Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 10.22.16
Just Outside Washington

All photos courtesy the author and Kathy Cavanaugh

The Kremlin

On our visits to Moscow city center we had been all around the Kremlin's red brick wall with its towers, and viewed it from all angles. As mentioned earlier, kremlin means fortress in Russian and many cities have kremlins. The area enclosed within the Kremlin wall in Moscow is over 68 acres and is almost in the form of a triangle.

It includes five palaces, four cathedrals, and a number of office buildings.


From the left: the Vodovzvodnaya Tower with the Imperial golden eagle replaced by the Red Star, the Grand Kremlin Palace, and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

On Saturday we were scheduled to go inside the Kremlin. We had a coach ride from the dock for the Viking Akun in Park Severnago Rechnogo Vaksala downtown to the Kremlin. On the way through the neighborhoods, I was struck again by the fact that almost all Muscovites live in apartments.


The older Soviet era buildings seem have six stories or so and a similar architectural style. This can be seen in this apartment building for high ranking Soviet officials near the Kremlin.


The recent apartments are much more contemporary in appearance and include green space and recreational facilities.

Our coach dropped us off at the tourist entrance on Utilsa Manezhnaya (a street) and moved on quickly. We walked over and down into the Alexander Gardens to line up with others behind the green umbrella while our guide arranged for the group tickets.


The entrance, including security, is through the glass building and then along the top of the wall shown on the right in the picture.

wall walk

This wall crosses a portion of the Alexander Gardens along the main wall. The garden, which runs for a half mile along the Kremlin wall, was packed with visitors, both Russian and others. The entrance walkway passes through the Troizkaya Tower, the tallest of the 20 towers in the wall, which was built in 1495 (right picture). Stalin replaced the original golden eagle on the top of the tower with the Red Star, unfortunately cut off.

The modern building to the right of the tower is the Palace of Congresses built at the initiative of Nikita Khrushchev as a modern arena for Communist Party meetings. Its main hall will seat 6000 people and is used for public performances, which have included the Bolshoi Ballet, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen, and many others.

After passing through the tower we were in a broad area between the Palace of Congresses and the Kremlin Arsenal, which is currently home to the Kremlin Regiment. This regiment provides the main security for the Russian President. When Napoleon retreated from Moscow in 1812, he blew up a portion of the Arsenal. It was rebuilt and has cannons and mortars of La Grande Armée exhibited along the front of the building.

Further along, the next building is the former Governing Senate building, which was built to house the institution created by Tsar Peter the Great in 1711. After the 1917 Revolution and relocation of the capital to Moscow, the Senate building served initially as the seat of the Soviet government. Vladimir Lenin had his study and private apartment on the third floor.

In 1990s, the Senate building was converted to house the Russian presidential administration and our guide told us that Vladimir Putin's office in on the second floor.The building’s fencing and guard station shows clearly.

To the right of the Senate Building is a large plaza with the Spasskaya Tower, which was built in the 15th Century. The gate in the tower opens on to Red Square and through the Soviet era was the main entrance to the Kremlin.


The main entrance was moved because the official traffic interfered with the tourist and commercial traffic through Red Square. We walked south from the Senate Building into the Cathedral Square, so named because it is surrounded by three cathedrals, two churches, and the Grand Kremlin Palace.


The Cathedral of the Annunciation had three domes when it was built in 1489; the other domes were added 100 years later.


Behind the cathedral is the Grand Kremlin Palace, which was completed in 1849 as the Tsar’s Moscow residence. It is officially the residence of Vladimir Putin; however, he lives outside of Moscow and commutes by helicopter. The cathedrals have no bells so there are two separate bell towers.

bell tower

The Ivan the Great Bell Tower was originally completed in 1508 and redone by Boris Godunov in 1600 to be the highest tower in the Kremlin. It has 22 bells and serves as the geographic center of Moscow. The adjacent Assumption Belfry contains two large bells and a small chapel. The largest bell weighs 65 tons is traditionally rung during the greatest religious festivals such as Easter.

An even larger bell, the Tsar Bell, was planned and cast of bronze for the complex in 1735. It is the largest bell in the world, weighing in at 220 tons.


Unfortunately, after it was cast a fire broke out in the factory and the water used to put out the fire caused the hot bell to break. Therefore, it has never been rung. Fifty years after the Tsar Bell, the Tsar Cannon was cast; it is the largest caliber cannon in the world.


It was never used in a war, but it does bear traces of being fired at least once. With the Tsar Cannon is our Viking guide, Elena, we could always find her during tours because of her red Viking shirt and 'lollypop.'

It was never used in a war, but it does bear traces of being fired at least once. With the Tsar Cannon is our Viking guide, Elena, we could always find her during tours because of her red Viking shirt and 'lollypop.'

After we left the Kremlin, we saw a political protest across the street, Utilsa Manezhnaya, as can be seen in the picture. The protest is for a 0 percent mortgage interest rate.


It seems that several years ago when oil prices were high, interest rates in Russia were high also because the Ruble was strong. Many Russians obtained mortgages in foreign currencies because the interest rates in other countries, were much lower. The collapse of oil prices and the Ruble changed all that.

The exchange rate for the Ruble to other currencies was very unfavorable, and those Russians with foreign currencies were then hammered. Hence, we had the protest to have Russian mortgage interest rates go to zero. It was a small demonstration but rated its own police escort.