I did not get nearly enough time in Moscow, but did manage to see parts of Red Square and The Kremlin.
Lenin is looking a little worse for wear. Wax museum displays look a lot more real than he does. And don’t expect to spend more than a minute or two in his tomb.
It’s underground, Lenin’s glass coffin providing the only light. You can’t dawdle, and you can’t take pictures, plus you’ll have to check in your backpacks and purses before going in. Security guards hustle everyone in and out, lickety-split — basically you can expect to walk in, walk around and get out. So in some respects, that was a little disappointing.
Moscow’s 1812 Museum
One of my favorite places though, is the 1812 Museum. Read “War and Peace” if you want an in-depth look at the War of 1812. It was long and preachy, but the novel gave me a good base for understanding what happened without having to delve into a history book, which is the 5th layer of hell for me.
When I asked my tour guide (hired through Tours by Locals, which I highly recommend by the way) about Tolstoy’s rather cynical views of the war, he adamantly stated, “Oh we can trust Tolstoy.” He went into an explanation of why, exactly, but it was just his very sure tone that struck me as interesting. Russian cultural pride is still running strong — more on that in a moment.
Here are some highlights from the museum, no signs in English, so I was happy to have someone to translate:
Napoleon and Tsar Alexander decide to team up, signing a treaty in the middle of a river at Tilsit– France agreeing to help Russia in their fight against the Ottoman Empire, and Russia agreeing to assist the French in their war against the Brits. Russia couldn’t realistically oppose Britain though, so relations with Napoleon gradually deteriorated.
Napoleon begins his campaign against Russia in June of 1812, and reaches Moscow that September. And now there’s a museum to commemorate the war, which the Russians call the Patriotic War of 1812 (don’t confuse it with the Great Patriotic War, which is how the Russians refer to WWII.)
Want Bonaparte’s autograph? Try stealing this specimen. And if anyone ever invents time travel, I’m making a stop to steal these seals…with these rings come great power.
Russian Cossacks were something like a cross between a pirate and a soldier for hire, though they had to supply their own horses, arms, etc. The army didn’t have a lot of control over them.
Nonetheless, they were given orders to slash and burn, leaving very little in the way of food and supplies for Napoleon’s Grand Army on their way to Moscow.
The peasants helped too, using what tools they had available, willingly burning the lands they worked, supplies they stored, and the homes they lived in. This is where we get into that wonderful cultural pride again!
The Russians didn’t call it the Patriotic War for nothing.
Compare the above photo to French weaponry:
You’ll see abandoned cannon everywhere around the Kremlin. They’re all neatly lined up of course, but you’ll be amazed at how much Napoleon left behind.
I found this interesting:
Behind this watchtower in the Kremlin wall, you’ll see Christ the Savior Cathedral.
This cathedral was planned in 1812 by Tsar Alexander, in thanksgiving of mother Russia’s divine rescue from the evil French.
The first version was completed in 1817, but the foundation was unstable.
A second version was consecrated in 1883.
Josef Stalin had the second cathedral dynamited in 1931, partly to use the site for a political monument, but also to recoup the gold in the dome.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church obtained permission to rebuild, but it wasn’t completed until 2000.
You’ll see lots of marble and other materials from destroyed cathedrals in metro stations throughout Moscow. What a country!
Tips for touring the 1812 Museum in Moscow:
1. Most museums, and many other public places in Russia, require you to check your coat — there are cloak rooms everywhere. The 1812 museum is no different.
2. The 1812 Museum was also exhibiting Portraits of the Tsars, if you want to attach faces to all of the interesting historical stories. Portraits can get boring, but I found it was helpful to have some visuals to keep everyone straight.
If you want to be my friend for life, I suggest you buy me this dress. Don’t forget the head piece.