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An Excursion into Moscow’s Medieval Past

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This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.


Nestled in a corner to the south of the Kremlin and not far from the Moscow River is an enchantingly beautiful ensemble that reflects centuries of turbulent history. Even native Muscovites are not always aware of Krutitsky Court, located by a lane of 19th-century wooden houses, yet its remarkable display of 17th-century church architecture and ceramic tiles is a unique part of Moscow’s cultural heritage.

The origins of the Krutitsky Court (Krutitskoe Podvorye) reach back to the 13th century and the aftermath of the Mongol/Tatar invasion of medieval Rus (1237-1241). Following the Mongol conquest, thousands of Russians were held in captivity as slaves near the center of the Horde at Sarai on the lower Volga.

The Mongols respected the Russian Orthodox Church, and at the request of Grand Prince Alexander Nevsky of Vladimir, they allowed the formation in 1261 of a diocese to minister to this large group. The diocese was called Sarsky and Podonsky, reflecting the fact that its boundaries stretched from Sarai to the Don River.

A decade later, in 1272, the distant diocese established a legation, or court (podvorye), on the outskirts of Moscow with the support of Prince Alexander’s son Daniil, founder of the Moscow Riurikovich dynastic branch. The Krutitsky Court was located downriver from the Kremlin on the high left bank of the Moskva River at a site known as Krutitsy (from the Russian word for “steep”). Its first church was dedicated in 1272 to Sts. Peter and Paul.

The Sarsky and Podonsky eparchy was not alone in establishing legations near Moscow. The Orthodox Church sensed Moscow’s increasing power — already rivaling that of Vladimir and Tver — and legation gave bishoprics far from the capital a foothold near the center of political power and provided a suitable residence during the bishop’s visits. Krutitsy was also located in the vicinity of two marge monasteries — New Savior and Simonov — and near a major route to Kolomna and the southeast, which was the route taken by Moscow princes during their obligatory journeys to the Horde.

Descendants of Prince Daniil — notably Ivan II and Dmitry Donskoi —made important gifts to the Krutitsky Court. Funds for a new church dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin were provided by Grand Prince Ivan II, who ruled from 1355 to 1359.

Increased influence

With the waning of Tatar authority in the 15th century, few Russians remained in an area whose rulers had adopted Islam. In 1454, Bishop Vassian transferred the seat of the bishopric from Sarai to Krutitsy, and the word Krutitsy was added to the name of the eparchy.

Decades after this transition, Krutitsky Court gained a new masonry Cathedral of the Dormition in 1516. With little practical connection to their original territory, the Krutitsky bishops began to play a more important role in managing church affairs within the Kremlin. By the middle of the 16th century, the Krutitsky Diocese had its own court within the Kremlin. In 1589, the year when the first patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church was installed, the Krutitsky bishop was elevated to the level of metropolitan.

In the early 17th century, Krutitsy played a momentous role in sustaining the Orthodox presence during the Time of Troubles, a national catastrophe that lasted from 1605 to the end of the next decade and combined a dynastic interregnum with civil war and foreign invasion. There were moments in the Polish occupation of the Kremlin when the “Little” Dormition Cathedral at Krutitsy performed as a surrogate for the inaccessible Kremlin Dormition Cathedral — Russia’s main church.

In 1612, the Krutitsy Dormition Cathedral was ransacked by the Poles, and became a rallying ground for the forces led by Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, which expelled the Poles from the Kremlin in November 1612. In 2012 a large votive cross was placed at Krutitsy to commemorate these events.

As the situation in the country slowly stabilized after the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in 1613, Krutitsky Court also underwent a revival. Major expansion occurred during the tenure (1664-1676) of Metropolitan Pavel II, who in 1667 initiated the construction of the present Dormition Church (at that time a cathedral), with a ground floor chapel dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul.

The design of the Dormition Church, completed in 1689, was typical for the late 17th century, with a closed domical ceiling vault supporting a roof with five decorative cupolas. Although the interior was ransacked during the early Soviet period, some of the 19th-century wall paintings have remained, and the icon screen has been recreated. The construction of the church included an elevated, arcaded passage known as the Dormition Gallery that led from the cathedral to the Metropolitan’s residence and refectory.

