The Kremlin is situated in the very centre of the capital of Russia and the monumental walls and towers, golden-domed cathedrals and ancient palaces all standing high on the Borovitskiy Hill above the Moskva River is inherently symbolic of the Russian State.
Since 1991 it has been the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation and is a potent symbol of two mighty imperial cultures, of medieval Muscovy and of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin is at once fascinating and foreboding, a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy, and inside the heavily guarded walls its eclectic mix of architecture reflects these paradoxes and seismic cultural shifts that have created this unique place over nearly a thousand years of history.
Within the Kremlin wall and its towers the complex contains four palaces and four cathedrals but it is only possible to visit about half of it because visitors are not really welcome in the government offices. Because of the increased security on account of the Communist Party conference getting inside was a bit of a chore today but eventually we passed through the check points at the Borovitskaya Tower and we were immediately outside the pale lemon and cream State Armoury museum and making our way towards the Cathedrals where we entered a square and were immediately surrounded by elegant tall Italianate buildings and gleaming golden domes.
First we visited the Cathedral of the Archangel which is the burial place of the early Russian Tsars before the Romanovs relocated to Saint-Petersburg and we walked around the nave and among the tombs and sarcophagi of royal princes with Slavic inscriptions and all magnificently decorated with bronze. The flat walls and soaring pillars are all painted with superb seventeenth century frescoes with over sixty colourful portraits of Russian rulers and striking images of the Archangel Michael, the traditional protector of the Russian Tsars.
There were more frescoes covering the walls and ceilings of the Cathedral of the Annunciation with rows and tiers of pictures of angels, prophets and Patriarchs. All of this took me completely by surprise; sometimes places are exactly what we expect and sometimes they can even be disappointing but for me this was a genuine open-mouthed knee-buckling moment as I tried to take in and comprehend the magnificence of it all. I had really not expected anything quite like this and I was overwhelmed with the scale and beauty of the place and even before the holiday was fully over I was confident that I could proclaim this to be the absolute highlight of the week!
Finally we visited the Cathedral of the Assumption, for me the most wonderful of them all, the most important church in Russia and the seat of the Patriarch, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, with walls and pillars covered in frescoes and wall paintings towering above us into the highest domes.
Outside again we walked in the shadow of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and outside it the two hundred tonne Tsar Bell, the largest in the world, but sadly never rung because an eleven tonne section broke off during the casting process. Next to this colossal bell was a huge canon weighing in at a massive forty tonnes and crawling with children visiting the place on a school outing.
Most of the tour party disappeared now on a visit to the Armoury Museum but being skinflints we had refused to pay out the excessive official tour guide price and we justified this decision on the basis that we had seen quite a lot of museums already this week. Instead we spent some time in the Kremlin gardens taking care not to stray into those parts that were off limits and as we walked we enjoyed the sunshine as it beat down into the Cathedral Square and reflected off the buildings and bounced around the golden domes.
We left the Kremlin by the same gate that we entered and then walked through the flower beds in the leafy gardens underneath the crimson Kremlin wall and reluctant to leave and with several backward glances we walked away and towards Arbat Square and Arbatskaya where we walked past the street vendors and entertainers and settled on a restaurant with pavement tables and reasonable prices and we sat and enjoyed the good weather and reflected on our visit to the Kremlin.
Before we left Arbatskaya we returned to the souvenir shop with the 50% discount offers and finally made some purchases for gifts and then we made our way back to the Metro and visited some of the most ornate stations on the way back to the Holiday Inn hotel. We were becoming fascinated by the Metro and decided that we would return later and explore the best of it.