My Mario Cooper's Moscow of Yesterday watercolor painting. Ignore reflections of the room in the sky. This painting started my romantic feeling for Moscow. I always knew the painting is more beautiful than the real place.
How many people have seen a photo or a painting of some place and had the image stuck in his head and wanted to go there? Ever since I saw and then owned the watercolor painting "Moscow of Yesteryear" by Mario Cooper, I had wanted to visit Moscow
, to see St Basil's cathedral in person. I had the privilege to take a class from Mario and got to know him before he passed away in 1995 at the age of 90. Of course I knew it won't look like the painting because Mario had a vivid imagination and was a great watercolorist. But I still wanted to see it, and now I was in Moscow, and St Basil's was right outside the window.
After a good breakfast of fresh juice, breads, ham and various cheese, we set out to Red Square
View of St Basil's Cathedral from the hotel window (actually the window faced to the left, I stuck the camera out to take this photo). The Red Square is beyond the cathedral.
The first thing we did was to take a group photo at the back of the St Basil's Cathedral
. Snap, snap, snap, camera in hand, everyone was excited to see it because it just looked so colorful and Russian! To me it was the icon of Moscow and Russia. We then walked to the Red Square in fron the of St Basil's and got to experience what it was like to stand on the Red Square. St Basil's at one end, the Historical Museum at the other, Kremlin and the GUM department store
were at the other two sides of the square. No cars are allowed on the square, of course unless you were the high ranking officials who worked at the Kremlin, then you got to go in the gate through Red Square! We walked through the GUM store, actually a huge upscale mall with lots of name brand shops, restaurants, etc.
Fresh squeezed juices at breakfast in the hotel
An exhibit of Da Vinci's inventions were being held there at the time. Da Vinci was an amazing person not belonging to his time. Then we walked through the Ressurrection Gate to the right of the Historical Museum. There were huge crowds on the square and beyond. We had some free time to grab a bite of lunch before going on tour of the Kremlin. So we walked along what used to be the moat of the Kremlin, now channelled underground, the Alexander Gardens
on one side, and a long shopping mall not so upscale as the GUM on the other. The McDonald's was hugely popular, with people lining out its door! The leftover river had some fountains and many statues of fairy/folktale creatures. While walking back to our meeting point in front of the Ressurrection Gate, I saw a crowd gathering near the entrance of the Alexander Gardens.
A small selection of the breakfast rolls in the hotel
It was changing of the guards at the Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers
memorial, the soldiers really kicked their feet up high, almost 90 degrees, very impressive.
We waited in line for quite a while before getting into the Kremlin
for a tour. The Kremlin (meaning fortress) was firt built in 1156 as a wooden fortress. In 15th century a new complex designed by Italian architects was built. During the 1930's under Stalin, several of its churches and palaces were destroyed on his order (as well as the Christ the Savior Church a little further down the Moscow River outside of the Kremlin). Palaces and churches existed inside the Kremlin walls. Today it also house the residence of the Russian president (Putin, who seems to enjoy great popularity among the people).
At the back of the St Basil's Cathedral
We went through the gate of Trinity Tower
, which Napoleon also marched triumphantly in 1812. However, his stay in the Kremlin lasted less than 1 month, the Russians set fire to the city, and he was forced to withdraw. The Russians liked to build wooden structures which they can burn down in case they had to abandon the down/city when invaded, leaving nothing useful for the enemy.
We passed the State Kremlin Palace, a new building built for the communists Party congress in 1961, on the right (not a very interesting looking building in grey). The Arsenal, Senate, and the Presidential Administration buildings were on the left side of the street, these were painted in yellow and white, a color commonly used by the Russians for their official buildings. Of course these buildings were off limits to tourists because they were functional government buildings.
Kevin and I at the back of the St Basil's cathedral
We continued past the Tsar's Cannon
, which was nicknamed "the cannon which never fired", cast in 1586, it was a big useless cannon. Ivan the Great Bell Tower
haas in front of it the Tsar's Bell
Tower, the largest bell in the world at more than 200 tons. It was nicknamed "the bell which never ringed". Then we went into the Cathedral square, which was a little square surrounded by four cathedrals! We went inside the Cathedral of the Archangel
, which was the place tsars and princes were buried between the 14th and 18th century (when the capital moved to St Petersburg). It has one large golden dome, and 4 silver ones. One side of the walll had a four-tiered iconostasis, beautifully painted in the 17th century.
The main gate of the Kremlin where the high officials use
While we were in this church, 4 professional singers dressed in monk costumes came in and sang a hymn. The acoustics in the church was superb, and it was very moving to hear the singing even though we understood not a word. We were told in advance by our guide it was not proper to applaud inside the church, although it was common for singers to sing in these churches, we were lucky to be there when it happened.
We did not go inside the Cathedral of Assumption, the largest on the square. It was the most important church in Moscow since the 14th century. It was here where princes were crowned and important people were buried. It had 5 golden domes which can be seen from afar. Nor did we go into Cathedral of the Annuniciation, which was smaller, and was the Tsar's family church. It had lots of golden domes.
On the Red Square, with the Historical Museum at the far end, Kremlin on the left, and the St Basil's behind me.
Well, so many cathedrals and so little time. We were off to the Armory Museum
The Armory Museum was in a white and yellow palace in the southwest corner of the Kremlin. Thinking it had something to do with armors, I was not all that enthusiastic about it at first. However, I changed my mind quickly. We first saw the some clothing, including a pair of very tall boots made by Peter the Great himself, he was 6'7" and these boots were definitely tall! Then the coronation dresses of Catherine the Great and several others. It was real interesting to note the size of these dresses. Catherine the Great was not a small woman, but some others had such tiny waist it was almost scary! Then we saw some crowns which were really full of gold, precious stones, diamonds etc to the max.
The huge GUM department store, actually an upscale mall with lots of shops.
Also the Diamond Throne with two 10 carat diamonds! And the royal carriages, they must been seen to be believed. There was even a carriage on sleds instead of wheels. Some of the wheels were taller than 5 feet! However, any old car today would have been more comfortable. When travelling in winter, the enclosed carriage also had a small furnace to keep it warm inside, but the smoke would not always go out the chimney on top, so the inside would be filled with smoke. There were these holy books covered in gold and ruby and diamonds, they were BIG books! And the Faberge Eggs were truly beautiful. It just goes to show you that the rich and powerful in those days knew how to spend their money! We did not go into the Diamond Fund, which was supposed to have even more eye-popping diamonds, crowns and jewellry.