Director of the Moscow Kremlin Museums Elena Gagarina has announced, the Chudov and Voznesensky Monasteries, which once stood on the territory of the Kremlin, will not be rebuilt, according to Interfax-Religion.
“This topic is closed,” Gagarina stated. “There will be no re-building on the territory of the Kremlin,” she said when asked about the possibility of rebuilding one of the cathedrals of the Chudov Monastery. The Chudov (“of the miracles”) and Voznesensky (“Ascension”) Monasteries once stood on the site of Building 14 of the Moscow Kremlin, until they were destroyed in 1929-1930.
In July 2014, President Putin supported the idea of restoring the two monasteries and a church that had been destroyed, saying, “Here is the idea ... to restore the historic appearance of the place with two monasteries and a church, but giving them, considering today's realities, an exclusively cultural character.”
Dismantling of the Building 14 administrative center, built in Soviet times, began in the fall of 2015, which has unearthed archaeological treasures. Archeologists managed to find the St. Catherine Church of the Voznesensky Monastery (1817), the monastery canteen joined to the Annunciation Church and the St. Alexey Church of the Chudov Monastery (late 17th century).
President Putin’s press secretary Dimitry Peskov had also stated in October 2016 that rebuilding the monasteries was not on the agenda.
For more information on plans to reconstruct the Chudov and Voznesensky Monasteries, please refer to the following 8 articles, published in 2014 and 2015:
Vintage postcard of the Dormition (Assumption or Uspensky) Cathedral, Moscow Kremlin
The museum director also announced, that the Dormition (Assumption or Uspensky) Cathedral is to be completely renovated. For centuries, this cathedral was Russia’s most elevated monument — at the center of its history, its politics, its culture and its Orthodox faith. Even after the founding of St. Petersburg, the coronation ceremony of each ruler of Russia occurred in this cathedral, including the coronation of the last emperor, Nicholas II on May 26, 1896. As of 1991, it is once again the Patriarchal Cathedral of Russia.
The full-scale renovation of the Dormition Cathedral, is expected to take at least five years. “We will now begin restoration, which will continue for five years minimum. We are going to completely restore the cathedral,” Gagarina said at a press conference on Wednesday, Interfax-Religion reports.
Renovations will include the engineering elements of the cathedral’s roof, floor, and walls. According to Gagarina, the cathedral’s last major renovation took place in the 1970s.
During the Soviet years, numerous architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin were lost. Churches, monasteries, and other monuments were destroyed because they were reminders of the tsarist past, and to make way for architectural monuments which would reflect the new regime headed by Lenin and later Stalin.
The early 20th century postcard (above) reflects some of the greatest architectural losses in the Moscow Kremlin during the late 1920s - please refer to the numbers and the accompanying images below for additional information about each respective monument . .
1 - The Maly Nikolayevsky Palace or Small Nicholas Palace was built in 1775. The palace was a favourite residence of Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich (future Emperor Nicholas I), and it was here that his son, the future Alexander II, was born on April 17, 1818. The palace later became a residence of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich during his years as Governor of Moscow. The palace was badly damaged during the Bolshevik Revolution, it was destroyed by the Soviets in 1929.
2 - The monument to Emperor Alexander II was begun under his son Alexander III in 1893, and was completed five years later under his grandson Nicholas II in 1898.
2a - The memorial consisted of a life-size bronze sculpture of the "reformer tsar". The statue was demolished in the summer of 1918, while the columns and gallery stood until the end of the 1920s.
3 - The Voznesensky (Ascension) Convent was founded at the beginning of the 15th century near the Kremlin’s Spassky (Savior’s) Gate. It was destroyed in 1929.
4 - The two chapels at the Spassky Gates (facing Red Square) were built in the “Russian style” in 1866. Both belonged to St Basil's Cathedral. The left houses the sacred image of Our Lady of Smolensk as a reminder of the city’s return to the Russian lands in the 16th century. The right is renowned for its sacred image of Christ the Savior, an exact replica of the icon over Spassky Gates. They were both demolished in 1929.
