The Kremlin A glorious symbol of the two imperial cultures - medieval Muscovy and Soviet Union - the Kremlin is both fascinating and oppressive, a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy. Its remarkable, eclectic architecture reflects the historic paradoxes and seismic cultural shifts. Most of its territory is closed to visitors, but the remaining portion is worth several days of sightseeing. One of the largest and most interesting museums on the planet, and also the formal residence of the President, the Kremlin is definitely the best place to begin your aquaintance with Moscow.
Squares, Towers, Churches and Palaces of the Kremlin
Sobornaya Square of the Kremlin has got its name from the three great cathedrals ('sobors') located here. The bigger two are dedicated to the Annunciation and the Dormition, and the third is dedicated to Archangel Michael. This square used to be a stage for official parades celebrating coronations of the Tsars and the Orthodox Church festivities. Now, as in the old days, the domes shine with gold, and on holy days the bells ring gloriously all over the place.
Ivanovskaya Square of the Kremlin has got its name from the magnificent Ivan-the-Great bell tower. Ivanovskaya Square provides the largest public space within the Kremlin, and it used to be a hive of activity in the late Middle Ages.
Next to the Church of the Twelve Apostles stands a super big canon, called the Tsar-Cannon for its enormous size. It weighs 40 tons and has 890 mm calibre, a miracle for its time.
Another super big item of the Kremlin stands at the foot of the Ivan-the-Great bell tower. This item is called the Tsar-Bell: at 200 tons in weight, it is the largest bell in the world. It is impossible to ring this bell though, because it has a cracked wall, and a piece of it is missing. This unfortunate condition had been caused by overheating during one of the great fires, and this bell never rang, actually.
The Terem palace was built in 1636. It resembles a vast, ingenuously embellished Russian wooden house from the outside, but it is made of stone. The palace is topped with a golden-tiled 'terem', tower chamber. In the second half of the XVII century it became the main residence of the Tsars.
The Amusement palace was built in 1652 for boyar Ilya Miloslavsky - father-in-law to the Tsar, Alexei Mikhailovich. After the death of its owner, the palace went to the state and was reconstructed to form a theatre for Potekhi, the comic performances (hence the name). Under Peter the Great the building was utilized as the Police Office, and in the XIX century it became a home residence of the Commandant. The Faceted Chamber is the oldest non-church building in contemporary Moscow. The name reflects faceted design of the main facade, which overlooks Sobornaya Square. The Faceted Chamber is currently used as a reception hall at the President's court. The Kremlin Armory and the Diamond Fund, located in an adjacent building, are the oldest museums in Russia: the collection dating from the XIV century has been started by the Grand Princes of Muscovy.
Red Square The name of Red Square has nothing to do with the Communist values or with the color of buildings. The name 'Krasnaya' once meant 'beautiful', but it invariably means 'red' in the contemporary Russian language and is translated accordingly. It was also mentioned as a 'Fire Square', as long as medieval Moscow burned several times. During the Mongol and Tatar invasion it was the site of fierce fighting, and until the end of the XVII century a cannon stood ready to defend the square.
Red Square became world-famous in the XX century as a site of Soviet military parades.
After Perestroika, however, the emphasis has shifted, and Red Square is now a favourite stage for rock concerts, classical music performances, fashion shows, circus art projects, and other large-scale events.
It is hard to think of a place that is more cherished by muscovites and attractive to the tourists. The balanced beauty of the architecture contradicts its brutal history, producing a unique combination you will want to return to again and again.
Churches and Buildings of the Red Squar
St. Basil's Cathedral probably owes its name to Basil the Blessed, a holy fool who lived at the nascent building during its construction and was subsequently buried at the site. The Cathedral was ordered by Ivan the Terrible to celebrate his conquest of Kazan in 1552. The building was finished in 1560. Nothing is known about the architects, Barma and Postnik, except their names and a horrific, chilling legend that Ivan the Terrible had blinded them so that they could not create anything to compare with this temple in its beauty.
The small but charming Kazan Cathedral was built in the XVII century on the north side of the square near the Resurrection Gate.
The Resurrection Gate and the Iberian Chapel. The Triumphal Gate was rebuilt in 1680: two hipped roofs with two-headed eagles were added, and the Icon of Christ Resurrection was placed above the gate. Thus it became known as the Resurrection Gate. Later a gilt angel and a cross were added to the dome of the chapel.
The Lenin Mausoleum: for the burial of the Father of the Revolution, something special had to be arranged. Immediately after his death in 1924, a wooden mausoleum was erected on the square. In 1929, the architect Aleksei Shchusev was commissioned to design a more lasting home for the body. The mausoleum looks comparatively small from the outside, but it has hidden depths. Its two underground floors were formerly used as a recreation area for Communist VIPs and the Kremlin guards and a laboratory for monitoring the preservation of embalmed body.
Directly opposite the Mausoleum, on the eastern side of the square, there is a building which houses the most famous Russian shopping mall - the State Department Store, GUM. From ancient times, the site was being used for trading. By 1520 there had already been a large stone arcade, the Upper Trading Rows, subsequently destroyed by the fire, and the present building was finished in 1893, to become the largest shopping center in Europe at that time. Even if you have no intention of buying whatever, your impression of Red Square would be incomplete without a quick stroll down the aisles of GUM.
