Expansion of the Kremlin

The time of Ivan III in the 15th century was the height of the creation of a unified Russian state, which took place as a result of a continuous struggle against the Tatars, Lithuania, Poland, the Livonian Order and Sweden. They wanted to weaken the Russian state so as to isolate the Baltic Sea and Western Europe. At the beginning of the reign of Ivan, few hardly noticed the existence of Muscovy, squeezed between the Tatars and Lithuanians, but were stunned by the sudden appearance on its eastern borders of the huge state (Nossov, 2006: 45).

Ivan III (“Ivan the Great”)
In the second half of the 15th century, the white-stone Kremlin had neither the appearance nor the internal integrity of a powerful defensive structure. The white limestone was not strong enough, and the Kremlin walls and towers had already greatly decayed. In addition, after numerous fires, these were so badly patched that in 1470 some had been replaced entirely by wood. The perennial problem of weather and moisture takes its toll unless the walls are maintained with great vigilance.

In 1490, the Italian architect Pietro Solari built the Sts. Constantine and Helen Tower. Previously, it stood on the site of the tower over the Timofeyev Gates of the Kremlin. It was named in honor of the church of the same name nearby. The original purpose of the tower was the protection of the surrounding area from any kind of external threat, so its design involved the construction of a military platform accessible only through a drawbridge, which made it difficult for the siege engines of the time.

Sts. Constantine and Helen Tower
However, as a military unit, the tower did not last long. Already in the 17th century, the area itself which the tower guarded ceased to be of great strategic importance and its protection no longer could be justified. The tower was demolished and turned into a sort of court of inquiry, another name for a torture chamber, where creative means of persuasion were used on witnesses whose testimony could not be verified either way. Pain, it was thought, would bring out the truth when all other methods had failed.

Inside the Kremlin, with a few exceptions, was a small town of all kinds of wooden buildings: residential, public, religious and clerical. In addition to the grand princely family, nobles, the higher clergy and numerous court members, the Kremlin played host to the most diverse group of people. The rough huts of the suburban inhabitants filled all the space within the boundaries of the Kremlin walls as her population grew. The city clung to the hillside and became a sanctuary for Rus’ peoples from all over the eastern Slavic world.

Ivan III planned to rebuild the Kremlin to make it worthy of the residence of a mighty power and to become an invincible stronghold. At the same time, the decoration of the Kremlin with majestic buildings was a means to embody the power of the Russian state. In 1480, the dilapidated walls were demolished, and in their place a new, stronger and more intricate system of fortifications were erected. The first tower was erected, covering the plains to the rear, but they needed to fasten piles on the steep banks with the added complication of the underground streams. It was necessary to strengthen the ground so that it could securely hold this stone mass (Kollmann, 1987: 20 and Merridal, 2013: 325-327)).

Ivan III ordered “a hundred fathoms” of cleared space behind the walls, which required the demolition of dozens of shacks and churches with graveyards built under the old walls. It was an explicit sacrilege to tear down God’s churches and the bones of ancient tombs, but the prince did not want to hear of such niceties; let the dead not constrain the living, especially in tough times. And over these old relics of ancient Moscow, magnificent buildings, resplendent with the beauty of the new political mandate, were erected on the bones of the old. All the Kremlin, the walls, towers and cathedrals were from the hands of Russian masters collected from different cities. They built a strong Russian masonry unique to the Kremlin ensemble which still impresses by all its grandeur and monumentality. It is literally the product of all Russia in terms of ideology, labor, raw materials and purpose (Sizov, 1979: 131ff).

Strengthening the Kremlin required Italian architects to create the whole experience of old Roman fortification systems. The concepts of the “autonomous” tower became an important contribution of Roman military engineering. If an enemy got hold of one part of the wall, the rest would have been cut off from him. Each tower was an independent fortress and could function without regard to the others. This concept is in keeping with the general principle of non-symmetry in the Kremlin as a whole; symmetry is rationalism, it’s form overthrowing substance. Rather, Russia was to be constructed by the circumstances, not on a purely quantitative basis. Function was to dictate form.

New fortifications met the requirements of the art of defense current at the time, and the Kremlin became a system of reliable and highly armed towers controlling the surrounding area. The walls were a little curved backward as the towers were somewhat pushed forward. This was because each commander, during a siege battle, could monitor the situation in the neighboring towers unimpeded. Moreover, these Towers were arranged and mounted by small openings, parapet slits for the sake of archers or later, riflemen. Under the walls, towers, temples and other buildings of the new Kremlin, underground tunnels and reservoirs, vaulted cellars and storerooms for storage of gunpowder, weapons and other supplies were built. It could withstand the longest sieges of the day and imitated the legendary impenetrability of the walls of Constantinople.

