Finding Nemo

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Moscow Part II: Kremlin Candy

Snapping postcard pics are just too easy with St Basils
After getting the back of the hand of Lenin's tomb, I realized I still had a ridiculous amount to see. And I would start with the confection of St Basils. Walking up to St Basils for the first time for a travel-nutbag like me is one of those moments. You know, like when you first walk up to the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall or walk into your first pit toilet. I had little thrill tickles running up and down my neck. Here I was, actually standing in front of the iconic sherbert-flavored temple!

The Cathedral of St Basil's is in a strange location: it just sits by itself, all alone, in the middle of the street. And it was so ... colorful and weird and swirly and different! How did this happy-happy joy-joy whimsy end up here, in the heart of stone-cold conservative Russia of all places?!

Tsarina Catherine
Ivan reacts after learning his nickname
The answer is that, once upon a time, Russia was nothing like its current post-Communist incarnation. Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution it was ruled by a line of Tsars going back to Ivan the Terrible in 1547. Peter the Great expanded Russia into a vast empire in the early 1700s, and the Tsar period culminated in a period of enlightenment under Catherine II. Yes, that's right, some of Russia's most wonderful buildings come from a female Empress. In St Petersburg especially, Catherine's feminine touch can be found in the pretty pastel pink and blue buildings, stunning gardens, and gilded palaces. I have loads of awesome posts coming up that soon! (St Petersburg is simply amazing.)

St Basils, however, was way ahead of its time. In fact, it was ordered under Ivan the Terrible back in 1551. The architecture was unlike anything before: a swirling multi-hued bonfire rising to the heavens. A history of Russian architecture by Shvidkovky gushes it has "... a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design."

I stared up the different colored onion bulbs and couldn't help but think of Willy Wonka. The first was undoubtedly green apple, the second blueberry cream, the 3rd, well, hmm.. maybe something that I coughed after my first taste of Russian herring.

The crayon-colored ceiling panels

St Basil ceiling
The cathedral is not one church, but 8 small churches around a central core. Wandering around these various rooms is interesting as each has a complete different personality. But nothing matches the absolutely stunning interior. There was the ornate iconostasis, the crayon-colored ceiling panels, and at the center of it all a Jesus looking benevolently from a red-blue-green starburst. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the striking blue mosaics in the arches. It was all so very very different from the dark goth pointy churches of Europe. So refreshingly bright and welcoming!

Striking blue mosaics of St Basils
Once back outside, I found myself ambling around the church, marveling at it from all sides. From the south, the sun lit up the domes with a warm glow. This was the angle to take that postcard picture, and the crowds with their cameras ogling for a selfie agreed.

The author, perhaps over-embracing his 10% Russian heritage
It was on to the Kremlin itself. The word "Kremlin" actually means a fortified town center and many Russian cities have one. Of course, in Moscow the Kremlin is just a tad bigger. From Red Square you can see some golden domes atop something inside, teasing you with their sparkly bits. The red Kremlin walls are pleasant to walk around, surrounded by green lawns and flanked by the Moscow River.

Impressive Kremlin walls. Keebler elves man the parapets, I'm sure of it
If you are a lover of churchy gold Russian domes, and count me on that wagon, the Kremlin interior is like a fat kid in a muffin shop. The Kremlin has 7, yes count 'em 7, churches and cathedrals and towers and each is anointed with gold dumplings. There were big gold domes, rows of little gold domes, and even some hidden domes that can only be seen if you stand in a special place and press L2 on your controller. (Make sure to always backpack with an Xbox controller for just these occasions.)

Secret golden dome stash
I really am not sure why on earth the Russian Tsars needed so many churches. There was the Cathedral of the Archangel, Cathedral of Bad Pronunciation, Cathedral of the Interesting Assumption, Church of the Deposition of the Robe, Church of the Putting the Robe on the Towel Rack Before Taking a Shower, Ivan's Bell Tower, my personal favorite The Church of Big Baby Jesus, and finally the Cathedral of the 12 Apostles Playing A Game of Cricket.

Kremlin Churchiness
I looked high and low for the Church of Twerking Angels but apparently that one is still under construction. Most of the main buildings are closed for government business, and it is pretty funny to see blacked out cars with blue flashing lights coming and going, just like in Beijing. Ah, if only I was an important official in an autocratic country! How awesome it would be to watch traffic melt to the sides as I, the great and important bureaucrat Nemo, proceeded!

Ivan's Cock and Balls... er... sorry misread it. "Tsar Cannon" apparently
Beyond a quick lookie-loo through the churches there really isn't much else to see in the main square. So it was off to the Armory, which has a ton of royal carriages, robes, jewels, crowns, Faberge eggs (!) (Russian rulers apparently loved them), and of course the token bundle of horrifically awesome medieval weapons. If you want to pay more for the Diamond Fund you can go see the famous Crown Jewels. But after tromping around the entire Kremlin and getting abused by the crowds in the Armory, I really wasn't in the mood to pay more and wait in another long line. I'm sure there are big incredible jewels in there but a man can only handle so much ABC per day. (Another Bloody Church/Castle/Crowd.)

And so, after reveling in the Tsar riches of the Kremlin, it was off to see the real Moscow! More goodies await!

No comments:

Post a Comment