Kremlin and Red Square
The Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow are associated with all major events in Russian history, and its monuments are great examples of Russian architecture.
The city of Moscow was founded in 1156 as a seat for the czars. The current Kremlin dates from the 19th century. It consists of several buildings: churches, palaces and places in political use. A red brick wall surrounds the complex.
The Red Square is a city square from which the major streets of Moscow radiate in all directions. Buildings surrounding the square include:
- Lenin's Mausoleum
- the brightly-domed Saint Basil's Cathedral
- GUM department store
- Kazan Cathedral
- State Historical Museum
Map of Kremlin and Red SquareLoad map
I was here for the first time in 1990 - I have a few yellowed photos in a photo album from my first visit to the heart of Moscow. I really only remember the Lenin Mausoleum: procedures for visitors to the body / mummy were strict - lots of security at the entrance, no talking inside or standing still to take a closer look. Moscow still looked quite communist then, in the Gorbatshov-era (boring, strict, cold). Everything looked the same. On one evening, I roamed the streets for hours (after several trips with the subway), looking for my hotel that seemed to be 100% identical to all the other buildings.
29 years later, it is time for a renewed acquaintance. I am lucky today because it is the city's birthday. It became 872 years old. Actually, the date was yesterday, but they party a weekend long. Paper hats are handed out with 'Moscow 872' on it, and you can see this logo everywhere. At the Red Square, they are busy demolishing the stands that were set up the day before for some kind of performance. So you can only get to about a third of the square. Only the endless facade of the Gum department store can still be seen clearly.
I walk past it to a new attraction in the center of Moscow: the Zaryadye Park. This has only existed since 2017. An artificial hill has been created in this park, from where you have a good view of the towers and walls of the Kremlin and of the colorful Saint Basil's Cathedral.
Nowadays you need to reserve tickets to gain access to the Kremlin: I did that about 2 weeks ago. A 'normal' ticket costs 700 rubles, more than 9 EUR. The entrance is on the 'other side' of the complex seen from Zaryadye Park, via Alexandrovsky Park. At the end of the day, I see on my pedometer on the phone that I have walked 15.2 kilometers - this detour certainly contributed to that.
Even when you have purchased a ticket in advance, you still have to exchange it on the spot at a counter for a 'real' ticket. Fortunately, it went smoothly and without queuing. But that cannot be said of the security check: there were thick and long lines at the stairs to the entrance! It turned out though that this obstacle could be overcome in 15 minutes.
The interior of the Kremlin has many political and military buildings, but the nicest corner is where a number of old churches stand together. It is relatively quiet and there are many places to sit down and let the shiny domes work on you. I only visit one church inside, the Annunciation Cathedral. It was the house church for the Moscow grand princes and has walls full of murals and a towering iconostasis.
Moscow obviously has changed a lot over the past 29 years – it feels very ‘European’ now and the bright sunny weather helped to enjoy the numerous sights in the city center.
UNique - 9/10
Having arrived in Moscow in the evening, we decided to take a stroll through the city along the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment. During the walk, we were made to feel tiny and insignificant as we walked past the colossal monoliths of the Stalinist skyscrapers. But the feeling of insignificance was replaced with awe as we approached the lit-up walls of Kremlin. The combination of the expansive space of the Red Square and the playfully colourful cupolas of Saint Basil's Cathedral was absolutely mesmerizing. Of course, we came back the following morning, and saw the square in its entire glory, however, that first impression of the complex was simply unforgettable.
ESsential - 9/10
Many medieval Russian towns had Kremlins of their own, serving the dual function of a fortress and a residence for the local prince. However, Moscow's Kremlin is special because of its complicated history stretching for centuries, history that is still evident throughout the complex. Hidden in the shadow of the Kremlin walls, Lenin's mausoleum containing the waxy mummy of the Bolshevik leader provides the everyday reminder of the country's tumultuous past.
COst-effective - 5/10
The Red Square and the outside of Kremlin and St. Basil's can be viewed without any fee, but to enter beyong the walls of the complex, you will have to part with 500 rubles. The entrance fee allows you to visit several cathedrals and the gardens inside Kremlin. After the visit, you are likely to feel that the outside of the complex is more impressive than the inside part. Unless you are an ardent enthusiast for Russian iconography and church architecture, you can probably save your money.
Read more from Yuri Samozvanov here.
