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10 Secrets of the Kremlin: Some Facts that Surprise You

Red Square

More than 10 years ago on a spring evening, I got the news from my parents that we would move to the Russian capital Moscow. I would imagine my first day to school strolling through the Kremlin wall, indeed the excitement was just priceless! Of course, my imagination was slightly better than reality, since my school was located far from the center of Moscow, however, even my child brain associated Moscow with its main attraction the Kremlin.

Many people all over the world at least heard about the Kremlin. It has a long and fascinating history: existing from the 12th century; rebuilt twice; twice was almost completely destroyed.

But what is more intriguing is that it has always been and remains one of the most mysterious and secret places in Moscow. What is inside Kremlin towers? Where treasures of Ivan the Terrible are hidden? Why is it red? What about stars on towers? And a lot of other interesting questions raised by our tourists during tour Moscow Behind the Icons while we are walking around.

Red Square and the Kremlin

Red Square and the Kremlin wall

So, let’s set ajar some of the Kremlin secrets!

1. Cultural Bonds Between Russia and Italy

Modern Kremlin was built at the end of the 14th century by Italian architect Pietro Antonio Solari. Yes! Not by Russian architects. Evidence is found in Milan, where one can see the elder brother of the Moscow Kremlin Sforza Castle. And have you ever heard that Pietro was also working with Leonardo Da Vinci?

Secrets of Moscow Kremlin

Sforza Castle in Milan — brother of Moscow Kremlin

2. Is There a Chinatown in Moscow?

There is not only the Kremlin wall but an extension of Kremlin, which is called China-Town. I’m sure you’re shocked to read such info. Remember that in Moscow, what you hear is not always what it really is. Moscow develops as the tree age rings. The very first fortress wall was built in the 12th century from wood. Then it was rebuilt in the 14th century in white limestone (thus, there is such phrase “Whitestone Moscow”). Eventually, after becoming the capital of the new country, Moscow started to grow rapidly. So in the 15th-century grandfather of Ivan the Terrible decided to invite an Italian architect not only to rebuild the Kremlin wall but also to build the second wall. The name of the new wall could be translated as China-Wall (Kitay good). Though, it has nothing to do with China at all. Highly likely it is a transformed Italian word “citadel” (short “cita-” or in the changed variant “kita-”). According to another version, kita is a bunch of cabers from which the temporary wall was built.

3.Towers of the Kremlin

Each tower has an interesting story. There is a tower water well with the unique system of water supply constructed in the 14th century, which still can work; there is a tower for keeping treasures with funny name Mysterious tower (Taininskaya); there is a tower, with 3 floors and one of the oldest clocks in Russia (everyone is checking time by it even now!); there are towers with the names:No name Tower One and No name tower Two; there is a special tower for Russian ruler Tsarskaya Tower (by the legend built for Ivan the Terrible, Tsar of Russia) and there is tower where Kremlin official orchestra lives. All 22 towers are very different, interesting and unique! It’s undoubtedly worth to walk 2.4 km around Kremlin wall to see all of them and choose your favorite.

Secrets of the Moscow Kremlin

Tower of Savior with the main clock of Russia

4. Why Moscow Kremlin is red?

The Kremlin wall hasn’t always been red. There is also a belief that it was painted in red by communists after 1917. Actually, this is not true. When the last version of the Kremlin was built, the architect had already decided to use red bricks for covering the facade because of the quality of the material. However, it was painted in white from the 17th century until the 20th century. After the revolution, the government just decided not to paint it anymore, so the red color appeared. Nevertheless, now the wall is renovated each spring and the space between bricks is painted in white. What a complicated job!

Secrets of the Moscow Kremlin

View of the Kremlin in 1836, from the right bank of the Moskva, Moscow” engraved by J.T.Willmore after a picture by A.G.Vickers

5. Kremlin Stars

Red stars haven’t always been on the top of towers. Initially, it was the two-headed eagle, the symbol of the Russian Empire. But after the revolution, they were changed to red stars. The scientists created a special compound to make the ruby-red color of glass and recipe of it is still a big secret. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was the big trend of returning everything as it had been before the Revolution, nevertheless, stars remain on the top of towers even now, because they’ve already become the part of history. By the way, the weight of each star is 1 ton!

Red Square

Our guides near Kremlin (red star on the tower and two-headed eagles on the neighbor building – Historical Museum)

6. The Kremlin as a Museum

Moscow Kremlin is quite a young museum, only 50 years old. Until the Revolution, the entrance to the Kremlin was free of charge for everyone. But after the Revolution and up to 1955 Kremlin was closed and used as a residential area for the government, which made this fortress even more mysterious. Nowadays it is the official residence of our president, however, he does not live there. You can go inside the Kremlin and see that it is a very big place with a lot of security inside. Only a guided walk is possible inside and not all attractions are available for a tourist visit.

Putin's office

Official president’s residence just behind the Kremlin wall

7. Legends of the Kremlin

There is a net of tunnels and dungeons below the Kremlin. They were created mainly for security reasons so that it would be possible to escape in case of danger. There is a legend connected to this fact which concerns ‘Metro-2’, the secret government metro, which was built for Joseph Stalin. Many people tried to find it but finally failed. Highly likely it is just a legend. It would be very difficult to hide the construction of the whole metro line. Noise, workers, removing of ground definitely should attract a lot of attention from Muscovites. Nevertheless, there is one line of the metro which was closed for a long time after the Second World War. Probably this story could provoke such rumors. You can see part of this line and hear this story in more detail on one of our amazing tours Moscow Underground, where you can visit the most beautiful metro in the world.

8. Surprising Function of the Fortress

There is a cemetery just below the Kremlin wall. Only in Moscow, you can see the official necropolis in front of the shopping mall (famous GUM) and near government buildings. This necropolis was created by the Soviet Union government to bury famous people. You can see a grave of Yuri Gagarin (first man in Space), Korolev (the main Space constructor), some of Soviet Union leaders (Stalin, Brezhnev), and, what is amazing, some of the foreigners who supported communist ideas, such as Klara Zetkin, a world-famous German fighter for women’s rights. And right in front of these comparably hidden graves, there is one, which impossible not to notice, the mausoleum of Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union. His body was not buried but preserved, embalmed so that people could come and see him as he used to be during his lifetime. Strange enough, but there is a huge queue of tourists there all the time.

9.Lost Treasures

There is a treasure of Ivan the Terrible hidden somewhere in the Kremlin. Yes, this is not a legend. Many people think that treasures are mostly gold and precious stones. Not in this case. Ivan the Terrible was a very educated person and collected books from all over the world. His library was huge. Unfortunately,  it is still unknown where he kept it. A lot of people are still trying to find this priceless library.

10. Influence of the USSR

In Russia, there were many churches and cathedrals. Only in the Kremlin, there were more than 30 churches, but after the Revolution Soviet government demolished 17 of them. Before the Soviet Union, Russia was very religious and even now you will see a lot of churches around Moscow. Nonetheless, there are a lot of things to discover apart from churches and icons!

It is just a small part of all the secrets connected to the Kremlin. Still, some of them are unknown and securely hidden inside the Kremlin walls. So, if you are interested in this amazing attraction, world UNESCO heritage, please come to Moscow and explore it. Who knows, maybe you will be the one, who will discover a new secret about this mysterious fortress?

If you need help and want to hear more amazing stories, legends and of course jokes, please feel free to join our tour Moscow Behind the Icons!

 

by Valentina Ekimova, local guide