Carusel Tours
28 January 2022

Brief Guide to Red Square in Moscow

Brief Guide to Red Square in Moscow
I love our capital and I am still impressed by Red Square every time when I step on it. When I saw it for the first time, I was absolutely mesmerized and I envy you if you have not seen it yet. You have so much to discover!

Read our brief guide about the main sights on the main square of our country and the true facts behind them. I promise not to feed you with legends only!
Why Red and What is Red?

In Russian Red Square is Krasnaya Ploshchad'. Krasnaya is the word for red in the feminine mode (because square is feminine in Russian). In the old times, Russians also called everything that was beautiful and important "red" and the present-day word for pretty in Russian still has the same root as the word "red". So, most probably, the square was called so for its beauty and exceptionality.

Krasivy/krasivaya/krasivoye – beautiful, pretty in present-day Russian

Krasny/krasnaya/krasnoye – red in present-day Russian and also beautiful in old Russian

Panoramic View of Kremlin from Moskva River
Red Square is surrounded by red bricks of Kremlin walls and towers from one side, so many people think that it got its name from them. The Kremlin walls of Moscow in its present state was rebuilt by the Italian architects from fired red bricks in the end of 15th century. However, between the end of the 17th century and 1880-s they were whitewashed and you will see white Kremlin walls in the old photos and paintings of Moscow.

At the same time, not all Kremlin Towers were whitewashed – Spasskaya Tower, the largest one out of all towers facing the square, was left red-bricked for most of its time. It is the most well-known tower for all people living in Russia, because each New Year the clock on Spasskaya Tower marks midnight and as the chimes are beating, we make the wishes and drink champagne! We don't need to be present at Red Square at that time, most of us are watching clock on Spasskaya Tower on TV.

Read about the New Year Celebrations in Russia
During World War Two Bombardments Kremlin Walls, Towers and Cathedrals were camouflaged and Red Square was painted with the models of buildings, that imitated the streets in the city
Red Square in the Second Half of the 17th Century by A. Vasnetsov (1925)
Red Square in the Second Half of the 17th Century by A. Vasnetsov (1925)

As it is the case with most main squares in other cities, since the very beginning Red Square was the market area and it was surrounded from the side, opposite to the Kremlin, by Merchants Yards, that were rebuilt many times and they still exist today.

In the 16th -17th centuries orders of Russian Tsars were announced and religious ceremonies launched from Red Square. It was also a place for public executions.

What is Happening on Red Square now?

Since the Soviet Times Red Square has been actively used for Military Parades and various public events. The most important one is, of course, the military parade on May 9 – the day when we celebrate the victory in the Great Patriotic War.

A lot of festivals and concerts take place on Red Square all year round, from Christmas Market to Spasskaya Tower Festival of Military Orchestras when the square is converted into a giant stage and the tribunes are built along its sides.

I get the impression that Red Square is holding events for most days of a year, therefore don't get upset if you come to Moscow and see that the entrance to it is restricted – that will mean that you will have to come back again!
Resurrection (Iversky) Gate and Chapel Red Square Entrance Gate
Resurrection (Iversky) Gate and Chapel

If this beautiful pseudo-Russian gate looks new to your eye, you are not mistaken – the current gate and the chapel at the entrance of Red Square were built in 1994 on the basement of old gate that was destroyed by the order of Stalin in 1931. It prevented military vehicles and rows of people from entering the square during demonstrations and parades. It was one of many historical buildings around Kremlin and on its territory demolished during Stalin's reign.

The old gate first appeared on its spot in 16th century to the design on Italian architect, they were locked at night and opened during the day, so that people could enter the market on Red Square. They were demolished in 1680 and built anew in a larger size and more lavishly decorated. At the same time the wall that was surrounding them was partly dismantled to give the place for various administrative buildings and the gate chapel, made of wood, was constructed to house the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Iver, the protector of Moscow. Later, at the end of the 18th century, the chapel was rebuilt in stone by architect Kazakov and decorated by Italian painter Gonzago after the fire of 1812.

