|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
Wonders Of The World:
St. Mark's Church
Tower Of London
Cathedral Of Antwerp
The Taj Mahal
Cathedral Of Notre Dame
Cathedral Of York
Mosque Of Omar
Cathedral Of Burgos
Saint Peter's Cathedral
Cathedral Of Strasburg
The Shway Dagohn
Cathedral Of Siena
Town Hall Of Louvain
Cathedral Of Seville
Cathedral of Cologne
Palce Of Versailles
Cathedral Of Lincoln
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Kremlin, always regarded as the Acropolis, the Holy Place, the Palladium, and the very heart of Russia, was formerly surrounded by a palisade of strong oaken stakes-similar to the defence which the Athenian citadel had at the time of the first invasion of the Persians. Dmitri-Donskoi substituted for this palisade crenellated walls, which, having become old and dilapidated, were rebuilt by Ivan III. Ivan's wall remains today, but in many places there are restorations and repairs. Thick layers of plaster endeavour to hide the scars of time and the black traces of the great fire of 1812 which was only able to lick this wall with its tongues of flame. The Kremlin somewhat resembles the Alhambra. Like the Moorish fortress, it stands on the top of a hill which it encloses with its wall flanked by towers: it contains royal dwellings, churches, and squares, and among the ancient buildings a modern Palace whose intrusion we regret as we do the Palace of Charles V. amid the delicate Saracenic architecture which it seems to crush with its weight. The tower of Ivan Veliki is not without resemblance to the tower of the Vela; and from the Kremlin, as from the Alharmbra, a beautiful view is to be enjoyed, a panorama of enchantment which the fascinated eye will ever retain.
It is strange that when seen from a distance the Kremlin is perhaps even more Oriental than the Alhambra itself whose massive reddish towers give no hint of the splendour within. Above the sloping and crenellated walls of the Kremlin and among the towers with their ornamented roofs, myriads of cupolas and globular bell-towers gleaming with metallic light seem to be rising and falling like bubbles of glittering gold in the strong blaze of light. The white wall seems to be a silver basket holding a bouquet of golden flowers, and we fancy that we are gazing upon one of those magical cities which the imagination of the Arabian story-tellers alone can build-an architectural crystallization of the Thousand and One Nights! And when Winter has sprinkled these strange dream-buildings with its powdered diamonds, we fancy ourselves transported into another planet, for nothing like this has ever met our gaze.
We entered the Kremlin by the Spasskoi Gate which opens upon the Krasnaia. No entrance could be more romantic. It is cut through an enormous square tower, placed before a kind of porch. The tower has three diminishing stories and is crowned with a spire resting upon open arches. The double-headed eagle, holding the globe in its claws, stands upon the sharp point of the spire, which, Iike the story it surmounts, is octagonal, ribbed, and gilded. Each face of the second story bears an enormous dial, so that the hour may be seen from every point of the compass. Add for effect some patches of snow laid on the jutting masonry like bold dashes of pigment, and you will have a faint idea of the aspect presented by this queenly tower, as it springs upward in three jets above the denticulated wail, which it breaks. . . .
Issuing from the gate, we find ourselves in the large court of the Kremlin, in the midst of the most bewildering conglomeration of palaces, churches, and monasteries of which the imagination can dream. It conforms to no known style of architecture. It is not Greek, it is not Byzantine, it is not Gothic, it is not Saracen, it is not Chinese: it is Russian; it is Muscovite. Never did architecture more free, more original, more indifferent to rules, in a word, more romantic, materialize with such fantastic caprice. Sometimes it seems to resemble the freaks of frostwork. However, its leading characteristics are the cupolas and the golden-bulbed bell-towers, which seem to follow no law and are conspicuous at the first glance.
Below the large square where the principal buildings of the Kremlin are grouped and which forms the plateau of the hill, a circular road winds about the irregularities of the ground and is bordered by ramparts flanked with towers of infinite variety: some are round, some square, some slender as minarets, some massive as bastions, and some with machicolated turrets, while others have retreating stories, vaulted roofs, sharply-cut sides, open-worked galleries, tiny cupolas, spires, scales, tracery, and all conceivable endings. The battlements, cut deeply through the wall and notched at the top like an arrow, are alternately plain and pierced with little barbicans. We will ignore the strategic value of this defence, but from a poetic standpoint it satisfies the imagination and gives the idea of a formidable citadel.
Between the rampart and the platform bordered by a balustrade gardens extend, now powdered with snow, and a picturesque little church lifts its globular bell-towers. Beyond, as far as the eye can reach, lies the immense and wonderful panorama of Moscow to which the crest of the saw-toothed wall forms an admirable foreground and frame for the distant perspective which no art could improve. . .
