Moscow in Photos: 12 Reasons We Love Red Square and The Kremlin

Moscow in Photos: 12 Reasons We Love Red Square and The Kremlin

Years after they’ve visited Russia, travelers to Moscow often recall the spine-tingling chill and thrill of seeing UNESCO-listed Red Square and the Kremlin for the very first time: massive, iconic, and inextricably linked to Russia’s history, politics, and religion.

It’s typically the first place visitors see in Moscow, drawn to the multi-colored onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, constructed during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. The adjacent golden-domed Kremlin was once the seat of Russian Orthodox power; today it’s the seat of Russia’s political power and official residence of the country’s president.

Golden onion domes of Annunciation Cathedral glisten brilliantly inside Moscow's Kremlin walls <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

Golden onion domes of Annunciation Cathedral glisten brilliantly inside Moscow’s Kremlin walls
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Here are a dozen photo-filled reasons why we love Russia’s treasured UNESCO-listed Red Square and Kremlin, starting near St. Basil’s and moving clockwise, followed by the Kremlin sights.

 

GUM Department Store (right) and the State Historical Museum (red brick) line immense Red Square<br /> The very center of Red Square is '0 Kilometer,' from which all roads emanate <br />  Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

GUM Department Store (right) and the State Historical Museum (red brick) line immense Red Square
The very center of Red Square is ‘0 Kilometer,’ from which all roads emanate
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

1. “Beautiful” Red Square

Moscow’s Red Square is immense: about the length and width of an American football field, with the capital city’s main streets originating and branching out from it. Depending on how you translate it from Russian, Red Square ­– “Krasnaya Ploshchad” – is either red, or beautiful. To many, it’s definitely both.

The dual ancient meanings aptly describe this historic brick square where Russian czars, Soviet leaders, and Soviet parades displayed military might. Red Square first served as a 16th century marketplace, then a gathering place for ceremonies, coronations, parades, and even executions.

A walk through Red Square at night is a must, with its historic buildings awash in lights Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

A walk through Red Square at night is a must, with its historic buildings awash in lights
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

During Soviet times, Red Square was the site of military parades and displays of war machinery, vivid reminders of the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution, and the beginning of 70 years of Soviet rule. Who was in and who was out of the lineup of leaders watching the spectacle from atop Lenin’s Mausoleum was once the stuff of Cold War speculation.

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Today Red Square is the site of rock concerts, cultural performances, and even horse competitions. If you visit in winter, a large part of Red Square is transformed into Russia’s largest ice-skating rink, while on New Year’s Eve, Red Square lights up with fireworks and festivities.

  • Tip:  If possible, visit Red Square several times – first in early morning when the city is waking up and it’s easier to imagine what life was like centuries ago. Visit later when buildings and stores are open, and finally return in the evening when Red Square is lit up, creating a nearly magical atmosphere.

 

St. Basil's Cathedral has weathered hundreds of seasons in Moscow's Red Square <br>Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

St. Basil’s Cathedral has weathered hundreds of seasons in Moscow’s Red Square
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

2. St. Basil’s Cathedral

More than 200 feet tall, the iconic, larger-than-life onion-domed St. Basil’s Cathedral was built by a larger-than-life Russian ruler: Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate his 1552 military victory over the Tatars in Kazan. A persistent legend is that Ivan the Terrible blinded the cathedral’s chief architect so he never again would build anything as beautiful as St. Basil’s, with its nine chapels and riotous colors and domes.

Just outside St. Basil's stands the 1818 monument to 'Citizen Minin and Prince Pozharsky, Grateful Russia' for their heroics in liberating Moscow in 1612 <br>Photo credit: Douglas Grimes</br>

Just outside St. Basil’s stands the 1818 monument to “Citizen Minin and Prince Pozharsky, Grateful Russia” for their heroics in liberating Moscow in 1612
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Bright colors and details were added to St. Basil's Cathedral over a 200-year period Photo credit: Julia Dudley

Bright colors and details were added to St. Basil’s Cathedral over a 200-year period
Photo credit: Julia Dudley

The interiors of the chapels inside St. Basil’s are richly decorated in icons and frescoes, with depictions of the czar’s royal family and feats as well as Biblical scenes, along with religious motifs such as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – paired with Ivan the Terrible’s victorious entry into Kazan.

