Foreigners in Russia: Marco Ruffo
Marco Ruffo (also known as Marco Fryazin) was an Italian architect commissioned by Tsar Ivan III to reconstruct Moscow’s Kremlin in 15th century Russia. Although some of his structures were destroyed, many projects that he participated on survived and are still in use to this day. He collaborated with his fellow countryman and contemporary architect Pietro Antonio Solari on the design of the Beklemishevskaya, Nikolskaya, and Spasskaya (or Savior) towers, as well as working with Solari on the Palace of Facets located within the Kremlin walls. However, the Beklemishevskaya tower is the only surviving structure to have been designed solely by Ruffo.Origins and travel to Russia
It is said that in the second half of the 15th century, Ruffo was working as a military architect in Milan, where he met with the Russian ambassador from Venice. The ambassador had been given the assignment by Ivan III the Great of seeking out architects to work on a commission for the Tsar in Moscow. Ruffo accepted the job and travelled to Moscow to work on the architecture of the Kremlin, becoming one of its creators. His designs would influence the future architecture of the Kremlin as it developed in later years.
The Kremlin had existed in Moscow since the original settlement of the city, but Ivan III’s decisions to renovate and reconstruct it largely gave it the modern shape it retains today. The word ‘Kremlin’ in Russian literally means ‘citadel’ or ‘fort’, and every major city in Russia had one. It was considered to be the center of power of the city as well as an armory and military fort in case of invasion. Being that the Moscow Kremlin was not only the center of power for the city, but also for the country, it was only natural that Ivan would seek out a military architect for his renovation plans.
Marco Ruffo worked on the Kremlin for ten years from 1485 to 1495, alongside fellow Italian architect Pietro Antonio Solari. The alternate surname Fryazin comes from the ancient Russian word fryag (or frank in English) which meant simply ‘Italian’, and was applied to several individuals in Russia of foreign descent, including Solari.
The Kremlin towers and other projects
Ruffo worked on several projects during the reconstruction of the Kremlin, including the Beklemishevskaya, Nikolskaya, and Spasskaya (or Savior) towers, the Palace of Facets, the Treasury Court, and the Little Embankment Chamber. However, only the towers and the Palace of Facets have survived to this day, and only the Beklemishevskaya Tower was solely Ruffo’s project. Of the three towers, the Spasskaya tower is certainly the most famous, built in 1491 and being the main tower of the entire Kremlin, sitting atop the main eastern entrance to Red Square. Even though historically the design and construction was completed by Solari, Ruffo’s influence in the original planning is said to have had a definite influence on the design of the remaining towers to be constructed in the future. Interestingly, the Beklemishevskaya tower (named for the aristocratic family of Ivan Bersen-Beklemishev who lived near the construction site) is the oldest of the three tower projects (built in 1488), the only tower to have been started and completed by Ruffo, and is the tower that has historically changed the least out of all three; the Nikolskaya and Spasskaya towers were both heavily damaged, renovated and rebuilt during the wars and revolutions over the following centuries.
The Palace of Facets
The Palace of Facets was another project constructed by the architectural tandem of Ruffo and Solari. Completed in 1491 and named for the design of the eastern façade, which was constructed out of multifaceted stone face tiles, the palace functioned as the main banquet hall for the Tsars for many years. Tsars would also pass down the Palace’s legendary staircase on their way to the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin as part of the traditional coronation ceremony. The last such ceremony was held in 1896 for Nicolas II. The staircase was demolished by Stalin, and reconstructed only in 1994. Official government events and receptions are still held in the Palace’s main hall, making sure Marco Ruffo’s work is still seen and appreciated to this day.
Written by Adam Muskin, RT