The Kremlin is the historical, spiritual and political heart of Moscow and the city's most famous landmark and tourist attraction. It's an intriguing ensemble of buildings with an architectural variety that reveals a long and fascinating history. The Kremlin stands at the confluence of the Moscow and Neglinaya Rivers on Borovitsky Hill, named after the pine forests (bor in Russian) that used to cover it.

Legend has it that while hunting in the forest a group of boyars (Russian nobles) saw an enormous two-headed bird swoop down on a boar, carry it away and deposit it on the top of what was to become Borovitsky Hill. That night the boyars dreamt of a city of tents, spires and golden domes and resolved the next morning to build a settlement on the hill.

History sees it a little differently and attributes the founding of the Kremlin to Prince Yury Dolgoruky, who built the first wooden fort on the hill in 1147 AD, although historians believe that the site may have been inhabited as long ago as 500 BC. The word "kremlin" means simply "fortification" or "citadel" in Russian, and is thought to derive from either the Ancient Greek words kremn or kremnos, meaning a steep hill above a ravine, or the Slavonic term kremnik, meaning thick coniferous forest, that being the likely material from which the original fort was constructed.

As the fortress was enlarged and developed, the city of Moscow rapidly sprung up around it. During the 14th century, when Moscow became the center of a Grand Principality, the fortress was for the first time perceived as a separate citadel and a principle part of the city and in 1331 was given the title "Kremlin". Between 1339 and 1340 the fortress was rebuilt with new walls and towers of oak, but due to the constant threat of fire damage, in 1366 the Moscow Prince Dmitry Ivanovich (later Donskoy) ordered the construction of a large white-stone wall around the fortress to protect it.As Moscow struggled with the Khanate of the Golden Horde, repeated attacks by the Grand Prince Olgerd of Lithuania and political rivalry with the city of Tver, building work within the Kremlin continued and by the end of the 14th century the fortress was filled with churches, monasteries and manors housing the Grand Prince's retainers and the local nobility.

The 15th century saw the unification of the Russian feudal principalities under the authority of the Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow and to celebrate he ordered the reconstruction of the Kremlin on a grand scale. Architects, builders and craftsmen were drafted in from Pskov, Novgorod and Vladimir and the Italian architects Alberti Fioravante, Marco Bono and Pietro Antonio Solari began work on the Kremlin's ramparts and cathedrals. The new Cathedral of the Assumption was the first to be reconstructed, followed by the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe in the 1480s and finally the Cathedral of the Archangel in the early 16th century.

The Bell Tower of Ivan the Great, built between 1505 and 1508, completed the Cathedral Square ensemble and new Kremlin walls and towers were constructed simultaneously from 1485 onwards.


Successive rulers left their mark on the Kremlin and its architectural ensemble grew more and more varied throughout the centuries. The 15th century saw the addition of the Faceted Palace, the oldest secular building in the Kremlin complex. The 16th century ruler Ivan the Terrible further embellished the Kremlin's cathedrals and ramparts and constructed the enormous Tsar Canon and the Old English Embassy, for the purpose of accommodating English merchants and facilitating duty-free trade. At the start of the 17th century Mikhail Romanov assumed power and rebuilt and restored much of the fortress, adding the Terem Palace and the Patriarch's Palace and in 1655 Tsar Alexei's reign saw the casting of the impressive Tsar Bell.

Although Peter the Great preferred St. Petersburg as his capital, he commissioned the construction of the Kremlin Arsenal in the 1730s for the storage of weapons and military equipment. Catherine the Great added the Senate building later that century and in the 1840s Nicholas I commissioned the Russo-Byzantine-style Armory and the Great Kremlin Palace. With the Bolshevik storming of the Kremlin during the 1917 Revolution the fortress was closed to the public for the next 50 years and the only architectural additions made by the Soviet regime were the 1934 Presidium and the modernistic State Kremlin Palace (previously the Palace of Congresses) in 1961.

Today approximately two-thirds of the Kremlin is off-limits to visitors, including the Arsenal, the Presidium, the Terem, Faceted and Great Kremlin Palaces and most of the buildings in the northern half of the fortress. Tourists do, however, have access to all the cathedrals, the unmissable and priceless collections of the Armory, the Patriarch's Palace and the State Kremlin Palace, which hosts regular concerts and gala performances.


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