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(krĕm`lĭn), Rus. kreml, citadel or walled center of several Russian cities; the most famous is in Moscow. During the Middle Ages, the kremlin served as an administrative and religious center and offered protection against military attacks. Thus a kremlin constituted a city in itself, containing palaces, government buildings, churches, marketplaces, and munitions stockpiles. Famous kremlins still preserved include those of Moscow, Astrakhan, Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorky), Kazan, Novgorod, and Pskov.

The Moscow Kremlin

The kremlin in the city of Moscow is known simply as the Kremlin. Triangular and surrounded by crenellated walls, it occupies 90 acres (36.4 hectares) in the historic core of Moscow. It is bounded on the south by the Moscow River and Kremlin quay, on the east by Red Square with Lenin's tomb, the Moscow Historical Museum, and St. Basil's Cathedral, and on the west and south by the old Alexander Gardens. The Kremlin's walls, built in the 15th cent., are topped on each side by seven towers (20 towers altogether); among these is the Spasskaya [of the Savior], with famous chimes, above the main gate.

In the center of the Kremlin is Cathedral Square, with the Uspenski [Assumption] Cathedral (late 15th cent. but containing rare icons of the 12th and 14th cent.), which was used for czarist state occasions, for the crowning of czars, and for the burial of church patriarchs; the Blagoveschenski [Annunciation] Cathedral (15th–16th cent.), which served as the private chapel for the czars' families; the Arkhangelski Cathedral (14th–17th cent.), which contains tombs of the czars; and the separate bell tower of Ivan the Great, c.266 ft (81 m) high, the golden cupola of which dominates the crosses, cupolas, and roofs of the other buildings.

On a pedestal adjoining the bell tower is the Czar Bell (cast in 1735), the world's largest bell, with a height of 20 ft (6.1 m) and a weight of 200 tons. The Czar Cannon, located nearby, was cast in 1586 and weighs 40 tons. Along the Kremlin walls are large palaces, including the 15th-century Granovitaya Palata (the throne and banquet hall of the czars); the 19th-century Oruzheinaya Palata (Armory), built as a museum for crowns, scepters, thrones, costumes, and armor; and the 19th-century Grand Palace (Rus. Bolshoi Dvorets), rebuilt under the Communist regime and now housing the Russian parliament.

The Kremlin's architectural history may be divided into the three periods: the wooden Kremlin (founded in the 13th cent.), the Italian Renaissance Kremlin, and the modern Kremlin begun by Catherine the Great in the 18th cent. The Kremlin is almost the only part of Moscow that has escaped all of the city's numerous fires, including that of 1812, when Napoleon's headquarters were in Moscow. It suffered minor damage during the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The Kremlin was the residence of the czars until Peter the Great transferred the capital to St. Petersburg in 1712. After 1918, when the capital was moved back to Moscow, the Kremlin was the USSR's political and administrative center; the word "Kremlin" was often used as a synonym for that government. It is now the seat of the government of Russia.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Russian, kreml’ the central fortified part of a Russian feudal city. First mentioned in the chronicles for 1331 (kremnik). Other names were also used: detinets until the 14th century and gorod and grad (city) until the 16th and 17th centuries.

The kremlin was usually located in a high place, often on the shore of a river or lake. The relief of the locality dictated its layout, and defensive needs dictated the number of towers and the distances between them. The walls of the kremlin were originally of wood and earth and, from the 11th century, of stone and brick: such walls were started in 1044 in Novgorod and in 1116 in Staraia Ladoga; in Pskov they date from the 13th century. Kremlins were often surrounded by a moat with water. The kremlin usually contained the prince’s palace, a cathedral, and courts of the boyars and the church nobility.

Accentuated by its physical setting, the kremlin dominated the local terrain. It was the nucleus of the formation of the ancient Russian city and defined its silhouette; the roads leading to the kremlin’s gates often became the basis of a radial or fanlike layout for the residential sections (the posady, or merchants’ and artisans’ quarters) that arose near the kremlins. A noteworthy model of a kremlin is the Kremlin in Moscow. In the 16th and 17th centuries, wide-scale construction of stone kremlins proceeded in Nizhny Novgorod (now Gorky), Tula, Kolomna, Zaraisk, Kazan, Rostov Velikii, Serpukhov, Astrakhan, and other cities; in addition to defense, they served as a display of a city’s might and importance. In the replanning of Russian cities in the second half of the 18th and first quarter of the 19th century, the kremlins, which had lost their military-strategic value, were included in city complexes as administrative centers and historical-artistic ensembles.


Tverskoi, L. M. Russkoe gradostroitel’stvo do kontsa XVII veka. Leningrad-Moscow, 1953.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. In Russia, the citadel of a town or city, serving as an administrative and religious center
2. (initial cap.) The citadel of Moscow, a 90 acre (36 hectares) area surrounded by 15th-century crenelated walls, entered by five steepled gate towers.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. the 12th-century citadel in Moscow, containing the former Imperial Palace, three Cathedrals, and the offices of the Russian government
2. (formerly) the central government of the Soviet Union
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005