A visit to Moscow's Kremlin and Red Square provides great insight into Russia's past and present. The red brick walls of the Kremlin are familiar worldwide, housing not just the ghosts of the Cold War, but relics of Russia's rich tsarist history. The Kremlin walls were constructed in the 15th century, and within the walls are many churches, including the Cathedral of the Dormition, or Assumption Cathedral. This cathedral was used for the coronation of Russia's tsars from Ivan the Terrible in 1721 all the way to Nicholas II, the last tsar, in 1896. Nearby in the Kremlin's armoury are crowns and thrones of Russian tsars, while evidence of some of the ruler's desires for greatness can be seen on the Kremlin grounds, including the world's largest bell and the immense Tsar's cannon. Outside the Kremlin walls is the famed Red Square, now used for events such as New Year's celebrations and military parades on Victory Day. Russia's most recognized building, St. Basil's Cathedral, topped with colorful onion domes, can be found at the southern end of Red Square, and is as brilliant to see as expected. Moscow's Kremlin and Red Square are a must for anyone with an interest in Russian history.
Logistics: Moscow's Kremlin and Red Square are accessible by public transportation, including the Metro stations of Okhotny Riad, Teatralnaya, and Ploschad Revolyutsii.
In May I was able to get into the State Kremlin Palace and Faceted Hall. This is kind of special "secret" excursion, which is not ordinary access to the Cathedrals inside the Kremlin sold publicly. This excursion is offered by some agencies on selected dates (usualy several times per month), when the Kremlin is not occupied by various events. The maximum amount of people is 20 in the group with obligatory guide, it is necessary to provide passport details in advance (the foreigners are allowed), the price is 5,000 Rubles during weekends (80 euro), but it depends on the agency. I booked about 2 months in advance in order to get in on weekend day.
Excursion lasts for 80 minutes and provides access into the Faceted Hall; 4 main ceremonial halls in the State Kremlin Palace (including that one where inauguration or official awarding takes place); medieval Terem's Hall enclosed by the present Palace and Empress's Chambers. Foto is only allowed in some places as indicated by the guide.
In overall despite extremely expensive price this is the only opportunity to see probably the most important building in Russia. All the halls were lavishly re-created and reconstructed in the 90s in accordance with original decor from the 19th century (even imperatorial thrones were put back; they are modestly covered by partitions during present date Putin's led events). Medieval parts have rich frescos and are also quite interesting and original.
In overall I liked the excursion, but unfortunately it's very expensive and not easy to get into without advance planning.
I visited this WHS in August 2016. This WHS is Russia's most iconic and well-known site and clearly a top cultural WHS. Even though it is yet another church/cathedral, St Basil's is definitely a highlight of the Red Square at any time of the day. The interior is worth visiting (closed on Wednesdays) even though its colourful exterior is what makes it so famous. I visited the Red Square every day for 5 days and I loved walking round the Kremlin walls and towers at sunrise or at night and always felt very safe. The Lenin Mausoleum is only open from 10am till 1pm (closed on Mondays and Fridays) and if you have time it's worth visiting if only to get a closer look at Gagarin's tombstone situated just behind the mausoleum. The GUM superstore is completely lit up at night with thousands of light bulbs which in my opinion spoils the mystic atmosphere of the dreamy lights on the Kremlin wall. To my surprise the Red Square is fenced off at midnight and is accessible again after 7am. However, St Basil's can still be viewed at these times by going round the GUM superstore. Two other interesting structures are the dark red State History Museum and the Kazan Cathedral (even though both interiors are nothing special). By heading out of the Red Square towards the Four Seasons Hotel (excellent panoramic view from the Skybar) and the Alexander Gardens, you will find the Kremlin's entrance and ticket counters. The basic entrance ticket grants access to the churches on Cathedral Square, while there are separate tickets to the Armoury Chamber, the Grand Kremlin Palace (through very expensive tours only) and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower (limited tickets; even though currently the panoramic view is spoilt by scaffolding on the Assumption Cathedral right opposite the bell tower). Allow at least half a day to be able to visit the main churches of Cathedral Square, namely the Assumption Cathedral, the Church of Laying Our Lady's Holy Robe, the Archangel's Cathedral, the Annunciation Cathedral, the Patriarch's Palace and the 12 Apostles' Church plus viewing the Tsar Bell and Cannon. I entered the Kremlin early in the morning before most of the tour groups and I managed to visit without too many crowds. The icons, mural paintings and church riches are mindboggling and would be worthy of inscription alone. That is why in my opinion this ensemble is truly one of the best WHS of the list. I wouldn't mind paying the entrance ticket again should I ever revisit as I really enjoyed my first visit.
