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Kremlin Walls and Towers, Russia

Experienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyager Joshua Brook
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The Kremlin's magnificent redbrick walls form an irregular triangle around Moscow's ancient citadel and are 2,235 meters in length, 19 meters high and up to 6.5 meters thick. They are topped with swallow-tailed crenellations and defended by 18 separate towers, most of which were built at the end of the 15th century by the Italian architects Marco Ruffo, Pietro Antonio Solari and Alevisio Novi. The distinctive jade-green spires of the towers were added in the 17th century and their crowning ruby-red stars in 1937. Each tower has its own name and fascinating history and the Kremlin wall itself tells the intriguing story of Moscow during the 20th century.

In front of the Kremlin walls stands the cubist bulk of Lenin's mausoleum and behind it visitors are led past a mass grave of Bolsheviks who perished during the battle for Moscow in 1917 and the graves of an array of Soviet notables, including those of Lenin's wife Nadezhda Krupskaya and his lover Inessa Armand, the writer Maxim Gorky and the world's first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Beyond them lie the bust-adorned graves of many of the Soviet Union's leaders; Chernenko, Andropov, Brezhnev and Stalin. Notably absent is Krushchev, who died in obscurity and was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery.


The Kremlin's oldest tower is the Tainitskaya Tower, situated facing the bank of the Moscow River and constructed in 1485 by Antonio Bono. The tower's name derives from the Russian word taina, meaning "secret", and is believed to have been erected over a secret well and underground passage to the river, which were dug in case the Kremlin ever came under siege.


The newest tower on the Kremlin wall is the Tsarskaya (Tsar's) Tower - a small tent-like turret built on the wall between the Spasskaya (Savior's) and Nabatnaya Towers. The tower was erected in 1680, in the place of an older wooden tower from which the young Ivan the Terrible is rumored to have hurled dogs to their deaths and watched the executions taking place on the slope behind St. Basil's Cathedral. The tower was traditionally the vantage point from which the Tsars watched important events taking place on Red Square.



The Kremlin's tallest tower is the Troitskaya (Trinity) Tower, measuring an impressive 80 meters including its red Soviet star and rising above the neighboring Alexandrovsky Gardens. Built in 1495 by Antonio Bono and Pietro Antonio Solari, the tower was crowned with a spire similar to that of the Spasskaya Tower at the end of the 17th century and serves as the main entrance into the Kremlin complex. Chimes were added to the tower in 1686, but were destroyed in 1812 in the fires that raged round Moscow during Napoleon's occupation of the city. In front of it and connected to it by a stone bridge, which once spanned the Neglinnaya River before its course was diverted into a pipe laid under the Alexandrovsky Gardens, stands the diminutive Kutafya Tower, the Kremlin's smallest at a height of just 13.5 meters. It is the only bridgehead watchtower to have survived to this day.






The Kremlin's three corner towers are round in shape and include the Vodozvodnaya (Corner Water Pump) Tower, which stands on the bank of the Moscow River near the Bolshoi Kamenny Bridge.

It was the first tower in all of Moscow to install a machine for drawing up water from the river, and supplied the Kremlin palaces and gardens with a daily supply.

The tower was built in 1488 and is almost 59 meters tall.




The second corner tower, the Beklemishev Tower, is often called the Moskvoretskaya Tower due to its proximity to the Mokvoretsky Bridge. It is 46.2 meters tall and was supposedly named after Boyar Beklemishev, whose medieval manor was located somewhere in the vicinity.


The third corner tower is named the Uglovaya Arsenalnaya (Corner Arsenal) Tower or Sobakin Tower, after the Kremlin's neighboring Arsenal building. The tower is an impressive 60 meters in height and boasts walls as thick as 5 meters in places. It's said to contain a secret spring, which is believed to still exist today.



Most remarkable of the Kremlin's towers has to be the Gothic-spired Spasskaya (Savior's) Tower, which was built in 1491 under the supervision of the Italian architect Pietro Antonio Solario. The tower was known as the Frolovskaya (St. Frol's) Towers until the 17th century, when an Icon of the Savior was placed in its gates and it became and remained for centuries the main official entrance to the Kremlin. The gate was reputed to have miraculous powers and to have saved Moscow from invasion many times. As people walked under the tower they would cross themselves and doff their hats in respect. When Napoleon rode through the gates in 1812 without observing this custom, it's said his horse shied and his hat fell off, confirming the Russian's belief in its miraculous powers. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Spasskaya Tower was used for ceremonial processions made by the Tsar and the Patriarch and for greeting foreign dignitaries visiting Moscow, and the street leading from the tower to Cathedral Square was the Kremlin's main thoroughfare.




Between 1624 and 1625 the octagonal multi-tiered turret we see today was added to the tower by the Russian architect Bazhen Ogurtsov, and a clock made to the design of the Englishman Christopher Galloway was added. The clock was an impressive piece featuring a massive pale blue face adorned with silver stars, and a full and crescent moon. Around the edge were inscribed in gold 17 Arabic numerals and the same number of Old Church Slavonic letters, which designated numbers in pre-Petrine Russia. The clock face rotated beneath the stationary image of the sun and one of its rays formed the clock's hour hand. The original clock broke and was replaced with various models from Holland and Germany, which played everything from God Save the Tsar to the march of the Preobrazhensky regiment. In 1917 the clock was damaged during the Bolshevik storming of the Kremlin and Lenin ordered that it be repaired and given new chimes to enable it to play the Communist Internationale. Since the summer of 1996, the clock has played the tune of the Russian national anthem.


The tower is an impressive 67.3 meters tall. In the 1650s a double-headed eagle - the emblem of Russia - was erected on top of the tower's spire, as they were later on the spires of the Nikolskaya, Troitskaya and Borovitskaya Towers. The image of the Byzantine double-headed eagle first appeared as the symbol of Rus on the seal of Ivan III in 1497, the two heads traditionally symbolizing the unity of East and West. These emblems were removed in November 1934 and replaced by red, five-pointed stars made from semi-precious stones from the Urals. However, these quickly became tarnished and were replaced in 1937 by new, illuminated ruby-red glass, stainless steel and copper stars, which remain to this day.




The Kremlin's Nikolskaya (St. Nicholas) Tower stands 67.1 meters tall near the State Historical Museum and was built in the same year as the Spasskaya Tower.

In 1612 the Russian volunteer army, led by Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, fought their way into the Kremlin through the Nikolskaya and Spasskaya gates to liberate the citadel from Polish invaders.

And in 1812 the upper part of the tower was blown up by Napoleon and his retreating French army but was completely restored just four years later.




The Konstantino-Yeleninskaya Tower served as the Kremlin torture chamber in medieval times and stands on the site of the white-stone Timofeyev Tower, through whose gates Dmitry Donskoy led his troops in 1380 to the historic battle of Kulikovo against the Mongol and Tartar armies.




The bells in the Nabatnaya (Alarm) Tower, situated opposite St. Basil's Cathedral, were rung as soon as there were any signs of enemy detachments approaching the fortress by the Serpukhov or Kaluga roads.

In 1771 the bell's chime was removed on the orders of Empress Catherine the Great, after it had been used to summon the people to the Kremlin and exacerbate the mob during the Plague Riot.

In 1803 the tower's bell was taken down and placed in the collections of the Armory. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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iycmyknoco, 2007-07-03 17:50:44



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