The 16th-century icon was bricked over during the 1930s, and restored to its original in 2010.
5 - The Church of Konstantin and Elena in the lower section of the Kremlin Garden was built in 1692 by Tsarina Natalia Naryshkina, mother of Peter I. It was demolished in 1928. Now the site is home to government buildings and a helipad.
I have published numerous articles on the destruction and proposal to reconstruct the Chudov and Voznesensky monasteries on my Royal Russia News blog, click on the link below for more information and photos:
On This Day: The Armoury Chamber Gained Museum Status Topic: Kremlin
The Armoury Chamber, Moscow
On 22 March (O.S. 10 March) 1806 by decree of Emperor Alexander I “On rules of management and preservation in order and integrity of antiquities held in the Workshop and Armoury Chamber”, the Armoury Chamber, an ancient Russian treasure, gained the status as a museum.
The Armoury Chamber in Moscow has been known since the early 16th century. For many years it has been engaged in the manufacture, purchase and possession of firearms, jewellery, and items of the palace everyday practice. Under Ivan III for storage of the Great Treasury between the Archangel and the Annunciation Cathedral was built a separate two-story brick building - Treasury Court, that combined the repository and production workshops.
In 1640, under the Armoury was established icon painting workshop, in 1683 - a picturesque; in 1700, the Armoury Chamber was joined by the Golden and Silver Chamber. There worked the best Russian masters, including gunsmiths A. and G. Vyatkin, N. Davydov, I. Prosvit, a jeweller G. O. Ovdokimov, painters I. A. Bezmin, S. F. Ushakov, N. E. Pavlovets , engravers L. Bunin, A. Zubov, A. Truhmensky, as well as a number of foreign masters.
In December 1709, after the victory of Poltava, on the orders of Peter I all the flags and weapons captured in the battle were transferred to the Armoury. In 1726 the Armoury was merged with the Treasury Court, Stables Office and Master chamber and was named "The Armoury and Master Chamber". Eventually Armoury lost its industrial importance and became just the storage of objects of great artistic and historical value.
In 1806 Armoury was transformed into a museum. The staff recruitment and the museum creation had been managed by the actual privy councillor, supreme commander of Kremlin Building Expeditions P. S. Valuev.
On 22 March (O.S. 10 March) 1806 the "Rules ..." elaborated by Peter Stepanovich and the staff members were approved by the Emperor Alexander I, which legally stated the integrity of the Chamber holding and the prohibition to sell or give away any items without special provisions of the emperor. Items, given away earlier, were ordered to be found and returned; as to new items, they were included in the holdings only upon the "imperial resolution". The responsibility for the safety of property was fully attributed to Valuev, and the annual maintenance of the Chamber was estimated at 10 thousand rubles.
According to the Rules, the museum was allowed to accept donations from individuals; the names of donors and their donations were published in the Historical description of Chamber assets.
On special orders of the emperor were appointed honorary members of the Master and Armoury Chamber. The first of these was the employee of the College of Foreign Affairs archive State Councillor A. F. Malinowski, who, in 1807 compiled the Historical description of ancient Russian museum, called the Master and Armoury Chamber in Moscow, where for the first time were published the most important museum collections.
After the decree of 1806, which gave the Chamber the status of the museum, under the leadership of V. Yu. Soimonov was made a full systematic inventory of the assets. Thanks to the efforts of Valuev to the Moscow Kremlin were returned objects, confiscated for the court and other departments, a priceless collection of St. Petersburg Armoury, abolished by Alexander I in 1810, was also transferred to the Chamber.
The emperor decree announced, the work on the construction of the Armory Museum designed by I.V. Yegotov began. In 1810 the construction was completed, and in 1812 its interior decoration began, which was interrupted by war.