The rebuilding of Krutitsky Court continued under Evfimii, who was metropolitan between 1688 and 1695. He was one of the 17th-century prelates who made no apologies for a display of the wealth and beauty of the Orthodox Church, which at this time witnessed a revival of ceramic decorative art. The effusive use of ceramic decoration was often interpreted as a preview of the beauty of paradise itself. Perhaps nowhere in Russia was this revival more lavishly displayed than in the “Teremok,” built above a gateway leading to the courtyard of the Metropolitan’s Chambers (palaty). Begun in 1693, the Krutitsky gateway was completed shortly before Metropolitan Evfimii’s departure in 1695 to become Metropolitan of Novgorod and Velikye Luki.

The north façade of the Teremok, which included two pairs of windows, was covered in almost 2,000 polychrome tiles, including ceramic columns. The bays of the façade were divided by carved limestone columns with a grape vine motif, symbol of the Eucharist. The pitched wooden roof above the Teremok was clad in dark ceramic roofing tiles. The architects of this display were Osip Startsev and Larion Kovalyov, and the design of the ceramic tiles has been attributed to Stepan Ivanov. It should be noted that the main, north façade receives direct sunlight only in the summer, yet the variety of the ceramic tiles is perhaps best perceived in indirect light.

The late 17th-century expansion begun by Pavel II at Krutitsky Court also included the rebuilding on the foundations of the earlier Dormition Cathedral of a refectory known as the Cross Chamber (Krestovaya palata; 1665-1689) because of the cross vaults that supported the ceiling of its dining hall. Attached to the north of the refectory was the small Church of the Resurrection, a remnant from the earlier cathedral. These various components were united by the building of the Metropolitan’s Chambers, a two-story residence with a pitched roof begun by Paul II. In 1727, the residence gained a more imposing, elevated entrance with a stairway and porch in an early Baroque style. The residence overlooked a courtyard with an ornamental garden, one of the first of this type in Moscow.

Court in decline

Although a half-century of work had created a unique architectural setting, the travails of Krutitsky Court were far from over. In 1721, Peter the Great abolished the Russian Orthodox patriarchate, a move that led to the demotion of Krutitsy from a metropolitanate back to a diocese. Then, in 1737, a catastrophic fire (the Trinity Fire) caused serious damage to the ensemble, including the Teremok, whose ceramic roofing was replaced with sheet metal.  

During the church administrative reforms of Catherine the Great, the dioceses of Sarsky , Podonsky and then Krutitsy were abolished, and the Krutitsy ensemble was transferred to the War Ministry. Only the Dormition Church continued to function, and it too suffered major damage from the 1812 fire during the French occupation of Moscow.

After the 1812 fire, the military administration recommended converting the Dormition Church to barracks, but the discovery of bishops’ graves led to the preservation of the remaining Krutitsy ensemble. Its restoration became a personal project of Grand Duke Alexander Nikolaevich (subsequently Tsar Alexander II), which lasted from 1833 to 1865. At the same time, the military expanded its presence with the construction of the Krutitsky Barracks and prison at the perimeter of the ensemble along the Moscow River

The establishment of Soviet power brought new threats to Krutitsy, whose military barracks compound continued to function. Paradoxically, the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate (part of the separation of the Church administration from the Soviet state) led to the creation of the Metropolitanate of Krutitsy and Kolomna as an administrative arm of the Patriarchate.A new era in the history of Krutitsy began in 1947 when the restoration of the ensemble was declared a national priority and entrusted to the leading specialist Peter Baranovsky. In 1982, the ensemble was placed under the administration of the State Historical Museum, and in 1991, Krutitsy was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Restoration of the main space of the Dormition Church was completed in 2007 As in the 19th century, the Krutitsky Barracks military post coexists with Krutitsky Court.

Today, preservation work gradually continues at Krutitsky Court, closely related to the Moscow Patriarchate. Despite the many threats to its existence over the centuries, fate has spared this peaceful enclave, which bears witness to so many dramatic events in Russian history.

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Systematic American Mistakes Are Making Russia Great Again

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Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.

He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.

His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.

If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.


After a year and a half of silence accompanied by much media noise, from the Mueller investigation into Trump the Terrible’s collusion with the Russians (and their lord and master the Dread Pirate Putin) in order to steal the election from innocent young Hillary “twinkle-toes” Clinton, Mueller finally laid an egg. He indicted 13 Russians for identity theft  and wire fraud.

He alleges that they bought some stolen personal info  (Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, etc.) on the internet,  used these to set up PayPal and Facebook accounts, and then used these  to buy Facebook ads in an effort to undermine the American people’s  faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy.

