivan the Great Bell Tower is the tallest of the bell towers ringing the Moscow Kremlin complex, with a total height of 81 meters (266 feet). It was built for the Assumption, Archangel and Annunciation cathedrals, which do not have their own belfries, and is said to mark Moscow's precise geographic centre.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower adjoins the Assumption Belfry, which was built between 1523 and 1543. It contains the Great Assumption Bell which was cast in the mid-19th century it is the biggest of all the Kremlin bells.









At the foot of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower is the world's largest and probably its most useless bell. The bell was cast in 1735 and during a fire in the Kremlin in 1737, a large section broke off when it was doused with water. The bell was never repaired and is now more famous for its vital statistics: height=20 feet, weigh=220 tons, and diameter = 21 feet, 7 inches.








The Kremlin is filled with cathedrals and churches - all topped with beautiful, shiny gold gilded domes. After a while though they all start to look the same. But even so, I thought one of the most beautiful - from an architectural perspective - was the Cathedral of the Assumption (also known as the Cathedral of the Dormition). It is the only one of the Kremlin cathedrals that is constructed of limestone and brick - giving its façade a very unique look. The arched doorway of the main entrance is painted with frescoes dating from the 16th century. Painted on sheet copper in gold on a black background, they depict Biblical scenes; below, the Virgin Mary and Child.

Right next door to the Cathedral of the Assumption is the Church of the Deposition of the Robe. Don't you just love the names of these buildings? Surprised I can remember them after all these years? Keeping a journal helps!
The gilded cupolas at the top of the Church of the Deposition of the Robe are absolutely beautiful in design and style!


After we got tired of wandering among cathedrals, we escaped to the serenity of the Alexander Gardens. Once there, we found some benches to sit on and watch the world go by. It was there that I discovered the Russian love of ice cream - vendors are everywhere!!
The St. Nicholas Tower demarcates on one of the four corners of the Kremlin. On the other side of the Tower, from the Kremlin, sits the imposing red brick building that is the Historical Museum which is the largest and most important museum in all of Russia.


During our two week stay in Moscow, we returned to both Red Square and the Kremlin on many occasions. There was so much of interest that you had to go back and back to see and digest it all. I would love to go back to Moscow to see what things are like now that nearly 17 years have passed since the break up of the former Soviet Union. I bet you it's now a very chic and cosmopolitan city - rivalling the best that any city in Western Europe has to offer!!