Grand Kremlin Palace Tour
By Appointment Only
$75 for the tour
When SRAS gave me the opportunity to take an exclusive tour of the Grand Kremlin Palace, which is an exclusive tour that is normally off-limits to the general public, I had to take it.
This particular tour is different from those that cover the more public areas inside the Kremlin. Formerly the Moscow residence of the Russian tsars, the Grand Kremlin Palace, a complex inside the Kremlin, now hosts diplomatic meetings and official state ceremonies including presidential inaugurations. It is also designated as a residence of the President of the Russian Federation, but is rarely used for that purpose.
I met the tour group on a Friday afternoon in Aleksandrovski Sad, which borders the Kremlin walls. From there, we made our way towards the Kremlin grounds entrance. There was a huge line to get into the grounds through a first security checkpoint, but we were able to skip straight to the front of it since we had registered for our tour ahead of time. Once we were through the gate, the crowd thinned out significantly.
As we walked through the Kremlin grounds, we saw other tour groups taking photos of the landscaping, palace, and other historical buildings. Unlike us, they didn’t have the permission of the Russian government to enter the actual palace. When we got to the palace, we walked through the front doors, crossed a second security checkpoint, met our guide, and started the tour.
Our tour guide inside the building was a woman that worked in preservation. She only spoke Russian, so everything was translated for us by an SRAS-hired guide to English. We began on the first floor of the newer section of the palace and saw several ornate living rooms and guest rooms, followed by the empress’s and emperor’s chambers. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to see the emperor’s office and bathroom as President Putin had decided to use them as his personal study for the remainder of his time in office.
After the first floor, we headed upstairs to the second. From the outside the palace appeared to have three floors, but in reality the second floor just had massive, vaulted ceilings and two levels of windows. From what I saw, the second floor seemed to be where the fun happened. The first major room we walked into was the Hall of the Order of St. George, built to house major military meetings and balls and today used as a large conference room. There were names of famous military officers and soldiers inscribed on the walls, and the hall looked like it could hold hundreds of guests. Then it was on to the Hall of the Order of St. Vladimir, which was way less cool. It did, however, have the largest chandelier in the palace, for what that’s worth.
Next, we moved into the oldest section of the palace. It was built in the late 1400s and the newer sections of the palace were built out to connect with it. Our guide told us that by the time of the last czars, the older section was used strictly for ceremonial purposes. The walls were covered with paintings of historical rulers and religious figures. It was definitely my favorite room as there seemed to be an aura of timelessness hanging about the place.
Then we went back through the Hall of the Order of St. Vladimir and through another hall to the older bedchamber of the czar and an older, smaller meeting room for the czar and his nobles. This section was markedly different as there was none of the opulence of the newer palace. It had a utilitarian feel due to its practical layout with comfortable but plain looking chairs, reasonably sized paintings, low ceilings and large traditional Russian stoves.
Finally, we visited the throne room. It was massive, just like the Hall of the Order of St. George, and had polished stone and gilding everywhere. Unfortunately, it was a reconstruction. Our guide let us know that the soviets had torn it apart when they came to power, creating what looked like a massive classroom to house the first meetings of the Soviet Congress. The Russian government had restored it completely within the past decade. She also let us know that the current heir to the Russian throne is Prince Harry of England, which is an interesting fact I’ve been surprising Brits with lately.
On our way out, we exited through a portrait hall. Most of the portraits were typical Enlightenment and Victorian era paintings with stuffy looking people. However, one painting caught my eye: the portrait of Knyaz Sbyatoclav. The man looked absolutely hardcore (and you can see him below in a photo I took).
In my opinion, it was definitely worth $75. While I wouldn’t go twice, the fact of the matter is that you get to see the inside of a beautiful building and stand in rooms that very powerful people meet in and have met in for hundreds of years – which is an opportunity that few regular people are given. Don’t think that it’s too expensive, because you’ll have the experience and memory with you for the rest of your life.
Jack Fischer is majoring in Physics with Russian and Economics minors at Iowa State University of Science and Technology in Ames, Iowa. He is studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS over the summer of 2016 to improve his command of the Russian language. In the future, he’d like to work for himself and run a business. I haven’t decided on a location yet, but I’m certainly open to Russia or the former USSR territories.