Moscow has been called the Third Rome by a clergyman who with this name
compared it to Rome and Constantinople, both as the centres of big empires
and as strongholds of Christianity.
This boast overlooks the fact that Christianity didnt enter Russian
soil through Moscow, but through Kiev, and Moscow only "inherited"
this self- appointed role after the destruction of the first Russian empire
to be, the Kievian Rus, in 1240. During the centuries of Mongolian dominion
(the "yoke", as it is called in Russia) on Russian soil many
small city states/principalities existed, fighting against each other,
often with the assistance of Mongolian leaders, who practised the principle
"Divide and rule!" Among these city states Moscow with time
rose to primacy and the Muscovite Grand Dukes took over the task of reuniting
the Russian lands, until one of them, Ivan IV, "the Terrible"
was crowned the first "Tsar of all Rus" in 1547.
The church of the Ascension at Kolomenskoye.
The village of Kolomenskoye was once a residence of the Grand
Dukes and Tsars. Nowadays its a museum site for 16-17th century
architecture, situated in the southern part of Moscow.
The buildings in Kolomenskoye belong to the oldest buildings
left in Moscow. In former times most Russian buildings, whether
houses, or palaces, or churches were from wood and therefore didnt
survive till today.
The church of the Ascension was built in 1532 to celebrate the
birth of Ivan the Terrible. It was one of the first stone churches
of Russia and has a unique architecture.
To me it seems to resemble a rocket. A prophecy for the Soviet
space program? And its even called church of the Ascension,
so they had an idea of where it should go to!
Slavic settlement in the Moscow area, according to traces
left by the first settlers, started in the 11th century. By then the Kievian
Rus had been in existence for a while and its Grand Dukes had already
converted to Christianity with Vladimir Svatoslavich in 988.
Moscow was first mentioned in a chronicle in 1147. It developed as a trading
centre at the connection of the Moskva, Neglinnaya and Yauza rivers. It
was also destroyed by the Mongolian invaders in 1238 but quickly recovered.
By numerous wars, sieges and battles it gained an extension of territory
and independence from the Mongolian khans in the course of the rule of
the Grand Dukes Daniil (1276-1303), Ivan Kalita (1328-1341), Dmitri Donskoy
(1362-1389), Ivan III. (1462-1505) and Vassili III. (1505-1533).
||Columns and stairs of the church of the Ascension
Other principalities, as the ones of Novgorod, Tver, Rostov
and Pskov were incorporated into the Muscovite territory. The Mongolian
yoke was thrown off when the Muscovite Grand Dukes felt strong enough
to refuse to pay the tribute.
The 17th century gate through which one enters
the area of Kolomenskoye.
Under the rule of Ivan IV. "the Terrible" the
Mongolians in Russian referred to as Tartars were finally
defeated and no longer constituted a threat to Russian rulers. Trade relations
were established with Western countries through the port of Kholmogory,
nowadays Arkhangelsk, on the White Sea. The conquest of Siberia started.
After a time of unrest (the "smuta") Russia defeated attempts
of Poland to impose its rule and even its catholic faith on Russia. Russia
emerged again as a Great power in the time of Peter I (the Great) and
after its victory in the battle of Poltava in the Nordic War against Sweden
finally gained access to the Baltic Sea which led to the foundation of
a new capital, Saint Petersburg.
||This gate is called the Red Gate, though its
not red at all. Either it was painted red in former times, or, more
likely, it was once called the "beautiful gate", being the
main gate to the tsarist estate. The name of the Red Square has the
same origin: The word for "red" in modern Russian in former
times meant "beautiful".
|Water tower (17th century) and Saint Georges
bell tower (16th century) in Kolomenskoye.
The Moscow Empire had to fight real enemies in the course
of its ascent: Tartars/Mongolians, Lithuanians, the German Knights
Order, Sweden, and it succeeded in battle and administration.
Moscow, as a city and for a long time the centre of an empire, ideologically
had to fight more sophisticated rivals. For a long time, and to a certain
extent till today, it has to fight the phantom of the Kievian Rus.
The church of the Saviour in the Spaso-Andronikov
monastery, built in the 15th century.
The monastery is known for having housed the most
famous Russian icon painter, Andrei Rublyov. There are alledgedly
paintings from him inside the church, but when I was there the building
was closed and wasnt in good shape.