The first exposition of the museum opened only in 1814, when it was headed by one of the most famous and influential nobles of the time, Senator, member of the Council of State, a lover and collector of antiquities, Prince N. B. Yusupov.
To date, Armoury is part of the Grand Kremlin Palace. It is housed in a building constructed in 1851 by architect K. A. Ton. Exposition of the Armoury occupies 9 rooms on two floors and comprises about 4 thousand items of applied art in Russia, Europe and the East of 4th - early 20th century.
The museum holds ancient state regalia, tsar ceremonial robes and coronation dress, vestments of bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest collection of gold and silverware by Russian craftsmen, the West European artistic silver, monuments by gunsmiths, a collection of carriages, horse ceremonial harness.
The Armoury holds Europe's largest collection of symbols of government authority, such as the famous Monomakh’s Cap - a unique headdress, pinned on the heads of the Russian Tsars, who occupied the throne before Peter I. Among the pearls of the museum's collection are the famous Faberge jewellery.
Since 1991, the Armoury makes part of the historical and cultural museum-reserve "Moscow Kremlin ".
Demolition Has Begun on Soviet-Era Building Built on Site of Kremlin Monasteries Topic: Kremlin
The long awaited demolition of the Kremlin Presidium or "Building 14" began this week. The building was constructed in the 1930s, and up until 2011 the Soviet era building formerly housed the offices of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the highest legislative body of the Soviet Union.
The Presidium stands on the site of the destroyed Chudov and Voznesensky monasteries and the Lesser Nicholas Palace. The two monasteres were among the historic buildings within the grounds of the Kremlin ordered to be destroyed by Joseph Stalin as part of the state atheism campaign, which resulted razing of religious structures from all over Russia.
Once the demolition is complete, a team of archaeologists will conduct excavations of the lost architectural sites will begin in April 2016. Any items discovered will be transferred to the funds of the Moscow Kremlin.
"The finest experts have been invited to organize and conduct archaeological excavations on the territory of the 14th corps in the Kremlin", - said Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Asya Engovatova. "It will be one of the most ambitious archaeological excavations carried out within the Moscow Kremlin. It is the dream of every archaeologist, "- she added.
In August 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a bold announcement, in which he suggested rebuilding both the Chudov Monastery and Voznesensky (Ascension) Convent. The decision to re-establish the historic square and the restoration of the destroyed monasteries has been referred to UNESCO for further discussion.
For more information on the proposal to reconstruct the Chudov and Ascension monasteries, please refer to the following articles:
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yelena Gagarina, the Director of the Kremlin Museums look at the crown of Peter the Great
during the ceremony of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Kremlin Museums in Moscow, Tuesday 07 March 2006.
Source: EPA / Yuri Kadobnov
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 16th, 2015 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Darya Kurdyukova owns the copyright of the work presented below.
General Director of the Moscow Kremlin Museums Yelena Gagarina, daughter of Yuri Gagarin, has been director of the country's principal museum for 14 years. In this interview she speaks about the acquisition of a new building on Red Square, about how a set of Kalashnikov automatic rifles got into the collection, and about the museum's plans for future exhibitions.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Which exhibitions are you now preparing?
Yelena Gagarina: The "Knight Orders of Europe" exhibition will last until the end of summer, and then we will start preparing the halls for the exhibition on Russian Tsar Boris Godunov (1552-1605). The theme of Godunov seems to lie on the surface, but in reality not that much is known about that period [Boris Godunov was tsar during the Time of Troubles – the government crisis in Russia, which ended in 1613 with the coronation of Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov – RBTH].
Next summer we will organize an exhibition of one of our leading jewelers, Ilgiz Fazulzyanov. He works with enamels like no one in the world, receiving top honors in international competitions. Recently we bought some of his works for our collection.
N.G.: Will there be imported projects?
