Red Square separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod. Red Square is often considered the central square of Moscow, because Moscow's major streets — which connect to Russia's major highways — originate from the square.

The name Red Square does not originate from the pigment of the surrounding bricks nor from the link between the color red and communism. Rather, the name came about because the Russian word красная (krasnaya) can mean either 'red' or 'beautiful'.

Before the 18th century

The rich history of Red Square is reflected in many paintings by Vasily Surikov, Konstantin Yuon and others. The square was meant to be a place to hold balls. It was also the site of various public ceremonies and proclamations, and occasionally a coronation for Russia's Tsars would take place. The square has been gradually built up since that point and has been used for official ceremonies by all Russian governments since it was established.

The square was called Veliky Torg (Great market) or simply Torg (Market), then Troitskaya by the name of the small Troitskaya (Trinity) Church, burnt down in the great fire during the Tatar invasion in 1571. After that, the square held the name Pozhar, which means 'burnt'. It was not until 1661–62, when it was first mentioned by its contemporary Krasnaya – 'Red' name.

Red Square was the landing stage and trade center for Moscow. Ivan the Great decreed that trade should only be conducted from person to person, but in time, these rules were relaxed and permanent market buildings began appearing on the square. After a fire in 1547, Ivan the Terrible reorganized the lines of wooden shops on the Eastern side into market lines. The streets Ilyinka and Varvarka were divided into the Upper lines (now GUM department store), Middle lines and Bottom lines, although Bottom Lines were already in Zaryadye).

After a few years, the Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin, commonly known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, was built on the moat under the rule of Ivan IV. This was the first building which gave the square its present-day characteristic silhouette (pyramidal roofs had not yet been built on the Kremlin towers). In 1595, the wooden market lines were replaced with stone. By that time, a brick platform for the proclamation of the tsar's edicts, known as Lobnoye Mesto, had also been constructed.

Red Square was considered a sacred place. Various festive processions were held there, and during Palm Sunday, the famous 'procession on a donkey' was arranged, in which the patriarch, sitting on a donkey, accompanied by the tsar and the people went out of Saint Basil's Cathedral in the Kremlin.

During the expulsion of Poles from Moscow in 1612, Prince Dmitry Pozharsky entered the Kremlin through the square. In memory of this event, he built the Kazan Cathedral – in honor of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, followed his army in a campaign.

At the same time (1624–1625), Spasskaya tower received contemporary tent roofs. This was done on the proposal and the draught of Christopher Galloway from England, who was summoned to design the new tower's clock and suggested the arrangement of the tent roof over the clock. In the mid-century a gilded double-headed eagle was set on top of the tower. After this, the square became known as Krasivaya ('beautiful').

In the late 17th century (1679-1680) the square was cleared of all wooden structures. Then all Kremlin towers received tent roofs, except Nikolskaya. One tent was erected on the wall above Red Square (the so‑called Tsarskaya Tower, so that the tsar could watch from this spot the ceremonies in the square). Tent roofs were also constructed at Voskrerensky (Iberian) gates, arranged in the wall of Kitai-gorod. These were the fortified gates at Voskresensky Bridge over the River Neglinnaya.

In 1697 and 1699, gates on both sides of Voskresensky Bridge were rebuilt into large stone buildings: the Mint and Zemsky prikaz (department in charge of urban and police matters). Zemsky prikaz (on the site of current Historical Museum) was then known as the Main Pharmacy, founded under orders of Peter The Great. In 1755 the first Russian University was originally housed in the building of Zemsky prikaz, before moving to the better known building on Mokhovaya street further across Manege Square. At the same time the (by then already drained) Alevizov moat was used as a state Pharmacy's garden for growing medicinal plants.

18th-19th century

In 1702, the first public theater in Russia was built near the Nikolsky gate; It stood until 1737, when it was destroyed in a fire. In the 1730s, a new mint building, called the Gubernskoye pravlenie (Provincial Board), was built in front of the old one.

During her reign, Catherine the Great decided to make improvements to the square. In 1786 the upper floor of the market lines was made of stone. This line was built on the opposite side of the square, near a moat between the Spasskaya and Nikolskaya towers. Then architect Matvey Kazakov built (in the old forms) the new Lobnoye mesto of hewn stone, slightly West of the place where it was before.

In 1804, at the request of merchants, the square was paved in stone. In 1806 Nikolskaya Tower was reconstructed in the Gothic style, and received a tent roof. The new phase of improvement of the square began after the Napoleonic invasion and fire in 1812. The moat was filled in 1813 and in its place, rows of trees were planted. The market Line along the moat, dilapidated after the fire, had been demolished, and on the Eastern side, Joseph Bové constructed new building of lines in the Empire style. In 1818 the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky, was erected, symbolising the rise in patriotic consciousness during the war.

In 1874 the historic building of Zemsky prikaz was demolished. In its place the Imperial Historical Museum was built in pseudo-Russian style. After Bové's lines were demolished, new large buildings were erected between 1888 and 1893, also in the pseudo-Russian style: upper lines (Gum department store) and middle lines. The upper lines were intended for retail sale and together in fact comprised the first department store in Moscow. Middle lines were intended for wholesale trade. At the same time (in 1892) the square was illuminated by electric lanterns. In 1909 a tram appeared on the square for the first time.

Modern Era

During the Soviet era, Red Square maintained its significance, becoming a focal point for the new state. Besides being the official address of the Soviet government, it was renowned as a showcase for military parades from 1919 onward. Lenin's Mausoleum would from 1924 onward be a part of the square complex, and also as the grandstand for important dignitaries in all national celebrations. In the 1930s, Kazan Cathedral and Iverskaya Chapel with the Resurrection Gates were demolished to make room for heavy military vehicles driving through the square (both were later rebuilt after the fall of the Soviet Union).

Main Sights

The buildings surrounding the Square are all significant in some respect. Lenin's Mausoleum, for example, contains the embalmed body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. Nearby to the South is the elaborate brightly domed Saint Basil's Cathedral and the palaces and cathedrals of the Kremlin.

On the Eastern side of the square is the GUM department store, and next to it the restored Kazan Cathedral. The Northern side is occupied by the State Historical Museum, whose outlines echo those of Kremlin towers. The Iberian Gate and Chapel have been rebuilt to the Northwest.

The only sculptured monument on the square is a bronze statue of Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who helped to clear Moscow from the Polish invaders in 1612, during the Times of Trouble. Nearby is the so‑called Lobnoye Mesto, a circular platform where public ceremonies used to take place. Both the Minin and Pozharskiy statue and the Lobnoye Mesto were once located more centrally in Red Square but were moved to their current locations to facilitate the large military parades of the Soviet era. The square itself is around 330 meters long and 70 meters wide.

In 1990 the Kremlin and Red Square were among the very first sites in the USSR added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.

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