Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Tour of the Kremlin in Moscow

The word kremlin means a fortress or a walled town. The earliest walls of the Kremlin were made of earth and wood; the present day brick walls date from the 1490s. Each of the 20 towers has its own history and quirks. The Kremlin covers an area of 27 hectares. Today the visitor entrance is through the Kutafya Tower and then through the Trinity Gate shown behind it.

The guards at the entrance must be 18 years old, 1.8 m tall, with good looking faces and from good families. This is one way of serving the required year of military service, and after this you receive a free university education. Leonid’s wife is a lawyer and he is a school teacher, which qualifies them as a good family. Their son was chosen to have a job in the Kremlin for one year, which is a privilege. You could have your picture taken with the guards, but you’re not allowed to touch them.

The first place we visited was the State Armory Chamber, which became a museum in 1851. Some of the highlights are the royal regalia and thrones, and also the coaches that were used in the long ride between Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is also a section featuring Faberge eggs, precious stones and jewelry that once adorned the tsars and empresses. No photos, please.

The Armory began in the 16th century as a weapons workshop.

Marg was very clever and had asked on the ship which bus Leonid was on, so that we could have him as our guide again today. He is very knowledgeable, forthright with his answers to our questions, patient and funny. Here, he is pointing out the Armoury on the map of the Kremlin.

This is the Borovitskaya Gate Tower, which used to be the service entrance as it was close to grain sheds and stables. You can see the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in the background.

This is only about half of the Grand Kremlin Palace, which has 600 rooms. President Putin should live here, but as with several Presidents before him, he chooses to live outside the Kremlin.

View of the city taken from the Kremlin...

Look at the gleaming domes on the churches...

There are four cathedrals facing each other in the cathedral square. The Church of the Dormition used to be Russia's main cathedral. It was built in 1475-1479 and fragments of the original frescoes remain. This is the cathedral in which all the tsars were crowned. Some of the frescoes are repainted every 30 years after they have dulled.

The Cathedral of the Annunciation was built between 1485-1489. This was the private church of the tsars where they celebrated christenings, weddings and daily prayers. The luxurious royal chambers were linked to the cathedral by special passageways.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower was built as a bell tower for the other cathedrals which did not have belfries. It contains 20 bells, the largest of which weighs 20 tons. It is the tallest building in the Kremlin at 81 m.

This 200 ton Tsar Bell at the foot of the tower is the world's largest bell, cast in 1733-1735. Sadly, it was cracked in a fire before it could be hung; the 11 ton piece that fell out still lies next to it.

Interesting trees...

The Tsar Cannon was also never used. It was cast in 1586 and was intended to fire stone shots, not the iron balls shown here (which is good because they are bigger than the diameter of the cannon). It was made to threaten people.

These cannons were actually used to protect the Kremlin.

This is the Senate and the main office of Putin. The flag is supposed to fly when he is in office, but Leonid commented that it's there all the time.

The State Kremlin Palace or Congress Palace was built during Khrushchev's term (1957-1964) and was used for ceremonial occasions for up to 6000 people. Currently, it is a venue for concerts. Mariah Carey, Cher and Tina Turner have played here, as has Canadian Leonard Cohen. It is a very modern building and nearly half of it (17 m) is below the ground.

Leonid explaining how his son got a job at the Kremlin...

A view of the street between the Congress Palace and the Patriarch's Palace.

And this is why we never got lost with Leonid as our guide. He is very, very specific.

With a bit of free time, I strolled around the Alexander Garden.

This fountain was really neat as you could walk under the jets. You can see the little boy was having a great time, while these two were debating whether to go under it or not.

The three horse fountain...

Sergey, our tour escort from the ship, and Leonid. Sergey has an amazing English vocabulary and is up on all the current pop culture. He sat with us one night at dinner, and kept us laughing with his expressions.

Every day typical traffic getting back to the ship...

When we got back on board, there was a duo performing Russian folk songs. This lady was singing and was accompanied by a guy on the accordion. She was actually pretty good and very enthusiastic.

At last we set sail. At dinner that night, this couple, Andre and Yvonne, overheard us talking and realized we were Maritimers. They came over and told us they used to live in Chatham, New Brunswick as Andre was in the air force. They were a sweet couple and we enjoyed their company over the course of the cruise.

Jim the photographer was having trouble staying focused. We had Russian dance lessons, which was like herding a bunch of cats. Here Sergey looks like he has had just about enough of us. I’m not sure what we’re all doing in the background.

The very hardworking crew...

Over the course of the cruise, we would be going through 20 different locks. The guys decided they wanted to watch us going through the first one. Marg and I...well, we had really had too much of the free wine at dinner. This says it all...

After some intensive days of touring, we get to sleep in tomorrow as we arrive in our first port of Uglich at 6:30 p.m.

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