Founded in the 12th century, the Kremlin both represents the historical heart of Russia and modern-day politics. It’s one of the country’s most iconic landmarks, visited by as many as 2.5 million people every year. Set in the heart of Moscow’s Red Square, the Kremlin complex is separated by a 30-metre moat and comprises five palaces, four cathedrals, the enclosing Kremlin walls and 20 towers. It’s home to some of the country’s most important relics too, including most of the Tsar’s coronation robes, jewellery and armour in the Armoury Palace. Thinking about making a trip to the official residence of the president of the Russian Federation or just curious to learn more about its history? Here are a few interesting facts about the Kremlin to get you started.
Interesting Facts About the Kremlin
1. It’s the largest active fortress in Europe
The name ‘Kremlin’ means ‘Fortress in a City’. Every city in Russia has its own kremlin, but – as the symbol of the Russian state – the Moscow Kremlin is understandably the most popular. Encompassing over 90 acres of land, the Kremlin is the largest active fortress in Europe, home to an impressive five palaces and four cathedrals.
Prince Yury Dolgoruky founded the Kremlin back in the 1100s, but back then it was made from wood.
2. It hasn’t always been so colourful
Once upon a time, the Kremlin was white. The walls were painted white to preserve the bricks. In the 19th century, the Kremlin was repaired red. Don’t believe us? Take a look at works from 18th-century painters like Pyotr Vereshchagin, and you’ll see a very imposing, very white fortress.
3. It’s home to the world’s largest bell
The Tsar Bell, also known as the Tsarsky Kolokol or Royal Bell measures 6.14 metres (20.1 feet) tall and 6.6 metres (22 feet) in diameter. Empress Anna Ivanovna, the niece of Peter the Great, commissioned the bell and you can find it out on the grounds of the Kremlin. It’s never rung though because someone broke it during the construction.
While we’re at it, the Moscow Kremlin also boasts the largest cannon. Known as Tsar Cannon, it’s an early modern artillery piece but it’s never used in war.
4. Those stars are heavier than they look
The five stars on top of the Kremlin weigh a hefty one tonne each and are made with rubies to enhance their shine. They haven’t always been there though. IN Imperial Russia, the towers were topped with two-headed eagles, the Russian coat of arms since the 15th century. In 1935, the Soviet government melted down the eagles to create four five-pointed stars. The fifth, on Vodovzvodnaya Tower, was added later.
The Kremlin star illuminations have only ever been switched off twice. The first time, during World War II due to camouflaging requirements and the second for the shooing of a scene for the Barber of Siberia, set in pre-revolution Russia.
5. It survived World War Two – almost entirely intact
During World War II, authorities took great pains to camouflage the Kremlin as a common residential block. The domes and towers were painted brown and grey, and fake doors and windows disguised the Kremlin walls. They added wooden constructions to the Red Square, like a film set, to make it less conspicuous too. The Kremlin grounds, then paved with cobblestone were covered up with sand and painted tents stretched over the Kremlin gardens to look like rooftops. Lenin’s mausoleum, an enemy target, was hidden under a huge wooden tent and his body was transported away from the capital, only returned in 1945.
Miraculously, despite the heavy bombardment of Moscow between 1941 and 1942, the Kremlin emerged virtually unscathed. The closest it got to any real damage was on July 22nd, 1941. A 250-kg German bomb struck the Ivan tower but didn’t explode.
6. Most of the 20 towers have names
The Kremlin has 20 towers in total, and all of them have names except for two – the ‘first unnamed’ and the ‘second unnamed’. The tallest tower is called Troitskaya and the most iconic is the clock tower called Spasskaya. Italian architects built the current Kremlin walls and tower between 1485 and 1495, but most of these were enlarged later in the 17th century.
7. Vladimir Putin added a helipad
The President of Russia added a helipad to the Kremlin in 2015, to ease congestion caused by his commute. He commutes from his country residence frequently. Previously, police would have to close the city’s road to keep the presidential cavalcade moving.