The Moscow Kremlin, also known as the Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the very heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the south), St. Basil’s Cathedral (often mistaken by westerners as the Kremlin) and Red Square (to the east), and the Alexander Garden (to the west).
It is the best known of kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes five palaces, four cathedrals, and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers.
The irregular triangle of the Kremlin wall encloses an area of 275,000 square meters (68 acres). Its overall length is 2,235 meters (7,333 feet), but the height ranges from 5 to 19 meters (16.4 to 62.3 feet), depending on the terrain. The wall’s thickness is between 3.5 and 6.5 meters (11.5 and 21.3 feet).
The name “Kremlin” means “fortress inside a city.”
First mentioned in the Hypatian Chronicle in 1147 as a fortification erected on the left bank of the Moskva river by Yuri Dolgoruki, Prince of Suzdal, the Kremlin developed and grew with settlements and suburbs which were further surrounded by new fortifications – Kitaigorodsky Wall, Bely Gorod, Zemlyanoy Gorod and others.
In 13th century the Kremlin was the official residence of supreme power – the center of temporal and spiritual life of the state. The Kremlin of the late 15th – early 16th century is one of the major fortifications of Europe (the stone walls and towers of present day were erected in 1485–1516). It contains an ensemble of monuments of outstanding quality.
The most significant churches of the Moscow Kremlin are situated on the Cathedral Square; they are the Cathedral of the Dormition, Church of the Archangel, Church of the Annunciation and the bell tower of Ivan Veliki. Almost all of them were designed by invited Italian architects which is clearly seen in their architectural style.
The five-domed Cathedral of the Dormition (1475–1479) was built by an Italian architect Aristotele Fiorvanti. Inside are a number of early 15th-century icons attributed to Theophanes the Greek and to Andrey Rublyov, considered by many to be the greatest of all Russian icon painters. The cathedral became the major Russian Orthodox church; a wedding and coronation place for great princes, tsars and emperors as well as the shrine for metropolitans and patriarchs.
Originally there were eighteen Kremlin towers, but their number increased to twenty in the 17th century. All but three of the towers are square in plan. The highest tower is the Troitskaya, which was built up to its present height of 80 meters in 1495.
After construction of the new Kremlin walls and churches was over in 1516, the monarch decreed that no structures should be built in the immediate vicinity of the citadel.
The Kremlin was separated from the walled merchant town (Kitay-gorod) by a 30-meter (98.5-foot) wide moat, over which Saint Basil’s Cathedral was constructed during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. It was the city’s tallest building until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the church, perceived as the earthly symbol of the Heavenly City, as happens to all churches in Byzantine Christianity, was popularly known as the “Jerusalem” and served as an allegory of the Jerusalem Temple in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the Patriarch of Moscow and the tsar.
The Ivan the Great Bell Tower with a total height of 81 meters (266 feet) is the tallest tower and structure of Kremlin. Until the building of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 1883, it was the tallest building in old Moscow, and it was forbidden to put up any building in Moscow which was taller than the Bell Tower.
The Tsar bell, the largest bell in the world, stands on a pedestal next to The Ivan the Great Bell Tower. It is a 6.14-meter (20.1 feet) tall, 6.6-meter (22 feet) diameter bell. It has never been in working order, suspended, or rung.
The Tsar Cannon is a large early modern period artillery piece on display on the grounds of the Moscow Kremlin. It is a monument of Russian artillery casting art, cast in bronze in 1586 in Moscow, by the Russian master bronze caster Andrey Chokhov. Mostly of symbolic impact, it was never used in a war. However, the cannon bears traces of at least one firing.
During the Time of Troubles, the Kremlin was held by the Polish forces for two years, between 21 September 1610 and 26 October 1612.
From the early 18th century, when the capital of Russia moved to St. Petersburg, the Kremlin mainly played a ceremonial role with religious functions.
Although still used for coronation ceremonies, the Kremlin was abandoned and neglected until 1773, when Catherine the Great engaged Vasili Bazhenov to build her new residence there.
During Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, the French forces occupied the Kremlin from September 2 to October 11. When Napoleon fled Moscow, he ordered the whole Kremlin be blown up. The Kremlin Arsenal, several portions of the Kremlin Wall, and several wall towers were destroyed by explosions and fires damaged the Faceted Chamber and churches. Explosions continued for three days, from October 21 to 23. Fortunately, rain damaged the fuses, and the damage was less severe than intended. Restoration works occurred from 1816 to 1819, supervised by Osip Bove.
The Grand Kremlin Palace was built to rival the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg in its dimensions and the opulence of its interiors. The palace was constructed in 1839–49 and was formerly the tsar’s Moscow residence. Currently it is the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation though it is rarely used for this purpose.
After 1851, the Kremlin changed little until the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The Soviet government moved from Petrograd to Moscow on 12 March 1918. Vladimir Lenin selected the Kremlin Senate as his residence. Joseph Stalin also had his personal rooms in the Kremlin. He was eager to remove all the “relics of the tsarist regime” from his headquarters. Golden eagles on the towers were replaced by shining Kremlin stars, while the wall near Lenin’s Mausoleum was turned into the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
The Kremlin would remain the seat and symbol of Soviet power until the fall of the Soviet Union itself in the early 1990s.
In 1990 the Kremlin and Red Square areas were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In order to stop the disruptions to Moscow traffic caused by motorcades, President Vladimir Putin authorized the construction of the Kremlin helipad. The helipad was completed in May 2013. Careful consideration was taken in choosing the location of the helipad; the location chosen is said to be of no threat to the architecture of the Kremlin.