Whoever it was that said the best of Moscow’s beauty can be found in its various churches and cathedrals were right. Walking into the Cathedral Square felt like we were dropped back in time. The gleaming gold paint of the onion domes of the cathedrals only accentuated the feeling and the evening sun gave it all a dream-like quality.
The Cathedral Square or Sobornaya Square gets its name from the three cathedrals facing it – Cathedral of the Dormition, Cathedral of the Archangel, and Cathedral of the Annunciation. The architectural style is a mixture of the traditional Russian, Italian Renaissance and the ornate and often extravagant style of architecture, Baroque.
True to her role of guide, Svetlana plunged into the history of the place and the many stories associated with it. To our right stood the Ivan the Great Bell Tower with its huge bells, the cupolas gleaming, the tallest structure in all of the Kremlin complex. In front of us was the Dormition Cathedral’s south entrance, which portal our guide told us, was reserved exclusively for the use of Tsars and their families in days gone by. Interestingly though, it is not used by anyone even in the present, never mind that there aren’t any Tsars around. The sole entry now is through the western portal.
The inside of the Dormition is stunning with frescoes covering every square inch of the walls and roof. Here was where coronations happened, royal weddings were held, ritual installation of Metropolitans and Patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church happened, where important announcements relating to the state were made. Here can also be found the gravestones of the Patriarchs and Metropolitans.
One of the prominent frescoes is that of Christ the Judge on a throne with the apostles around him, Adam and Eve prostrate at his feet, and the Serpent stretching to Adam’s feet. The bottom level has the people, the just to the left and sinners to the right. As Svetlana continued, holding her audience enthralled with details of more of the many frescoes on the wall a voice piped in. ‘Excuse me,’ asked the gentleman, a member of our group, ‘was Jesus born here?‘
There was a sudden snort of laughter from somewhere behind, quickly covered up by coughing. It was probably a genuine doubt, his logic being, if someone’s story was on the walls of a magnificent cathedral, he had to have been born there too, right? But, coming from a state which has its fair share of Christians, the question made my jaw drop to the floor with an obvious thud. I quickly gathered it up before someone blamed me for damaging the floor of a world heritage site.
Photography was strictly prohibited inside the cathedral. In spite, I noticed a couple of young men coolly going about taking pictures. Fortunately the security saw one of them, but the other got away with his transgression. Why the hell do people do what they are told not to! I had a good mind to inform on the second chap. But I had only just found a seat and was giving a well deserved rest to my tired back and aching feet and so gave it a miss. More than the walking itself, it is the standing in one place for long and moving around slowly that takes a toll on your back and feet. Sigh.
We had already taken an inordinately long time at the Dormition cathedral. Voices could be heard grumbling about not wanting to hear so much of details. There were other places to cover, weren’t there? So yeah, we rushed through the other cathedrals and were soon walking through Taynitsky Garden. The trees and flowers were a pretty sight. One oak tree was of particular interest. It had been planted by Yuri Gagarin when he returned from his space trip.
We walked out of the Kremlin east gate to the famed Red Square. I had the same Who’d Have Thunk feeling. But what really stunned was the sight of St Basil’s Cathedral to the right as we stepped out of the Kremlin, it’s many colored domes giving it a fairy tale look. Wow. A real coincidence that when I sent a picture of the cathedy to the L&M, he was watching a scene from a movie shot right in front of it. The cathedral is regarded as the symbol of Russia, and is now a museum.
It had been a long day for us. We sat around on the steps nearby – some sitting on the paved square, others lying down flat on the sun-warmed stones – sharing details about the day. We got talking with a young couple from our group. This is the most boring trip we have had, they confessed. What? I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘The US was interesting. So was Canada,’ the man said, adding, ‘You people are interested in history and stuff, so it’s okay for you. We’d just like to have a good time and all this stuff is just not our idea of fun!‘ Well, to each their own, I suppose. But they were a cheerful pair who took things in their stride, never letting their supposedly wrong choice dampen their spirits.
The sun was setting. Soon it would be time to get into the coach and be off for dinner, followed by the long drive back to the hotel, the only thought uppermost in our minds being a quick bath and a good night’s sleep afterwards.
Now for some pictures.
There is so much I haven’t gone into, because frankly the blog would run into thousands and thousands of words. Besides, most of the information is already on the net for anyone interested, even virtual tours you can go on sitting cozily in the confines of your home. So my perceptions are what I have mostly stuck to.
There are things that I may have inadvertently left out, and they will, in all probability, come to me later on, at which point I would smack my head and exclaim, ‘Omg! how could I have not mentioned THAT!‘ But that’s what happens when one procrastinates and writes about the tour one’s been on almost a month afterwards. And yet, as Wodehouse was wont to say, these things happen and cannot be helped. One has to learn to take it all philosophically.
© Shail Mohan 2019