Moscow Kremlin: history, legends and facts

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The main symbol of Russia, the building is so status, significant, outstanding that only such world-famous historical architectural objects as the Egyptian pyramids or the Tower of London can be compared with it …

Moscow Kremlin: history, legends and facts
Appolinarius Vasnetsov. The rise of the Kremlin at the end of the 17th century

The Moscow Kremlin is the oldest part of the Russian capital, the heart of the city, the official residence of the country’s leader, one of the world’s largest complexes with unique architecture, a treasury of historical relics and a spiritual center.

The importance of the Kremlin in our country is evidenced by the fact that the very concept of “Kremlin” is associated with the Moscow complex. Meanwhile, Kolomna, Syzran, Nizhny Novgorod, Smolensk, Astrakhan and other cities not only in Russia, but also in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus.

According to the definition given in the “explanatory dictionary” of Vladimir Dal, “krem” is a large and strong timber forest, and “kremlevnik” is a coniferous forest growing in a moss bog. And the “Kremlin” is a city surrounded by a fortress wall, with towers and loopholes. Thus, the name of these structures comes from the type of forest that was used in their construction. Unfortunately, not a single wooden Kremlin on the territory of Russia has survived, except for the prison towers in the Trans-Urals, but the stone structures, which until the 14th century were called Detinets and performed a protective function, remained and the Moscow Kremlin, of course, is the most famous of them.

The main symbol of Russia is located on Borovitsky Hill, on the higher left bank of the Moskva River, in the place where the Neglinnaya River flows into it. If we look at the complex from a height, then the Kremlin is an irregular triangle, with a total area of ​​27.7 hectares, surrounded by a massive wall with towers.

First detailed plan of the Moscow Kremlin
The first detailed plan of the Moscow Kremlin, 1601

The architectural complex of the Moscow Kremlin includes 4 palaces and 4 cathedrals, the southern wall faces the Moscow River, the eastern one – to Red Square, and the north-western wall – to the Alexander Garden. At present, the Kremlin is an independent administrative unit within Moscow and is included in the UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage List..

Moscow Kremlin plan
The plan of the Moscow Kremlin presented on its official website

History of the Moscow Kremlin

To list all the events that took place during the more than 900 years of the history of the Moscow Kremlin is not an easy task. It is interesting that the first human settlements on Borovitsky Hill are dated by archaeologists to the 2nd millennium BC. At that time, the construction site of the future Kremlin was completely covered with dense forests, hence the name of the hill – Borovitsky.

Other archaeological finds found on the territory of the Kremlin belong to the period of the VIII-III centuries BC, scientists suggest that even then, on the site where the Cathedral Square of the Kremlin is located, the first wooden fortifications were erected. You can see items related to the everyday life of the ancient inhabitants of the Kremlin mountain in the basement of the Annunciation Cathedral, where the exhibition “Archeology of the Moscow Kremlin”.

From the 12th century to the first half of the 13th century, a frontier fortress was located on the site of the Moscow Kremlin, which became the beginning of the history of Moscow. Archaeologists managed to discover an ancient cemetery of the 12th century, which was located on the site of the Assumption Cathedral, presumably, there was a wooden church nearby.

History of the Moscow Kremlin
Frontier fortress on the site of the Moscow Kremlin, watercolor by G.V. Borisevich

The founder of Moscow, the Vladimir-Suzdal prince Yuri Dolgoruky, laid the fortress at the mouth of the Neglinnaya River, slightly above the Yauza River. The new fortress united 2 fortified centers located on Borovitsky Hill into a single whole. The fortress, which stood on the site of the future Kremlin, occupied an irregular triangle between the current Trinity, Borovitsky and Taynitsky gates.

Monument to Yuri Dolgoruky
Monument to Yuri Dolgoruky in Moscow

During this period, Moscow and the Kremlin experienced numerous internecine wars of the Russian princes, the strongest fire and plunder overtook the city during the invasion of Khan Batu, so that the wooden structures of the old Kremlin were seriously damaged.

