Kremlin and Red Square
One of the best known squares in the world which conjures up images of nuclear weapons, communism and the KGB. These days though the Kremlin and Red Square are big tourist destinations and are the symbol of Russia. The massive Kremlin walls are very imposing and although one of the most popular tourist destinations in Moscow it is still home to Vladamir Putin, the president of Russia! The Kremlin, Red Square and the iconic (a Russian word) St. Basils Cathedral on the square are a must see if in Moscow. You may not know Basils Cathedral by name but if I told you it was the church with numerous coloured onions at the top would it ring a bell??
Time to Do: 1 full day is possible for everything but if you really want to delve into all the history then allow 2 days.
Important Tip: If you can spare 8hrs of your life in the months prior to your trip then learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Russia and Moscow has very little English signs so if you can read (know the sounds) then it is very helpful. For example the lonely planet gives you the names of Metro stations in English but every sign in the metro is in Russian so only if you can translate the Russian will you know for sure you are in the right spot. Restaurant in Russian is ‘restoran’. Fairly similar yeah? But written down it is pectopah! You will be familiar with nearly all letters from English and maths from your school days. I spent 4hrs learning and doing a few examples a few days before I left and it was invaluable.
Here are my tips for what to do and where not to go.
Red Square (Metro: Pl. Revolyutsky-Dark Blue Line)
When you are outside Red Square you can already make out the huge towers of the Kremlin and of the surrounding Kazan Cathedral which encircle it. No matter which side you approach from the scale of the walls of the Kremlin and St. Basils Cathedral will have you picking up your jaw. Each end of this huge square which is still used for parades is taken up with a cathedral, St. Basils down one end and Kazan at the other. The two long sides are a complete contrast, one is the Kremlin which started on this hill in the 12th century, the other is a very fancy shopping centre (GUM) that in fairness does date back to 1913. The name Red Square evokes communism days but in fact the name originally translated to ‘beautiful square’ before the meaning of the word changed in the last 100years. Red Square itself is open but during the winter there is a large ice-rink in the middle. The square is just as impressive during the night as it is during the day so make sure to visit it during both times. For various entrances and exits on the square there is a strict one direction only policy just bare that in mind when the police are ushering you one way when there is a perfectly clear exit in front of you.
East of Red Square is Kitay Gorod, the city centre. These are now filled with branded shops and are all very expensive. All around this area to past the Bolshoi Theatre is the most expensive in Moscow so if you want to save a few pennies then just make sure to eat away from here.
The following can be visited on the square.
St. Basils Cathedral: Again a true symbol of Russia and equally as impressive, if not more so, during the night. This symbol of Russia was a bit smaller but more impressive than any of the pictures I had seen before of it. The twisted colours, each onion a different colour, a different pattern. They all seem so confused but yet making some sort of aesthetic sense. At the front gate is a statue of Minin (a butcher) and Pozharsky (a prince) who together raised an army to fight off the Poles in 1612. Open 11:00-17:30. Admission 250Rubles
Lenin’s Mausoleum: This is a bit of a weird one. You are going to see a man who died 90 years ago and is the spiritual leader of communism. Firstly you must hand in any phones, cameras etc for a small fee. Just make sure that you approach this little stairs from the right direction! They are a bit over the top strict about this. Although you can basically touch the shop to hand in your camera you still must walk around the building to approach from the other side. Just do as they say and don’t question it! After then heading through the metal detectors you go along under the shadow of the Kremlin walls and see all the fallen comrades for communism. Then you descend steps underground to the mausoleum and very quickly walk around a glass case with Lenin in it. He looks more like a wax impression of himself but he is looking well for a man who is around 140 years old. He requested to be buried with his mother but Stalin saw what a great bit of propaganda it was just after he died so left him there.
Open 10:00- 13:00 all days except Fri and Mon. Admission: Free (20Rubles per phone, camera)
State History Museum: All you ever will need to know about the history of Russia under the one roof. The building itself is just as interesting as the artefacts. Located on the north side of the square beside Resurrection Gate. Open: 11:00-20:00. Admission 250Ru. www.shm.ru
The Kremlin (Metro: Aleksandrovksy Sad- Dark Blue, Red or Grey lines)
Time to Do: If in a rush then only see Cathedral Square (4 cathedrals) which is a few hours and you get to walk around everywhere that is permitted but if you see everything including the Armoury and Diamond Fund then allow a full day.
I always knew the Kremlin was in Moscow but I wasn’t sure what it did or used to do. Was it political or just a historical building? Maybe it is the seat of power in Russia but then again don’t they have a parliament? Maybe it used to be the seat of power and a great fort but now it is only for tourists? Well in fact The Kremlin is all these things in one. It is where Moscow started off in the 12th century and where with every tsar the fortifications got bigger. From Ivan the Great to Ivan the Terrible to the invasion of Napoleon, the Kremlin was the city fortress. More recently Lenin and Stalin gave orders from here and now it is where the office of the Russian president is. So as well as being a tourist attraction it is also where Vladamir Putin barks out his orders from. So now we are clear that the Kremlin is basically a working tourist attraction.
As you enter the Kremlin from the well kept Alexander Gardens out front up the long entrance ramp and under the imposing Trinity Gate Tower you wonder how any army would have been able to conquer these walls. 15mtrs high all the way around would be impressive even today. Despite the size, there are not that many buildings that allow entry and there are plenty of police around that make sure you don’t even step on the road never mind venture into the wrong spot.
Cathedral Square: I won’t give a running history of all the cathedrals but suffice to say they are all well worth the entrance money. Super golden onions on top, ancient icons and fresco all hundreds of years old from some of the most important churches in pre-revolution Russia. Each cathedral has a detailed description inside each door in 6 languages so you can understand each one better. Although helpful they are also fairly technical so after reading about 30 different priests on the first one it’s hard to concentrate for the rest. No photos inside the cathedrals are allowed.
Tsar Cannon and Bell: Once you are in the Kremlin you can see these. A huge cannon that never fired and a huge bell that never rang! The largest bell in the world at 202tonnes has a chunk gone out of it from a mishap with cold water when casting in the 18th century. 100 yards away in the cannon which again is only for decoration.
Armoury and Diamond Fund: This is basically the treasures Russia and the church has accumulated over hundreds of years and includes the world famous Faberge Eggs including the Grand Siberian Railway egg as a celebration of the trans-Siberian railway. The amount of jewels is staggering and one wonders of the morals of it as millions of peasants starved in the fields. One of the more morally reprehensible is the 800 diamond throne that was used for coronations for 200years. The Diamond Fund Exhibition is separate and if you are not sick of diamonds after the Armoury then you will be after this. The Diamond Fund includes the largest sapphire in the world as well as the 190 carat diamond given as a present, a frickin present, to Catherine the Great!
Tickets: To buy your tickets you head to the north side of the huge outer red bricked walls which is the next side (to the right as you look at the Kremlin) over from Red Square there is a grey metal building where you need to buy your tickets which is NOT part of the entrance ramp. You can’t miss the entrance ramp as it is like a long inclining bridge up to the huge Trinity Gate Tower. Yes I fell for this trick. Shorts are not allowed and bags will have to be deposited in the same building as you buy tickets.
An important point to note is that tickets to Cathedral Square / Sobornaya Pl. (including 5 cathedrals) is 350Ru but this does NOT include the Armoury. The Armoury ticket costs 700Ru. So if you want to go to both it will be 1050Ru. The Diamond Fund is another 500Ru
Open: 09:30-17:00, Fri-Wed. www.kreml.ru