The interesting history, politics, and engineering of the Kremlin Stars.

7 Facts about the Kremlin Stars

Published: February 20, 2014

The following information was taken from the Russian 7 website. It has been translated here by SRAS Home and Abroad Translation Scholar Caroline Barlow. Some explanatory text and hyperlinks to further information have also been included for those readers who are not well versed in the history of Moscow and Russia.

7 Facts about the Kremlin Stars

On October 24, 1935, two long-standing symbols of the Russian monarchy—the two-headed eagles which stood on top of the Kremlin towers, were ordered to come down and be replaced with five-point stars.

Here are seven facts about the Kremlin Stars.

I. Symbolism

Swastika used in Orthodox iconography
The swastika as used in Orthodox iconography. The symbol was once associated with energy and life before it was adopted by Nazis, who tainted it with associations of death and totalitarianism.

Why a five-point star became the symbol of the Soviet regime is unknown, but what is known is that Lev Trotsky supported this symbol. Greatly fascinated by the esoteric, he knew that stars and pentagrams have a strong energetic potential and are one of the strongest symbols. The swastika could have easily become the symbol of the new government, since it had a strong following in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Swastikas were displayed on the currency of the temporary government led by Alexander Kerensky, and swastikas were painted on the walls of Impatievsky Home of Empress Alexandra Fedrovna’s Ipatiev Home before she was executed. This trend was stopped almost solely by Trotsky and the Bolsheviks, who opted for the five-point star. The history of the twentieth century still shows that stars are stronger than swastikas… Stars shone over the Kremlin, in the place of two-headed eagle.

The currency of the temporary government led by Alexander Kerensky had a swastika prominently displayed in its center.
The currency of the temporary government led by Alexander Kerensky had a swastika prominently displayed in its center.

II. How They Were Built

Special cranes were constructed on each tower to attach the stars.
Special cranes were constructed on each tower to attach the stars.

Erecting the thousand-kilogram stars on the Kremlin towers was not a simple thing to do. The problem was that the needed technology did not exist in 1935. The smallest of the Kremlin Towers, Borovitskaya, rose to 52 meters, and the tallest tower, Troitskaya, reached a height of 72 meters. Throughout the country, there were no tower cranes capable of reaching these heights. However, for Russian engineers, the word “no” did not exist, only the phrase “we must.” Engineers designed and built special cranes that could be installed on the upper deck for each tower. A metal base, called the console, was mounted at the base of each turret window, and on each console the engineers mounted a lifting crane. Thus, the process occurred in several stages: first was the two-headed eagles were dismantled, and second, the stars erected.

 

III. Reconstructing the Towers

The double headed eagle being removed from the towers after the fall of Tsarism in Russia.
The double headed eagle being removed from the towers after the fall of Tsarism in Russia.

Each Kremlin weighs about one ton. Given the height at which the stars would be placed and the fact that each star has a surface area of 6.3 square meters (potentially excellent for catching the wind), there was a danger that the stars might be blown away along with the top of the towers. So, it was decided to stress test the towers and, it turns out, with good reason: the upper part of each tower and its console was completely destroyed in the process. So, builders reinforced the masonry at the upper levels of the towers, and for the Spasskaya, Troitskaya, and Borovitskaya Tower, metal bracing was added to the base of the tower. The console on Nikolskaya Tower was so damaged that it had to be completely rebuilt.

IV. Spinning in Variety

The original stars, which were metal and gem stone, are raised into position.
The original stars, which were metal and gem stone, are raised into position.

All the stars were not made identical; four stars differ from one another in their artistic forms. On the Spasskaya Tower star, rays go out from the center. However, on Troitskaya Tower’s star, the rays look like spikes. The star on Borovitskaya Tower is made up of two contours, one inscribed in the other, and, finally, the rays on Nikolskaya Tower’s star have no pattern. In terms of length, the Spasskaya and Nikolskaya Towers were similar, with the distance between the ends of the rays being about 4.5 meters. On Troitskaya and Borovitskaya Towers, the star rays were shorter, and the distance between the ends of the rays was less, measuring 4 and 3.4 meters, respectively.

A star is good, but a spinning star is twice as nice. Moscow is large, its people many, and all must see the Kremlin stars. For the base of each star, special bearings were produced by the First Bearing Plant. These special bearings allow the stars to rotate with the wind even despite their significant weight. Consequently, it is possible to know the direction of the wind given the position of the stars.

 

V. The Show at Gorky Park

The original stars on display in Gorky Park before their installation to the Kremlin towers.
The original stars on display in Gorky Park before their installation to the Kremlin towers.

Installation of the Kremlin Stars was a true celebration for Muscovites. The stars were not carried under the cover of night to Red Square. The day before the stars were placed on the towers they were put on display in Gorky Park. District and City Secretaries of the Communist Party came together with the ordinary mortals below to see the stars as projectors made the Ural stones shine and the rays sparkle. The eagles, taken off the towers, were also displayed to visually demonstrate the dilapidation of the «old» world and the beauty of the «new» world.

 

VI. Ruby Glass

A Soviet-era painting showing workers installing the present-day ruby glass stars.
A Soviet-era painting showing workers installing the present-day ruby glass stars.

The Kremlin stars were not always ruby glass. The first stars, installed in October, 1935, were made from high-alloy stainless steel and red copper. In the center of each star, on both sides, the stars were embedded with precious stones outlining the hammer and sickle emblem. Over the course of a year, the glitter of the gems dimmed. The stars were also found to be too big, not fitting well with the architectural ensemble. In May, 1937, it was decided to install new, illuminated glass ruby stars. Also, they added a star to a fifth tower, the Vodovzvodnaya Tower. The ruby glass was produced at a factory in the city of

Konstantinov, according to the method of the Moscovite glassmaker, N. I. Kurochkina. It was necessary to prepare 500 square meters of ruby glass, and for that, a new type was invented—selenium ruby glass. Before that, gold was used to color the glass; selenium was cheaper and produced a deeper color.

 

VII. Lights

The present-day star not only turn with the wind, they are illuminated at night.
The present-day stars not only turn with the wind, they are illuminated at night.

The Kremlin stars don’t only rotate, they also light up. In order not to overheat and cause damage, about 600 cubic meters of air is blown through the stars per hour. The stars are not affected by power outages, because they have their own, independent generators. The Moscow Electrical Lamp Plant produced the lights for the stars. The stars on Spasskaya, Troitskaya, and Nikolskaya Towers all have 5000-watt bulbs, and the other two operate at 3700 watts. In each star, two parallel filaments are installed. That way, if one burns out, the other filament still shines and a control panel is notified of the burnout. To change the bulb, one does not need to climb up to the star. Rather, the bulb comes down on a special rod that runs straight through the bearing. The whole process takes 30-35 minutes. In the stars’ history, the stars stopped shining only twice—once during the war, and another time for the filming of the now-classic movie “The Barber of Siberia.”

About the author

The School of Russian and Asian Studies

Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS) and Communications Director for Alinga Consulting Group. In those capacities, he has been managing publications and informative websites covering geopolitics, history, business, economy, and politics in Eurasia since 2003. He is based in Moscow, Russia. For SRAS, he also assists in program development and leads the Home and Abroad Programs

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