The seat of Russian power.
By Idris Tawfiq
The very name Kremlin still conjures up images in our minds either of espionage during the Soviet era and of Politburo members and general secretaries of the Soviet Communist party, or of the splendours of imperial Russia, when Tsar held sway over what seemed like half the earth.
How times have changed! How the seats of power and control shift from one group to another through history. Yet buildings have stood on this spot for thousands of years, witness to them all.
Like Egypt's own Citadel of Salah El Din in Cairo, the Kremlin, too, is a citadel complex containing palaces, towers and cathedrals, all enclosed within a defensive wall which overlooks Moscow's famous Red Square.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, the Kremlin covers a total area of 275,000 square metres, or 68 acres, all enclosed by the famous red wall, which rises in height from 5 to 19 metres, depending on the ground it is built on.
It has been inhabited one way or another since the second millennium BC. The Kremlin was first inhabited by Russia's rulers when Grand Prince Ivan III moved there after he had assumed the title 'Grand Prince of All the Russia' in 1475. It has been a microcosm of the twists and turns of Russian history through the centuries, home to Grand Dukes and Tsar, as well as to Lenin and Stalin. In fact, when the Bolsheviks moved from Saint Petersburg and made Moscow the capital of the Soviet Union, the whole machinery of the Soviet empire was moved within the walls of the Kremlin. It was Stalin who transformed the part of the Kremlin wall closest to Lenin's tomb into the famous necropolis for heroes of the Soviet Union.
Veiled in mystery until 1955, the Kremlin was closed to foreign tourists until it was re-opened at the start of the brief period in power of Nikita Kruschev. It is now the most visited of Moscow's monuments, a symbol of the city and of Russia.
Sometimes mistaken by foreigners for the Kremlin itself, the multi-domed and striped Saint Basil's Cathedral is just one of the many buildings inside. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch moved his seat from Kiev to Moscow in the 1320's, and since then churches and cathedrals have been built within the Kremlin's walls, close to the seat of power and symbolising the close link between church and state which has existed for centuries. During the period of Soviet power, this relationship was broken and the Communists dismantled both the beautiful Chudov Monastery and the Ascension Convent and destroyed the ancient Saint Saviour Cathedral, but as the Soviets, too, fell from power, the Church began to rise once more as a strong influence on government.
At the very centre of the Kremlin complex is Cathedral Square, which includes three cathedrals. One of them, the cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, was the main church of Moscow and the place where all of Russia's Tsar were crowned. All of Russia's rulers, from Ivan Kalita to Ivan V, are buried here.
As well as churches there are palaces. The oldest non-religious structure is the Palace of Facets, built by Ivan III in 1493, which holds all of the imperial thrones. The first home of the imperial family, the Terem Palace, is the next oldest. Linking them both is the Grand Kremlin Palace, commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I in 1838, which almost crippled the treasury when it was built. It cost an amazing billion dollars to renovate in the 1990's.
The Kremlin was even occupied by the French for a brief period in 1812, after Napoleon's invasion, and after their departure the French emperor ordered the Kremlin to be blown up, as he had also commanded a similar fate for many of the greatest cities in Europe, including the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
Alhamdulillah, Napoleon's plan did not succeed, nor did the plans of Soviet rulers to destroy many of the Kremlin's greatest treasures. Even now, many of the greatest treasures are housed in what was once the Arsenal, where state regalia and precious diamonds are now to be seen.
In casting our eyes over such beauty, though, let us never forget that princes, dynasties and political systems come and go. Egypt's own recent history reminds us of that! Once great rulers, whose every word was obeyed without question, are now only yet more curiosities for tourists to gaze upon as they take the guided tour within the Kremlin's walls. Real might and power belongs to Allah alone. Those who would take His place are consigned to dust. Let us enjoy the Kremlin, but let us never forget that it is Allah Who lasts for ever.
British Muslim writer, Idris Tawfiq, teaches at Al-Azhar University and is the author
of nine books about Islam.
You can visit his website at www.idristawfiq.com, join him on Facebook at Idris Tawfiq Page and listen to his Radio Show, "A Life in Question," on Sundays at 11pm on Radio Cairo 95.4 FM.
Copyright Eltahir House 2013
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