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High above the ancient buildings of Cathedral Square soars a mighty structure, consisting of three buildings. The huge octagonal pillar tower is the Ivan The Great Bell Tower, with its belfry. Adjacent is St.Filaret's Annexe. At the foot of the bell-tower on the East side stands the gigantic Tsar Bell – the largest bell in the world!
The history of the building of the Ivan The Great Bell Tower goes back into ancient history. In the C14th this had been the location of the Kremlin's oldest church. It was dismantled in order to build a bell-tower – an octagonal tower 60m in height. In the reign of Ivan the Great, an Italian stonemason nicknamed Bon Fryazin added three further tiers to it. Then in 1600 Tsar Boris Godunov ordered two more tiers to be added, and a giant golden cupola. The huge tower was named both “Godunov's Spire” and “Ivan The Great”.
For many long years no other building in Moscow could compare in height with the Ivan the Great Bell-Tower. It was Russia's tallest building. It afforded a view for 25km around, and was used as a watchtower as well as a bell-tower. The bell-tower consists of a series of octahedrons, decreasing in size as they rise, placed one on another. Each one has a terrace and open gallery, and arches in which the bells themselves are hung. There are 24 bells altogether in the bell-tower and carillon. The bells themselves are decorated with ornament, designs and bas-relief, and each marked with the bell's own history – who cast it, when and where, and its weight.
There are stairs lining the walls of the tower's interior. The first tier of steps is a stone staircase of 83 steps. On the second tier it becomes a spiral staircase with 149 steps. By the third tier there is a metal stairway with 97 steps leading up as far as you can go. Altogether there are 329 steps.
The first-tier walls are 5m thick, whereas they're only 2.5m thick at second-tier level. Studies have shown that the octagonal base of the bell-tower only has foundations 4.3m below the level of the old pavement in Cathedral Square, or 6m below its present level. The process of restoration laid to rest the old wife's tale that the foundations run right the way through to the bottom of Borovitsky Hill.
After the Tatar occupation ended in the late C14th, the ban on Russians building stone military forts and defences ended. A building boom began – but Russia lacked its own expert stonemasons and engineers after two centuries under Tatar rule. The Muscovite Grand-Princes sought the best engineers in Europe to come and work for them – and Italy seemed the most fruitful source. Most of the C15th Kremlin was built by Italian architects. But the local Muscovites struggled with their foreign names – and instead gave them Russian names. Mostly they were named “Fryazin” – a kind of generic surname for Italians. In many cases we can identify the Italian craftsman behind the Russian name – for example Aleviz Fryazin, who built the Kremlin's Holy Trinity Tower, was Aloisio da Carezano. In gratitude for their work for the Tsar, many of these men – who shared a surname in Russian, but were not relatives in real life – were granted land, in the town of Fryazino, outside Moscow.
Within this outstanding example of ancient Russian architecture – the Ivan the Great Bell Tower – visitors find laid-out a museum about the history of the Kremlin itself.
It's an unconventional museum, using multimedia technology. Projects show ancient details and plans of the Kremlin projected onto the walls and vaults of the bell-tower, and pictures of the Kremlin's unique architecture. Computer graphics are used to build up a picture of how the ancient white-stone Kremlin must have looked in its own day. After the exhibition visitors exit to the observation gallery of the bell-tower to take a bird's-eye look at the Kremlin itself. There are special individual audio-guides for this museum.
Moscow Kremlin is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River to the south, Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square to the east, and the Alexander Garden to the west. It is the best known of Kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes five palaces, four cathedrals, and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. It is also open-air museum. Tourists can just walk outdoors there or can visit cathedrals, Big Kremlin Palace and the Armory Chamber. The Kremlin Museums were established in 1961 and the complex was among the first Soviet patrimonies inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1990.
The site has been continuously inhabited since the 2nd century BC, and originates from a Vyatich fortified structure on Borovitsky Hill where the Neglinnaya River flowed into the Moskva River. Up to the 14th century, the site was known as the 'grad of Moscow'. The grad was greatly extended by Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy in 1156, destroyed by the Mongols in 1237 and rebuilt in oak in 1339. Later in 1366–1368Dmitri Donskoy replaced the oak walls with a strong citadel of white limestone on the basic foundations of the current walls. This fortification withstood a siege by Khan Tokhtamysh.
Grand Prince Ivan III organised the reconstruction of the Kremlin, inviting a number of skilled architects from Renaissance Italy who designed the new Kremlin wall and its towers, and the new palace for the prince. It was during his reign that three extant cathedrals of the Kremlin, the Deposition Church, and the Palace of Facets were constructed. The highest building of the city and Muscovite Russia was the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, built in 1505–08. The Kremlin walls as they now appear were built between 1485 and 1495. During the Time of Troubles, the Kremlin was held by the Polish forces for two years, between 21 September 1610 and 26 October 1612. The Kremlin's liberation by the volunteer army of Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin paved the way for the election of Mikhail Romanov as the new czar. During his reign and that of his son Alexis, the eleven-domed Upper Saviour Cathedral, Armorial Gate, Terem Palace, Amusement Palace and the palace of Patriarch Nikon were built. During the Imperial period, from the early 18th and until the late 19th century, Kremlin walls were traditionally painted white, in accordance with the time's fashion. During the Soviet period the Chudov Monastery and Ascension Convent, with their 16th-century cathedrals, were dismantled to make room for the military school and Palace of Congresses. The Little Nicholas Palace and the old Saviour Cathedral were pulled down as well. Now the plans of the government are to restore those lost masterpieces. And probably soon the Kremlin will return all its former buildings.