The oldest and richest museum in the Kremlin was founded in 1806 as the Imperial Court Museum, which was created out of three royal treasuries: the Court Treasury, where the regalia of the tsars and ambassadorial gifts were kept; the Stable Treasury, which contained the royal harnesses and carriages used by the tsars during state ceremonies; and the Armory, a collection of arms, armor, and other valuable objects gathered from the country's chief armories and storehouses.
The Imperial Court Museum was moved to the present building in 1851 and enhanced and expanded after the Bolshevik Revolution with valuables taken from wealthy noble families as well as from the Patriarchal Sacristy of the Moscow Kremlin. The roughly 4,000 artifacts here date from the 12th century to 1917, and include a rare collection of 17th-century silver. Tickets for the Armory are sold separately at the main box office and allow you to enter at a specific time. Halls (zal) VI–IX are on the first floor, Halls I–V on the second.
Hall I displays the works of goldsmiths and silversmiths of the 12th through 19th centuries, and Hall II contains a collection of 18th- to 20th-century jewelry. One of the most astounding exhibits is the collection of Fabergé eggs on display in Hall II (Case 23). Among them is a silver egg whose surface is engraved with a map of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The "surprise" inside the egg, which is also on display, was a golden clockwork model of a train with a platinum engine, windows of crystal, and a headlight made of a tiny ruby. Feeling overwhelmed by everything to see at the Armory Chamber? If nothing else, be sure to see the Fabergé eggs. If the weather is too good to spend all day indoors, check out the splendor of the Cathedral Square and come back to see the Armory another day.
Hall III contains Asian and Western European arms and armor, including heavy Western European suits of armor from the 15th to 17th centuries, pistols, and firearms.
Hall IV showcases a large collection of Russian arms and armor from the 12th to early 17th centuries, with a striking display of helmets. The earliest helmet here dates from the 13th century. Here, too, is the helmet of Prince Ivan, the son of Ivan the Terrible. The prince was killed by his father at the age of 28, an accidental victim of the tsar's unpredictable rage. The tragic event has been memorialized in a famous painting by Ilya Repin now in the Tretyakov Gallery, showing the frightened tsar holding his mortally wounded son.
Hall V is filled with foreign gold and silver objects, mostly ambassadorial presents to the tsars. Among the displays is the "Olympic Service" of china presented to Alexander I by Napoléon after the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807.
Hall VI holds vestments of silk, velvet, and brocade, embroidered with gold and encrusted with jewels and pearls. Also on display in this section are several coronation dresses, including the one Catherine the Great wore in 1762. Notice how small some of the waists are on the dresses. A pair of Peter the Great's leather riding boots are also on display – take note of their huge size.
Hall VII contains regalia and the imperial thrones. The oldest throne, veneered with carved ivory, belonged to Ivan the Terrible. The throne of the first years of Peter the Great's reign, when he shared power with his older brother Ivan, has two seats in front and one hidden in the back. The boys' older sister, Sophia (1657–1704), who ruled as regent from 1682 to 1689, sat in the back, prompting the young rulers to give the right answers to the queries of ambassadors and others. Among the crowns, the oldest is the sable-trimmed Cap of Monomakh, which dates to the 13th century.
Hall VIII contains dress harnesses of the 16th through 18th centuries.
Hall IX has a marvelous collection of court carriages. Here you'll find the Winter Coach that carried Elizaveta Petrovna (daughter of Peter the Great and someone who clearly liked her carriages; 1709–62) from St. Petersburg to Moscow for her coronation.
Kremlin, Moscow, 103073, Russia
495-695–3776-main Kremlin museum number; 495-697-4611-excursions