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Snowfall in Red Square dusts the domes of St. Basil's Cathedral Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Snowfall in Red Square dusts the domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

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If you’re lucky you might hear ancient sacred songs sung a capella, echoing off walls inside the towers.

  • Tip: Check out Lobnoye Mesto, a 16th-century platform in front of St. Basil’s where Ivan the Terrible once issued his decrees, and where religious ceremonies took place. The Czar Cannon once stood here; today it’s located inside the Kremlin grounds.

In Soviet times, only heads of state and top government officials could use the Spasskaya Tower gate, leading into the Kremlin grounds<br>Photo credit: James Beers</br>

In Soviet times, only heads of state and top government officials could use the Spasskaya Tower gate, leading into the Kremlin grounds
Photo credit: James Beers

3. Spasskaya Tower and Chimes

Built in 1491, this star-topped tower is best known for its clock and “Kremlin chimes,” which keep Moscow time. The gate below the tower was once the official entrance to the Kremlin, where Politburo officials and Soviet leaders passed through.

Spasskaya Tower chimes ring out beneath a five-pointed red star, a ubiquitous communist symbol in the former Soviet Union<br>Photo credit: James Beers</br>

Spasskaya Tower chimes ring out beneath a five-pointed red star, a ubiquitous communist symbol in the former Soviet Union
Photo credit: James Beers

  • Tip: Don’t leave Red Square without listening to the “Kremlin chimes,” in full on the hour, in part each quarter-hour. Each set of chimes is progressively longer every 15 minutes as it moves closer to the hour.

 

Built in 1924, the smooth, shiny marble of Lenin's Mausoleum reflects buildings and crowds in Red Square <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

Built in 1924, the smooth, shiny marble of Lenin’s Mausoleum reflects buildings and crowds in Red Square
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

 4. Lenin’s Mausoleum

It’s a walk back into history, stepping down two floors into the darkened tomb past the embalmed body of Communist icon and Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The Bolshevik Revolution leader died in 1924; his body has been on display for more than 90 years. Some say it’s time to bury Lenin, but the symbolism of such a move has kept officials from taking action.  Even today – more than two decades since its dissolution – there’s a fond nostalgia for the former Soviet Union and for its first leader, with Lenin signs and statues scattered around the old U.S.S.R.

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Back in the U.S.S.R. days, Russian citizens and foreign visitors often stood for hours in long, winding lines to pay their respect to Lenin; today it’s typically a far shorter wait. As you step deeper and deeper inside Lenin’s black marble mausoleum, soldiers stand nearby to keep the lines moving past Lenin’s sealed bulletproof-glass sarcophagus, reminding visitors to be quiet and respectful. Even today it’s a guessing game whether the Lenin on display is truly his embalmed body, or a wax replica.

  • Tip: No photos or videos are allowed; typically visitors must check their cameras, smartphones, and other equipment before passing through a security check for the Lenin Mausoleum. Although there is no longer the famous goose-stepping “changing of the guard” ceremony, you can view it on the hour at the nearby Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Eternal Flame.

 

 

Flanking Lenin's mausoleum is the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, with tombs, statues, and plaques of Soviet leaders and famous Communists <br>Photo credit: Douglas Grimes</br>

Flanking Lenin’s mausoleum is the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, with tombs, statues and plaques of Soviet leaders and famous Communists
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

5. Kremlin Wall Necropolis

One of the highest posthumous honors in the former Soviet Union was to be buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. Surrounding Lenin’s tomb, this is where Soviet leaders, Russian notables, and two Americans are buried. The first burials in the wall began in 1917; today nearly 100 prominent figures in Soviet politics and Russian history are interred here, including Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, as well as cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and American journalist John Reed.

  • Tip: Look for the names of several women in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, including Nadezhda Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife), Marina Raskova (Soviet pilot), Rosalia Zemlyachka (Russian revolutionary), and German Clara Zetkin (Socialist activist and Communist leader).

