Russia is a country brimming with history and culture. For the first segment of my Russia trip, I shall touch on places of interest in Moscow, particularly, the iconic Moscow Red Square Grand Kremlin and Palace.
The Moscow Red Square
The Red square is a must-visit in Moscow. It is an icon and symbol of Russia. The square is essentially a vast and flat open parade square. It serves as Moscow’s main market and event place and is instantly recognizable anywhere in the world.
Moreover, it is open space and site of various public Russian ceremonies and proclamations, including coronations for Russia’s Tsars. Also, the Red Square was considered a sacred place. It is synonymous and iconic as other parade squares around the world, like the Tiananmen Square for example. Each has their own set of unique histories. Also, you can see it being a large “Padang” (Open space) like the one in Singapore.
Moreover, the Red Square and Kremlin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, given the significance it plays in Russia history and culture. Construction of the Moscow Kremlin was completed in 1495. It’s grounds are paved in cobblestones. Just be careful is the square surface can be uneven.
Red Square Beginnings
The Red Square is lined with a mix of red bricks and stones topped-up with some white concrete elements. You may think that square derived it’s name from the Red brick pigment which makes up the Kremlin walls.
However, the name actually came about because the Russian word “Krasnaya”. Here, it is related to the word “Krasivaya”) meaning “beautiful,” which means has a dual meaning of “red”. Hence, you it is not factually wrong to call it a “beautiful square”.
Museums around the Red Square
The buildings around the square are indeed beautiful. Furthermore, the Red Square is additionally surrounded by three other notable buildings of Russian history, mostly museums. You can see all of them while standing in the center of the square.
Directly facing across the Kremlin is the GUM departmental store. It is a Soviet-era upmarket shopping center. Also, here, we have the St. Basil’s Cathedral and the State Historical Museum. The State Historical Museum is now a small public arts museum.
Moreover, Gum Departmental store is not the only shopping establishment in the area. The Nikolskaya shopping Street just off the Red Square offers a variety of malls for your shopping fix, as well as food and beverage outlets. Prices are not to far off from any typical European city.
The Revolution Square area can get pretty buzzing at night, with several pubs and restaurants operating in the area. It is a block from the Red Square. If you are out for souvenirs there are a couple of stores here selling pretty good quality Russian dolls. Though they can get pretty pricey. If you are looking for bargain souvenirs, I recommend the stalls in metro stations.
Kazan Cathedral and Iverskaya Capel
Another notable landmark here is the Kazan Cathedral by the State Historical Museum. It is not to be confused with the one in St Peterburg at the Victory square. Here, it is a reconstruction of the original church which was destroyed by Joseph Stalin in 1936.
Moreover, it is an active place of worship and open for service when I was there. Additionally, it is crowned with the distinctive gold roof top distinctive in places of worship all around Russia.
Another building of interesting is the Iverskaya chapel. It is a quirky building, being an archway sitting over a pedestrian walkway in between the Kazan Cathedral and State Historical Museum. You will miss it if you weren’t looking for it. They are all decorated in the similar white red livery of the Red Square.
Moreover, separate from the State Historical Museum is the Museum of the Patriotic War of 1812. It covers the early Napoleon wars of Russia and the 100th anniversary of the victory.
St. Basil’s cathedral
St. Basil’s cathedral, despite its near celebrity status and Russian Icon is a fully functional place of religious worship. Today, the cathedral is primarily a Museum, with occasional church services. You may recognize the St Basil cathedral as the poster boy of the 1988 Tetris game.
Visibly, the building has several onion domes at the top. These 50 meter tall towers were said in the early days to look like bonfire flames rising into the sky. Interestingly, the cathedral architecture design and layout is unique for it era. When built in 1555, it does not bear any resemblance to any particular known style. However, it was widely speculated that the cathedral probably had a design influence from the Ascension Church in Kolomenskoye.
