Of all government buildings in the world, from Westminster to the White House, the Kremlin in Moscow probably best appeals to the imagination. Situated next to the famous Red Square, it’s surrounded by a red wall. These walls weren’t always red, though – they were white before the Soviets painted them red after coming to power. Red, the colour of blood. For many people, it’s a mystery what is really going on behind those walls. When people think of the Kremlin, they think of Russian president Vladimir Putin sitting behind those walls, scheming plans for world domination. However, when you are visiting Moscow, it’s fairly easy to find out yourself what is going on behind those walls: you just have to buy a ticket to the Kremlin museum. If you want access to all museums, this will cost you around 15 to 20 euros. Not too much of a sacrifice to go behind the scenes of one of the most interesting governments in the world. I went inside, and finally saw for myself what the Kremlin is hiding. During my investigation, I found two answers.
The simple answer is: nothing special. Really, when you enter the Kremlin via one of its towers, you basically just enter another square. You have Red Square, the walls of the Kremlin and… inside it another square. I think one of the main reasons why people see the Kremlin itself as the area where the Russian government makes all its plans is because most people don’t really know what a kremlin exactly is. Because, you see, the Kremlin in Moscow is not the only Kremlin in the world. In fact, most older cities in Russia have or had at one point a kremlin. “Kremlin” is just another word for a small defence fortress inside a city. Veliky Novgorod and Kazan, to name two examples, are other cities in Russia which still also have a kremlin, the one in Kazan still being white. Usually, what can be found inside a kremlin are some churches, defence positions and government buildings. In this, the kremlin in Moscow is not unique. Behind those high, threatening, secretive walls are churches, an armoury, a concert hall built by the Soviets and the Grand Kremlin Palace. Not much to worry about, you would say. However, the Moscow Kremlin is still a very interesting place. This all concerns the symbolism connected to this specific kremlin. In this, the Moscow Kremlin is unique.
This gets us to the more second, more complicated answer. First of all, the Moscow Kremlin is the centre of the centre of the city. If you look at a map of the Moscow metro, the little star that represents the Kremlin is located exactly in the middle of the humongous metro system. This metro map reveals more than that: next to the Kremlin, the Kitay-gorod metro station is situated in an area which used to be an old defence fortress, which could thus help to defend the kremlin. Moscow itself is surrounded by the so-called Golden Ring cities, medieval cities that could protect Moscow from invasions. And one of the reasons the Soviet Union acquired so many satellite states is… you guessed it: to protect the Russian heartland from fighting. Thus, it seems like the Russian circular defence structure started with the Moscow Kremlin. This part of the symbolism, explaining why during Soviet times the kremlin was seen as the centre of not only Russia but also the former Soviet satellite states, is just one part of the story. Inside the red walls are also numerous churches, which all have serious significance as well. Probably the best example is the Annunciation Cathedral. This Orthodox church, directly connected to the Grand Kremlin Palace, was where the coronation of the Russian tsars took place, from Ivan the Third in 1502 to Nicholas II in 1896. For almost 400 years, this church was the place where Russian power was centralised. It’s a white church as well, like the other ones inside. A significant contrast with the white red walls.
Thus, besides being the central defence fort holding the most important buildings inside Moscow, the kremlin was also the place where the Russian leaders got their power by coronation.
No wonder that the Kremlin is seen as the centre of Russian power – it was and still is. Because nowadays, Russian president Vladimir Putin still has his office inside the Kremlin. When visiting the Kremlin, I asked an employee where Putin is working exactly on this square. Smiling, he told me that he works inside the Grand Kremlin Palace, which is the place where all the meetings with foreign ministers take place. He even told us where the entrances are, but also that it would probably be quite hard to get in. Of course, I investigated, and remarkably, the entrances are next to the pavement. It is a wonder that you are allowed to come so close to the actual building where this mighty man works. Naturally, the employee was right – the doors were closed. When asked whether he had seen the president himself, he told that he had seen him only once: in a car driving past. Thinking of how long this man has probably already worked there, seeing the president once does not seem much. But then again, much is cloaked in mystery about the president. And rightly so, because he should be able to do his work properly. When considering this, and the fact that there are a lot of churches in the kremlin, I wonder about the person behind the façade of the Russian president. His job must be incredibly hard. This country is not an easy country to govern, and the job must be lonely at times. How does he cope with these things? Does he believe in God? If so, does he ever go to one of the churches and seek for guidance? I could imagine this happening, but I can never be sure. No one can.
Walking around inside the Kremlin, I couldn’t help but getting a bit of a weird feeling. The place is huge, and there is a lot of space to walk around, but not all streets are accessible. When I stepped on a street to cross the road, a guard waved me back. Apparently that road was not for visitors.
The buildings are huge, the shadows cast by those mostly white buildings are huge, the amount of tourists is huge. A lot of Chinese tourists, of course. But still, besides massive amounts of people walking around a lot of buildings, the place feels a bit empty to me. The Moscow Kremlin is still the place where the centre of the Russian government is located, and thus it is still the place where Russian power originates from. It did so for 500 years already, and it will probably continue to do so. Maybe this was part of what I was grasping while walking around there. Of course, I am looking at this in hindsight, but to me, the atmosphere inside the walls was a bit eerie.