The center of Moscow and the symbolic landmark of Russia, Kremlin and Red Square are truly the magnificent places with unbelievable beauty and clearly one of the must see World Heritage Sites for every travelers. During my five days visit to Moscow, I went to the Red Square three times to admire the grandness of this place. I still remembered the first time I saw the square via the Resurrection Gate with the image of Saint Basil Cathedral in the far distance at twilight; I was stunned with this breathtaking view. The almost desert square with dreamy lights of surrounding buildings was just fantastic and became my highlight of Russian trip.
The Moscow Kremlin is equally impressive with the square. The whole complex is surrounded by the red high wall with many fortress-like towers; one of my favorite is the Spasskaya tower with its fanciful spire and large clock. Inside the Kremlin at first I was quite frustrated with many restrict areas and rule of no photograph near administrative buildings. The first building I saw was the Armory; inside was the large exhibition of Russian Imperial treasure with many gold and jewel objects, the highlights for me were many beautiful state coaches and royal robes. Then I saw the Cathedral of the Annunciation, its many golden onion domes was very beautiful; however, the Cathedral of the Archangel and the Assumption Cathedral were closed during my visit so I did not have a chance to see its famous fresco. After that I went to see the famous Ivan the Great bell tower, the tower was quite nice and lovely, also I had photo shot with the big Tsar Canon and Tsar Bell, two gigantic curiosities of Kremlin.
Then I went window browsing inside the GUM department, I was shocked to see its beautiful warm lights interior with hundred of international brand names and thousands of rich Russian shoppers, I even imagined that this place can be Milan not Moscow. Next day, it was the time for Saint Basil Cathedral; its colorful candy-like domes were so perfect to be real. After back to my country I was quite surprised that I forgot to see the Lenin Tomb, actually during my visit I did not see the tomb or any long queue at all as there was a very large stage for some celebration in front of the tomb! Seem that the organizer did not care at all for the tomb existence, a great surprising act in the former center of Communist World.
Emilia Bautista King
I went here in 1990, when it was still "the Soviet Union." To see the intricate details of St. Basil's Cathedral is quite special. I remember visiting Lenin's tomb and the long line to get in. I also celebrated the 4th of July in Moscow that year with other Americans in our hotel. Some of the most memorable points of my stay were going to the Moscow Circus and visiting an elementary school.
It is a surprise to discover both that, as of Jan 2006, no one has reviewed this site and that, despite being one of the unarguably great “iconic” sites of the world, it was not inscribed (as the first “Soviet WHS”) until as late as Dec 1990. The UNESCO inscription takes great trouble to explain that inclusion of a site is not permitted until the sovereign state, on whose territory it is, has ratified the convention and submitted an official application. This the Soviet ambassador to UNESCO did on 24/10/1989 (The USSR having ratified the convention on 12/10/1988). A few days after the submission the Berlin Wall came down – by the time UNESCO were inscribing the site at Banff in Dec 1990 the USSR had just 8 months left.
I would like to concentrate my review on just a part of the site - on what the UNESCO evaluation calls “the Soviet Union’s prime example of symbolic monumental architecture” – Lenin’s Tomb (photo)!! Whether it has “outstanding universal value” we won’t debate here! I visited it on several occasions during the Soviet period – there was always an enormous queue into which western tourists were inserted a respectful way back but not so far as to disrupt the Intourist arrangements for our other sightseeing! I often wondered what the Soviet citizens made of our queue jumping. How many were there out of genuine respect for the “great man”, how many to “demonstrate” their “loyalty” to the cause and how many as part of the necessary “cost” to be paid for getting a trip to Moscow with their work unit or other organisation.
Despite plans to remove it going back to early post Soviet days (you can vote for or against at the Mausoleum web site http://www.aha.ru/~mausoleu/index_e.htm !!!) it is still open to visitors, though the “honour guard”, whose arrival at the doorway was so perfectly timed to synchronise with the chiming of the Kremlin bell (or did they hold back the chime if necessary!), was removed in 1993. “Unfortunately” another wonderful building on Red Square which supported “Lenin mania” namely the Lenin Museum (the building from behind which all those ICBMs used to speed onto Red Square during the Mayday parade) was closed in 1992. It has just been reopened I understand to show Contemporary Art – together apparently, with some Lenin memorabilia.
Who knows how long Lenin himself will survive in his mausoleum - so go there whilst you can! As one of my many travel lists I “collect” visits to the mausolea and graves of dictators. Lenin is one of the “Communist quadrumvirate” with Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Song who all lie embalmed in open coffins. But there are many others “worth” visiting - Napoleon, Causcescu and Franco to name but a few) – they always provide food for thought on the corruption of power, the inhumanity of man to man, the impermanence of human endeavour and on mankind's yearning for strong leaders despite so much bad experience!
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