Y.G.: For the fall of 2016 we have made an agreement with the Kyoto Costume Institute [which preserves outstanding examples of western clothing from history – RBTH] to bring costumes from the Art Deco period, which is the best part of their collection. And since the apparel concerns mostly evening and ball dresses, we will accompany them with Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry.
We are preparing an exhibition on stonecutter Vasily Konovalenko, who in the 1980s was forced to emigrate to the U.S. As a result, he was more famous in the States than in Russia, although he always worked with Russian themes, continuing the tradition that the Fabergé Company had made famous.
N.G.: Has the museum's budget been reduced due to the crisis?
Y.G.: By 10 percent on the whole, which is significant. Fortunately, our main sponsors have not abandoned us.
Nevertheless, we are not suffering as much as other museums, especially the ones in the provinces. Everyone visits the Kremlin, and the two million people that visit us annually have not gone anywhere.
N.G.: Now you have little space for temporary exhibitions. In the spring of 2015 a decree was issued, according to which you will receive certain premises on Red Square. Has work already begun there?
Y.G.: According to President Putin's decree, we will receive the Middle Trading Rows building on Red Square after the reconstruction. We will house a part of our permanent collection there, as well as exhibition halls, restoration workshops and storage facilities.
Our collaborators will have to move there from the Kremlin facilities, which we will then open to the public, because our offices, restoration workshops and collections are located in 15th-19th century monuments. For example, a part of the collection is found in the choirs of the Assumption Cathedral, which contains wonderful frescoes, and in the Filaret Annex of the Assumption Belfry, which also has frescoes.
Earlier, reconstruction work was expected to be terminated by the end of 2016, but now it is clear that won't happen. But we are waiting for this building. It is indispensable for our exhibition projects.
N.G.: Sometimes you get the impression that the collection of the Kremlin Museum is something that has stabilized and – in the good sense of the word – has entered eternity, and yet you continue enlarging the collection…
Y.G.: The collection has certainly taken form. These are the treasures of the Russian court, first the court of the grand princes, then the courts of the tsars, then the emperors, but we try to enlarge these collections.
Furthermore, whenever we can, we buy Byzantine works, although this happens very rarely. These are icons, and everyone knows that the Kremlin icons are the best in the world. Sometimes we acquire costumes that are related to the coronations of our monarchs.
We also expand the collection of orders and we try to develop our contemporary collections of arms and jewels.
N.G.: How do you select the arms?
Y.G.: The Izhevsk [Weapons] Plant gave as the latest collection as a gift. It was a complete set of Kalashnikov automatic rifles. Now we would like to ask the Kremlin Commandant if they could give us the parade arms and the uniforms of the presidential regiment. It often seems that things used today don't have much value, but in 50 years they won't be found anywhere.
The official founding date of the Moscow Kremlin Museum-Reserve is considered March 10, 1806. The collection consists of more than 160,000 exhibits, with about 9,000 found in permanent exhibitions. Treasures that were preserved throughout the centuries by Russian princes and tsars constitute the foundation of the collection. Ancestral relics were indispensable "participants" of sumptuous court ceremonies: coronations, receptions of foreign ambassadors, and parades honoring the Russian monarchs.
After the October Revolution of 1917 the museum was flooded with treasures from the Russian Orthodox Church, brought from closed, and often destroyed, churches, cathedrals and monasteries. The main monuments are the ensemble found on Cathedral Square (the Cathedral of the Archangel, the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Cathedral of the Assumption, as well as the Ivan the Great Belfry) and the Armory Chamber.
Yelena Gagarina (daughter of astronaut Yuri Gagarin) has been director of the museum since 2001. Information on exhibitions and ticket prices can be obtained on the museum's website.
UNESCO's Decision on the Kremlin Monasteries Not Yet Received, FPS of Russia Says Topic: Kremlin
Historic photograph shows (from left to right): the Chudov Monastery, the Small Nikolaevsky Palace, and the Ascension Convent
In 2014 the Russian Federation’s President Vladimir Putin proposed to examine a possibility of restoration of the Chudov Monastery and the Ascension Convent that was blown up in 1929-1930 – later on their site the administrative “Building 14” appeared, reports TASS.