Lobnoye mesto, a circular stone platform in front of St. Basil's Cathedral, was constructed in 1598 as replacement for a wooden dais. The platform has been used as a tribune for proclamations to the crowds on Red Square, but not for public executions. The most famous executions - inventive tortures of hostile boyars by Ivan the Terrible, quartering of the Cossack rebel Stepan Razin, and Peter the Great's mass execution of the traitorous Streltsy Kremlin guard - took place nearby.
The State Historical Museum is wedged between Red Square and Manege Square. The wide range of exhibitions encompass various types of specimens, from relics of the prehistoric tribes that inhabited the territory of modern Russia to priceless masterpieces of art acquired by the Romanov dynasty.
A bronze plaque marking the Russian Kilometre Zero is located in front of the Iberian Chapel, at a short passage connecting Red Square with Manege Square, between the State Historical Museum and the City Parliament (Duma).
The Manege was intended for army drills and military parades, and its interior was so spacious that a whole regiment of about 2,000 soldiers could freely manoeuvre inside.
Nowadays most representative Russian and international exhibitions are held here.
Alexander Garden (Alexandrovsky sad) is located beneath the Kremlin wall, next to the Manege. Near the main entrance of the park is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the Eternal Flame burning by it. The middle section of the upper garden contains a faux ruined grotto, which was a part of original design by the architect Osip Bove.
In the middle of Theatre Square, in a ten-minute walk from Red Square, stands the building of the Bolshoi Theatre - one of the best examples of Russian architecture of the mid-19th century. It is the leading opera house and ballet company in Russia, and admittedly one of the best in Europe.
The Central Telegraph Office, the Monument to Prince Yury Dolgoruky and the Top Office of the Moscow Goverment, Eliseyev's food shop
The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Paintings, sculptures, various arts and crafts from the ancient history to present days, and even more than that can be found in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. The museum has a constantly rotating exposition, which gives the public a chance to see more of its enormous collection, but it can also be a bit frustrating to hear that a particular masterpiece that you were eager to see has been inexplicably concealed.
The regularly changing temporary exhibitions often include famous collections from abroad. At the next-to-the-main building, Volkhonka Street 14, there is the Museum of Private Collections, built specially for this purpose and opened in 1994. It is mostly devoted to Russian art of the late XIX and early XX centuries.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
This huge and extremely expensive cathedral was consecrated in 1883, and its vast copper domes dominated the Moscow skyline. However, the cathedral had taken almost as much time to build and decorate as it would stand in its original incarnation. For fairly obvious reasons, it was selected for destruction by the Soviet government. In 1931 it was exploded, literally blown to pieces to give way for a presumptive Palace of Soviets, one of the most influential pieces of architecture never to be built.
Only the foundations had been laid, the World War II brought an abrupt end to such ambitions. The project was abandoned, and the site turned over to become an open-air swimming pool, the largest in the world, kept warm all year round.
The symbolic significance of the site was reaffirmed after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov joined efforts with the Orthodox Church to resurrect the cathedral in a $360-million reconstruction project. Completed in 2000, the new cathedral is loosely based on Thon's original design but constructed with modern building materials and fitted out with modern features including air conditioning, telecommunication facilities, elevators and underground parking. You can visit the cathedral only in an organized tour, one of the highlights of which is the panoramic view from a 40-meter-high viewing platform
The State Tretyakov Gallery
This spectacular museum is an essential destination for all visitors to Moscow. The gallery is named after its founder, the prominent Moscow businessman and philantropist Pavel Tretyakov. The museum occupies an estate built in the XVII-XVIII centuries. Admirers of Russian literature can observe the concerns and ideals of the great XIX century novelists reflected in the paintings of the same period. Some connoisseurs consider the Russian art before XX century as something like a closed book subsequently unplugged by the appearance of such giants as Kandinsky, Chagall, and Malevich. The Tretyakov Gallery gives a chance to discover the rich tradition from which these great artists sprang onto the world stage.
Founded in 1524 by Grand Duke Vasily, the Novodevichy Monastery is absolutely spellbinding. Positioned on the bank of the Moskva River, it revels in the harmony of its marvellous architecture with the surrounding landscape.
The postcard loveliness of this monastery is quite unexpected, given its originally proposed function as one of the fortresses guarding the suburbs of medieval Moscow. The Novodevichy has been vital to protect the main southern road to the city at the crosspoint with the Moskva River. The monastery has played a certain role in Russian history, especially as a repository for powerful and troublesome women, most famously for the Regent Sophia, Peter the Great's half-sister. She did a lot to renovate the monastery in the 1680s, before being confined here in the aftermath of the incident with the Streltsy guards, who revolted in her support.
The monastery had notable appearances in the XIX century fiction, as the site of Pierre's proposed execution in 'War and Peace' and as the meeting place for Lyovin and Kitty in 'Anna Karenina' (the Maiden Field below the monastery wall used to be the most fashionable skating ring of Moscow, frequented by Tolstoy).
