Few architectural forms have acquired greater resonance than the Moscow Kremlin. In actuality many medieval Russian towns had a "kremlin," or fortified citadel, yet no other kremlin acquired the fame of Moscow's. The Kremlin structure, a potent symbol of Russian power and inscrutability, owes much of its appearance to the Russian imagination—especially the tower spires added in the seventeenth century by local architects. Yet the main towers and walls are the product of Italian fortification engineering of the quattrocento, already long outdated in Italy by the time of their construction in Moscow. Nonetheless, the walls proved
adequate against Moscow's traditional enemies from the steppes, whose cavalry was capable of inflicting great damage on unwalled settlements, but had little or no heavy siege equipment.
In the 1460s the Kremlin's limestone walls, by then almost a century old, had reached a dangerous state of disrepair. Local contractors were hired for patchwork; as for reconstruction, Ivan III turned to Italy for specialists in fortification. Between 1485 and 1516 the old fortress was replaced with brick walls and towers extending 2,235 meters and ranging in thickness from 3.5 to 6.5 meters. The height of the walls varied from eight to nineteen meters, with the distinctive Italian "swallowtail" crenelation. Of the twenty towers, the most elaborate were placed on the corners or at the main entrances to the citadel. Among the most imposing is the Frolov (later Spassky, or Savior, Tower), built between 1464 and 1466 by Vasily Ermolin and rebuilt in 1491 by Pietro Antonio Solari, who arrived in Moscow from Milan in 1490. The decorative crown was added in 1624 and 1625 by Bazhen Ogurtsov and the Englishman Christopher Halloway. At the southeast corner of the walls, the Beklemishev Tower (1487–1488, with an octagonal spire from 1680) was constructed by Marco Friazin, who frequently worked with Solari. This and similar Kremlin towers suggest comparisons with the fortress at Milan. The distinctive spires were added by local architects in the latter part of the seventeenth century.
Although he built no cathedrals, Pietro Antonio Solari played a major role in the renovation of the Kremlin. He is known not only for his four entrance towers—the Borovitsky, the Constantine and Helen, the Frolov, and the Nikolsky (all 1490–1493)—as well as the magnificent corner Arsenal Tower and the Kremlin wall facing the Red Square, but also for his role in the completion of the Faceted Chambers (Granovitaya palata ), its name due to the diamond-pointed rustication of its limestone main facade. Used for banquets and state receptions within the Kremlin palace complex, the building was begun in 1487 by Marco Friazin, who designed the three-storied structure with a great hall whose vaulting was supported by a central pier. Much of the ornamental detail, however, was modified or effaced during a rebuilding of the Chambers by Osip Startsev in 1682.
The rebuilding of the primary cathedral of Moscow, the Dormition of the Virgin, began in the early 1470s with the support of Grand Prince Ivan III and Metropolitan Philip, leader of the Russian Or thodox Church. Local builders proved incapable of so large and complex a task. Thus when a portion of the walls collapsed, Ivan obtained the services of an Italian architect and engineer, Aristotle Fioravanti, who arrived in Moscow in 1475. He was instructed to model his structure on the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir; and while his design incorporates certain features of the Russo-Byzantine style, the architect also introduced a number of technical innovations. The interior—with round columns instead of massive piers—is lighter and more spacious than any previous Muscovite church. The same period also saw the construction of smaller churches in traditional Russian styles, such as the Church of the Deposition of the Robe (1484–1488) and the Annunciation Cathedral (1484–1489).
The ensemble of Kremlin cathedrals commissioned by Ivan III concludes with the Cathedral of the Archangel Mikhail, built in 1505–1508 by Aleviz Novy. The building displays the most extravagantly Italianate features of the Kremlin's Italian Period, such as the scallop motif, a Venetian feature soon to enter the repertoire of Moscovy's architects. The wall paintings on the interior date from the mid-seventeenth century and contain, in addition to religious subjects, the portraits of Russian rulers, including those buried in the cathedral from the sixteenth to the end of the seventeenth centuries.
The culminating monument in the rebuilding of the Kremlin is the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great, begun in 1505, like the Archangel Cathedral, and completed in 1508. Virtually nothing is known of its architect, Bon Friazin, who had no other recorded structure in Moscow. Yet he was clearly a brilliant engineer, for his bell tower—60 meters high, in two tiers—withstood the fires and other disasters that periodically devastated much of the Kremlin. The tower, whose height was increased by an additional 21 meters during the reign of Boris Godunov, rests on solid brick walls that are 5 meters thick at the base and 2.5 meters on the second tier.
The most significant seventeenth-century addition to the Kremlin was the Church of the Twelve Apostles, commissioned by Patriarch Nikon as part of the Patriarchal Palace in the Kremlin. This large church was originally dedicated to the Apostle Philip, in implicit homage to the Metropolitan Philip, who had achieved martyrdom for his opposition to the terror of Ivan IV.
During the first part of the eighteenth century, Russia's rulers were preoccupied with the building of St. Petersburg. But in the reign of Catherine the Great, the Kremlin once again became the object of autocratic attention. Although little came of Catherine's desire to rebuild the Kremlin in a neoclassical style, she commissioned Matvei Kazakov to design one of the most important state buildings of her reign: the Senate, or high court, in the Kremlin. To create a triangular four-storied building, Kazakov masterfully exploited a large but awkward lot wedged in the northeast corner of the Kremlin. The great rotunda in its center provided the main assembly space for the deliberations of the Senate. To this day the rotunda is visible over the center of the east Kremlin wall.
During the nineteenth century, Nicholas I initiated the rebuilding of the Great Kremlin Palace (1839–1849), which had been severely damaged in the 1812 occupation. In his design the architect Konstantin Ton created an imposing facade for the Kremlin above the Moscow River and provided a stylistic link with the Terem Palace, the Faceted Chambers, and the Annunciation Cathedral within the Kremlin. Ton also designed the adjacent building of the Armory (1844–1851), whose historicist style reflected its function as a museum for some of Russia's most sacred historical relics.
With the transfer of the Soviet capital to Moscow in 1918, the Kremlin once again became the seat of power in Russia. That proved a mixed blessing, however, as some of its venerable monuments, such as the Church of the Savior in the Woods, the Ascension Convent, and the Chudov Monastery, were destroyed in order to clear space for government buildings. Only after the death of Josef Stalin was the Kremlin opened once again to tourists. The most noticeable Soviet addition to the ensemble was the Kremlin Palace of Congresses (1959–1961, designed by Mikhail Posokhin and others). It has the appearance of a modern concert hall (one of its uses), whose marble-clad rectangular outline is marked by narrow pylons and multistoried shafts of plate glass. The one virtue of its bland appearance is the lack of conflict with the historic buildings of the Kremlin, which remain the most important cultural shrine in Russia.
See also: architecture; armory; cathedral of the archangel; cathedral of the dormition; moscow; red square
Hamilton, George Heard. (1983). The Art and Architecture of Russia. New York: Penguin Books.
William Craft Brumfield