Cathedral Square

The heart of the Kremlin is a vast square surrounded by churches, residential palaces, and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower with its 21 bells. This is where official and religious processions and ceremonies are held, and where every Saturday at noon you can watch the Kremlin Horse Guard strut, twirl and canter.

Each of the magnificent churches has a particular function. The enormous and rather stolid Dormition Cathedral (1479) was where every tsar, emperor and empress was crowned from 1498 until 1896, when Nicholas II was crowned as the last leader of the Romanov dynasty. The magnificent 5-tiered iconostasis (a wall of icons at the altar), frescoes and royal thrones were reconstructed after Napoleon turned the church into a horse stable during the War of 1812. It is the final resting place for religious leaders.

The Church of the Archangel Michael (1509), with its Italian-style scalloping, was the burial place for Russian tsars and their families from 1505 to 1696, when Peter the Great moved the capital of the Russian empire to his newly built city on the Neva River, St. Petersburg. Royalty was interred in the northern capital until the 1917 Revolution.

The Annunciation Cathedral (1489) is tiny — it was the family church, where the royal families were married and baptized, and where they attended church services.

The other buildings are part of the palaces and ceremonial rooms still used today by the presidential administration. Just outside the square are two huge, never-used symbols of Russian size and power: the 40-ton tsar cannon, which was forged in 1586 and never fi red; and the 200-ton tsar bell, which had a 11-ton chunk break off when it was still in the casting pit.

For a full tour of Russian imperial splendor, visit the Armory Chamber Museum, which is filled with crowns; weaponry and armor; gift s and tableware of gold, silver and china; clothing (including the huge boots of Peter the Great) and ceremonial dress; carriages, and even some of the fabulous Faberge eggs. The Diamond Fund is much smaller but has a jaw-dropping collection of imperial jewels and jewelry, gemstones and gold.

Open: daily 9.30 a.m to 6 p.m. Closed Thursday

Tickets: from 500 rubles

Moscow Kremlin kreml.ru