I always knew that the Kremlin was a place and I assumed it was a particular building in Moscow, perhaps the residence of the Russian (or Soviet) Head of State, like our White House is the residence of our President. I was wrong; it is much more than that.

According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, a “kremlin” is

[a] central fortress in medieval Russian cities, usually located at a strategic point along a river and separated from the surrounding parts of the city by a … wall with ramparts, a moat, towers and battlements … [that] generally contained cathedrals, palaces for princes and bishops, governmental offices, and munition stores.

Yep, that’s a perfect description of the Kremlin in Moscow, as you can see from this map on which I have sketched the route of our tour with Ludmila on our final day in Moscow:

When capitalized, the word “Kremlin” refers specifically to the kremlin in Moscow which, since 1918, has been the seat of power and the capital of the Russian and Soviet governments. Our walk through the Kremlin was rushed because we had a plane to catch for St. Petersburg in the early afternoon.

Upon our arrival at the Kremlin, we waited in line at the Kutafiya Tower near the Metro station while Ludmila purchased entry tickets. Once through the gate, we stopped briefly at the Arsenal to look at the cannons left behind by Napoleon when he abandoned Moscow in 1812; supposedly, there are 800 of them.

We then walked along the main street, passing the Presidential Palace, although the current president, Vladimir Putin, who has been in power (though not always as President) for 16 years now, does not live here. He does work here, however, arriving by helicopter, and his presence is signified by the flying of a flag above the Presidential Palace.

Nor did many of Putin’s predecessors live here either, although Joseph Stalin did for a time, right there on the second floor, the two windows on the left:

The biggest cannon in the Kremlin is not one left by Napoleon, it is the “Tsar Cannon,” forged in St.Petersburg in 1586. It appears to me to have been made simply for looks, not for use.

With a bore of nearly 3 feet (890 mm), but a barrel only 17 1/2 feet long, this 40-ton behemoth was more of a mortar than anything else, probably incapable of being moved to anywhere that it would have been useful in battle. At any rate, it was never fired, but if it had been, it would have been loaded with grapeshot, not the 1-ton cannonballs depicted in the photo which are just for show.

And speaking of big, take a look at the biggest bell in the world, the “Tsar Bell.” Again, an item manufactured more for looks than use. It was cast in a pit very near to where it currently sits. Weighing more than 200 tons, it was too heavy to raise into the adjacent bell tower. In fact, it was never hung or rung because as the final inscriptions and decorations where being made to it, a fire broke out in the temporary structure holding the Tsar Bell and workers threw water on the fire and the bell, which caused the bell to crack, resulting in a 23,000 lb. chunk of it breaking off.

But it’s not really a problem, the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and Assumption Church Belfry already had a sufficient number of bells.

We continued our walk past the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the Cathedral of the Archangel to the central square of the Kremlin, Cathedral Square, in front of which I took the photo below of the Cathedral of the Dormiton, also known as the Assumption Cathedral, the “mother church” of Russian Orthodox Moscow. Even when the Imperial capital was in St. Petersburg, the coronations of the Russian Tsars took place here, the last being the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsaritsa Alexandra in 1896, the final Russian monarchs – they and their children were subsequently executed in 1918, most likely on the order of Lenin. Today, Cathedral Square is used on occassion for the inauguration ceremony of the Russian President.

Behind me was the Cathedral of the Annunciation, historically the personal chapel of the Tsar and his family, used for weddings and baptisms. It is connected to the main building of the Grand Kremlin Palace, the Tsars’ residence, which you can see peaking out behind it.

We were running short on time, so we headed toward the exit at the Borovitskaya Tower, walking past the Grand Kremlin Palace (on the right in the photo, below) on our way out.

As we approached the exit, we could see off in the distance one of the seven “Stalin Skyscrapers” of Moscow, this one, I think, being the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We passed another skyscraper on our way to the airport, this time, Vnukovo Airport, and I was able to take the photo below as we sped by, although as I look at it now, I think it might be a knock-off. The original seven humongous buildings were constructed during Stalin’s tenure, between 1947 and 1953, and this one looks a little newer.

It was a whirlwind tour of Moscow, but we got a pretty good feel of the place, thanks to our tour guides. Now it’s time to relax. We’re on our way to St. Petersburg, a place we’ve previously visited, for a more leisurely self-guided tour.

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