There is no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign or administration knew that this was happening. There is no evidence that any of the 13 Russians had anything to do with Putin or the Russian government. There is no evidence that anything they did had any measurable effect on the outcome of the election.

There is, however, ample evidence that this indictment will go nowhere.

There is a difference between being indicted and being convicted: a convicted person is proven guilty; an indicted person is protected by  the presumption of innocence until convicted. To be convicted in a  criminal trial, a person has to be physically present before the court  because one has the right to face one’s accusers. A trial held in  absentia is automatically a kangaroo court. The 13 Russians are Russian  nationals residing in Russia. According to the Russian constitution,  Russian citizens cannot be extradited to stand trial in a foreign court,  and it seems exceedingly unlikely that they will face criminal charges  in Russia based on Mueller’s indictment. Therefore, these 13 Russians  have to be presumed innocent under US law—forever—even if they get to spend time in a Russian jail, convicted under Russian law.

It’s still possible that one of these Russians will at some point travel  abroad, get snatched and shipped off to the US to stand trial, and be  convicted of money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud. But the  charge of working to undermine the American people’s faith in the  wholesome goodness of their democracy would be rather hard to prove,  mostly because there isn’t much of it to be found these days. The  accusation is a lot like accusing somebody of despoiling an outhouse by  crapping in it, along with everyone else, but the outhouse in question  had a sign on its door that read “No Russians!” and the 13 Russians just  ignored it and crapped in it anyway.

The reason the Outhouse of American Democracy is posted “No Russians!”  is because Russia is the enemy. There aren’t any compelling reasons why  it should be the enemy, and treating it as such is incredibly foolish  and dangerous, but that’s beside the point. Painting Russia as the enemy  serves a psychological need rather than a rational one: Americans  desperately need some entity onto which they can project their own  faults. The US is progressing toward a fascist police state; therefore,  Russia is said to be a horrible dictatorship run by Putin. The US  traditionally meddles in elections around the world, including Russia;  therefore, the Russians are said to meddle in US elections. The US is  the most aggressive country on the planet, occupying and bombing dozens  of countries; therefore, the Russians are accused of “aggression.” And  so on…

If (for whatever stupid reason) Russia is indeed America’s enemy, it  stands to reason that the Americans would want to make it weaker rather  than stronger. Working to strengthen one’s enemy seems like a poor  strategy. And yet that is what has been happening: the last two US  administrations—Obama’s and Trump’s—both have been steadfastly aiding  and abetting Russia’s rise to greatness. Aiding and abetting the enemy  is bad enough by itself, but it would also appear that they have been  doing so unwittingly. Thus, if Mueller really had the health and beauty  of American democracy in his heart, he would have indicted both the  Obama and the Trump administrations for aiding and abetting the enemy  through gross negligence. Here is how the indictment would read:

1. The Obama administration falsely accused the government of Syria of  carrying out an attack using chemical weapons near Damascus on August  21, 2013 in order to find an excuse to attack and invade Syria. Chemical  weapons were in fact used in that incident, but not by the forces  controlled by the Syrian government. Since the Syrian government had no  interest in either using chemical weapons or in maintaining its chemical  weapons stockpile, this gave Russia an opening to negotiate an  international deal under which Syria surrendered its entire stockpile of  chemical weapons, which were destroyed, and international inspectors  subsequently certified Syria as being free of them. This incident showed  Russia to be a trustworthy partner, able to peacefully resolve crises  through negotiation, raising its stature in the world, and the US to be a  rogue state willing to use any means, including the use of chemical  weapons against civilians, in order to justify its illegal use of force.  Following in Obama’s footsteps, the Trump administration, soon after  assuming office, used similar unverified accusations of a Syrian  chemical weapons attack to ineffectually bomb a Syrian airbase using  Tomahawk missiles.