It was used as triumphal gate to celebrate victories and coronation ceremonies.
The State Historical Museum on Red Square
The State Historical Museum

A gorgeous terem-like building from a fairy tale belongs to the State Historical Museum, it was designed by V. Sherwoodin the architectural style, inspired by old Russia, and inaugurated in 1883. Its construction costed a fortune, lasted for 11 years and was highly criticised. In order to give the space for the museum, a 200-hundred years old chemistry was demolished and many Muscovites were against it.
Famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier advised the Soviet Government in 1920 "to get rid of the building", because it hindered the architectural appearance of Moscow. Although the Soviets demolished a great number of buildings in Moscow with the great ease, they did not follow his advice.
The State Historical Museum undoubtedly changed the historical appearance of this area, because in the similar pseudo-Russian style Upper and Middle Shopping Arcades and former Moscow City Hall were built.

The Museum holds a remarkable collection of Russian applied art, icons, books. It has a separate Room of Dostoevsky with books, letters and photos of the famous writer, donated to the museum by his wife Anna.
I recommend you to visit the Museum of the Patriotic War of 1812 with Napoleon, that is the part of the State Historical Museum. It was inaugurated in 2012 in a new two-story pavilion in the inner yard of the Moscow City Hall and it has original medal, orders, arms, uniform, documents and even field kitchen cars of that time. It would be interesting not only to the admirers of War and Peace by Tolstoy, but also to families with children and all of you who are indifferent to Russian and European history.
The Cathedral of the Virgin of Kazan

In fact, it a little church, that was initially built in the 17th century and reconstructed numerous times in the 19th century. In the 1920-s architect Baranovsky started to restore it back to its original appearance, but he never finished his works – the church was demolished in 1936. In Soviet era, a pavilion, a summer cafe and a fountain were located on its foundation. Then, it was rebuilt in the 1990-1993 on the same foundation.

It got its name in memory of the victory of Russia over Polish-Lithuanian Troops during the Time of Troubles in the Battle of Moscow of 1612 on Devichie Pole (literally the girls' field). During the battle the Russian army held the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, one of the most revered Orthodox shrines, with them.
the State Universal Store – GUM Red Square Moscow Winter Christmas Market
GUM

Upper Trading Rows (GUM) and Lower Trading Rows

The trading rows along Red Square have been there since the 17th century. First rows were wooden and so they constantly suffered from fires, in the 18th and 19th centuries they were built and rebuilt in stone several times. By the 1880-s, the buildings of the rows in the classical style, that very much reminded Gostiny Dvor (Merchant Yard) in St. Petersburg, got too shabby.

Instead of restoring them, the government decided to rebuild the rows in neo-Russian style to suit more the new appearance of Red Square, dominated by recently inaugurated State Historical Museum.
GUM Moscow inside
In the Soviet Era, the Upper Trading Rows were converted into the State Universal Store – GUM. It is still known under the same name, although it does not belong to state anymore.
Presently it has a lot of various shops and is more visited by tourists than by locals.

On its upper floors, it has two soviet-style canteens with affordable prices and paid toilets. It is really beautiful inside with the décor inspired by old Russian style mixed with glass ceiling typical for European shopping arcades of the end of the 19th century and most of the time it is quiet inside, so it is worth a visit.
The Lower Trading Rows Red Square
Photo from Progulkipomoskve.ru

The Lower Trading Rows had a different fate - after the revolution they were given to the army. In the 2000-s they became the property of the Federal Protective Service (FSO) of Russia for a brief period and now they are under reconstruction. They will be open very soon as the part of the Kremlin Museums
By the way, the director of Kremlin Museums since 2001 is Elena Gagarina, the daughter of Yury Gagarin.
Mausoleum

When I have almost finished the post, I realised, that I forgot to mention the sight that is still popular among visitors of Moscow. I honestly don't understand how can it still exist, but it continues to stand on Red Square today and you can still come there to see Lenin's preserved body. Between 1953 and 1961 Stalin's body laid there next to Lenin's, but later it was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
Monument to Minin and Pozharsky
Photo from fotokto.ru

Monument to Minin and Pozharsky

This monument is very important for Russians, for it sends us back to a dramatic period in the history of the country in the 17th century, known as the Time of Troubles. This period was marked by several false tsars, succeeding each other and claiming that they were real Dmitry, meaning the deceased son of Ivan the Terrible.

