Get the inside story on the famous fortress in the heart of Moscow that has withstood fires, invaders, and revolutions for almost seven hundred years.
Lined by nineteen beautiful towers, the high walls of the Kremlin enclose colorful domed cathedrals, treasure-filled museums, and the Russian capitol. But this Moscow fortress has had its share of dark days. Follow along with author Deborah Hopkinson as she recounts the tales of spying, murder, missing children, and lost treasure that are part of this landmark's long history.
About the Author
Deborah Hopkinson (www.deborahhopkinson.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for young readers, including Who Was Charles Darwin?
Read an Excerpt
Where Is the Kremlin?
One day about seven hundred years ago, two men met in a fort on the top of a hill. Ivan was a prince. Peter was the head of the church in Russia. They gazed out over a deep forest. The year was 1326. The place was the Kremlin.
The word kremlin means “fortress” in the Russian language. Up to this time, buildings inside the fort’s walls were made of wood. But Prince Ivan wanted buildings that would last. So Ivan and Peter came together to lay the first stone of a new church. They hoped someday their church would stand at the center of a great capital city (Moscow) and a powerful country (Russia).
Their dreams came true. Today, the Dormition Cathedral, the most important church in Russia, sits on this same spot. The seventy acres of the Kremlin are a famous attraction in Moscow, a city of more than twelve million people and the capital of the world’s largest country.
The Kremlin is shaped like a triangle. Over time, Moscow has grown up around it in rings. The Kremlin’s redbrick walls are more than twelve feet thick. In some places, they rise higher than sixty feet. It has twenty towers in all. Nineteen tall ones with spires rise from its walls and seem to touch the sky.
The Kremlin is the official home of the Russian president. It’s also the center of government. In a way, the Kremlin is like America’s White House, Capitol Building (where Congress meets), National Mall, and the many Smithsonian museums all in one. But the Kremlin is much, much older.
Over its long history, the Kremlin has seen emperors and empresses come and go. Enemy armies have stormed its walls. Fierce fires and invaders have destroyed buildings and artwork.
Visitors today can see jewels, ornate armor, and amazing architecture. But much remains hidden. The Kremlin holds secrets: tales of murder, hidden tunnels, and terrible, cold dungeons.
All this makes the Kremlin one of the most fascinating places in the world.
Chapter 1: The Fort on the Hill
The Kremlin and Moscow, the city that grew up around it, lie in the western part of Russia, near Scandinavia and countries around the Baltic Sea. Russia stretches across part of the top of Europe and the top of Asia, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Russia is larger than China and nearly twice the size of Canada. It spans eleven time zones.
In addition to its great northern forests, Russia boasts mountains, deserts, and flat grasslands called steppes. Russia also contains Arctic tundra. These are places where the ground stays partially frozen all year and no trees grow. Europe’s longest river, the Volga, flows through Russia. Lake Baikal, the oldest, deepest, and largest lake in the world, is here, too. The lake contains one-fifth of all the fresh water on earth. It’s also home to freshwater seals, the only ones in the world.
Little is known about the people who lived in Russia in ancient times. Many scholars believe that in the early 800s, tribal groups called Slavs settled here. Next came the Vikings, whom most Russian historians call the Rus. Over time, the Rus and the Slavs married one other.
Contact with the outside world helped shape Russia’s culture, written language, and religion. Around 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which was the major religion in the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire. Its capital, Constantinople, is now Istanbul, Turkey. The Russian Orthodox Church became Russia’s main religion. People still follow its customs today.
Even before Prince Ivan’s time, there was a fort on the hill in Moscow. It’s easy to see why. The spot could be defended easily. Spruce, larch, pine, oak, and fir trees from a nearby forest provided fuel for warmth and logs for building. Sable (a creature prized for its fur), fox, elk, hare, deer, and beaver supplied food and clothing. There was water, too. The Kremlin sits on a bank of the Moscow River. A smaller river once served as a moat.
The first written records that mention Moscow go back to 1147. The first fort dates to 1156. We also have physical evidence that people lived here long ago. Pieces of giant logs have been found, along with the bones of pigs, horses, dogs, and wild game.
Old coins from faraway lands have been found. These tell us that in the tenth century, people in Moscow were trading with other lands. Russian traders sold furs, animal hides, and honey. In return, they bought spices, silk, precious stones, and horses from Asia.
Despite its good defenses, the Kremlin fort couldn’t stand up against all attacks. In 1237, Russia was invaded by a ferocious army called the Golden Horde. The invaders came from Mongolia in East Asia. (Today, the nation of Mongolia is north of China and south of Russia.) The great warrior Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire in 1206. Batu, one of his grandsons, led the Russian invasion.
The Golden Horde controlled Russia for more than a century. However, the Mongols didn’t meddle much in everyday Russian life. They respected people’s religious beliefs and allowed local princes to be in charge of their own areas. But the Mongols did demand tribute payments, just as landlords expect rent.
The Mongols were finally overthrown in 1480 by Ivan III. Sometimes called Ivan the Great, this ruler also wanted to make his mark on the Kremlin fortress. And indeed he did.