2. In February 2014 the Obama administration organized and carried out a  bloody coup in Kiev, staging a massacre using foreign mercenaries,  falsely accusing the Ukraine’s constitutional government of carrying it  out, overthrowing it, and installing a puppet regime managed by the CIA  and the US State Department. The nature of this regime, which is  comprised of oligarchs and criminals allied with neo-Nazi groups, and  which has elevated to the status of national heroes certain perpetrators  of genocide against Jews, Poles and others during World War II, has  been kept hidden from the public in the US. But because Russia and the  Ukraine are not ethnically, linguistically, culturally or religiously  distinct, and have existed as a single entity through most of their  history, most Russians understood what had happened. The chaos and  mayhem that followed the putsch gave the Russian government an opening  to hold a referendum in Crimea, which was briefly joined to the Ukraine,  but which had been part of Russia since 1783, and to re-annex the  territory. It also led to armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine and the  formation of two de facto independent republics there, making the  Ukraine into a semi-defunct state that does not control its own  territory. All of these developments led to a tremendous surge of  patriotic feeling among Russians, who felt proud of being able to  reclaim what they saw as rightfully theirs and felt threatened by seeing  the Ukraine once again fall to the fascists. True to form, the Trump  administration has continued Obama’s this policy of Making Russia Great  Again by providing the Ukrainian military with lethal weapons and  advice.

3. Although the Russian annexation of Crimea, based on an overwhelming  victory in a popular referendum and a great showing of public support,  was impeccably legal in upholding the Crimea’s right to  self-determination (unlike NATO previous annexation of Kosovo), the  Obama administration saw it fit to impose economic sanctions on Russia  in retribution. These sanctions, together with Russia’s  counter-sanctions on food exports from the EU, have finally provided the  impetus for Russia to break with the past pattern of exporting gas and  oil and importing just about everything else, and to embrace the  strategy of import replacement. This has allowed Russia to become  self-sufficient in many areas, such as oil and gas exploration and  production technology, agriculture and many other areas. Although Russia  experienced a period of considerable economic difficulty which saw the  purchasing power of the population dwindle substantially, Russia’s  economy has survived. The popularity of the national leadership did not  suffer because most Russians now understand what they are fighting for  and, given the barrage of negative news from the Ukraine, who their  enemy is, and what would happen to them if they were to show weakness.

4. Although the Trump administration has mostly followed in Obama’s  footsteps in Making Russia Great Again, the most recent round of  anti-Russian sanctions, which the Trump administration did not impose  but only announced, as required by an act of Congress, was inadvertently  an act of pure genius. What Trump’s flunkies did was take the Kremlin  directory and the Forbes list of Russia’s wealthiest individuals, and  put them together into a single list of people. If these sanctions were  actually imposed rather than merely threatened, those having any  dealings with the individuals on this list would suffer legal  repercussions. The brilliance of this plan is in two parts. First, there  have been some differences of orientation among the members of the  Kremlin administration: some were more US-oriented than others. What  this list did was make them look foolish in their hopes of ever  appeasing the US. Before, the US had a few lukewarm champions inside the  Kremlin; now it has zero. Second, Russia has had a problem with wealthy  individuals moving their capital abroad, to Switzerland, to various  offshore tax havens, and most notably to the United States, which is the  money laundering capital of the world. But now Trump has threatened  them with wealth confiscation. At the same time, the Russian government  has extended a tax amnesty for those wishing to repatriate their  capital. As a result, a flood of money is now reentering the Russian  economy, giving it a major boost.

Once you put it all together, the charge against the last two US  administrations for Making Russia Great Again by aiding and abetting it,  unwittingly and through gross negligence, becomes compelling. There is,  of course, no chance at all that anybody will be put on trial for it,  but that may not be necessary. As shown by the #MeToo movement, it is no  longer necessary in contemporary America to prove a crime; a mere  allegation is now sufficient to end careers and to ruin reputations. You  can play this game too: of each US policy or initiative announced  against Russia, ask yourself: How is it going to help Make Russia Great  Again? Because it probably will.

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Rotunda to lift restrictions on partners attending appointments

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Restrictions on partners attending appointments at the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin are to be removed from the beginning of November.

The Rotunda said it was planning to return to “pre-Covid” access to appointments for patients and their partners as the country enters the next stage of living with the disease.

It said that from next Monday partners would be able to attend booking visit appointments and appointments in the hospital’s high-risk clinic. From November 1st, the hospital would “remove remaining restrictions for partners for other antenatal outpatient appointments”.

The hospital said it reviewed and risk assessed its Covid-19 safety measures each week, while taking into account rates of infection in the community, vaccination rates amongst patients and the hospital’s “unique infrastructural challenges”.

“We have already restored access similar to pre-pandemic levels in most areas of the hospital, including early pregnancy scans, anomaly scans, the emergency and assessment unit, and our inpatient wards,” the hospital said in a statement.