Moscow has not yet received a UNESCO decision regarding a possible restoration of the Chudov Monastery and the Ascension Convent on the territory of the Moscow’s Kremlin, reported on Tuesday official representative of the Federal Protective Service (FPS), Doctor of Historical Sciences, Sergei Devyatov to the journalists.
“As far as I know, UNESCO experts visited the Kremlin in December 2014, but no distinct resolution has been made yet,” he said, launching the book, The Moscow Kremlin, the Monuments and Shrines. S. Devyatov has stressed that the Moscow Kremlin is under the protection of UNESCO, so any reconstructions on its territory require negotiations.
“The following question is currently being resolved: whether “the Building 14” is to remain within the Kremlin or the monastery and convent are to be restored,” noted the Federal Protective Service’s representative.
According to TASS, in his new monograph S. Devyatov relates the history of these monastic communities in detail and for the first time publishes their photographs and layout plans.
Devyatov, referring to the researches’ results, noted that “a half of the areas of the monasteries are currently in the same condition as they were at the time of explosions.” This refers to the underground churches and other monastic buildings. He has admitted that the surviving archives contain relatively little materials on the monastery and convent. “But the archive search is progressing very actively,” he accentuated.
The proposed reconstruction of the Chudov Monastery and the Ascension Convent is a project of which I take a great personal interest. I have published a number of articles on this subject over the past year, for more information on this topic, please refer to the following articles:
The Search for the Lost Library of Ivan the Terrible Topic: Kremlin
The thought of a lost library is a tantalizing one, as one can speculate and imagine the kind of knowledge it might provide to the person who finds it. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that there are those who have dedicated their entire lives to the search of such elusive libraries. One of these fabled lost libraries is that of Tsar of all the Russias, Ivan IV Vasilyevich, more commonly known as Ivan the Terrible.
The Library of Ivan the Terrible is said to have been started by his grandfather, Ivan III (the Great) of Russia. After the death of Ivan III’s first wife, Maria of Tver, in 1467, Pope Paul II suggested that Ivan III wed Sophia Paleologue, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, in an attempt to bind Russia to the Holy See in Rome. In 1472, Ivan and Sophia were married, and a collection of old books were brought along with her to her new home in Moscow. It is said that these included the larger part of the Library of Constantinople saved from the Turks when the city fell in 1453, as well as some manuscripts from the ancient Library of Alexandria.
Ivan the Terrible was also a book collector, and could have added more manuscripts to his grandfather’s library. It is believed that Ivan’s library held documents written in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Egyptian (these would probably have been the documents from the Library of Constantinople and the Library of Alexandria), Chinese texts from the 2nd century, and documents from Ivan the Terrible’s own era.
It’s thought that Ivan the Terrible decided to keep the priceless documents in the basement of the Moscow Kremlin so as to protect them from the fires that frequently ravaged the city during that time. These documents, however, were not left there to collect dust. It is said that Ivan had them translated from their original language to Russian. One legend even stated that the scholars refused to continue the task of translating these works as they feared that the tsar would use the knowledge gained from certain ‘black magic’ texts to terrorize his subjects.
Upon the death of the infamous tsar, the library simply disappeared, some believing that it was destroyed in a fire. Alternatively, others have claimed that the library survived, and that Ivan placed a curse on the library, and those who were about to find his library would lose their sight.
Despite the possibility that the library no longer exists, and the supposed curse, treasure hunters have been relentless in their search for the lost library. Over the centuries, many have attempted to find this library, among them Peter the Great, and Vatican representatives who were visiting Moscow during the reign of Boris Godunov, though none have succeeded.
