A magisterial, richly detailed history of the Kremlin, and of the centuries of Russian elites who have shaped it—and been shaped by it in turn
The Moscow Kremlin is the heart of the Russian state, a fortress whose blood-red walls have witnessed more than eight hundred years of political drama and extraordinary violence. It has been the seat of a priestly monarchy, a worldly church and the Soviet Union; it has served as a crossroads for diplomacy, trade, and espionage; it has survived earthquakes, devastating fires, and at least three revolutions. Its very name is a byword for enduring power. From Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin, generations of Russian leaders have sought to use the Kremlin to legitimize their vision of statehood.
Drawing on a dazzling array of sources from hitherto unseen archives and rare collections, renowned historian Catherine Merridale traces the full history of this enigmatic fortress. The Kremlin has inspired innumerable myths, but no invented tales could be more dramatic than the operatic successions and savage betrayals that took place within its vast compound of palaces and cathedrals. Today, its sumptuous golden crosses and huge electric red stars blaze side by side as the Kremlin fulfills its centuries-old role, linking the country’s recent history to its distant past and proclaiming the eternal continuity of the Russian state.
More than an absorbing history of Russia’s most famous landmark, Red Fortress uses the Kremlin as a unique lens, bringing into focus the evolution of Russia’s culture and the meaning of its politics.
The Kremlin is one of the most famous structures in the world. If states have trademarks, Russia’s could well be this fortress, viewed across Red Square. Everyone who comes to Moscow wants to see it, and everyone who visits seems to take a different view. ‘The only guarantee of a correct response is to choose your position before you come,’ wrote the German philosopher Walter Benjamin. ‘In Russia, you can only see if you have already decided.’ In 1927, his decision was to be enthralled.1 A hundred years before, however, a Frenchman called the
“Merridale’s extraordinary history of the red fortress mixes politics, history, architecture and biography to lay bare the secret heart of Russia’s history… It is a delight to read, with pithy pen-portraits, poignant vignettes and mordant summaries of the twists and turns of fate and fortune… Merridale does a brilliant job of piecing together the clues from the past and evading the constraints of the present.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“One of the best popular histories of Russia in any language… Merridale’s stories flow naturally, she has a superb eye for detail and the telling fact, and she is not afraid to tell us just what she thinks.… The Kremlin becomes in her hands the narrative thread that knits together the disjointed story of Russia and the Russians. As a literary device, this works marvelously.”
—Times Literary Supplement
“A splendidly rich portrait of an exotic and puzzling redoubt… Vivid and meticulous… Merridale is a historian by training, but she has a detective’s nose and a novelist’s way with words. Her eyes and ears are as sharp as her pen.”
“Catherine Merridale’s Red Fortress is a tour de force, as readable as it is extensively researched.”
“Red Fortress is much more than just another book about the Kremlin. It is a brilliant meditation on Russian history and the myths with which the Russians have sought to console themselves.”
“This simply superb chronicle of the Kremlin is really a brilliant and unputdownable history of Russia itself from the early Tsars via Lenin and Stalin to Putin; anyone who wants to understand Russia today will not only learn a lot but will enjoy every page.”
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Telegraph
“An exhilarating psychogeographical study of Moscow’s Kremlin will delight many ...a book of detail and imagination…Merridale’s book is a brilliant contribution to the ‘Xanadu’ strand in English literature…an exhilarating journey.”
“Immensely readable…Merridale recounts its eventful history with great skill and tremendous narrative verve.”
—The Sunday Times
“This unique and stunningly well illustrated book is going to be a definitive study.”
“An extensive and meticulous journey through Russian history… How have Russia’s leaders taken a history that is often either ‘difficult, contested, or fragmentary’ and melded it to fit the pervading ideology of the day? With thorough research, including rare access to the Kremlin’s dusty, permission-only archives, Merridale addresses this question and many more to weave an insightful, fascinating tale.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A comprehensive study of Moscow’s walled city, for centuries a byword for power, secrecy, and cruelty… Russian visitors and social historians alike will benefit from Merridale’s thoroughgoing research and lively writing.”
“A well-done portrait… Merridale does an excellent job of integrating Russia’s often tortured, bloody history, the actions of the rulers, and the building and rebuilding of the Kremlin.”
History and Illusion in the Kremlin