It said many of the Rotunda’s outpatient areas were “in older buildings with very small waiting areas” and in order to manage potential overcrowding in those areas it “strongly encouraged” patients to attend outpatient appointments alone. It recommended that women only bring partners for “occasional visits, such as if you have a complicated or special issue to discuss with your care team”.

The Rotunda said that at times when there is high footfall, partners could be asked to “wait outside the building until called to the consultation room”. It dded that it was important to remember that Covid-19 “has not gone away and is in fact endemic within our community”.

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When will face masks no longer be compulsory indoors in Spain?

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With Covid-19 vaccine campaigns in their later stages and infection rates generally lower, several countries around the world have eased their face mask rules.

Such is the case in England, where masks are now not required in shops and even on certain modes of public transport, or in the US, where fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear one in most indoor settings. 

Spain on the other hand has been strict on its mask-wearing policy throughout the pandemic and its citizens have willingly complied in general.

Many people are still wearing masks outdoors, even though they’ve not been required by Spanish authorities since June, as long as a safety distance of 1.5 metres can be maintained.

So when might it be possible to remove face masks indoors in Spain (other than for eating and drinking) ?

In early October, Spanish media reported that Health Minister Carolina Darias had said that the use of masks indoors would be required until the spring of 2022.

On Wednesday at a press conference after Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council, Darias stressed she never stated that the mandatory use of masks would end in spring next year.

“The face mask has come to stay, at least while the flu virus or other possible viruses are present this autumn,” she reiterated.

“Spain was one of the first countries to regulate the safety distance in outdoor spaces to not have to wear a mask outside, but we know the importance of its use indoors where transmission by aerosols is proven”.

“Let’s take it slowly,” Darias concluded.

READ ALSO – Calendar: When will the Covid restrictions end across Spain?

As usual, Spain’s regional governments have their own views on Covid-19 rules.

Madrid president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional leader with the most liberal take on Covid restrictions during the pandemic, has again taken a different approach by actually offering something closer to a date for when mandatory mask-wearing indoors will be scrapped.

The end of indoor masks should come “after Christmas,” stated Ayuso in late September. “Total” normality and “pre-pandemic” life should not be delayed beyond the spring of 2022, she added.  

Castilla-La Mancha president Emiliano García-Page has also suggested February 2022 as an end date for mandatory masks indoors in the central Spanish region. 

Are regions relaxing any mask-wearing rules?

Catalan Education Minister Josep González-Cambray said on Wednesday that “We will get rid of face masks in schools as soon as we can”. 

According to González-Cambray, the use of face masks in schools is a “health measure” dependent on epidemiological criteria, which is why it will be down to the health departments to decide.

In Valencia, the Generalitat government has said that it will scrap the requirement for children to wear a mask in the school playground. 

“We are working every week with the Health Department and in the next few days the protocol will be updated” because the numbers have been very favorable,” said Valencia’s Minister of Education Vicent Marzà on Saturday.

However, in the Balearic Islands, the regional government has decided the use of masks in the school playground should continue, causing an outcry from many students and their parents.

Balearic  Minister of Health Patricia Gómez confirmed yesterday that the use of masks will continue to be mandatory in school playgrounds “until the situation improves”.

READ ALSO – Going out in Spain: What are the rules for bars and nightclubs?

Why wait until after the winter if the numbers are good now?

The epidemiological situation in Spain is currently the best it’s been since autumn of last year, with a 14-day cumulative incidence of 40.85 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

This means that the country is currently at very low risk for Covid infections according to the categorisation used by the Spanish health ministry.

In addition to this, almost 80 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a percentage that’s higher still if focusing only on those who are eligible for the vaccine (people aged 12 and over).

According to César Carballo, deputy emergency physician at Hospital Ramón y Cajal in Madrid, Spain is in a good epidemiological situation now which should allow to at least remove their masks outdoors.

But flu season is on its way, government leaders and health professionals are keen for the use of masks indoors to continue until after the winter.  

“There is talk that we may have more cases of the flu. We do not know. Last year the flu disappeared completely. We will see this year,” Carballo told Spanish TV channel La Sexta.

“Health personnel are exhausted … to suffer a wave of flu this year would be a severe blow,” he added. “If it were up to me I would maintain that mask-wearing indoors should be required until January or February, accompanied by hand washing and distance”.

READ ALSO: Getting the flu vaccine in Spain in 2021: What you need to know



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