Russia: Moscow

The Moscow Kremlin

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Kremlin: History (1)
 
 

The Moscow Kremlin is the Russian national sanctuary and a unique creation of world culture. The unquenchable interest in the history of the Kremlin, in its architectural masterpieces and artistic valuables in its possession is quite justifiable: History willed it that a modest Slav settlement in the backwoods of the Vladimir principality grew into a center of north-east Rus and later became the capital of the biggest state in medieval Europe.

The images of art and culture of Old Rus ruled by princes and tsars, of the two centuries’ old Russian Empire, of the Soviet decades-its past and present days-are to be found in the Moscow Kremlin to the present day.

The Moscow Kremlin stands on the left bank of the Moscow River, where it joins the Neglinnaya River. Geographically, it stands on a high ridge, at a watershed between the two rivers. Its lower bank terrace-podol-is organically linked to the lower part of Kitay-Gorod-Zaryadye.

The area occupied by the Kremlin within the limits of the fortified walls is 27.5 hectares. The “Kremlin riverside hill”, as it was called in olden days, is 25m high. In all probability this hill took its new name from the pinewoods (Bor), which covered the hill. It is noteworthy that in the explanatory notes to Godunov’s draft on the Kremlin the Borovitsky gate were called “The High Forest Gate”.

The outline of the Kremlin is an irregular triangle. It stretches 676 meters from west to east and 639 meters from north-west to south-east.

The Kremlin was artificially separated from the center of Moscow in the early 16th century when its fortifications had been built and the Alevisio moat along Red Square had been dug out.

There are quite a few poetic legends and tales rooted in the Kremlin’s history. such as a legend about the hermit Bukol whose hut stood in the backwoods on a hill or another one about the famous boyar Kuchka, whose “good and red” villages caught the fancy of the future founder of Moscow.

The early Kremlin settlement appeared as the center of crafts and trade owing to its extremely advantageous geographic position: it lay at the crossroads of trade routes and waterways meeting at the foot of the hill. The rivers and the encircling forest turned the settlement into a natural fortress. In olden times a Slav tribe of Pagan Vyatichis lived there and Moscow became one of the centers of Christianisation of this woodland area.

In the early period of its history Moscow and the Kremlin are inseparable. According to the chronicles, they came into being in 1147 when Yuri, nicknamed Dolgoruky (long armed), the son of the Kievan prince Vladimir Monomach, invited his ally prince Svyatoslav Olgovich to a feast to Moscow, on his return from a military campaign.

However, as the well-known expert in Slavonic studies, historian and archeologist I.E.Zabelin noted, “The Moscow and namely the Kremlin settlement had been founded long before the prince Ryurik’s tribe appeared in those parts.” This hypothesis was confirmed by archeological excavations at Borovitsky hill. Since olden days people sought to find-hidden treasures and Ivan the Terrible’s famous library here. Expeditions organized by the Institute of Archaeology of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Moscow’s History marked the beginning of purposeful scientific studies, which are now being carried on by the Moscow Kremlin State Museum. With every passing year scientific data on the history of the growth of the Kremlin settlement and the rise of Moscow become more extensive and more reliable.

Borovitsky Hill bears the imprints of various epochs. One of the most interesting archaeological finds is a stone battle axe dating back to the late 3rd-the middle of the 2nd millennia B.C. Similar axes are often found in the mounds of the Bronze Age.

At the beginning of the 1st millennium A.C., a fortified settlement typical of the archaeological culture of the early Iron Age situated here.

The main part of the archaeological collection displayed in one of the Kremlin museums is compiled of artifacts of medieval material culture.

Archaeology, this mysterious mother of history, enables us to get a clear idea of the first wooden town, the life of the first Kremlin settlers, the techniques of major urban crafts, trade ties, fashions and decorations.

The first fortified wooden settlement of the Kremlin mentioned in chronicles dates from 1156. The remnants of its walls are among the most valuable archaeological finds.

The Kremlin wooden buildings often suffered from devastating fires, enemy attacks and natural calamities. Thus, the Kremlin was totally destroyed in the first third of the 13th century, a tragic period in the history of Rus when the Mongol-Tatar hordes attacked in with fire and sword pillaging and ravaging the Russian lands. For nearly 250 years the Mongol-Tatar yoke wasted the soul of the Russian people who prevented the Tatars from moving to Europe. At that time, Moscow was a sort of suburb of the capital town of Vladimir and the Kremlin, with its court yard, mansions and subsidiary buildings, old churches and necropolis, was a frontier post in the outlying districts of the Vladimir principality. Out of all the towns in the Vladimir land, the Moscow bridgehead was the first one where the nomad hordes delivered a crushing blow. The Kremlin was razed to the ground. It noteworthy that during the Mongol-Tatar campaign against Europe only one out of the six Mongol princes who led the invaders’ army perished and his blood was spilt on the very approaches to the Kremlin. Owing to our ancestors’ resources, industry, patience and courage, Moscow and the Kremlin were restored to life “as the legendary phoenix raised out of the ashes”. These words belong to M.Y. Lermontov who handed down a poetic description of the Kremlin to his descendants.

The treasures buried eight centuries ago and found by archaeologists remind us of the severe ordeals undergone by the Kremlin. Today these treasures are part of the Golden Fund of Early Russian art.