In 1499 in the place where the modern Kremlin stands, Ivan III built a powerful stone palace. In that same year the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti, just following the example of previous Russian architecture, erected the Assumption Cathedral, the largest of the Kremlin cathedrals. After eleven years, far away from it, the Pskov masters erected the Cathedral of the Annunciation, in which prayers were constantly given for the Grand Duke and his family. In 1509, next to the Annunciation Cathedral, was the Cathedral of the Archangel, which became the burial place of the Grand Dukes (Kollmann, 1987: 33). In the Cathedral Square were also the Deposition of the Robe Church, the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles and other monuments (see below).

Ivan’s throne room was completed between 1487 and 1491. At that time, Moscow, uniting around itself a small but strategic principality, rapidly became the head of the all-Russian state. The construction of new and the reconstruction of the old buildings in the Kremlin were assigned to the best Italian and Russian masters. The Italians could offer the work of the first Rome, or Rome in Italy for the sake of the third Rome. The construction was granted to architects Marco Ruffo and again, Pietro Antonio Solari. In 1491, at the Cathedral Square and just to the left of the Assumption Cathedral, the Russian state began construction on new political or legal buildings, especially the Grand Chamber (Kollmann, 1987: 107ff).

This was built near the Central Chamber and the upper porch. On the porch there are just three stairs leading to the Red Gate, the Golden bars (see below) and the Annunciation porch. The Red Porch acted as a platform in front of the Holy Anteroom. Within the Red Gate, Russian autocrats were kept at the Assumption Cathedral awaiting their coronation. The last time such a procession was held was in 1896, when Nicholas II became monarch. In 1682 the Red ring began to crack as the angry crowd demanded their Queen Natalia and her sons Ivan and Peter Alexeyevich.

The building itself is a two-story chamber, wherein the ground floor was initially sealed off from the upper. Students of Russian history will immediately make the connection to the Terem, or the pre-Petrine custom of sexual segregation for noble women. The top is the Throne Room designed by Ivan III, measuring a full 550 square yards and rising to a height of 10 yards, or 9 meters. The walls were covered with paintings of biblical scenes including the life of Joseph, the Israelite who was soon to become a sort of “economics minister” to the Pharonic government of ancient Egypt. The life of Adam and Eve feature prominently since their expulsion from the garden made the state a necessity in the first place (to say nothing of sexual segregation). The integration of form, function and decorative detail was followed to the most minute end (Nossov, 2006: 48).

Many of the architectural designs that were used in the creation of the Terem Palace became, in the future, used for the construction of residences and provincial buildings in Russian life. For example, the well-known Golden Porch with twin arches and crowned with a tent-style roof became the prototype of the traditional Russian exterior. So much of the famous and distinctive Russian designs were first used in the Kremlin palaces, showing that it was a cultural leader as well as a religious and political one.

The Terem Palace, courtesy of Kremlin.ru
Just outside the Terem Palace, the facade on the outer wall deserves close attention. It is white stone trimmed with elaborately carved and hanging cornices, the curved design of which used expensive and well-made multi-colored tiles, similar to Byzantine mosaics. When the Italian builders were included, these parts of the Kremlin became a synthesis of the First, the Second and the Third Romes. Each contribution from the three Romes is clearly visible in any aspect of the Kremlin, then and now. On the tiles are images clearly visible, including floral designs and elements of heraldry, significant animals and birds for important nobles and the designs specific to different parts of the empire. In other words, an encoded depiction of the entire empire (each region is represented) and the titles of the emperor himself make up the design of the Palace’s outside wall (Merridal, 2013: 147).

The second floor is occupied by the Terem Palace’s royal chambers. There are four, and each is quite small. The ancient art of interior wood still shows itself in places such as the choir loft. During the construction of the choir, techniques used in Russian wooden architecture were utilized in the interior, since as an exterior it was hardly practical. All of this produces a mutual connection of separate, whimsical, floral ornaments and ornate carvings all connecting to form a huge icon of the natural elements of Russia. It is as if the material universe of Russian civilization is given voice here (Merridal, 2013: 186ff).