Russia - jewels within the Kremlin walls.
Having been frustrated at our earlier attempts to get into the Kremlin, today we were on a mission. As we walked through the gardens that skirt the exterior of the Kremlin we were approached by a guide, who asked if we needed her services. We quickly agreed a price of $35 and off we went.
As it turned out this was money well spent. Our guide had been working as a guide for 20 years and was known by all the Kremlin staff. We were happily waived to the front of the already large queue, where an inspection guard, who was on instruction to be extra vigilant following the recent Chechen bombings, halted our progress. After searching us thoroughly he decided he definitely did not like the look of the camera mini tripod, but after a demonstration and explanation from our guide he begrudgingly let us through.
We headed for the diamond fund, one of the Worlds largest collections of diamonds and precious stones. Once inside the large dark room having passed several more security checks, the site that awaits you simply leaves you dumb struck. The walls of the room are made of case after case of glass made display cabinets, each one full to overflow with sparkling jewels of every description and each case seemingly more fantastical than the last. Aladdin’s cave can’t have been more magical. The collection is incredible.
Of every type of stone, there are examples of cut and uncut. Diamonds of every colour, sapphires, Ruby’s as big as your fist, Emeralds so huge! There was one black diamond that put all the others into insignificance. Alongside them were examples of the rocks that they are extracted from – these were also huge and really just great big lumps of the precious stones. We’d never seen anything like it. We never knew that there were so many jewels within the Kremlin walls.
Other cabinets displayed handfuls of diamonds all showing different ‘grades’ and then all sizes in grades of carats. Our guide knew them all and also the special names that had been given to some of the largest and most perfect diamonds – some had been named after the first Russian astronauts , others after heroes of the USSR. Our guide (we wish we could remember her name but we do remember that it was difficult for us to pronounce!) then took us to the cabinets in the centre of the room that displayed all shapes and sizes of gold and platinum nuggets – many were known by the shape of the animals they looked like – one was ‘the camel’ another ‘the bear’. Alongside these were great lumps of the rock that these nuggets are extracted. It really is just too difficult to try to explain the feeling you get looking at all of these precious stones and nuggets other than to say it is all to overwhelming.
If this wasn’t enough we then went into the ‘historical’ room.- the previous room had, compared to the jewels and stones in this room, been nothing! There were four large display cabinets, each one stuffed full. This room contained hundreds of pieces of the most exquisitely crafted jewellery. Each one with its own unique history and fairytale like story. Pieces owned by conquering warlords, kings, queens, Tsars and, of course, beautiful princesses. There was a massive ruby shaped like a strawberry that had made its way into the family of the Russian Tsars but had originally been owned by Cleopatra! The centrepiece of this display however, was the State jewels, including coronation crowns and sceptres so big that the weight must have been unbearable. After finally being able to pick our jaws up off the floor we made our way outside still feeling overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of what we’d been privileged to see.
The rest of the afternoon passed all too quickly as we toured the private churches of the Kremlin. Intricately decorated walls and gold lined ceilings decorated every room and so did a variety of stone coffins. These coffins were members of the Royal family a long way prior to the revolution, dating from around 1235 to about 1675 It was just all too much to absorb and with the constant information being given to us by our guide we left the Kremlin with a sense of amazement and awe! WOW- we had just been into the very heart of the former Soviet Union!
Unable to face any more sightseeing we left the Kremlin after saying goodbye to our guide and staggered the few hundred meters to our hotel. That night after an extremely expensive Chinese meal (the prices were very confusing in both Roubles and Euro for different weights and portions!)
Later that evening we went back into Red Square only to find that it was now no longer possible to walk across or even get that close to. The Chechen suicide bombers had the whole of Moscow on alert – we had (for once) timed it right having been able to wander freely only just the night before.