At the same time, about one third of the population of the country died from severe famine, caused by cold lean years with snow and frosts in summertime.

Minin and Pozharsky were the leaders of the volunteer army who expelled Polish-Lithuanian Troops from the country in 1612. The monument to them was completed by Iván Martos in 1818 and it is the first big monument in Moscow.
There is the copy of the monument in Nizhny Novgorod, made by Zurab Tsereteli in 2005. Kozma Minin came from Nizhny Novgorod.
Red Square with Lobnoe Mesto
Lobnoe Mesto

Lobnoe Mesto literally means "the place at the steep shore of the river". This pedestal is known from late 16th century - it was used for announcing tsar orders (until the movement of the capital to St. Petersburg) and during religious ceremonies.

Until the revolution of 1917, it remained an important place for Orthodox church – from there bishops performed religious services and blessed the parishioners and it was included in the route of church processions during religious holidays.
St. Basil's Cathedral (Pokrovsky Cathedral or Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat)
St. Basil's Cathedral (Pokrovsky Cathedral or Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat)

And, as we say, the cherry on top of the cake in my post about Red Square is St. Basil's Cathedral – probably the most well-known symbol of Russia abroad!

When you get to Moscow you may hear a common legend saying that the cathedral was so beautiful that the tsar Ivan the Terrible blinded its architects, Postnik and Barma, so that they won't be able to construct anything like that again. However, their names were found in the written sources of later times, where it was cited that they designed other churches after the completion of St. Basil's.

The cathedral was built in 6 years to honour the capture of Kazan. It was inaugurated in 1561 and it consisted of 9 "pavilion churches" or "shatyors" in Russian, they were all cold, that is, not-heated and served only during summers.

In 1588 the tenth church, the Church of St. Basil, was added to the cathedral and as it was heated most services were held there all year round. Its name soon became used as the informal name of the cathedral. And it continues to be so up to this date! The official name of the cathedral is the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat or Pokrovsky Cathedral in Russian, but most people will never recognise it under it, they know it as St. Basil's!
Onion Cupolas of St. Basil Cathedral Moscow Red Square
The temple has 11 domes. 10 of them crown the same churches and the last one is on the bell tower. 9 domes of the cathedral are unique and multicoloured. We do not know for sure the meaning of colours of carved onion-cupolas. However, there is an interesting version. If the temple symbolises heavenly Jerusalem, we can explain the color of the domes with the dream of Blessed Andrei the Fool of Constantinople, who dreamed that Jerusalem had gardens with many flowering fruit trees of inexpressible beauty.

In the Soviet Time the cathedral was turned into a museum, although there were ideas to demolish it, thanks God, it withstood.

Since 1991 the services are held in the cathedral again, but it still looks more like a museum than a functioning church. There are several interesting expositions inside with religious applied art and icons. St. Basil's Cathedral is the part of the State Historical Museum of Moscow.
St. Basil's Cathedral together with Peterhof Fountains in St. Petersburg and Motherland Calls Monument in Volgograd that commemorates the Battle of Stalingrad were voted among 7 Wonders of Russia, the rest of them are wonders of nature.
If you are going to come to Moscow, check our Moscow Tour Ideas and posts about Museums in Wooden Houses and Moscow of Bulgakov.

Do not hesitate to contact us for advice or original tour programme in Moscow!

Text by Alexandra Lyukina
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