The Smolensk Kremlin

June 26, 2019


Photographer: Alex Dmitriev; Nikolay Kuksov
Summary Authors: Alex Dmitriev; Stu Witmer

Shown above is the Smolensk Kremlin, a fortification enclosing the old town of Smolensk. The word “kreml” is probably of Tatar origin and means a citadel or fortress. The Smolensk Kremlin was one of several regional kremlins that were built around older structures which frequently contained cathedrals, palaces for princes and bishops, government offices and storage of munitions. Some military historians contend that the Smolensk Kremlin is not a kremlin at all, but a fortress due to the walls not meeting the criteria of surrounding the center of the city.

Smolensk is one of the oldest cities in Russia and was mentioned in medieval chronicles as the early center of the Krivichi, an eastern Slavic tribe. It is located along the east/west routes between Moscow, Belarus, the Baltic States and Central and Western Europe as well as the north/south routes between the Baltic and the Black Seas.

The Smolensk Kremlin‘s location required strong fortifications. This defensive wall was built between 1595 and 1602 and was mostly destroyed by Napoleon's troops in 1812. The Smolensk city wall was one of the largest Russian construction projects before the reign of Peter the Great. Construction of the citadel (1596-1602) was supervised by the engineer Fyodor Savelyevich Kon. In 1602, the wall was 4 miles (6.5 km) long, with a height varying from 43 feet (13 m) to about 60 feet (19 m) and up to 20 feet (6 m) thick. Compulsory labor was used in the construction and other masonry work was prohibited on pain of death. The walls contained ammunition storage areas as well as underground galleries used as listening posts to detect mining attempts by besieging forces. Today 17 towers remain on a total wall length of just over 2 miles (3.5 km).