The Kremlin

The Russian word kremlin simply means 'citadel', but it has come to be synonymous with the government of Russia and (formerly) the Soviet Union, because Moscow's Kremlin has been a centre of power since at least the 14th century. Within the protection of its triangle of red walls lay the palaces of the nobility, as well as churches and military arsenals. Today, the Kremlin presents a large and intriguing complex, fascinating by day, and magical when floodlit at night.

It began as a wooden fort, built next to the River Moskva (or River Moscow) in 1147, and the city of Moscow grew around it. In the late 15th century Grand Prince Ivan III brought in Italian architects to design many of the 18 fantastical towers that adorn the walls, and to refurbish the churches and palaces. In the early 19th century, the Grand Kremlin Palace was built as the tsar's primary residence in Moscow. Designed in neo-Byzantine style, it was adopted and remodelled by Stalin, it has recently been restored to its original glory; however, in common with the 15th-century Palace of Facets (1487–91, the oldest surviving palace in the Kremlin) and the Terem Palace, these buildings are not generally open to the public.

Most visitors head for the Armoury. Built originally to store arms, was used as a depot for priceless court treasures and became a museum in 1806; the current building dates from the 1840s. It contains a stunning collection of riches: crown jewels, thrones, imperial coaches, arms and armour, uniforms and costumes, extravagant foreign gifts for the tsar, and – most famously – the exquisite and ingenious Fabergé eggs, created for the tsar as Easter gifts for his family. The State Diamond Fund in the Armoury is another treasure store of even more valuable imperial gems and jewellery. It includes Catherine the Great's coronation crown encrusted with more than 5000 diamonds; her imperial sceptre with the famous 190-carat Orlov diamond; a huge gold nugget, and the world's largest sapphire.

There are four onion-domed cathedrals in the Kremlin, three of them in Cathedral Square. The oldest is the Cathedral of the Assumption (or, more properly, the Cathedral of the Dormition). Built in the late 15th century, it was designed by the Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti, who based his scheme on Russian traditions. It is the most important church of the Russian Orthodox Church, and has an ornate, highly decorated and beautifully restored interior. The Cathedral of the Annunciation and Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel, dating mainly from the 16th century, are almost as impressive. The Bell Tower of Ivan the Great (1505–8), rising to it gilded onion dome at 81m (266 ft), was built to serve the three cathedrals; a climb of 329 steps leads to fine views over Moscow.

The smaller but atmospheric Church of the Deposition of the Robe (1484–86) stands behind the Cathedral of the Assumption. The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles is directly linked to the Patriarch's Palace (1640–56), the lavish former home of the leader of Russian Orthodox Church. This now serves as a Museum of 17th-century Life and Applied Arts (furniture, domestic artefacts, textiles and Church paraphernalia), and leads to the cathedral interior. Other notable monuments include the neoclassical Senate Building (1776–88), today the official residence of the Russian President; and the modern State Kremlin Palace, built in 1961, a typically insensitive vestige of the Soviet era that now serves as a 6000-seater performance venue; the huge Tsar Cannon (1586), which never fired; and the huge Tsar Bell (1737), which never rang.

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