The Armory Museum and Red Square
Within the Fortress Walls of the Kremlin
Once you get over the fact that you’re actually standing inside the fortified walls of the Kremlin, head to the Armory Museum for a dizzying crash course on the lifestyles of the rich and famous czars. It includes more than 4,000 objects from the 12th century to 1917.
Fortunately, some of the premier pieces are displayed first (in Hall II), so you can see them while you still have your wits about you. There’s a stunning collection of ten Fabergé eggs intricate mini-worlds created as tributes to the czars by genius jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé, who became court goldsmith in 1885. The pièce de résistance here is a delicate silver egg engraved with a map of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
The obligatory “surprise” inside was a golden clockwork model of a train with crystal windows and a tiny red ruby for a headlight.
You’ll have to buy a separate ticket to view the dazzling crown jewels of the Romanovs in the poorly indicated Almazny Fond (Diamond Vaults).
There are no written explanations, but it won’t take you long to gravitate to the scepter of Catherine the Great – topped by the Orlov Diamond, a gift from her lover Count Orlov – and her diamond-encrusted crown. Be sure to see the Shah Diamond, given to Czar Nicholas I by the Shah of Iran.
No photos or guidebooks can prepare you for the sensation of standing at the center of the vast, magnificent Red Square. In Russian, krasnaya (red) is closely related to krasivaya, the word for “beautiful,” but for years to come, Red Square will be associated with Communism and the Soviet military parades of tanks and hardware that took place there regularly.
It is bordered on the west by the Kremlin, within whose shadow is the Lenin Museum, where Lenin’s eerily embalmed body has been lying in state since his death in 1924. At the far end of the square loom the multicolored pinnacles and onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, one of Moscow’s best-known landmarks, commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the mid-1500s. Opposite the Kremlin, an enormous steel-frame and glass construction recalls the great old train stations of London or Paris; it is GUM, whose initials stand for State Department Store.
Since the dust of perestroika has settled, it is curious to see how unbridled capitalism and the proliferation of slick new franchises chockablock with Western goods abut old-world, poorly stocked Russian shops that seem on their way to extinction.