The Kremlin in Moscow has always been a shadowy place, steeped in mystery. Myths and legends grew up around it – including some blood-curdling ghost stories. A new book aims to throw some light on the Kremlin’s secrets.
Can you imagine the Moscow Kremlin’s famous red-brick walls painted grey, or a trolley bus trundling through its serene courtyards? No, well at some it could have become a reality.
The Kremlin that we know was built in the decade between 1480 and 1490, according to a new book “Moscow Kremlin – Russia's citadel”, which includes documents previously unavailable to the public.
One of these documents reveals that in the 1930s there were plans to lay tram lines across the old fortress’s territory, to transport people from one part of the site to another. Considering today's limited access to the area, such an idea is almost unthinkable.
“The decision has been made but not fulfilled,” Sergey Devyatov said, PR director of Federal Guard Service, whose specialists carried out much of the research for the book.
He said that in the turbulent 30s the authorities considered repainting the Kremlin grey instead of red.
“It is very fortunate that there was not enough grey paint,” Devyatov said. “When they estimated how much paint would be needed, it turned out that the entire Soviet fleet would be left unpainted. It was a difficult time and the idea was put aside.”
The famous Kremlin stars, seen for miles around, also have a unique history. The star was part of Soviet propaganda symbolising the hero. Several of the Kremlin’s towers were supplied with them.
The first star appeared on Spasskaya tower (the one with the clock) in 1935. It substituted the tsarist double-headed eagle. These stars were made of steel and included the Soviet symbols of the hammer and sickle inlaid with gems and plated with gold.
Soon, however, dust covered the gems and gold and the luxury stars were changed for more practical red glass ones with light bulbs inside.
The Kremlin, where in recent times the President of Russia has had his offices, is the oldest part of Moscow. It’s right at the heart of the capital, in the geographical, historical, political and cultural sense.
Along with Moscow itself, the Kremlin dates back to the 12th century. Moscow was first mentioned in the chronicles in 1147. Initially the Kremlin was the fortification of the settlement which appeared on the Borovitsky hill, where the Neglinnaya river flows into the Moskva river.
In the 13th century the Kremlin became the residence of Moscow's princes. For ages it remained the home of the country’s leaders – from the tsars and the Soviets right up to modern times.
Given this long history, it’s hardly surprising that the Kremlin is associated with many myths and legends. One of these suggests the site is haunted.
The most famous ghost stories about the Kremlin concern three leaders: Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who reigned Russia in the 16th century; Vladimir Lenin, who led the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution; and the notorious Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Some people say Ivan’s shadow can be seen and his footsteps heard in Kremlin’s Ivan the Great Bell Tower. There are also reports that his spirit visited the last tsar, Nikolay II and his wife, on the night before Nikolay’s coronation. This was viewed in some quarters as an omen that the Romanov royal dynasty would collapse.
Lenin is also thought to be a frequent ‘guest’ in the Kremlin. According to some historians, Lenin’s ghost was first seen by a security chief in October 1923, even though he was still alive at that time (he died three months later). The official wondered why Lenin came with no guards accompanying him, but he was told on the phone that in fact Vladimir Ilich was in Gorky at that moment.
Later, other witnesses came forward who saw Lenin in the Kremlin that night. And discrepancies in their accounts have only added to the mystery. Lenin was very ill at the time and couldn’t walk without a stick and moved very slowly, but those who claimed they saw him in the Kremlin that night said he had no stick and was walking very quickly.
But Joseph Stalin remains the most frequently seen Kremlin ‘shade’. Some say his ghost wants to ‘establish order’ in the country, and thus usually appears when Russia is hit by deepest crises. One of the signs that Stalin is stalking the Kremlin, legend has it, is when the room suddenly gets cold.
Archive notes from the 19th century claim a strange object was seen above the Kremlin. It stopped before a sudden flash of light lit up the sky. It then flew up and away, the documents say. Modern observers say these accounts resemble those of modern UFO sightings.