The Red Square is the center of Moscow. It separates the Kitay Gorod commercial district from the Kremlin’s walls to the east, and has a history as old as the post-Mongol fortress itself.
Being the most recognizable symbol of Russia in the world, Red Square accepts thousands of tourists each year. No wonder every globe-trotter has a picture of him standing on its brick pavement in front of St. Basil's Cathedral. This ancient center of Russia's political might has a handful of stories to tell, and no one will tell them better than our specially trained guides.
Originally, it was the site of a central market square established in an area cleared by decree for the Kremlin’s defense. When Moscow threw off the Tatar Yoke in 1480, this market clearing (extending about 234 meters away from the walls, inclusive of the territory of today’s GUM, or State Department Store) was deemed the weakest side of the Grand Prince’s citadel. As a result, the waters of the nearby Neglinnaya River were diverted into a new defensive ditch next to the walls, called the Alevizov Moat.
In the decade of rule by the Shuisky boyar family, a tumultuous regency following the apparent assassination in 1538 of Elena Glinskaya, the mother of Ivan IV, a platform was built above the Vasily descent called the Lobnoye Mesto. When Ivan became Tsar in 1547, this became a favorite place for him to read edicts. The word “lob” in old Russian meant “steep river bank,” but because of the many executions issued by “Ivan the Terrible,” the name carried the connotation as the “Place of Skulls.” Gallows were usually erected a short distance away from this platform along the descent, where the Tsar could watch unobstructed the executions.
In late May 1571, the Tatars returned under Devlet Giray, the Crimean Khan, while Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible was off fighting a war against the Poles, and his men set a fire in the suburbs of the city. Unexpectedly, the winds picked it up and carried it into the main part of the city itself, burning down the many wooden structures that housed its inhabitants, leaving it an ashen waste in only six hours. Residents of the city sought shelter in the many stone churches, most of which collapsed from either the heat or from people attempting to push their way into an already packed structure, while others sought refuge in the Moscow River and drowned.
For years afterward, Ivan the Terrible avoided the city, awaiting the reconstruction of his residence in the Kremlin, which was not spared from the inferno. As the city built up beyond the cleared area, evidence of the fire continued to be visible in the cleared out area that again became a central market area. As a result, the area below the still-standing Trinity Church (today known as the Cathedral of St. Vasily the Blessed) began being called “Pozhar,” or burnt-out place.
Ivan’s successor, Feodor I the Bellringer, began the restoration of the market area, replacing the burnt ground with stone. He brought in the Scottish architect Christopher Galloway to redesign the Spasskaya clock tower, which was finally completed by 1625. By the time that the Russian double-eagle was placed atop the structure in the mid-1600s, the square had taken on the name “Krasevaya Ploshad” or “Beautiful Square.” Shortly after, the name of the square evolved into “Krasnaya,” which in Old Russian meant both “beautiful” and “red.” As can be seen, the name dates to well before the rise of communism and the creation of the Soviet Union.
Moscow's most important streets start from the Red Square area and extend outward to the city’s various ring roads in a spider-web of avenues, making it truly the hub of the city. The most important events held in the city are usually here, including the ringing in of the New Year, done for all of Russia from the Spasskaya clock tower, and annual military parades held at various times of the year.
like Stalin, Molotov, Beria and Malenkov, as well as the post-parade festivities.
Among the most important of these parades remains the parade held during the Day of the October Revolution, and its symbolism goes well beyond its Soviet origin. During World War II, while German forces were held at bay a mere 60 miles (95 kilometers) away from the Kremlin’s walls, Stalin ordered an official parade in celebration of the October Revolution of 1917 in order to maintain morale. Russian troops were brought in from the battlefields in order to march in the Red Square, and every year since then, Red Square continues to host this same “victory parade” in honor of the troops who successfully defended the city.
In 2005 this center of all Moscow celebrated the 60th anniversary of victory over the Nazis with official guests from countries that participated in World War II, making it the largest gathering of world leaders in history. This only emphasized the global importance of the spot, which originated as a simple marketplace in a humble, yet ambitious, principality struggling under the Tatar Yoke.