The Kremlin contains within its walls many churches, or cathedrals, as the Russians call them. Exactly like the Acropolis, it gathers around it on its narrow plateau a large number of temples. We will visit them one by one, but we will first pause at the tower of Ivan Veliki, an enormous octagon belfry with three retreating stories, upon the last of which there rises from a zone of ornamentation a round turret finished with a swelling dome, fire-gilt with ducat-gold, and surmounted by a Greek cross resting upon the conquered crescent. Upon each side of each story little arches are cut so that the brazen body of a bell may be seen.
In this place there are thirty-three bells, among which is said to be the famous alarm-bell of Novgorod, whose reverberations once called the people to the tumultuous deliberations in the public square. One of these bells weighs not less than a hundred and ninety-three tons, and is such a monster of metal that beside it the great bell of Notre-Dame of which Quasirnodo was so proud, would be nothing more than the tiny hand-bell used at Mass. . . .
Let us enter one of the most ancient and characteristic~. cathedrals ®f the Kremlin, the first one built of stone, the Cathedral of the Assumption (Ouspenskosabor). It is not the original edifice founded by Ivan Kalita. That crumbled away after a century and a half of existence and was re built by Ivan III. Notwithstanding its Byzantine style and archaic appearance, the present Cathedral dates only from the Fifteenth Century. One is astonished to learn that it is the work of Fioraventi, an architect of Bologna, whom the Russians called Aristotle because of his astounding knowledge. One would imagine it the work of some Greek architect from Constantinople whose head was filled with memories of Santa Sofia and models of GrecoOriental architecture. The Assumption is almost square and its great walls soar with a surprising pride and strength. Four enormous pillars, large as towers and massive as the columns of the Palace of Karnak, support the central cupola, which rests on a flat roof in the Asiatic style, flanked by four similar cupolas. This simple arrangement produces a magnificent effect and these massive pillars contribute, without any heaviness, a fine balance and extraordinary stability to the Cathedral.
The interior of the church is covered with Byzantine paintings on a gold background. The pillars themselves are embellished with figures arranged in zones as in the Egyptian temples and palaces. Nothing could be more strange than this decoration where thousands of figures surround you like a mute assemblage, ascending and descending the entire length of the walls, walking in files in Christian panathenaea, standing alone in poses of hieratic rigidity, bending over to the pendentives, and draping the temple with a human tapestry swarming with motionless beings. A strange light, carefully disposed, contributes greatly to the disquieting and mysterious effect. In these ruddy and fawn-coloured shadows the tall savage saints of the Greek calendar assume a formidable semblance of life; they look at you with fixed eyes and seem to threaten you with their hands outstretched for benediction. . . . The interior of St. Mark's at Venice, with its suggestion of a gilded cavern, gives the idea of the Assumption; only the interior of the Muscovite church rises with one sweep towards the sky, while the vault of St. Mark's is strangely weighed down like a crypt. The iconostase, a lofty wall of silver-gilt with five rows of figures, is like the facade of a golden palace, dazzling the eye with fabled magnificence. In the filigree framework of gold appear in tones of bistre the dark heads and hands of the Madonnas and saints. The rays of their aureoles are set with precious stones, which, as the light falls upon them, scintillate and blaze with celestial glory; the images, objects of peculiar veneration, are adorned with breastplates of precious stones, necklaces, and bracelets, starred with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, amethysts, pearls, and turquoises; the madness of religious extravagance can go no further. It is in the Cathedral of the Assumption that the coronation of the Czar takes place. The platform for this occasion is erected between the four pillars which support the cupola and faces the iconostase.
The tombs of the Metropolitans of Moscow are placed in rows along the sides of the walls. They are oblong: as they loom up in the shadows, they make us think of trunks packed for the great voyage of eternity. . . ,
At the side of the new palace and very near these churches a strange building is seen, of no known style of architecture, neither Asiatic nor Tartar, and which for a secular building is much what Vassili-Blagennoi is for a religious edifice,-the perfectly realized chimaera of a sumptuous, barbaric, and fantastic imagination. It was built under Ivan III. by the architect Aleviso. Above its roof several towers, capped with gold and containing within them chapels and oratories, spring up with a graceful and picturesque irregularity. An outside staircase, from the top of which the Czar shows himself to the people after his coronation, gives access to the building and produces by its ornamented projection a unique architectural effect. It is to
Moscow what the Giants' Stairway is to Venice. It is one of the curiosities of the Kremlin. In Russia it is known as the Red Stairway (Krasnoi-Kriltosi). The interior of the Palace, the residence of the ancient Czars, defies description; one would say that its chambers and passages have been excavated according to no determined plan in some curious block of stone, for they are so strangely entangled, so winding and complicated, and so constantly changing their level and direction that they seem to have been ordered at the caprice of an extravagant fancy. We walk through them as in a dream, sometimes stopped by a grille which opens mysteriously, sometimes forced to follow a narrow dark passage in which our shoulders almost touch both walls, sometimes having no other path than the toothed ledge of a cornice from which the copper plates of the roofs and the globular belfries are visible, constantly ascending, descending without knowing where we are, seeing beyond us through the golden trellises the gleam of a lamp flashing back from the golden filigree-work of the shrines, and emerging after this intramural journey into a hall with a rich and riotous wildness of ornamentation, at the end of which we are surprised at not seeing the Grand Kniaz of Tartary seated cross-legged upon his carpet of black felt.
