Monday, 18 July 2011

Inside the Kremlin

Sunday 17th July 2011

On Sunday morning, the weather was dull and it was starting to rain. By the time our coaches had taken us to central Moscow, the rain was sluicing down. The raincoat I’d packed in England as an afterthought worked very well, but I soon discovered that my leather shoes were not quite as watertight as I’d believed. We walked through the gardens in the shadow of the Kremlin wall to reach the tower through which we were going to enter. A lengthy queue was already waiting.

After a few minutes, people started to be admitted and it wasn’t too long before we were inside one of the buildings within the Kremlin, in the dry. The word ‘Kremlin’ refers to any fortified area within a town, rather similar to an English castle. The Moscow Kremlin wall is two kilometres long, enclosing a substantial area with room for armouries, palaces and cathedrals. The part of the building we’d been admitted to was a rather gloomy affair with a cloakroom and shop. Washrooms were nearby. When our flock had been collected together, we moved outside (remaining within the Kremlin grounds), walked a few yards along a pavement and re-entered by another door leading to the State Armoury Chamber. A sign on this door clarified that the museum has four opening sessions during the day (rather charmingly referred to as ‘seances’ on the notice on the deoor). The sessions were 10:00 – 11:30, 12:00 – 13:30, 14:30 – 16:00 and 16:30 – 18:00. We were clearly part of the 10 o’clock contingent.

We started on the upper floor passing through a series of high-ceilinged exhibition rooms each containing huge glazed display cabinets. Each cabinet held myriad artefacts representing Russia’s history. Gold, silver and porcelain pieces, armour and weapons – soon the mind was reeling. On the lower level, we found costumes and dresses displayed and a collection of carriages. Viewing conditions were not ideal, because there seemed to be a few hundred visitors vying for the limited space. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside the museum.

It was raining quite hard as we emerged from the Armoury Building and followed the pavement leading uphill. The imposing Great Kremlin Palace lay on our left and, because we were on the high ground, on our right we could see over the Kremlin wall and view the grey waters of the Moscow River and the classically-styled buildings on the opposite bank. As continued our walk in the rain, we passed the Annunciation Cathedral on our left, white-painted and its multiple golden domes, each carrying an elaborate cross. We turned left, to head for the central square, placing the Annunciation Cathedral on our left and the Archangel Michael Cathedral on our right. Ahead of us lay the Assumption Cathedral, white-painted and with gilded domes topped with crosses but also decorated with scaffolding because of restoration work.

We visited the Archangel Michael Cathedral, the small Church of the Deposition of the Holy Robe and the Assumption Cathedral. We made a brief tour of the special exhibition of the work of Karl Faberge and similar craftsmen.

It was still raining when we looked at the Tsar Bell which, at over 200 tons, claims to be the largest in the world, displayed together with the 11-ton broken piece. This allows Burma to claim that the Mingun Bell is the largest 'uncracked bell' in the world (see my article 'Back to Mandalay'). In Moscow, the huge clapper for the cracked bell is on display. Russians call the clapper the bell's 'tongue'. We also looked at the huge Tsar Cannon, built to show the abilities of the Russian ironfounders. On our way to the gate, we paused at the modern State Kremlin Palace. This was built in the Khrushchev era, using a concrete and aluminium construction technique which did not become established. This massive building, seating 6,000, is now in occasional use as a concert hall. Just before we left the Kremlin, a range of buildings on the left, surmounted by a curious church, was identified as the part of the Kremlin where Stalin lived. After a few more minutes walk in the rain we rejoined the coaches for the journey back to the ship, wet but after a fascinating experience. After a shower and a change of damp clothes, I took lunch at 1.30 p.m.

Click for my pictures 'Inside the Kremlin'.