During the first half of the 20th century, the Russian archaeologist Ignatius Stelletskii spent his entire life looking for this library. Using maps of the Kremlin from different centuries and the archival material, he was able to speculate on the location of the library, and was granted permission to excavate by the Soviet government in 1929. Although excavations under Arsenalnaya towers began in 1933, they were discontinued in the following year after the assassination of Sergei Kirov. With the outbreak of World War II several years later, excavation work effectively ceased. Although Stelletskii intended to resume work at the end of the war, his poor health prevented him from doing so, and he died in 1949.
As of the 1990s, efforts were still being made to discover the library of Ivan the Terrible. Additionally, the search has been extended beyond the Kremlin, as some believe that the library was moved to other places, such as Sergeyev Posad (where Ivan moved his court during the later years of his reign), Alexandrov (the capital of Ivan’s fiefdom), and the village of Dyakovo near Kolomenskoya (where a secret door leading underground was found in the Church of St. John the Baptist).
It is uncertain whether the library of Ivan the Terrible will ever be found. Even if the library were to be located, its contents may not have survived the ravages of time. Nevertheless, there will undoubtedly be those who would continue searching for this elusive library.
Putin's Wish to Rebuild Kremlin Monasteries Is Left Unfulfilled Topic: Kremlin
Early 20th century photograph of the Voznesensky monastery in the Moscow Kremlin
President Vladimir Putin's suggestion in July to rebuild two monasteries within the Moscow Kremlin has been left unfulfilled as researchers struggle with a lack of information on how to properly conduct the project, state news agency Vesti reported Thursday.
"At the current stage, we have no more than 20 percent of the information needed for reliable reconstruction" of the Chudov and Voznesensky monasteries, historian Vladimir Kiprin, an adviser on the project, was quoted as saying.
During a meeting with Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and the curator of the Kremlin Museums last summer, Putin said that reconstruction of the monasteries and an accompanying church could take place if the project receives enough public support as well as approval by the United Nations' cultural branch UNESCO due to the Kremlin being an internationally designated world-heritage site.
That approval, however, has yet to be given, and demolition of an administrative building, Corpus 14, to make room for the monasteries, "might cause a number of rather negative consequences," Kremlin Museums associate director Andrei Batalov said in comments carried by Vesti.
For more information on this topic, please refer to the following articles:
Kremlin Awaits UNESCO Decision Before Restoration of Historic Monasteries Topic: Kremlin
The Kremlin Presidium or "Building 14" was constructed on the site of the Chudov and Ascension monasteries. Today, it's fate rests with UNESCO
UNESCO experts arrived in Moscow on October 27th to assess the possibility of restoring the historic appearance of the Kremlin with the reconstruction of the Chudov and Ascension Monasteries. The examination by UNESCO is a prerequisite to begin restoration work as the Kremlin is a World Cultural Heritage site.
Dismantling of the Kremlin’s administrative Presidium or “Building 14” will start right after the decision of UNESCO experts is received, reported Head of the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation Alexander Kolpakov to Interfax.
“All the necessary documents related to the impending work have been submitted to UNESCO. Now all depends on the promptness of this organization’s decision-making. But we hope the expert opinion will be received in the nearest future which will enable us to set straight to work,” he said.
In July this year the Russian president Vladimir Putin supported the idea to give up the already ongoing reconstruction of the Kremlin’s “building 14” and to restore the historical appearance of this site with a possible restoration of the Chudov and the Ascension Monasteries that had formerly existed there.
The resolution of UNESCO is necessary as the Kremlin is a World Historical and Cultural Heritage object. Recently a representative of UNESCO came to Moscow, visited the Kremlin, examined the “building 14”, and then a joint working meeting was held.
For more information on this topic, please refer to the following articles:
The Mystery of the Tsar Cannon in Moscow's Kremlin Topic: Kremlin
Copyright Notice: The following article was published in the September 15th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Alexander Vershinin, owns the copyright of the condensed version presented below.
