On the road – sightseeing in Moscow: Red Square, GUM and Kremlin

With three friends, I spend a few nights in Moscow. We stay in the pricy and friendly hotel Matreshka (Матрёшка), conveniently located in a dead-end street between the Bolshoi Theatre (Большой Театр) and the Lubyanka (Лубянка).  It is end of September, chilly and wet.


The Red Square – the Center of Moscow

First we visit the Red Square (Красная Площадь) which is the center of Moscow. The pavement shines in the sun that from time to time breaks through the heavy rain clouds. Saint Basil’s Cathedral is at the end of the square, to the right is the Kremlin wall and to the left the department store GUM. I remember, when I entered the Red Square in 2002 with Ernst, he kept on saying “this guy is crazy, this guy is crazy.” He was alluding to the German pilot that landed his Cessna here in 1987. Well, I believe the Red Square is large enough to land a small plane here – it measures 300mx70m.

The Red Square is called Красная Площадь in Russian, and originally, krasny (красный) meant “beautiful”. Later красный changed its meaning to “red”. Indeed, the red wall of the Kremlin really makes this “Red Square” look “red” and “red” was also the color of the communists.

We visit the many chapels of Saint Basil’s Cathedral (Собор Василия Блаженного, building started around 1600 under Ivan IV, the Terrible). We enter all the  chapels and find some wonderful singing at various places. Then we are surprised by more rain, as the photo taken from the Cathedral to the Russian State History Museum and to the department store GUM shows.

In the evening, we want to see the Red Square from above, enter the Hotel Ritz at Tverskaja, “glide up” to the top floor and have a good glass of wine.

From our chairs, the view down to the ground floor is breath taking.

On the balcony, we find this gorgeous view of the Russian State History Museum with the statue of Zhukow, the Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. (Zhukow invaded Berlin in 1945 and accepted the surrender of the Germans).


The traditional department store GUM

From the pouring rain, we escape into the GUM (Государственный (Главный) Универсальный Магазин). This department store was built in 1893. It is huge with its 200 stores on three levels spread over 250m versus 88m. We buy criminal stories written by B. Akunin in one of the stores. I look forward to reading them.

We have lunch on the terrace under the umbrellas.

We watch a fairy tale teller with a group of children. Very lively, she talks about the bandit (разбойник) that, indeed, suddenly appears round the corner. The kids give him some money (it is a chocolate coin of ten rubles). And, because this is a good bandit, he does not keep the “money”, but hands it over to me… we all laugh together. Russians are excellent at entertaining children; even grown-up tourists enjoy that.


The gorgeous cathedral square in the Kremlin – worth seeing a third time

On the second day, we visit the Kremlin with its splendid Cathedral Square. It is my third time here, and it IS worth seeing it again. This a good overview that I found in the Internet.

The Dormition Cathedral (Успенский собор, the main and oldest cathedral) 

The Dormition Cathedral (Entschlafenskathedrale) celebrates, what we call “Maria Himmelfahrt”. It is the oldest Cathedral of the Kremlin, built in 1475-1490 by Aristotele Fioravanti. It mixes Russian traditional and Italian Renaissance architecture. The five golden cupolas shine, when the sun breaks through the clouds. Inside is the throne of Monomaxos alluding to the dynastic link of Iwan IV with Byzantium – he used this throne to pray (“Betstuhl”).

Next to the Dormition Cathedral we enter the small Church of the Deposition of the Robe (when Maria died and was accepted in Heaven, she left her robe in the grave, Церковь Ризоположения Пресвятой Богородицы)). No photos allowed in the pretty church with its frescoes. Behind the church are the joyful, slim cupolas of the Terem Palace, which used to be the main residence of the Russian Tsars.


Annunciation Cathedral (Благовещеский собор, house church of the Tsars)

Now, we have to stand in line with a large group of Chinese tourists to enter the Annunciation Cathedral. After having entered, I see Jonas just to the left. I stop to breathe: I remember, when I was here with Ernst and we enjoyed looking at Jonas being swallowed and spat out again by the whale. Inside we admire the solemn iconostasis with the works of Andrei Rublew, Teophanos the Greek and the School of Moscow. The Cathedral was built by masters from Italy and Pskow between 1484-1489. In 1560 Iwan IV renovated the church and since then, it has had nine cupolas, because conquering Kasan lasted nine days. These churches are full of symbols.


Dormition Belfry (Успенская звоница)

The Belfry was built by an Italian architect from 1505-08. It is 81m high. The cupola has been added by Boris Godunow and his name is written there. The belfry is also called Dormition Belfry, because a dormition chapel was added later and then transformed to a bell wall (звоница). In Russia, bell walls are used to make music with the bells – beautiful, I have experienced that in the monasteries on the Golden Ring around Moscow.


Archangel Cathedral (Archangel Michael, Архангельский собор)

Also, the Archangel Cathedral (Erzengel Kathedrale) has been built around 1500 (1505-1508) by the Italian architect Aloisio Lamberti de Montagnana (called Alevis Nowy). Inside it is a Russian church forming an equilateral cross. The grand dukes and the Tsars up to Peter I the Great are buried here. Their wives are in the crypt. From Peter I the Great on, all Tsars are buried in Petersburg. Only Boris Godunow is in Sergiyev Posad. Outside, the horizontal structure of the facade and the conch like shapes show Italian (Venetian) Renaissance influence.

Again and again, the sun defeats the clouds and the cupolas shine golden, just for some minutes. We cannot leave this place – it is too beautiful.


Tsar Cannon (Царь пушка)

Behind the Cathedral Square, there are two more attractions. The first is the Tsar Cannon. I remember, how Ernst laughed, when he saw the cannonballs. “These cannonballs have never been used for THIS gun”, he said. And I do think that he was right, they are just too large for this gun. Do you not agree?


Tsar Bell (Царь-колокол)

The Tsar Bell is one of the hugest bells ever casted in the world. But when taken out of the casting pit, it broke. Hence it has never been used, but being so large, it has been placed in the Kremlin and has served as an attraction since 1836. I admire the courage of the Russians – I think, they show that sometimes you have to give it a try, even if not being always successful.

We look back to the Belfry, the Dormition Cathedral and the Archangel Cathedral with their golden cupolas.

We leave the Kremlin  to have lunch – a borshch (Борщ) and dumplings  in one of the traditional Soviet Restaurants that now can be found all over in Moscow, the Varenichnaya.


Sure, whenever I get a chance to go to Moscow again, I will visit the Kremlin and the Cathedral Square again. It will be my fourth time then, and it will be worth it

Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Hubert Faensen: “Siehe die Stadt, die leuchtet”, Koehler und Amelang, 1989. Eva Gerbeding: “Moskau”, Dumont Reisetaschenbuch 2018, and various Wiki-entries.