The neighbouring cemetery is worth visiting too, not only to pay homage to the great and good buried here - Chekhov, Bulgakov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Eisenstein, Stanislavsky, and Zelinsky - but also to gaze at the extraordinary granite and metal monstrosities that crown the graves of various politicians and military commanders of the Soviet era. It is a fascinating experience.
Kolomenskoe is fabulous, one of the most beautiful places in Moscow. It is situated close to one of the industrial areas, but the park and its awesome buildings are so deeply immersed in history that not even the Kremlin itself can evoke the Russia of old so well.
The village of Kolomenskoe was founded in 1237 by refugees from Kolomna, a town 100 miles away, then occupied by Tatars.
In the XV-XVII centuries Kolomenskoe became an estate of Grand Princes and then of the Tsar. Peter the Great sheltered in Kolomenskoe from the revolt of 1682, and he started to conceive his reforms here. Later, Alexander I lodged in Kolomenskoe on his journey to Moscow, accompanied by his grandmother, Catherine the Great.
Ostankino Park and Estate
This park once belonged to Princes Cherkassky. It has passed into the posession of Sheremetev family in 1743 by the marriage of Princess Varvara Cherkasskaya to Count Petr Sheremetev. Their son, Nikolai Sheremetev, moved here from Kuskovo in 1790, bringing the famous Sheremetev slave-peasant theatre, for which he built an impressive stage, used nowadays for classical music concerts.
The splendid palace, built entirely of wood, comprises several collections of fine crafts, including large collection of gilt furniture, Chinese ceramics, and an inspiring collection of fans.
Ostankino TV Tower
The tower was the first ever built free-standing structure to exceed 500 m (1,600 ft) in height. It is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers, currently the tallest in Europe and the 4th in height in the world. It is named after its location in the Ostankino district of Moscow. The tower has a circular viewing platform, open for visitors.
The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
This unusual museum is situated inside the huge monument to Space Explorers.
The exposition is devoted to the history of space exploration, including satellite launches, the first animals in space and the cosmonautics. Apart from its content, it is aesthetically impressive. Extraterrestrial aura of high-tech materials utilized for spaceship construction is extraordinary when experienced so close-up. This museum is a compelling reminder of the very beginning of space exploration, romantically considered as "the last great adventure of humankind".
Moscow underground (Metropolitan, or just 'metro') is world-famous. Many of its spacious stations have great artistic value. A good example is 'Mayakovskaya', designed and decorated in the art deco style. Another remarkable station, called 'Ploshchad Revolutsii', is embellished with multiple very realistic metal sculptures impersonating the Revolution. You may notice that certain parts of these sculptures (soldier's boot, marine's pistol, crest of a rooster held by peasant girl, etc.) look glossy, as if touched by many hands. The explanation is simple: people stroke these parts when passing by - it brings them luck for the day (and it works! you may try it).
Arbat is one of the most 'cited' streets in Moscow. This approximately one-kilometer long pedestrian street is one of the symbols of the old Moscow celebrated in poems, novels, songs, and movies.
The village of Izmailovo is mentioned in records dating back to the XIV century. By then it was located at the edge of a dense forest stretching eastward for many miles. The name is derived from the boyar Izmailov family who owned the village.
In the early XVI century, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich decided to build a model economy at Izmailovo, and more than 700 slave-peasant families were quickly transferred to its territory. The parks and gardens were arranged ASAP, and exotic crops, such as melons, pineapples, cotton, and grapes, flourished in the greenhouses. There was also a menagerie with rare animals and birds.
Aleksei's grandson, Peter the Great, spent much of his childhood in Izmailovo and first learnt to sail here. His early fascination with the sea gave rise to the life-long passion that lead to creation of the Russian fleet and, ultimately, to the foundation of Saint Petersburg. Apart from the picturesque birch woods, the main attraction of the park is the beautiful Pokrovskiy Cathedral, completed in 1679. A visit to the park can be combined with some petty shopping at the local market, and you can also visit the Museum of Vodka here.
Architectural ensemble of Tsaritsino is a wonderful historical and cultural showplace. Designed in the gothic style, it was intended for the residence of Catherine the Great. It was badly damaged in the World War II, but later on the park, the palace and pavilions of the XVIII-XIX centuries were reconstructed. It is the largest open-air museum in Moscow.
Ilya Glazunov Picture Gallery
This gallery is located next to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and opposite to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Ilya Glazunov, a contemporary Russian artist from Saint Petersburg, was born in 1930. He holds a title of People's Artist of Russia, and works as a rector at the Fine Arts Academy in Moscow. Ilya Glazunov's paintings represent mostly historic and religious themes. He is also known as a theater artist and a designer of the Grand Kremlin Palace interiors.
Glazunov's paintings can tell you much on what happened to Russia during and after Perestroika.
The gallery features over 700 pieces. A large section of the exhibition is devoted to the artist's illustrations of the works of Russian classical writers. The collection also includes artifacts collected by the artist: Iconic Hall (collection of icons and household items of old Russia) and the neo-Russian furniture collection.