The market square now known as Red Square was built in the late 15th century as ordered by Ivan III. The original wooden stalls burned so often that it became known as Fire Square. It acquired the name Red Square in the 17th century from the Russian word krasnyy, originally meaning “beautiful” but the word came to mean “red.” The name Red Square has no connection to its bloody history or to Communism.
Standing in the center of square looking south is St. Basil’s Cathedral. To the west is Lenin’s Mausoleum with the Kremlin behind it. To the north are the Historical Museum and Resurrection Gate. To the east are Kazan Cathedral and GUM shopping center. (Click on photos for more information.)
Ulitsa Varvarka (Varvarka Street) runs along the Moskva River and is home to several beautiful churches. It takes its name from St. Barbara (Varvarka) Church which is named after one Barbara who reportedly killed her father for her Christian beliefs in the 4thcentury and afterward became the patron saint of Moscovian merchants who built a church in her honor. The street is home to such treasures as the Monastery of the Sign with its green and gold domes was erected in 1684 and the blue domes decorated with stars which tops the Church of St. George, built in 1657.
There is no way to begin to see all the museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg. We merely skimmed the surface and were overwhelmed by the size and richness of the collections. One of the three buildings which make up the Pushkin Museum holds the Impressionists Collection. Matisse’s (1869-1964) “Goldfish” is there as well as pieces by Picasso (1881-1973) including one that I had never heard of, “Old Jew and a Boy,” and Renato Guttuso’s (1912-1987) “Rocco with a Gramophone.”
We spent two days in the Tretyakov Galleries. The original gallery was a given to the city of Moscow in 1892 by the wealthy merchant Pavel Tretyakov whose brother also donated pieces. Paintings, drawings, watercolors [especially beautiful are those by Isaak Levitan (1861-1900)], icons and jewelry. The 20thcentury gallery features Russia’s avant-garde artists. I really loved the Primitivist works with their bold shapes and colors. The collection of Soviet pieces is staggering. Across the street from this prestigious gallery stands a statue of Peter the Great on a ship. It is one of the largest statues in the world. Quite a contrast to the high art inside the gallery but very fun!
While in St. Petersburg we visited The Russian Museum, also known as the Mikhailovsky Palace Museum, which displays the history of Russian art from the 10th century to the present. It opened in 1898 and grew enormously in size after the 1917 Revolution when “nationalization” brought the acquisition of numerous private collections. The museum now holds about 400,000 exhibits both permanent and temporary collections. The Chagall below is part of the permanent collection. A fabulous exhibit now on display is “American Artists from the Russian Empire” which consists of work of Jewish artists who fled Russia at the turn of the 20th century.
We couldn’t seem to get to the Kremlin until a day or so before we left Russia. Guidebooks stipulated specific entry hours. The weather was bad and no photos were allowed inside the many buildings. The Kremlin (kreml means “fortress”) was the Citadel of the Tsars, the headquarters of the Soviet Union and is now the home of the Russian president. The original structure was chosen for its location on the Moskva and Neglinnaya rivers by Prince Yuiy Dolgorukiy in 1156. In the 15th century Italian architects were commissioned by Ivan III to build the new complex including the Church of the Assumption (which holds the 12th century painting of St. George, the oldest Russian icon) and the Faceted Palace. The entry to the Kremlin is through the Trinity Tower. Napoleon marched through this gate in 1812 but left defeated a month later. The State Armory was constructed in 1844-1851. The priceless imperial collections and diamond fund are found there. In the 1920s Stalin destroyed several churches and palaces of the Kremlin. In 1955, parts of the Kremlin were reopened to the public.