Such for example is the hall called the Golden Chamber, which occupies the entire Granovitaia Palata (the Facet Palace), so called doubtless on account of its exterior being cut in diamond facets. The Granovitaia Palata adjoins the old palace of the Czars. The golden vaults of this hall rest upon a central pillar by means of surbased arches from which thick bars of elliptical gilded iron go across from one arc to another to prevent their spreading. Several paintings here and there make sombre spots upon the burnished gold splendour of the background.
Upon the string-courses of the arches legends are written in old Sclavonic letters-magnificent characters which lend themselves with as much effect for ornamentation as the Cufic letters on Arabian buildings. Richer, more mysterious, and yet more brilliant decorations than these of the Golden Chamber cannot be imagined. A romantic person would like to see a Shakespearian play acted here.
Certain vaulted halls of the old Palace are so low that a man who is a little above the average height cannot stand upright in them. It is here, in an atmosphere overcharged with heat, that the women, lounging on cushions in Oriental style, spend the hours of the long Russian winter in gazing through the little windows at the snow sparkling on the golden cupolas and the ravens whirling in great circles around the bell-towers.
These apartments with their motley wall-decorations of palms, foliage, and flowers, recalling the patterns of Cashmere, make us imagine these to be Asiatic harems trans. ported to the polar frosts. The true Muscovite taste, perverted later by a badly-understood imitation of Western art, appears here in all its primitive originality and intensely barbaric flavour.
I have frequently observed that the progress of civilization seems to deprive nations of the true sense of architecture and decoration. The ancient edifices of the Kremlin prove once again how true is this assertion, which appears para doxical at first. An inexhaustible fantasy presides over the decoration of these mysterious rooms where the gold, the green, the blue, and the red mingle with a rare happiness and produce the most charming effects. This architecture, without the least regard for symmetry, rises like a honeycomb of soap-bubbles blown upon a plate. Each little cell takes its place adjoining its neighbour, arranging its own angles and facets until the whole glitters with colours diapered with iris. This childish and bizarre comparison will give you a better idea than anything else of the aggregation of these palaces, so fantastic, yet so real.
It is in this style that we wish they had built the new Palace, an immense building in good modern taste and which would have a beauty elsewhere, but none whatever in the centre of the old Kremlin. The classic architecture with its long cold lines seems more wearisome and solemn here among these palaces with their strange forms, their gaudy colours, and this throng of churches of Oriental style darting towards the sky a golden forest of cupolas, domes, pyramidal spires, and bulbous bell-towers.
When looking at this Muscovite architecture you could easily believe yourself in some chimerical city of Asia, fancying the cathedrals mosques, and the bell-towers minarets, if it were not for the sober facade of the new Palace which leads you back to the unpoetic Occident and its unpoetic civilization: a sad thing for a romantic barbarian of the present day. We enter the new Palace by a stairway of monumental size closed at the top by a magnificent grille of polished iron which is opened to allow the visitor to pass. We find ourselves under the large vault of a domed hall where sentinels are perpetually on guard: four effigies clothed from head to foot in antique and curious Solavonic armour These knights have a noble air; they are surprisingly life-like; we could easily believe that hearts are beating beneath their coats of mail. Mediaeval armour disposed in this way always gives me an involuntary shiver. It so faithfully suggests the external form of a man who has vanished forever.
From this rotunda lead two galleries which contain priceless riches: the treasure of the Caliph Haroun-al Raschid, the wells of Aboul-Kasem, and the Green Vaults of Dresden united could not show such an accumulation of marvels, and here historic association is added to the material value. Here, sparkling, gleaming, and sportively flashing their prismatic light, are diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds - all the precious stones which Nature has hidden in the depths of her mines -in as much profusion as if they were mere glasse They glitter like constellations in crowns, they flash in points of light from the ends of sceptres, they fall like sparkling raindrops upon the Imperial insignias and form arabesques and cyphers until they nearly hide the gold in which they are set. The eye is dazzled and the mind can hardly calculate the sums that represent such magnificence.