In the 14th century Moscow appeared in the arena of world history. The town grew and became richer. In 1339, Prince Ivan Kalita enclosed the Kremlin within a new circle of oak walls and transformed it into a formidable fortress. This is one of the glowing descriptions of the contemporaries:  “… the town of Moscow is great and beautiful, there are many people possessing riches and fame here… and this is part of the Russian land…” It was during this period of its history that the Kremlin (“Kremnik” meaning “fortress”) was first mentioned in Russian chronicles. And the “town of the Kremlin” was first mentioned in the Voskresensky chronicle in 1331.

It is worth nothing that as distinct from the chroniclers the memorializes of the late 15th-early 17th centuries never used the word “Kremlin” but instead called it “the Castle”, “the Fortress” and since the late 16th century- “The Old Town”.

The long rule of Ivan III (1462-1505) was divided into two historical periods: in 1462-1480 he joined vast territories of the Great Novgorod, the Rostov Principality and the Dmitrov appendage principality to Moscow. The unification of the Russian lands around Moscow was completed in 1481-1505. The development of an all-Russian statehood and the growth of Russia’s international prestige were supported by an official ideology which regarded the Russian state as a legitimate successor to the greatest world empires- Roman and Byzantine, and Moscow as the “Third Rome”.

The fact that Moscow took the lead of this all-Russian process of unifying separate principalities into an integral centralized state could not but improve its appearance. More and more often written sources mention stone-built dwelling houses in the Moscow Kremlin. From the 1360s to 1420s alone, Moscow masons built 15 stone buildings.

The Kremlin’s increasing national importance also influenced the development of its architectural tradition. Herein lies the basis of the formation of the Kremlin architectural ensemble. The foundations of the state and administrative center were laid. White-stone walls were built under Dmitry Donskoy in 1367-1368 and provided reliable protection for it.

These walls were the first stone fortifications in Vladimir-Suzdal Rus, a real step in the development of the Moscow school of architecture. The fortress successfully withstood both sieges of Lithuanian Prince Olgerd’s armies in 1368 and 1370. The Russian forces were headed by Moscow. The Kremlin stronghold secured its rear and enabled them to attack the Golden Horde and gain a glorious victory at the Kulikovo Field in 1380, thus saving Rus from national humiliation.

In the process of restoring the walls and towers specifically cut white-stone quad roes were found but it did not seem possible to study the constructive peculiarities of early masonry.

Unfortunately, we know nothing about the architecture of walls and towers in the days of Dmitry Donskoy. The historian V.L. Snegirev concluded that their style was similar to that of Byzantine. Five towers out of eight or nine were gate-towers; three of them faced Red Square. White stone mined near the village of Myachkovo in the vicinity of Moscow served as the building material.

Not far from Dmitry Donskoy’s golden-roofed palace stood the Cathedral of the Savior of Transfiguration in the forest built by Ivan Kalita back in 1330. Later, a monastery was set up here. The Spassky (Saviour’s) Cathedral became a burial place for the grand Princesses. Other monasteries began to appear, among them the Chudov (Miracles) monastery founded in 1358 and the Voznesensky (Ascension) convent, founded in 1386. A stone Cathedral of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael was erected in 1365. Although the first monuments of the early Moscow stone architecture were closely tied in with the Vladimir-Suzdal architectural tradition, they were not a direct continuation of it. A type of small single-domed churches with a cross on top decorated with Kokoshnik-shaped Ogee gables and carved friezes on the facades, which took shape on the basis of the Vladimir model, underlay the further development of Moscow architecture. The overland parts of those buildings have not survived. Therefore it is all the more important to study their basements (Podklets), various archaeological finds and written sources.

The best Russian and Greek painters (among them the famous painter Theophanus the Greek) took part in painting and decorating the first Moscow churches. Icon –stands which represent a specifically Russian form of church interior decoration appeared in the cathedrals of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Those were the years when the famous Russian painter Andrei Rublev lived and worked.

That period is considered to be the greatest historical landmark in the establishment of the Russian national art and culture when local architectural schools merged into a unified national school of architecture.

Prince Ivan III completed the unification of the independent Russian principalities into an integral centralized state started by his predecessor Ivan Kalita, and took the title of “the sovereign of all Russia”. Economic and political conditions were provided for large-scale construction work in the Kremlin, the residence of the grand princes.

Material and artistic culture of early Moscow was characterized by the fact that it seemed to have absorbed all the best that had been created in the rest of Russia. As far as the Kremlin was concerned, it became the treasure house of all national relics and family treasures of the grand princes and tsars handed down from one generation to another. Valuable articles for the state depository were either purchased or received as presents of foreign states’ envoys.

Originally, the Russian state’s countless riches were kept in the cellars of the Cathedral of the Annunciation and other Kremlin churches. Later, in 1484-85 a stone building was erected specially for this purpose between the Archangel Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Annunciation.

Armoury, now one of the main Kremlin sights and a museum of world importance, was first mentioned by the “Short Chronicles” in 1537. It became the Russian treasure-house as shown by testaments left by Ivan the Terrible and other dynasts.

The new extensive reconstruction of the Kremlin was started in 1485 with the erection of the Tainitsky Tower, which was the first of the future complex of fortifications. The Kremlin’s special role in the defense of the state, its engineering and technical solution and architectural-artistic merits determined the historical importance of these fortifications. The Kremlin fortress built anew from red brick retained the peculiarities of the layout of the Old-Russian detinets (fortress) and the form of an irregular triangle with the walls’ total length of 2,235 meters. There are 18 built-in towers and one detached tower-Kutafya-, which stand at the entrance to the Troitsky Bridge over the Neglinnaya River. A small tower called the Tsar’s Tower was added to the wall.

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