The Armoury ChamberRussian: Oruzheynaya palata or Оружейная палата of the Moscow Kremlin is an amazing treasure house museum. The museum collection is made up of unique items, which were preserved for centuries in the royal treasury and in the Patriarch’s sacristy. These include personal belongings of Russian tsars, valuable gifts from foreign embassies as well as household and decorative items made by Armoury craftsmen. Authentic royal regalia (Monomakh’s Capa chief relic of the Russian Grand Princes and Tsars, the scepter, and the orb), an exhibition of royal clothing (personal items of Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725 among other things), carriages, ancient European and Oriental weapons, articles made of precious metals dating from the 12th to early 20th centuries (including the famous Fabergé eggs), and much more are exhibited in the Kremlin Armoury Museum.
The museum has nine theme halls occupying two floors. All in all, the collection displays over four thousand art objects of different epochs and nations. Architecturally, the Armoury Chamber is part of the Grand Kremlin PalaceRussian: Bol’shoy Kremlyovskiy dvorets or Большой Кремлевский дворец complex. The existing Moscow Armoury building was designed in the eclectic style by famous architect Konstantin Ton in 1851 who constructed the Cathedral of Christ the SaviourRussian: khram Khrista Spasitelya or храм Христа Спасителя in Moscow. This building was designed specifically to house the Emperor’s Museum.
Museum exhibits are labelled in Russian and English; audio tours in Russian, English, German, French, Spanish and Italian are offered. Interactive electronic guides have been recently introduced as a new service provided by the museum.
The Kremlin armoury history
Long ago, the chamber began its existence as a set of royal workshops. Its artisans were recognised as early as in the 16th century. At that time, only gunsmiths and icon painters worked at the armoury. The royal workshops were where all the innovations in Russian icon painting of the 17th century were born and from there they spread all over Rus’. It was also the starting point for the careers of Simon Ushakov, the legendary icon painter, and Nikita Davydov, a famous Russian gunsmith of the 17th century, often referred to as the father of Russian gunsmithing. Some time later, the workshops were replaced by the treasury.
Peter the Great started the process of transforming the royal workshops and storage rooms into museums in the 18th century. In 1806, Emperor Alexander Ireigned as Emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825 signed an edict to initiate the establishment of a museum on the basis of the Armoury Chamber. At the same time, the Kremlin collections became the focus of analysis. Alexey Malinovsky, a member of the Russian Academy of SciencesRussian: Rossiyskaya akademiya nauk or Российская академия наук, was the first to describe the royal regalia in his book in 1807. The first Armoury building was constructed in 1809 near the Troitskie (Trinity) GateRussian: Troitskie vorota or Троицкие ворота to last until the 1830s. The humidity had adverse effects on the exhibits, and the wooden floor structures put the entire collection at risk of catching fire. Therefore, the museum moved to its new building designed by Ton in the middle of the 19th century. The old building was first converted to barracks and later demolished by the Soviet government.
The most distinctive part of the display area on the ground floor is occupied by carriages and coaches. This collection has no equivalent in the world, which is why it is the focus of attention during guided tours. Twenty-four carriages manufactured during different epochs are exhibited here. One of the earliest ones is the carriage presented to Tsar Boris Godunovruled as a regent from 1585 to 1598 and then as the first non-Rurikid tsar from 1598 to 1605 by England as far back as in the 16th century. Another unique exhibit is Catherine the GreatEmpress of Russia from 1762 until 1796’s gondola-shaped summer carriage. On the ground floor, you can also see the magnificent attire of Russian rulers from various epochs, as well as coronation and religious garments. Of special attention are Peter the Great’s suits: his famous ‘black Dutch suit’ and kaftansa kind of a man's long suit with tight sleeves.
The main part of the permanent exhibition is displayed on the first floor, where visitors are taken by the front staircase. Of particular interest is the Coronation HallRussian: Koronnyi zal or Коронный зал, the farthest one, which displays state regalia. Some of the earliest items are the so-called Monomach’s regalia, which according to legend were given to Prince Vladimir Monomachreigned from 1113 to 1125 (12th century) by his Byzantine relatives. These gifts symbolise the succession of power from the Byzantine Emperors to the Russian princes. They include the famous Monomach’s Cap as well as the orb, the scepter and the chain of the ‘Grand Set’ possessed by Michael I of Russiathe first Russian Tsar of the house of Romanov. The Sobornoye Ulozheniethe legal code adopted in 1649 is also showcased here. This code consolidated the transition to absolutism in Russia. The KazanRussian: Казанская and AltabasnayaRussian: Сибирская (Siberian) Caps are exhibited next to the Monomakh’s Cap, symbolising the captured kingdoms and representing the milestones of expansion.
After the hall telling about the Russian rulers, visitors enter a hall showing arts and crafts associated with the history of Russian foreign politics—these are ambassadorial gifts. Vast expositions of jewellery presented to Russian tsars by English, Dutch, German and other embassies at certain periods can be found here.
Next is the hall where arms and armour are displayed: military regalia (the tsar’s shield, banner, and sword), trophies of certain battles, foreign (Persian, Turkish, Indian, and European) weapons, and knights’ tournament armour, alongside horse caparisons.