The enormous cannon standing in the grounds of the Kremlin is one of the best-known symbols of the fortress. The world’s largest bore howitzer, it is also a masterpiece of medieval gun casting. But according to legend, the cannon has never actually been fired – or has it?
Standing in a central spot inside the Kremlin walls, a giant ornate cannon has long symbolized the Russian capital, its sheer size and presence spellbinding visitors. Few guns can measure up in weight and there is no larger bore howitzer in the world.
Almost a meter in diameter, the cannon balls lying beneath the muzzle testify to the unimaginable force of this ancient weapon that still guards its secrets.
Beyond its proportions, the 40-ton behemoth called the Tsar Cannon is also a remarkable example of fine medieval gun casting and the embodiment of six centuries of Russian artillery technology.
The first cannons appeared in Russia earlier than in most of Europe, built with knowledge acquired from the Tatars, who themselves mastered the gunsmith’s art from the Chinese in the 13th century.
One story has it that the first Russian gun-maker was a Tatar called As (Ace) who was captured during the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. Two years later, the attacking forces of the Tatar khan Tokhtamysh were beaten back by sophisticated guns mounted on the Kremlin walls.
Russia did not lag far behind its European neighbors in gunnery development. By the end of the 15th century, Russian artillery forces comprised several hundred guns, with 55 of these set on the walls of the fortress of Novgorod.
Characterized by ever greater numbers and quality, this artillery boom occurred during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. In 1552, just one Russian army besieging Kazan fielded 150 guns, and Russian cannons also went on to shatter the walls of Lithuanian, Polish, German and Swedish cities.
By the end of the 16th century, Russian cannon masters had consolidated their reputation as among the world’s best. They not only built and maintained one of Europe’s largest artillery arsenals but devised models of weapons with no parallel in the West.
It was under Ivan the Terrible that gunsmiths first added grooves to the interior walls of barrels - an early step towards spiralled rifling that appeared in the 19th century. Oblong shells, fixed front and rear sights, and breech loading systems are all innovations by Russian cannon masters who were way ahead of the times.
Medieval Russian chronicles document a number of prolific gun casters, the most famous of these being Andrei Chokhov, who made the Tsar Cannon in 1586. Conceived as the greatest menace of its time, the five-meter-long monster was designed to hurl 89 cm-wide stone cannonballs weighing almost a ton over a kilometre (0.6 miles).
It was supposed to stand on the Kremlin wall for the defense of Moscow but proved too large to anchor firmly. For more than a century Chokhov’s creation stood on Red Square near St. Basil’s Cathedral, and was only moved into the Kremlin in the 18th century.
In the early 19th century the Tsar Cannon attracted the attention of historians due to its immense size and barrel cast with equestrian reliefs of Tsar Fyodor, crown and scepter in hand. As one of two surviving portraits made of the son of Ivan the Terrible in his lifetime, the ornate depiction also inspired the gun’s name.
Kremlin architects set the piece on a gun carriage and, for added effect, placed several large cannon balls under its muzzle. These were pure invention, however, since firing metal rounds would have wrecked a medieval weapon of this caliber.
It is also precisely because of its size that the Tsar Cannon was for a long time thought to never have been fired. But in the late 20th century expert analysis revealed that it had thundered at least once.
Some historians believe that the cannon was used on May 27, 1606, to shoot and disperse the ashes of ‘False Dmitry’, a usurper who seized the throne while pretending to be Ivan the Terrible’s son.
True or not, the Tsar Cannon is one of the few remaining examples of traditional Russian cannon casting. If its immense size rendered it impractical as a weapon, these dimensions also prompted Peter the Great to spare it when he smelted down the entire Kremlin artillery arsenal to rebuild it along European lines.
Two mortars also survived this technological purge and are now exhibited in St. Petersburg. And coincidentally or not, these were also made by Andrei Chokhov.