The name Red Square does not originate from the pigment of the surrounding bricks (which, in fact, were whitewashed at certain times in history) nor from the link between the color red and communism. Rather, the name came about because the Russian word красная (krasnaya) can mean either “red” or “beautiful” (the latter being rather archaic; cf. прекрасная, prekrasnaya). This word, with the meaning “beautiful”, was originally applied to Saint Basil’s Cathedral and was subsequently transferred to the nearby square. It is believed that the square acquired its current name (replacing the older Pozhar, or “burnt-out place”) in the 17th century.
We were very lucky. The day we arrived at Moscow’s Red Square, it was bright and sunny. The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly on St Basil’s and it’s candy coloured domes, as well as the red walled Kremlin and GUM, a departmental store that looks more like a museum or mansion of an aristocrat.
There are four places of interest surrounding the Red Square.
We paid a visit to Lenin, who was resting in his Mausoleum. Lenin is one of Russia’s great leaders, and has “escaped” burial unlike Stalin. They were once put side to side, but because as you may know, politics can affect one’s life and even in death. Stalin was removed later on “as part of de-Stalinization and Khrushchev’s Thaw, and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis outside the walls of the Kremlin.”
The entrance to the Mausoleum is not in the Red Square. Walk out of the gate and turn to your left and walk past the State History Museum. Continue walking further and you would see a black wrought iron gate with a guard outside. Enter and deposit your camera and phones at the luggage office before going in.
Upon entry to the black marble Mausoleum, it can get pretty dark. Be careful of the steps especially if you’re have a wee bit of night blindness, I nearly tripped over a couple of steps on the way down.
You follow a line of people who walk around Lenin’s body. You are not allowed to pause and have a look at him. You look as you walk. Within 30 seconds, it’s over.
Please forgive if I do appear a little disrespectful, but Lenin looks a little like a wax figure from Madame Tussauds. Just like his photo, he has a short crop and was deck out in what seems to be a suit and seems to be peacefully at rest.
Quite worth a visit if you’re at the Red Square. And do pay attention to the opening hours as they are quite strict about that. I read that it was Lenin’s wish to be buried next to his mother. Hope that comes true finally.
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St Basil’s Cathedral
A must see during your trip to Moscow, St Basil’s Cathedral is beautiful, from the outside as well as inside. Paintings line the old walls of the cathedral, shrouded in candle light from the sky-high chandeliers. A Russian Orthodox church, it’s a sight vastly different from churches in Europe. A tip – buy your tickets to St Basil’s Cathedral from the State History Museum at the opposite end of the square if you would like to visit these two places, you get savings of about RUB100 (USD 3, SGD 4).
Opening hours: Daily from 11.00 to 17.00, closed on Tuesdays.
St Basil Cathedral is so beautiful that I think it deserves a post on its own. Click here to read: St Basil’s Cathedral: A Photo Story
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State Historical Museum
Located directly opposite St Basil’s, the State History Museum is home to Russian historical artifacts, that goes all the way to back to the Stone Age. It will be definitely helpful if they had English descriptions of each of the exhibits. Some halls have an English explanatory booklet, but it’s kind of a hassle trying to search for the exhibit via the map, and then reading the description – a wee bit of killjoy.
A nice-to-visit if you’re into Russian history and have a good grasp of Russian.
Opening hours: Daily from 11.00 to 19.00, closed on Tuesdays.
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GUM is not much of a historical site, it’s actually a really high-end shopping mall with many designer shops and upmarket restaurants. The ceilings are made of glass, which reminds me of the Marina Bay Sands shopping mall back here in Singapore.
For the budget traveller, GUM is best admired from the outside. That being said, a stroll inside without buying anything makes a good respite from the afternoon sun outside.
Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 10pm
On a sunny autumn’s day, Moscow’s Red Square is splendid. With sunlight cascading down the walls of these renowned monuments so interestingly moulded and shaped by ancient masters, you feel like you have entered a land like no other.