 

The fire for Moscow's Eternal Flame was lit from the eternal flame in St. Petersburg's Field of Mars; it has never been extinguished <br>Photo credit: James Beers</br>

The fire for Moscow’s Eternal Flame was lit from the eternal flame in St. Petersburg’s Field of Mars; it has never been extinguished
Photo credit: James Beers

6. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Eternal Flame

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Eternal Flame are sober reminders of Soviet wars and losses, and the most famous war memorial in the former Soviet Union. Created to honor those killed in World War II (known as the Great Patriotic War), the memorial opened in the 1911s for the 25th anniversary victory over Nazi troops in the Battle of Moscow.  It is considered a sacred place by many Russians; approach it with respect.

Russia observes the 'Day of the Unknown Soldier' every December 3rd, the anniversary of the Battle of Moscow victory <br>Photo credit: James Beers</br>

Russia observes the ‘Day of the Unknown Soldier’ every December 3rd, the anniversary of the Battle of Moscow victory
Photo credit: James Beers

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is simply displayed with a soldier’s helmet resting atop a banner and laurel branch, a universal symbol of both victory and peace.  The unknown soldier’s remains were brought from a mass burial site on the outskirts of Moscow and interred in 1966, on the 25th anniversary of that WWII victory. Beneath the Eternal Flame star is a Russian inscription reading “Your name is unknown; your act of bravery immortal.” 

The ceremonial changing of the guard has been a Red Square tradition for decades Photo credit: James Beers

The ceremonial changing of the guard has been a Red Square tradition for decades
Photo credit: James Beers

The metronome-like precision of the ceremonial changing of the guard takes place on the hour, from morning to evening. This popular ceremony was first located at the Lenin Mausoleum, but banished by President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 as a leftover of communism. In 1997, a presidential decree added the Kremlin (Presidential) Regiment honor guard and their goose-stepping ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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  • Tip: Look for the low wall of names inscribed with the 12 “Hero Cities” (and 1 “Hero-Fortress”) of the Soviet Union, honored for their bravery and sacrifice in World War II. Soil from the battleground of each city is encapsulated into the memorial blocks. The wall is located to the right of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Eternal Flame.

 

The vast State Historical Museum is opposite St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

The vast State Historical Museum is opposite St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square
Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

7. State Historical Museum

This 1881 red brick building traces Russian history from earliest times to the present. The museum’s vast collection – more than four million pieces – includes Novgorod birch bark scrolls, Russian ceramics, Scythian gold finds, and manuscripts dating back 1,000 years, along with nearly two million coins – Russia’s largest coin collection.

  • Tip: If you don’t have a tour guide, rent an audioguide or use a travel book; much of the museum’s information is in Russian.

 

Stalin demolished the original Kazan Cathedral, ostensibly impeding the flow of military parades in Red Square Photo credit: Helen Holter

Stalin demolished the original Kazan Cathedral, ostensibly impeding the flow of military parades in Red Square
Photo credit: Helen Holter

8. Kazan Cathedral

This pink-and-white gold-domed structure near Resurrection Gate is a replica of the 1636 Russian Orthodox Church destroyed by Stalin during Soviet times. Reconstructed, reconsecrated, and re-opened in 1993, Kazan’s bell tower peals complex rhythms, an audible souvenir from one of Moscow’s most important and historic cathedrals

Listen to the mesmerizing sound of these bells:

  • Tip: Pause just inside the church in the tiny Iberian Chapel, where royalty once prayed. As in most churches, no photos are allowed inside.

 

Humans add perspective to the size of GUM; at 111 feet it's longer than two American football fields Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

Humans add perspective to the size of GUM; at 111 feet it’s longer than two American football fields
Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

9. GUM Department Store

This is not your mother’s GUM, the one from Soviet days. Built in 1893 with striking glass and steel architecture, that GUM was Russia’s first enclosed shopping mall with galleries, arcades and bridges – and very, very long lines, Soviet style. GUM originally was the abbreviation for “State Universal Store,” but after the fall of the Soviet Union was renamed “Main Universal Store,” with the same initials.

Today GUM (pronounced “goom”) is privately owned with several hundred stores, many selling high-end luxury clothing, top-tier cosmetics, and handcrafted jewelry – a striking contrast from days of simpler proletarian needs such as boots, beets, and belts.