The first “high-ranking person” who settled in the Moscow Kremlin was Prince Daniel – the youngest son of Prince Alexander Nevsky from Vladimir, then Moscow was ruled by the son of Moscow Prince Daniel – Ivan Kalita, who did a lot to make the city one of the largest and most powerful Rus. Ivan Kalita was engaged in the arrangement of his residence, which it was with him, in 1331 received its current name – the Moscow Kremlin and became a separate, main part of the city.

In 1326-1327, the Assumption Cathedral was erected – already at that time it became the main temple of the principality, and in 1329 the construction of the church and bell tower of John Climacus was completed. The following year, the domes of the Cathedral of the Savior on Bor were raised in the Kremlin, and in 1333 the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael was built, in which Ivan Kalita himself, his children and grandchildren were then buried. These first, not wooden, but white-stone churches in Moscow, later determined the spatial composition of the center of the Kremlin, in general it is preserved today.

By the way, it was under Ivan Kalita, in the first half of the 14th century, that the treasury of the Moscow princes began to form, the storage place of which was, of course, the Kremlin. One of the main items of the treasury is the “golden hat” – scientists identify it with the famous Monomakh hat, which served as a crown for all Moscow rulers.

Moscow Kremlin under Ivan Kalita
Moscow Kremlin under Ivan Kalita, painting by A.M. Vasnetsova

In 1365, after another fire, Prince Dmitry (in 1380, after the victory over Mamai, he received the nickname Donskoy), who ruled at that time in Moscow, decided to build towers and fortifications of stone, for which they were taken to Borovitsky Hill in the winter of 1367 to tobogganing limestone. In the spring of the same year, the construction of the first white-stone fortress of North-Eastern Russia began.

The cult center of the Kremlin was Cathedral Square, which housed wooden princely chambers, the white-stone Cathedral of the Annunciation, in the eastern part of the Kremlin, Metropolitan Alexei founded the Chudov Monastery, and the residence of the Metropolitan himself was located in the Kremlin..

In 1404, a special city clock was installed on a special tower of the Moscow Kremlin by the Athos monk Lazar Serb, which became the first in the territory of Russia.

In the second half of the 15th century, a grandiose restructuring of the Moscow Kremlin began, after which it acquired modern features familiar to every Russian. Princes Ivan the Third, who married Sophia Palaeologus, a Byzantine princess, was able to complete the unification of the principalities of Russia and Moscow acquired a new status – the capital of a large state. Naturally, the residence of the head of such a vast country needed alteration and expansion..

In 1475-1479, the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti erected a new Cathedral of the Dormition, which was the main temple of the Moscow principality under Ivan Kalita, and now received the status of the main cathedral of the Russian state.

Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral on a postcard from the early 20th century

Another Italian architect Aleviz Novy was engaged in the construction of the Grand Duke’s temple-tomb – the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael. On the western side of the square, the palace of the great Moscow prince Ivan the Third was erected, which included the Middle Golden Chamber, the Embankment Chamber and the Big Faceted Chamber, that is, a whole complex of ceremonial buildings. Unfortunately, not all of them have survived to this day..

Moscow Kremlin at the end of the 15th century
Moscow Kremlin at the end of the 15th century, painting by A.M. Vasnetsova

After the Italian masters erected new towers and walls of the Kremlin, many foreign guests began to call the building a castle, the similarity to which gives the complex the battlements on the walls. The Moscow Kremlin was compared with the Scaliger Castle in Verona and the famous Sforza Castle in Milan. However, unlike these structures, the Kremlin became not only the dwelling place of the ruler of the country, but also the center of the cultural, religious life of the entire state, here are the most famous temples of Russia, the residence of the metropolitan and monasteries.

Of course, the history of the Moscow Kremlin is inextricably linked with the history of princes, tsars and emperors who ruled the Moscow principality, then the kingdom, and then the Russian Empire. Thus, Tsar Ivan the Fourth (better known as the Terrible), who entered the throne in 1547, also did a lot to form the Kremlin’s ensemble. Under him, the rebuilding of the Church of the Annunciation was carried out, and orders were placed on Ivanovskaya Square, including the Ambassadorial Prikaz, in charge of receiving foreign guests. Even then, there was the Armory Chamber, and the royal stables, the Sleeping Chamber, storage facilities and workshops were located on the territory of the Kremlin..

Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin
Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin

In 1652-1656, Patriarch Nikon was involved in the rebuilding of the Patriarchal Palace in the Kremlin, this building kept the treasures of the Patriarchal Sacristy, and in the Cross Chamber, church cathedrals were held and feasts were held for distinguished guests..

Only in 1712, after Peter the Great decided to move the capital to the newly erected St. Petersburg, the Moscow Kremlin lost the status of the permanent and only residence of the rulers of the state, in addition, the beginning of the 18th century was marked for Moscow by a new destructive fire. When restoring damaged parts of the Kremlin, it was decided to build an Arsenal between Sobakina and Troitskaya towers.

In 1749-1753, the old chambers of the Tsar’s court from the 15th century were dismantled, on their foundations the famous architect F.-B. Rastrelli erected a new stone Baroque Winter Palace. The building faced on one side to the Moscow River, and on the other to Cathedral Square.

In 1756-1764, the architect D.V. Ukhtomsky erected a new building for the Armory Chamber gallery between the Arkhangelsk and Annunciation cathedrals, but then, in the course of planning a large-scale restructuring of the Kremlin, this building was demolished. V.I.Bazhenov’s plan to build a new palace was never realized, however, in the course of preparations for the start of this project, the Kremlin lost many old buildings.

In 1776-1787, the architect M.F. Kazakov, by order of Catherine II, built the Senate building, which stood opposite the Arsenal, and only then the Senate Square acquired its complete appearance..

Senate building in the Moscow Kremlin
Senate building in the Moscow Kremlin

In 1810, by order of the Emperor Alexander the First, the Armory was erected, the architect I.V. Egotov managed to fit the new building into the Kremlin ensemble, as a result of the construction a new Kremlin square appeared – Troitskaya, formed between the new museum building, the Arsenal and the Troitskaya tower.

The Kremlin was seriously damaged during the invasion of Napoleon, after the fire of 1812, many of the exploded and burnt buildings of the complex had to be restored.

In 1838-1851 in the Moscow Kremlin, in accordance with the decree of Emperor Nicholas I, a new palace complex was built, designed in the “national Russian style”. It included the Apartment building, the Grand Kremlin Palace, erected on the site of the Winter Palace, and a more solemn museum building – the Moscow Armory Chamber. The architect Konstantin Ton conducted construction strictly within the boundaries of the ancient Tsar’s court, took into account all the historically developed features, and managed to combine in one composition new buildings and architectural monuments of the 15th-17th centuries. At the same time, the reconstruction of old churches was carried out. New buildings formed in the Moscow Kremlin and a new square – Imperial or Palace.

Already at the beginning of the 20th century, the Moscow Kremlin was considered a monument of history and architecture. Nicholas II intended to turn the Amusement Palace into a museum dedicated to the Patriotic War of 1812, but 1917 canceled all the emperor’s plans.

As you know, after the coup, the Bolshevik government moved from St. Petersburg to the Kremlin and until 1953, that is, until the death of Stalin, who occupied an office and an apartment in the Kremlin, the complex was closed for free visits by ordinary tourists and Muscovites.

In 1935, the Kremlin lost its two-headed eagles, and in 1937 glowing ruby ​​stars were installed on the Spasskaya, Borovitskaya, Nikolskaya, Troitskaya and Vodovzvodnaya towers in their place..

Ruby Kremlin star
Ruby Kremlin star

On the site of the demolished Voznesensky and Chudov monasteries, the building of the Military School was erected, which greatly changed the appearance of the architectural complex.

Interestingly, during the Great Patriotic War, the Kremlin was practically not damaged, despite the massive bombing raids that rained down on Moscow in 1941 and 1942. The authorities evacuated the treasures of the Armory Chamber, and in the event of the surrender of the capital to the German troops, a plan was provided for mining the main buildings of the complex.

Palace of Congresses in the Kremlin
Palace of Congresses in the Kremlin

In 1955, the Moscow Kremlin reopened its doors to ordinary visitors, and the Museum of Applied Arts and Life of Russia of the 17th century, located in the Patriarch’s Palace, began its work. The last large-scale construction on the territory of the Kremlin was the construction of the Palace of Congresses in 1961, which many modern architects and ordinary Muscovites call “glass against the background of the ancient Kremlin” and consider its construction to be another crime of Soviet power.