Weapon enthusiasts will be interested to learn that the museum displays ancient chain mails weighing from 12 to 19 kg (the oldest chain mail shirt belonged to Prince Shuisky, a governor under Ivan the Terribleruled from 1533 to 1584), Tsar Boris Godunov’s baydanaa chain mail shirt made of large iron rings, and the keys to Riga, among other exhibits. There are also unique saddles that were only manufactured in Moscow, with a high pommel and a sloping cantle, which allowed soldiers to quickly turn around and fire at their pursuers; and helmets with aventails (a flexible curtain of mail), the oldest of which belonged to Yaroslav Vsevolodovich, father of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevskya key figure of medieval Rus' known for his military victories over German and Swedish invaders in the 13th century. In addition, you’ll see edged weapons (various types of spears and maces, e.g. the pernacha type of flanged mace originating in the 12th century in the region of Kievan Rus'– and shestopyor#six-feathered#-type flanged maces, sabers which belonged to Minin and Pozharsky, the famous leaders of the Russian People’s MilitiaRussian: Narodnoe Opolcheniye or народное ополчение, and more) and firearms (hand cannons and revolvers made by Pervusha Isaev, a well-known Moscow gunsmith). Such weapons, apart from their high-class combat characteristics, were also works of art and the pride of their owner, being made of precious metals inlaid with mother-of-pearl, gems and fine wood. Bulat and Damascus steel were especially high-valued; the production technique was kept secret and passed on from generation to generation.
While visiting Moscow Armoury museum, you will learn that people who distinguished themselves were awarded valuable weapons and tableware before Peter the Great’s era and that Peter the Great set up the first Russian Order of St. Andrew the Apostle First-Called in 1698. It was originally awarded for merit and became a dynastic insignia after Peter’s death.
The world-famous Fabergé eggs are the jewel of the Armoury collection. Unfortunately, many of them were sold to overseas buyers or went missing during the Soviet era. Nevertheless, the Armoury still keeps 10 stunning eggs that the House of Fabergé created as special Easter gifts presented by Emperors Alexander IIIthe Emperor of Russia from 1881 until his death in 1894 and Nicholas IIthe last Emperor of Russia, ruling from 1894 until his forced abdication in 1917 to their wives. Each egg is unique and has a surprise inside. The very idea of such eggs is not unusual, but the intricacies of the eggs themselves are unrivalled. Carl Fabergé was recognised as one of the best jewellers of his time and awarded the French National Order of the Legion of Honour in 1900.
Architecture: the armoury building and interiors
The Armoury Chamber is part of the Great Kremlin Palace complex. The existing Armoury building was designed in the eclectic style by famous architect Konstantin Ton in 1851. The building does not embody the evolution of any architectural tradition of the 19th century but rather goes back further in time to the style of the 17th century.
The building is shaped in an extended rectangle with rounded gable facades. It is divided into enfiladessuites of rooms with doorways in line with each other, where the rooms are interconnected and each dedicated to a certain theme. Only the central part stands out as unique, featuring a round hall with Russian weapons on the first floor and an octangular hall on the ground floor. The Emperor and his guests were meant to move from the ceremonial halls of the Kremlin Palace into the suite of rooms of the Armoury on the first floor, that is why these two areas are joined by a passage. All the construction projects were approved personally by Emperor Nicholas Ithe Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855, who included the museum in the list of must-see places for foreign guests on formal visits.
The exterior of Kremlin ArmouryChamber was obviously designed to resemble Russian architecture of the Late Middle Ages, although the façade arrangement resembles a 19th-century building. The whole wall surface is divided into identical vertical sectors that have parts of wall with windows fitted into them. Horizontally, the building has two tiers and a basement.
The lower tier demonstrates uncluttered architecture with hefty wall piers and unsophisticated windows. Interestingly, the wall tiers and the architecturally highlighted exterior corners are additionally covered in rock-faced stone, which naturally makes the building look heavier. This technique of highlighting the ground floor with rock-faced stone is actually an echo of the disappearing era of classicism, where it was used to indicate the basement level. Although using decorative surrounds on ground floor windows is not common for classicist architecture, it is still one of its characteristic elements.
The first floor is a single space, although it may seem from the outside that there is one more level hidden inside. The reason for this is that Ton placed sets of two windows designed in the Old Russian style one above the other. This technique is mostly characteristic of the Baroque style and is intended to manipulate the viewer’s perception of the internal structure of the building. The rooms inside were lit much better due to such arrangement of the windows, which was especially important for the exhibition halls. But why didn’t Ton design one big window instead of two smaller ones? The answer is simple: it would not have been in line with the Old Russian spirit the architect sought to evoke.
Although the building is not decorated at first glance, it still looks very ornate. Such a perception has a lot to do with colour, namely the combination of the yellow plaster walls with the white elements, which also hints at the medieval architecture of Moscow, where white-stone details were often combined with red brick. An important role is also played by the consistent rhythm of the vertical lines, the half-columns that decorate the first floor, consolidating the entire look and continuing the lines of the ground floor wall piers. However, it is not so much the rhythm as the columns themselves that are significant. They are classical in style and regular with a base, a capital, and an order. Of course, there were no such element in Old Russian architecture, but the architect, for whom the principles of classicism were an integral part of his studies, was construct it that way. Ton considered it unthinkable and actually unnecessary to deprive a column of some of its elements. To give the columns a medieval look, he tried another tack and moulded a delicate laced relief ornament all over each column. Despite the fact that both the columns and the ornament are made of white stone, the lustrous vegetative sprigs are easily distinguished, making the building look magnificent.