The Muscovites became the "Great Russians",
the guardians of Orthodoxy and Russian political unity, the Ukrainians
became the "Small Russians" and an unimportant province in the
great Russian Empire. This derogatory point of view persisted in Bolshevik
policies during the prerevolutionary times and soviet policy after the
takeover of the Communist Party. In the peace of Brest-Litovsk the Soviet
Republic easy-mindedly ceded the Ukraine to Germany and Austria, as they
had little support there, anyhow.
A lesser well-known church in the district of Khamovniki, on
the Komsomolski Prospect: the Church of Saint Nikola.
It stems from the 17th century, when Khamovniki was a
"Posad", a settlement of craftsmen, not having the status
of a town, but still enjoying a certain exemption from serfdom.
As this Posad was a weavers settlement, this church is also
known as the "Weavers Church"
The tower to the left is the bells tower which in Russia was
always built apart from the church as it had to fulfil different tasks
from the church itself: It had to be more stable, and was exposed to the
heavy vibrations of the very heavy bells.
The building between the church and the bell tower, with the green
roof, was erected in the 80-ies, in a style cooresponding to the other
buildings, perhaps for the housing of the parish priest, of for a school.
It is remarkable that in socialist times the authorities tried to adjust
somehow to the buildings style as well as to the necessities it
wanted to meet.
The Novodevichy (= "new or young virgins")
Convent. It was founded by the father of Ivan the Terrible,
Grand Duke Vassili III, in 1524. Like many other monasteries
and churches in Moscow, it is surrounded by a wall and served
defence and shelter purposes in times of turmoil.
Moreover it became a place of retreat or even banishment
for superfluous or undesired female members of the Royal Family.
Peter I the Great sent his sister there
when she was interfering with his personal aims. More precise,
she intended to govern Russia instead of him. The lady spent
the last 15 years of her life inside the Novodevichy Convent.
The painter Ilya Repin more than 150 years later has imagined
how she must have felt inside the Convents walls.
Id say, she looks quite unhappy, if not to say:
Nikita Khrushchevs grave in the Novodevichy cemetery,
designed by the sculptor Nyeizvyestni. The latter became a
personal friend of Khrushchev after an exposition of modern
art where Khrushchev, then still Party Chairman, got a fit
of rage and declared that this stuff was just awful and should
be forbidden immediately.
The Novodevichy cemetery is a cemetery for the famous.
Among others here are the graves of the composers Shostakovich
and Prokofiev, the writers Chekhov, Gogol and Bulgakov. In
the case of Khrushchev, though, it was a sign of disapproval
by the Communist Party that made him end up here: He was refused
burial inside the Kremlin wall, the final resting place of
the other Soviet leaders who succeeded Lenin.
The only other rival after Kiev Moscow had to face was
Petersburg after Peter I decided to put his capital there, as a
"Window to the West". For about 200 years Moscow had to play
second fiddle, always envious of the role of the pretender to the throne
that it considered its own. The main force clinging to Moscow was the
old nobility, the Boyars, whom already Ivan the Terrible had stripped
of some of their power, attempting to replace them by a class of "new
nobles", the "courts men", as the nobles are called
Ivan the Terrible, as painted by Viktor Vasnyetsov (who lived
some centuries later, so the painting has more to be seen as a result
of the artists imagination than of Ivans real appearance
The first Russian Tsar has definitely left his brand on Moscows
architecture and perhaps on Russian political culture. His spirit
still lingers in the city. He was a very well-read man, and had
a large library that he hid before his death. It has never reappeared,
and once in a while people set out to find it so far in vain.
It is an irony of fate that the traditional role as Russias
capital was restored to Moscow by the Bolsheviks. After the victory of
the October Revolution the new politicians realised that their program
wasnt too popular within the Western Imperialist countries. The
latter supported openly or secretly various counterinsurgent
armies and inflicted a four-year long civil war on revolutionary Russia.
For these reasons the Bolshevik leaders decided to transfer the capital
of their new state to a less exposed and vulnerable part in the spring
of 1918. So Moscow was given back its glory and importance, while Petersburg
was stripped of it.
Moscow has been a barrier to dictators of Western Europe.
Napoleon took Moscow, but this was the beginning of his defeat. The German
army in 1941 got so close that they could see the church towers of Moscow,
but with an enormous effort and great loss of life, and the help of the
climate Moscow was saved from capture. And in the end the Nazi Empire
was defeated in Russia, a fact that has been neglected in the decades
of the Cold War ...
back to main page