Legends of the Moscow Kremlin

Like any ancient historical structure, the Moscow Kremlin has its own secrets, legends associated with it, and often rather dark secrets..

Most of these legends are associated precisely with the underground of the Kremlin. Since their exact map was lost a very long time ago (it may have been destroyed by the builders themselves), many underground passages, corridors and tunnels of the Moscow Kremlin have not yet been fully studied..

For example, searches for the famous library of Ivan the Terrible were resumed several times, but an extensive repository of books and documents of that time has not yet been found. Scientists argue whether the legendary library really existed, whether it burned down during one of the fires that repeatedly raged on the territory of the complex, or is hidden so well that modern archaeologists are unable to find it on the huge square of the Moscow Kremlin.

Most likely, until the 18th century, all the towers and walls of the Kremlin were literally “penetrated” by numerous secret passages and tunnels.

It was during the search for Liberia (as it is customary to call the library of Ivan the Terrible) the archaeologist Shcherbatov in 1894 came across a mysterious underground structure located under the first floor of the Nabatnaya Tower. Trying to examine the found tunnel, the archaeologist got into a dead end, but then he found the same tunnel leading from the Konstantino-Eleninskaya tower.

The archaeologist Shcherbatov also found a secret passage connecting the Nikolskaya Tower with the Uglovaya Arsenalnaya, but in 1920 all the information, photographs taken by the scientist and reports on the discovered passages were classified by the Bolsheviks and became a state secret. It is possible that the new authorities decided to use the Kremlin’s secret passages for their own purposes..

According to scientists, since the Moscow Kremlin was built according to all the rules of fortification of the Middle Ages and was primarily a fortress designed to protect the townspeople from enemy attacks, the Italian architect Fioravanti was built and places for the lower battle and “rumors” – secret corners from which you can was to covertly observe (and eavesdrop) on the enemy. Most likely (it is already quite difficult to collect evidence at the present time), until the 18th century, all the towers and walls of the Kremlin were literally “permeated” by numerous secret passages and tunnels, but then, as unnecessary, most of them were simply walled up and filled up.

By the way, the very name of the Taynitskaya tower clearly indicates that there was a cache under it, there are references to the construction of secret passages and in the annals that recorded the process of erecting towers in the 15th century.

Legends of the Moscow Kremlin
Taynitskaya tower of the Moscow Kremlin

There were rumors about the undergrounds of the Beklemishevskaya Tower, which, by the way, enjoys the most ill fame – it was here that the torture chamber was located, created by order of Ivan the Terrible. In the 19th century, Archpriest Lebedev, who served in the Kremlin for over 45 years, counted 9 holes formed in the arches of various underground structures. It is known about a secret passage leading from Taynitskaya to Spasskaya tower, another secret road leads from Troitskaya to Nikolskaya tower and further to Kitay-gorod.

Beklemishevskaya tower of the Moscow Kremlin
Beklemishevskaya tower of the Moscow Kremlin

And Ignatius Stelletsky, a well-known historian and specialist in “archeology of the underground”, the initiator of the Digger movement in Moscow, intended to go from the Beklemishevskaya tower to the Moscow River, and from the Spasskaya tower directly to the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, and then along the nearby temple descent into a large tunnel under Red Square.

The remains of underground passages were found in various parts of the Moscow Kremlin several times, practically during every reconstruction, but most often such dead ends, sinkholes or vaults were simply walled up or even filled with concrete.

On the eve of his coronation, the ghost of Ivan the Terrible was seen by the Emperor Nicholas II himself, as reported to his wife Alexandra Fedorovna.

The Moscow Kremlin, of course, has its own ghosts. So, in the Commandant’s Tower they saw a disheveled pale woman with a revolver in her hand, in which they allegedly recognized Fanny Kaplan, who was shot by the then Kremlin commandant..