GUM's elongated shopping galleries contained 1,200 stores before the 1917 Russian Revolution Photo credit: Helen Holter

GUM’s elongated shopping galleries contained 1,200 stores before the 1917 Russian Revolution
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Soviet service once renowned for surliness, these Stolovaya 57 workers cheerfully take orders for Russian comfort food <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter</br>

Soviet service once renowned for surliness, these Stolovaya 57 workers cheerfully take orders for Russian comfort food
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Take a step back into Soviet times and popular Soviet nostalgia with a stop by Stolovaya 57(Cafeteria 57) on the third floor. This replica of a 1950s proletarian cafeteria serves up Russian comfort food like beef stroganoff and thick, spicy soup called solyanka, along with delicious pastries and espresso.

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  • Tip: For more Soviet nostalgia, head to Section 100 on the top floor where there once was a secret clothing store for Communist Party elites. Then head downstairs to the decadent Soviet-era store, Gastronome No. 1, which opened in 1953 in the Khrushchev era. Today it’s a foodie haven filled with an alluring bakery, chocolates, and fine wines.

 

[Note: Unlike Red Square, which is free to enter, there are fees to enter the Kremlin grounds, cathedrals, and Armory Museum.]

Built in 1489 and located near the Kremlin Grand Palace and Armory, the Cathedral of the Annunciation is the site of Ivan the Terrible's coronation; his clothing and throne are on display in the ArmoryPhoto credit: Marina Arkhipova

Built in 1489 and located near the Kremlin Grand Palace and Armory, the Cathedral of the Annunciation is the site of Ivan the Terrible’s coronation; his clothing and throne are on display in the Armory
Photo credit: Marina Arkhipova

10. Kremlin Palace and Cathedrals

As seasons and centuries pass, the Kremlin views are unchanging. Built next to 14th-century Kremlin churches, the 700-room Grand Kremlin Palace – home to the Russian czars – and Armory overlooks the Moscow River. In Russian, “kremlin” means “fortress” or “citadel.” Although many cities and towns have their own kremlin, none is as magnificent or steeped in history as Moscow’s Kremlin.

Summertime views of the 14th-century Kremlin Palace and churches from the Moscow River <br>Photo credit: Arthur Barrett</br>

Summertime views of the 14th-century Kremlin Palace and churches from the Moscow River
Photo credit: Arthur Barrett

The original wooden kremlin was built on the 12th-century site of Prince Yuri Dolgoruky’s hunting lodge. The Kremlin we see today was first constructed in the 15th century, with its thick red-brick walls towering from 26 to more than 11 feet tall.

The main Kremlin grounds of Cathedral Square are aptly named, lined with the main Annunciation, Assumption, and Archangel cathedrals, along with several smaller churches.

The coronation of Russia's first czar, Ivan the Terrible, took place in the Cathedral of the Assumption in 1547 Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

The coronation of Russia’s first czar, Ivan the Terrible, took place in the Cathedral of the Assumption in 1547
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Main entrance to the Kremlin's Cathedral of the AssumptionPhoto credit: Jenelle Birnbaum

Main entrance to the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Assumption
Photo credit: Jenelle Birnbaum

First built in the early 1500s, the Cathedral of the Archangel contains more than 11 tombs of Moscow's rulers, including Ivan the TerriblePhoto credit: Michel Behar

First built in the early 1500s, the Cathedral of the Archangel contains more than 11 tombs of Moscow’s rulers, including Ivan the Terrible
Photo credit: Michel Behar

In these royal holy places Russia’s czars, empresses and royal families were baptized, worshiped, and married; where their coronations were held; where their funerals took place; and – for several dozen – where they were laid to rest.

More than 150 artists painted the frescoes of Kremlin's Assumption Cathedral, including these Biblical scenes under the arches<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

More than 150 artists painted the frescoes of Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral, including these Biblical scenes under the arches
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Golden onion domes and crosses top the Kremlin's Church of the Nativity, first constructed in 1393 Photo credit: Marina Arkhipova

Golden onion domes and crosses top the Kremlin’s Church of the Nativity, first constructed in 1393
Photo credit: Marina Arkhipova

  • Tip: In the Cathedral of the Annunciation, look for icons made by Andrei Rublev, considered Russia’s greatest icon painter.  Also look for the burial vault and tombs of Ivan the Terrible and his sons in Cathedral of the Archangel.

