The Kremlin – Russian Travel

The hill stands very nearly in the center of the city. It is triangular in form, the longest side facing the Moskva, about a mile in circumference and somewhat less than a hundred feet in height. Adjoining it on the east is the Chinese City, still enclosed within its ancient walls. The original walls of the Kremlin were built by Demetrius Donskoi, in the fourteenth century, and tho frequently repaired, if not wholly rebuilt, since that time, they still retain their ancient character. Rising directly from the Moskva, at the foot of the hill, on the south-ern side, they climb it at either end, and crown it on the north. Thus, when you stand on the opposite bank of the river, you see before you the long notched wall, interrupted with picturesque Tartar towers, like an antique frame to the green slope of the hill, whose level top bears aloft its crown of palaces, churches, and towers. This is the only general view one gets of the Kremlin, altho its clustered golden domes are visible from almost every part of the city. There was formerly a lake-like moat around the northern side of the hill; but Alexander I. drained and planted it, and it is now a pleasant garden.

The main entrance is at the northeastern angle, through a double-towered portal, called the Sun-day Gate. Once within, we see before us the long Red Square stretching southward to the bank of the Moskva. Close on our right towers the gray wall of the Kremlin—for, altho on the hill, we are not yet fairly within the sacred citadel—while on the left, parallel to it, is the long, low front of the Great Bazaar. In the center of the square is a bronze monument to Minim and Pojarski, the Russian heroes, who in 1610 aroused the people, stormed Moscow, and drove out Vladislas of Poland, who had been called to the throne by the Boyards. But for this act the relative destiny of the two powers might have been reversed. The Russians, therefore, deservedly honor the memory of the sturdy butcher of Nijni Novgorod, who, like the Roman Ciceronaccio, seems to havc been the master-spirit of the Revolution. He is represented as addressing Pojarski, the general, who sits before him, listening, one hand on his sword. The figures are colossal, and full of fire and vigor. A short distance beyond this monument is a small circular platform of masonry, which is said to have been a throne, or public judgment-seat, of the early Czars.

Proceeding down the square to its southern extremity, we halt at last before the most astonishing structure our eyes have ever beheld. What is it?—a church, a pavilion, or an immense toy? All the colors of the rainbow, all the forms and combinations which straight and curved Iines can produce, are here compounded. It seems to be the product of some architectural kaleidoscope, in which the most incongruous things assume a certain order and system, for surely such another bewildering pile does not exist. It is not beautiful, for beauty requires at least a suggestion of symmetry, and here the idea of proportion or adaptation is wholly lost. Neither is the effect offensive, because the maze of colors, in which red, green, and gold, predominate, attracts, and cajoles the eye. The purposed incongruity of the building is seen in the minutest details, and where there is an accidental resemblance in form, it is balanced by a difference in color.

This is the Cathedral of St. Basil, built during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, who is said to have been so charmed with the work, that he caused the eyes of the architect to be blinded, to prevent him from ever building another such. The same story, however, is told of various buildings, clocks, and pieces of mechanism, in Europe, and is doubtless false. Examining the cathedral more closely, we find it to be an agglomeration of towers, no two of which are alike, either in height, shape, or any other particular. Some are round, some square, some hexagonal, some octagonal ; one ends in a pyramidal spire, another in a cone, and others in bulging domes of the most fantastic pattern—twisted in spiral bands of yellow and green like an ancient Moslem turban, vertically ribbed with green and silver, checkered with squares of blue and gold, covered with knobbed scales, like a pine-cone, or with overlapping leaves of crimson, purple, gold, and green. Between the bases of these towers galleries are introduced, which, again, differ in style and ornament as much as the towers themselves. The interior walls are covered with a grotesque maze of painting, consisting of flower-pots, thistles, roses, vines, birds, beasts, and scroll-work, twined together in inextricable confusion, as we often see in Byzantine capitals and friezes.

The interior of the cathedral is no less curious than the outside. Every tower encloses a chapel, so that twelve or fifteen saints here have their shrines under one roof, yet enjoy the tapers, the incense, and the prayers of their worshipers in private, no one interfering with the other. The chapels, owing to their narrow bases and great height, resemble flues. Their sides are covered with sacred frescoes, and all manner of ornamental painting on a golden ground, and as you look up the diminishing shaft, the colossal face of Christ, the Virgin, or the protecting Saint, stares down upon you from the hollow of the capping dome. The central tower is one hundred and twenty feet high, while the diameter of the chapel inside can not be more than thirty feet at the base. I can not better describe this singular structure than by calling it the Apotheosis of Chimneys.

At last we tread the paved court of the Kremlin. Before us rises the tower of Ivan Veliki, whose massive, sturdy walls seem to groan under its load of monster bells. Beyond it are the Cathedral of St. Michael, the Church of the Assumption, and the ancient church of the Czars, all crowded with tiaras of gilded domes. To the right rises another cluster of dark-blue, pear-shaped domes, over the House of the Holy Synod, while the New Palace, with its heavy French front and wings, fills up the background. The Tartar towers of the Kremlin wall shoot up, on our left, from under the edge of the platform whereon we stand, and away and beyond them glitters the southern part of the wonderful city—a vast semicircle of red, green, and gold. I know not when this picture is most beautiful—when it blinds you in the glare of sunshine, when the shadows of clouds soften its piercing colors and extinguish half its reflected fires, when evening wraps it in a violet mist, repainting it with sober tints, or when it lies pale and gray, yet sprinkled with points of silver light, under the midnight moon.

At the foot of the tower stands on a granite pedestal the Emperor of Bells, whose renown is world-wide. It was cast by order of the Empress Anne in 1730. The Empress Anne seems to have had a fondness for monster castings. Turning to the right into an adjoining courtyard, we behold a tremendous piece of artillery, familiarly known as the pocket-piece of this Tzarina. The diameter of the bore is three feet, but it is evident that the gun never could have been used. It was no doubt made for show, from the bronze of captured can-non. In the same court are arranged the spoils of 1812, consisting of nearly a thousand cannon, French and German. They are mostly small field pieces, and hence make but little display, in spite of their number. The Turkish and Persian guns, some of which are highly ornamented, occupy the opposite side of the court, and are much the finest of all the trophies here.

The plain exterior of the palace gives no hint of the splendors within. I have seen all thc palaces of Europe (with the exception of the Escorial), but I can not recall one in which the highest possible magnificence is so subservient to good taste, as here. Inlaid floors, of such beautiful design and such precious wood, that you tread upon them with regret; capitals, cornices, and ceiling-soffits of gold; walls overlaid with fluted silk; giant candelabra of silver and malachite, and the soft gleam of many-tinted marbles, combine to make this a truly Imperial residence. The grand hall of St. George, all in white and gold, is literally incrusted with ornamented carved-work; that of St. Alexander Nevsky is sumptuous in blue and gold; of St. Wlodimar in crimson and gold; while in that of St. Elizabeth, the walls are not only overlaid with gold, and the furniture of massive silver, but in the center of every door is a Maltese cross, formed of the largest diamonds!

The eye does not tire of this unwonted splendor, nor does it seem difficult to dwell even in such dazzling halls. In a lower story is the banqueting-hall, hung with crimson velvet, studded with golden eagles. Here the Emperor feasts with his nobles on the day of coronation—the only occasion on which it is used.