“The Kremlin released a statement today…” “Sources close to the Kremlin…”
The Kremlin. It’s a dominating presence overlooking the Moskva River and Red Square, housing the upper house of the Russian parliament, a presidential residence, and numerous cathedrals and museums. In American news, the above statements are quite frequent when referring to the Russian government or President Putin and give the Kremlin, to paraphrase Pushkin, an austere, comely visage. I was both scared and excited each time I was on Red Square and nearby the fabled fortress, and despite oversleeping the official meeting time, giddy with excitement for our excursion within its walls.
After purchasing your ticket, there is quite a long line stretching out of the Troitskaya Tower that can be circumnavigated if cutting in line is not against your morals. Once you pass through security, you walk along a bridge over Aleksandrovskii Garden into the Kremlin. On your right stands a mighty concert hall, in which just a few weeks ago we attended a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. To your left is the Russian Senate, the building surrounded by cannons preserved from the Patriotic War of 1812 (when Napoleon invaded Russia). Quickly, traffic officers wave you onward toward the main museum area of the Kremlin where all the churches and cathedrals are clustered. Much of the space inside the walls is occupied by an open square where cars can move about. As you walk toward the Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell, there is a large and quite beautiful garden with a view of the river. But that’s not the most interesting part of the Kremlin.
The Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon were constructed not to be functional and regularly used but to show the wealth and industrial capacity of Imperial Russia. The cannon was cast in the 16th century under Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich and is the largest of its kind in the world. The bell went through three different castings, as fire destroyed the first two. It has never been rung and serves as a monument to Russian piety and the industry behind it.
Speaking of piety, there are several churches inside the Kremlin. One houses a historically powerful icon, the Vladimir Mother of God, another houses the coffins of tsars and princes (Ivan the Terrible included) from long ago, and another has the immense bell tower of Ivan the Great. These churches bring to mind the days before Peter the Great when the church was superior to the state, when the most iconic (pun intended) image of the Russia nation was a secular fortress, with a church in the middle of it.
All around, the Kremlin is a fascinating place. Inside, without any prior knowledge, you might just think it was a museum. But the gorgeous, enormous, palace-like building below has a small reminder that you are within the heart of a global power. You can’t see from the angle of the photo, but a Russian flag was flying atop its roof on the day we were strolling about the grounds. That means the President is in. It’s an odd feeling, knowing that between you and one of the most powerful people in the world were just a few walls…
So for those news headlines about Kremlin statements or sources, they’re not wrong. The Kremlin is a powerful force, reminding us all of the power, beauty, and history of the nation it rules.