For several centuries, the ghost of this Russian tyrant has been encountered on the lower tiers of the Ivan the Terrible bell tower. By the way, the ghost of Ivan the Terrible also has a crowned witness – on the eve of his coronation, Emperor Nicholas II himself saw him, about which he told his wife Alexandra Fedorovna.

Sometimes the ghost of the Pretender – the False Dmitry executed here, flickers over the battlements of the Moscow Kremlin. The Konstantino-Eleninskaya Tower also enjoys a bad reputation – there was also a torture chamber here in the 17th century and a case of blood drops on the masonry was recorded, which then disappeared by themselves.

Another ghostly inhabitant of the Moscow Kremlin, of course, is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who was seen both in his office and in his former apartment. Yezhov, the well-known associate of Stalin, the head of the NKVD, “visited” his former office … But Joseph Vissarionovich himself was never noted for appearing in the Kremlin after March 5, 1953.

It is not surprising that such an ancient structure, replete with burials, secrets and secret rooms, is of interest not only to archaeologists, scientists and historians, but also to mystics..


If we talk about the Moscow Kremlin only from the point of view of a large-scale complex of buildings, one cannot fail to mention all of its structures.

So, the architectural complex of the Moscow Kremlin includes 20 towers: Taynitskaya, Beklemishevskaya, Blagoveshchenskaya, Vodovzvodnaya, Petrovskaya tower, Borovitskaya, First Nameless, Second Nameless, Konstantino-Yeleninskaya, Nikolskaya, Spasskaya, Uglovaya Arsenalnaya, Nabatnaya, Senatskaya, Sredny Arsenalnaya, Oruzheinaya Commandant, Troitskaya, Tsarskaya and Kutafya.

Each of the towers has its own history and purpose and a special architectural image. The most famous of them is, of course, the Spasskaya Tower with its famous clock, which appeared on the tower erected in 1491 in 1625 according to the project of Christopher Galovey and was subsequently changed and improved several times..

Spasskaya Tower of the Moscow Kremlin
Spasskaya Tower of the Moscow Kremlin

The modern Kremlin chimes were made in 1852 by the Russian watchmakers, the Budenop brothers, in 1917 the clock suffered from a shell hit, and after repairs in 1918, the Internationale began to play, the last chimes were restored in 1999.

The Kremlin complex also includes five squares: Troitskaya, Dvortsovaya, Senatskaya, Ivanovskaya and Sobornaya.

Located on the territory of the Moscow Kremlin and 18 buildings: Church of the Nativity of the Virgin on Seny, Church of the Robe, Assumption Cathedral, Cathedral of the Annunciation, Archangel Cathedral, Palace of Faces, Ivan the Great Bell Tower Ensemble, Terem Palace, Golden Tsaritsina Chamber, Verkhospassky Cathedral and terem churches, Arsenal, Patriarchal Chambers with the Church of the Twelve Apostles, Senate, Amusement Palace, Grand Kremlin Palace, State Kremlin Palace, Armory and Military School named after the All-Russian Central Executive Committee.

It is impossible not to mention such significant objects of the Kremlin, attracting millions of tourists, such as the Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell..

The Tsar Bell is really the largest bell in the world, created back in 1733-1735 by order of Anna Ioanovna, and installed in the Kremlin as a monument to foundry skill. And the Tsar Cannon, with its caliber of 890 millimeters, is still the largest artillery gun on the planet. The gun, weighing 40 tons, did not have to fire a single shot, but it became an excellent decoration for the museum composition of the Moscow Kremlin..

And the Moscow Kremlin itself is rightfully considered the largest on the territory of Europe, a preserved, operating and currently used architectural and historical complex.

The Tsar Bell
The Tsar Bell

At present, the Kremlin is home to the State Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve “Moscow Kremlin”, numerous exhibitions, exhibits and relics of which are available to everyone who wants to see with their own eyes all the beauty and charm of the ancient structure.

Not so long ago, Vladimir Kozhin, the managing director of the President of the Russian Federation, said that even after the expansion of Moscow and the move to new locations of all departments and ministries, the presidential administration and the head of state himself will still remain in the Kremlin. Apparently, the country’s leadership is well aware that it is difficult to find a better place to receive foreign guests and run the state. Yes, and you can’t violate centuries-old traditions …

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