Moscow Kremlin, and on to St Petersburg!
Posted by Lisa Hill on August 28, 2012
Today we visited the Kremlin, home of the bogeymen and heart of the Evil Empire during the Cold War. Kremlin means fortress, and the images of the Soviet Union that we grew up with were of this fortress – these massive stone walls of sombre red; intimidating displays of military hardware that were a powerful allusion to nuclear armaments that threatened world annihilation; endless formations of grim soldiers; and the Soviet leadership basking in their unadulterated power.
Today the Kremlin is full of tourists gawking at the ancient cathedrals that so unexpectedly lie within its walls. In the days of the Tsars, they built these churches and chapels for different purposes – weddings, funerals, private prayers and so on, because even though Ivan the Terrible was a very cruel man and the lust for power had the same effect on some of the female rulers too, they were still very religious and hoped that erecting magnificent churches would absolve their sins.
The complex is much bigger than I had expected. There are buildings from all different periods, including the ugly Stalinist one that confronts the visitor at the entrance. Stalin lived there for a while until his wife committed suicide and then he apparently couldn’t bear it. Putin doesn’t live there either, apparently he has a posh apartment somewhere on the swanky side of town. So it’s just used for administrative purposes.
There are lovely gardens which include a monstrous broken bell commissioned by the Empress Anna and a beautifully decorated cannon, which (like the bell) has never been used. Why something intended to be used to kill a lot of people should have been cast with gorgeous decorations I do not know. It seems rather odd to me…
The Armoury is now a museum full of Russia’s treasures: gowns that belonged to Catherine the Great and other members of the royal family; splendid vestments belonging to the Patriarchs; magnificent carriages; chain mail suits of armour and swords and of course the fabled collection of Faberge Easter eggs. Alas I have no photos of any of these marvels because we weren’t allowed to take any (but I have a souvenir book instead).
The best thing about this whole experience is that it’s a reminder that the world can change. People my age grew up terrified of the Soviets and all that they represented. Visiting Russia was an impossibility for all but diplomats, journalists and spies. And now ordinary people like me can visit as tourists and make friends with ordinary Russians. The new Russia is a symbol of hope which shows that countries and cultures which seem hostile and alien don’t have to stay that way, not if the people will it otherwise.
In the afternoon we said farewell to our wonderful guide Irina who did so much to make our stay interesting and enjoyable, and then took a clean, comfortable, high speed train to St Petersburg. More tomorrow!