The Moscow Kremlin, sometimes referred to as simply the Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the South), Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square (to the East) and the Alexander Garden (to the West). It is the best known of kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes four palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.
The name the Kremlin is often used as a metonym to refer to the government of the Soviet Union (1922–1991) and its highest members (such as general secretaries, premiers, presidents, ministers, and commissars), in the same way that the metonym Élysée Palace refers to the President of the French Republic, the White House refers to the Executive Office of the President of the United States and Number 10 Downing Street or Whitehall refers to the Offices of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the British Government. It is still used in reference to the government of the Russian Federation and even the Russian President's official website is Kremlin.ru. "Kremlinology" refers to the study of Soviet and Russian policies.
The site has been continuously inhabited since the second century BC, and originates from a Vyatich fortified structure (or "grad") on Borovitsky Hill where the Neglinnaya River flowed into the Moskva River. The Slavs occupied the south-western portion of the hill as early as the 11th century, as evidenced by a metropolitan seal from the 1090s, which was unearthed by Soviet archaeologists in the area. Up to the 14th century, the site was known as the 'grad of Moscow'. The word "kremlin" was first recorded in 1331 and its etymology is disputed (see Max Vasmer online (Russian)). The grad was greatly extended by Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy in 1156, destroyed by the Mongols in 1237 and rebuilt in oak in 1339.
Although still used for coronation ceremonies, the Kremlin was abandoned and neglected until 1773, when Catherine the Great engaged Vasili Bazhenov to build her new residence there. Bazhenov produced a bombastic Neoclassical design on a heroic scale, which involved the demolition of several churches and palaces, as well as a portion of the Kremlin wall. After the preparations were over, construction halted due to lack of funds.
The Soviet government moved from Petrograd to Moscow on 12 March 1918. Vladimir Lenin selected the Kremlin Senate as his residence. Joseph Stalin also had his personal rooms in the Kremlin. He was eager to remove from his headquarters all the "relics of the tsarist regime". Golden eagles on the towers were replaced by shining Kremlin stars, while the wall near Lenin's Mausoleum was turned into the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
The Chudov Monastery and Ascension Convent, with their magnificent 16th-century cathedrals, were dismantled to make room for the military school and Palace of Congresses. The Little Nicholas Palace and the old Saviour Cathedral were pulled down as well. The residence of the Soviet government was closed to tourists until 1955. It was not until the Khrushchev Thaw that the Kremlin was reopened to foreign visitors. The Kremlin Museums were established in 1961 and the complex was among the first Soviet patrimonies inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1990.
The existing Kremlin walls and towers were built by Italian masters over the years 1485 to 1495. The irregular triangle of the Kremlin wall encloses an area of 275,000 square metres (68 acres). Its overall length is 2235 metres (2444 yards), but the height ranges from 5 to 19 metres, depending on the terrain. The wall's thickness is between 3.5 and 6.5 metres. Originally there were eighteen Kremlin towers, but their number increased to twenty in the 17th century. All but three of the towers are square in plan. The highest tower is the Troizkaya, which was built up to its present height of 73,9 metres in 1495. Most towers were originally crowned with wooden tents; the extant brick tents with strips of colored tiles go back to the 1680s.
Cathedral Square is the heart of the Kremlin. It is surrounded by six buildings, including three cathedrals. The Cathedral of the Dormition was completed in 1479 to be the main church of Moscow and where all the Tsars were crowned. The massive limestone facade, capped with its five golden cupolas was the design of Aristotele Fioravanti. Several important metropolitans and patriarchs are buried there, including Peter and Makarii.
The gilded, three-domed Cathedral of the Annunciation was completed next in 1489, only to be reconstructed to a nine-domed design a century later. There are two domestic churches of the Metropolitans and Patriarchs of Moscow, the Church of the Twelve Apostles (1653–56) and the exquisite one-domed Church of the Deposition of the Virgin's Robe, built by Pskov artisans over the years 1484–88 and featuring superb icons and frescoes from 1627 and 1644.
The other notable structure is the Ivan the Great Bell Tower on the north-east corner of the square, which is said to mark the exact centre of Moscow and resemble a burning candle. Completed in 1600, it is 81 meters (266 ft) high. Until the Russian Revolution, it was the tallest structure in the city, as construction of buildings taller than that was forbidden. Its 21 bells would sound the alarm if any enemy was approaching. The upper part of the structure was destroyed by the French during the Napoleonic Invasion and has, of course, been rebuilt. The Tsar Bell, the largest bell in the world, stands on a pedestal next to the tower.