Furthermore, the domes were painted in bright contrasting colours, it makes them stand out even more. It looks like a castle out of a children’s story book. It is both wacky yet a masterpiece on its own.
Moreover, as the Kremlin compound is a protected area, security is pretty tight here. Armed kremlin guards are stationed at every tower entrance, with regular police vehicle patrols around the Square. Their presence does make you feel safer. Behind the fortification wall houses several official administrative buildings which I saw cover in my visit into the inner Kremlin.
Additionally, Lenin’s Mausoleum sits centered in the middle of the Red square. Here, lies the body of Lenin himself in an underground secured bunker which you can visit for free.
Also, the entrance to the mausoleum is beside State Historical Museum along the Kremlin wall. Just look for a queue on the right side of the Kremlin when view from GUM.
Moreover, you are advised to visit early when the queues are shorter. Mausoleum queues can go up to 2 hours. Notably, I found visiting less popular weekdays and on a drizzly rainy day kept crowds in the Red Square small. Here, waiting time can go as low as under 20 minutes.
Before entering, you go through a series of bag and metal detectors screenings before entering the inner compound. Surprisingly, small carry-on bags are allowed though security. Hence, you need not find a place to deposit it. Also, phones and cameras are allowed, but their use in the Mausoleum is strictly forbidden.
Here, you walk alongside the Kremlin wall passing through a nicely manicured little garden and by several stone busts and grave stones of notable Russia scholars and politicians before entering the Mausoleum from the back.
Moreover, the Mausoleum’s underground interior is dimly lit. It is decorated with black glossy tiles and is about the size of a large 5m by 5m room. This sets the mood of the walk down to where Lenin body lies. When done, you exit back out onto the Red Square.
Kremlin Tomb of Unknown Soldier
Furthermore, notable green spaces around the Kremlin include public gardens such as the Alexander and Zaryadye Park. These are open gardens. The Alexander Garden is also where the Tomb of Unknown Soldier dedicated to the Russian fallen.
The front of the monument sits a five-pointed star in a square field of labradorite. The Eternal Flame emanates from its center, over watched by two sentry guards.
Also, the Alexander gardens are rather well-manicured. It is surprisingly clean and well-kept. The Alexander gardens is a public garden with nicely manicured lawns and bright beautiful flower beds.
Moreover, it runs alongside the Moscow Manege. It is a cultural and business exhibition, as well as a congress hall in a former 1812 military building.
Moreover, there are also a couple of commercial shops and beautiful fountains here too. Notable sights includes the Komendantskaya Tower which was completed in 1495. The gardens are open and surprisingly very clean.
Beautiful water features
No garden is complete without a selection of fountains. Notably, a majestic horse fountain resides here too. It comprises of 3 stallions prancing over a pool of water.
The fountain even squirts out a water tunnel which you can walk under too.
Well connected by public transport
Also, the square is also well connected by the city’s Metro station and is a short 10 minute walk away. The Garden area is very well built up, with many shops, conveniences, hotels and metro stations well connected to the Square. There is even a Macdonalds here, an American establishment right in the heart of Moscow!
Additionally, moving from the gardens southbound, you can overlook the Moscow (Moskva) River down south. Furthermore, the Alexander gardens is also where you will find the Kremlin attraction ticketing counters and tourist information area. Also, you purchase your Inner Kremlin and Amoury attractions tickets here to gain access beyond the Fortification walls. Also, guest services such as bag deposits are also found here.
All in all, the Kremlin red square is a place of rich history with plenty to see even without having to go inside the Kremlin fortifications. You can easily spend a 2-3 hours exploring all the areas here, let be 2 hours each for the museums along the stretch. There are plenty of amenities, shopping and food outlets which leaves you spoilt for choice.
Next up, I shall be exploring the sights inside the fortifications behind the Kremlin walls. Join me to check out the Inner Kremlin, including the Cathedral square where five Cathedrals reside and the majestic Royal Armory.