Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Kremlin and Red Square

St. Basil's Cathedral

Last Wednesday, we were treated to a tour of central Moscow by Milla. Milla is an English-speaking, German woman who was married to a Russian. Got all that? The sites toured included The Kremlin, Red Square, The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery. First, it will be helpful to define some terms:

Moscow - Russian for "dark water." The soil around Moscow contains clay which darkens the appearance of the Moscow River.

Kremlin - Russian for "fortress."

Red - Old Russian for "beautiful." Hence, Red Square, as commonly thought, is NOT named to honor Russian Communism. It's only an unfortunate coincidence.

The Kremlin - a three-sided fortress along the Moscow River. There are 20 towers incorporated into the fortress wall. Within The Kremlin are government buildings, royal palaces, museums, residences and cathedrals.

St. Basil's Cathedral - Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his victory over the ruling Turks. It is famous for it's colorful onion domes and is positioned on the southeast corner of Red Square. The cathedral was designed by two Italian architects, a fusion of European and Asian design. The story goes that Ivan was taken with the beauty of the church and, so that another like it could not be built, had the eyes of the two Italians gouged out.

Red Square - flanks the east side of The Kremlin and was originally named Market Square. The name change was believed to have taken place in the 17th century. The square seperated The Kremlin from a merchant district. Most of us recognize Red Square from seeing footage of Soviet military parades. To accomodate the tanks, weaponry and troops for the parades, a double arch at the north end of the square, which was the original gateway to the city, was removed. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the double archway has been rebuilt. Also, Lenin's Tomb is located in Red Square.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - Tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world. Built to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon's army in 1812. Sorry, cameras weren't allowed inside.

Novodevichy Convent - Translates to New Maidens' Monastery. Originally built as a fortress to defend the southern part of the city. Flanking the Convent wall is Swan Lake, which inspired the ballet of the same name by Tchaikovsky. Home of the the Novodevichy Cemetery mentioned in posts below.

Friday, June 08, 2007

How the Mighty Have Fallen

While at Novodevichy Cemetery, we paid a visit to the grave of Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev was the Soviet leader from 1953 to 1964, succeeding the infamous Josef Stalin. He was known for his boorish behavior, which included his famous performance at the United Nations in 1960 when he removed his shoe and starting banging it on the table to interupt another speaker. He was also known for his famous and ambiguous comment, "We will bury you!" - directed at the U.S.

After returning from a vacation in 1964, he was removed by Leonid Brezhnev and other Communist Party bosses who felt he was embarrassing the Party by his erratic and boorish behavior. Brezhnev succeeded him as the Soviet leader. Khrushchev is the only Soviet leader to be denied burial in the Kremlin, thus his grave at Novodevichy Cemetery.

This is where the story gets good. I was visiting the cemetery with my friends and their 3 young boys. Their oldest, a 5 year old, was blowing off a bunch of steam. He was running around, climbing on statues, singing and dancing on marble slabs. So, it was with guilty pleasure that three adults watched a 5 year-old boy literally dancing on Khrushcev's grave. Who will bury whom?

(Photo used by permission of parents)

"Bring Out Your Dead! Bring Out Your Dead!"

Famous Russian TV personality (foreground)

As part of our tour around Moscow on Wednesday, Milla took us to Novodevichy Cemetery, a VIP cemetery. Most of the graves here have very ornate and impressive tombstones, usually involving some sort of sculpture. Here are some of the highlights:

Famous Russian clown. Note his dog in foreground

Russian war vets with sculpted eternal flame

Famous dancer

Fresh grave of Boris Yeltsin. The dirt is allowed to settle for about a year before a tombstone is erected, thus the photograph

Ingenious sculpture for a famous Russian heart surgeon

Famous Russian artist

Not sure what this guy was famous for, but had to do with parachutes

This guy was Minister of Communications, or something like that

Close up of Nikita Khrushchev's melon

Some strange parachutist

A Russian Field Marshall

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs


From my room at the Arbat Hotel in Moscow, I could see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - a monstrous, Gothic edifice from the Soviet era. There are many stone blocks incorporated into the structure that contain the Hammer and Sickle logo.



The Cossacks

Bust of Cossack Chief

Last Saturday, Sean and I went upriver from Rostov to tour an old Cossack fortress. The fortress consisted of a modest palace, a kitchen house, a church and one other unknown building. The Cossacks were, according to Wikipedia:

...a traditional community of people living in the southern steppe regions of Eastern Europe (primarily Ukraine and southern Russia) and Asian Russia. They are famous for their self-reliance and military skills, particularly horsemanship. "Cossack" may also refer to a member of a Cossack military unit. Originally Cossacks were runaway Rutherian peasants who escaped Polish and Russian feudal pressure and settled in the southern steppes.

The name Cossack "ultimately derived from a Turkic social term
qazaq meaning 'adventurer' or 'free man.'"

The particular group that inhabited this fortress was known as the Don Cossacks, since they had settled along the Don River. According to our guide, Moscow hired out the Cossacks to guard the southern frontiers from attacks by Turks and Mongols. They were paid with bread, gold and weapons. A Cossack boy was able to ride a horse by age 5 and was able to handle most weapons by age 10. Since they were to guard the southern frontiers, they were prohibited from farming, so that all of their time could be spent on military matters. In the 19th century, as their military services diminished, the prohibition on farming was lifted.

Gateway into Cossack fortress

Orthodox church inside fortress

Cossack wall tapestry and bench seat

Central room of Cossack palace with showcases

Iconic depiction of beheading of John the Baptist

Really old books

Dining room inside palace

Cossack man's outfit

Cossack woman's outfit

Old well in courtyard of fortress

Just outside the fortress

The Present-day Village

Handmade crafts in the window of a house

After touring the Cossack fortress, we walked through the village to the cathedral and belltower. These are pics from along the way...

A babushka in her natural habitat

A view of the Cossack fortress from the belltower

A view of the village from the belltower

A view of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral from the belltower

A ghostly statue in the basement of the belltower

Inside the cathedral

The icon wall inside the cathedral

I was expecting one of Snow White's dwarves to come through that gate

Exterior view of the cathedral. The belltower is unseen off to the left

Local house...

...and another

Home and garden

An empty home near the park

A monument in the park