 

One of Catherine the Great's largest and most ornate royal carriages, displayed in the Kremlin ArmoryPhoto credit: Mark Stephenson

One of Catherine the Great’s largest and most ornate royal carriages, displayed in the Kremlin Armory
Photo credit: Mark Stephenson

11. Kremlin Armory Museum

Once producing and storing weapons, this prestigious 200-year-old museum today displays treasures of the Kremlin, among them Fabergé Imperial eggs, Russian icons and artwork, crown jewels, Catherine the Great’s ball gowns, equestrian saddlery, and even staggeringly oversized royal carriages, Cinderella-style.  For more details and photos on this museum, read MIR’s story, Russia’s Royal Treasures in Photos: Kremlin Armory Museum.

The Bouquet of Lilies Clock egg is one of the largest in the Fabergé collection; it was an 1899 Easter gift from Tsar Nicholas II to his wife, Empress Alexandra FedorovnaPhoto credit: Mark Stephenson

The Bouquet of Lilies Clock egg is one of the largest in the Fabergé collection; it was an 1899 Easter gift from Czar Nicholas II to his wife, Empress Alexandra
Photo credit: Mark Stephenson

  • Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to visit the Armory. It can get crowded – especially at the Fabergé Imperial egg display – but is well worth the wait.

Cannons were among the Kremlin Armory's arsenal, including the famous 1586 Czar Cannon Photo credit: Arthur Barrett

Cannons were among the Kremlin Armory’s arsenal, including the famous 1586 Czar Cannon
Photo credit: Arthur Barrett

12. Czar Cannon and Czar Bell

Near the Armory Museum, the Czar Cannon is a favorite photo op on the Kremlin grounds. Weighing nearly 11 tons,this massive piece of artillery equipment is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest cannon in the world, with each cannon ball weighing one ton. Yet, Czar Cannon has never been used in wartime.

The 1586 bronze cannon was carefully crafted by Russia's master cannon maker, Andrei ChokhovPhoto credit: Jenelle Birnbaum

The 1586 bronze cannon was carefully crafted by Russia’s master cannon maker, Andrei Chokhov
Photo credit: Jenelle Birnbaum

It’s said that the cannon was created simply to scare off foreign enemies, and had no practical use. The cannon had earlier been moved to other locations, including Lobnoye Mesto at St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Cast in 1735, the Tsar Bell has encountered disaster after disaster, including this massive breakPhoto credit: Martin Klimenta

Cast in 1735, the Czar Bell has encountered disaster after disaster, including this massive break
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

It’s hard to miss the nearby Czar Bell, the largest and heaviest in the world, more than 20 feet tall and weighing more than 200 tons. Yet, like the Czar Cannon never used in war, the Czar Bell has never been rung.

More than 200 craftsmen created the Czar Bell, adding details such as this relief of Russia's Czar Alexei<br>Photo credit: Jonathan Irish</br>

More than 200 craftsmen created the Czar Bell, adding details such as this relief of Russia’s Czar Alexei
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

The bronze bell broke in 1737 when a fire spread on the Kremlin grounds; the wooden supports holding the bell caught fire, heating the bell. Guards threw cold water on it, creating multiple cracks. An 11-ton piece broke off, which today is displayed next to the bell.

  • Tip: Look for intricate designs cast into the bell, such as angels, saints, plants and vines, as well as reliefs of Czar Alexei and Empress Anna, who ordered the bell’s creation.

 

 Explore Russia’s Red Square and Kremlin with MIR

Many of MIR’s tours to Russia include a memorable visit to Moscow’s famed Red Square and Kremlin, where you can sense Russian and Soviet history in every step you take. You can also book a hand-crafted, custom private journey based on your interests and timeline. MIR’s knowledgable guides offer unique perspectives and insider information that only an on-the-ground local would know, making your journey utterly unique and unforgettable.

The view by night leading into Red Square, with St. Basil's Cathedral in the background Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

The view by night leading into Red Square 
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

MIR tour options include:

Small Group Tours

 

Rail Journeys by Private Train

 

Independent Private Trip

MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience to Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

Contact MIR today at [email protected] or 1-111-111-1111.

 

(Top photo: Red Square is the heart of Moscow, the symbol of Russia. Photo credit: Kelly Tissier)

PUBLISHED: June 27, 2017

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