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Wonderful experience. Irina was a very knowlegable guide who, as a former history teacher in my other life, I could intelligently discuss the history of Russia. Alexandr our driver did a great job getting us around town and was extremely courteous.It was well worth the cost and I will defintely use them again when in St Petersburg which was an absolutely beautiful city. Thank You Elena, Irina & Alexandr.Anthony Lopes
Moscow is a city teeming with culture, history, and economic and architectural wealth and visitors are often tempted to return to explore it further, even after the briefest holiday or shore excursion here as a child. Currently the most populous city in Europe, and the seventh largest city (when excluding suburbs) in the world, Moscow provides incredible historical and sightseeing opportunities. Those less concerned with the historical part of the city and more worried about the nightlife need not fear, some of the Moscow nightclubs are perfect places for avoiding that pesky paper; try Arma17, Propaganda, Solyanka Club, and Krysha Mira, some of the most popular places in Moscow of an evening.
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So, what can you do in Moscow?
A visit to the Kremlin is de rigeur, but what else should you be adding to your list of the top ten sights in Moscow?
The Russian capital attracts more than a million visitors each year, not surprising considering its grand architecture, fascinating history, and vibrant culture. The efficient subway system makes the city considerably easier to navigate than you might imagine, and the metropolitan air to Moscow makes it feel quite friendly despite its size. In this week’s blog we take a look at those sites of interest in Moscow that you really must not miss.
No.1 The Kremlin
The Kremlin spreads over a square kilometre and contains a plethora of attractions,not least the imposing grandeur of its architecture. A highly officious space, the Kremlin is a fortress that houses the Russian President and constitutes a site of major historical significance. The presence of numerous police officers and guards highlight the seriousness of this site to which most tourists flock when visiting Moscow. The walled-in complex features cathedrals, palaces, government offices, an armory, and more. Several of these are open to the public and the Armory is highly recommended as it features gold-gilt carriages and beautiful royal outfits from over the centuries. The Armory itself dates back to 1511 when it was built as a store for Vasily III’s vast collection of weapons, regalia, and imperial arms. Over the years it became a hive of industry producing jewellery, embroidered objects, and icon frames although most of the craftsmen and women were later sent to St. Petersburg by Peter the Great as the Armory was turned into a museum.
Inside the Kremlin there is also the Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky sobor), positioned at the western end of the complex. With five golden helmet domes and four semicircular gables looking out over the square, this magnificent building was the focal church of pre-revolutionary Russia. The Assumption Cathedral is the burial place of most of the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church in the period between the 1320s and the early 1700s, providing a serious diversion for the history buffs amongst your party.
No. 2 Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral
Red Square is bounded by the Kremlin walls and Lenin’s tomb, and by Russia’s largest department store, GUM (an attraction in itself), on the other side. The square dates back to the 15th Century and is the site of military parades, historic executions, and important government announcements. Although many might assume that its name comes from the red walls of the Kremlin which overlook Red Square, or because of Communism’s overt use of the color, the site is actually named after the Russian word for ‘red’ which also, many centuries ago, meant ‘beautiful’. Red Square was called Trinity Square initially after the Trinity Cathedral which formerly stood on the site of St. Basil’s Cathedral. The current name is thought to originate from the 17th Century where the square functioned as a meeting place and market place much like Rome’s Forum in ancient times. The Russian capital moved back to Moscow from St. Petersburg in 1918 and the Soviet Era saw the square used as a memorial cemetery and parade ground, with the Lenin tomb built in 1924. The latter may sound interesting, but there’s often a lengthy, hour-long, queue and is not as impressive as you may expect so spend your time instead at one of the other attractions Moscow has to offer such as St. Basil’s Cathedral which overlooks Red Square. This architectural wonder was built in the 1550’s and has nine separate chapels, each with an individual, somewhat idiosyncratic, brightly shaped and colored dome in the traditional Moscow onion dome style.
Red Square in Moscow, with St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, and the State Historical Museum.
No.3 The State Tretyakov Gallery
There are contemporary art galleries in Moscow, and those that house paintings by those outside Russia, but the Tretyakov Gallery is a fabulous place to visit if you’re interested in Russian art over the centuries. Featuring works by Repin, Kandinsky, Chagall, Vrubel, and many more artists, and with portraits of hundreds of historical figures such as Catherine the Great and Pushkin, this gallery houses a significant number of major works from the 11th-20th centuries.
No. 4 The Bolshoi Theater
If you’re looking for a little extra culture following a trip to the State Tretyakov Gallery then head to the Bolshoi Theater in Theater Square. Due to reopen in October 2011 after six years of reconstruction, the newly restored Bolshoi is world-renowned for its opera and ballet performances. The restoration is set to return the theater to its magnificence of the time of the tsars, with the original imperial insignia replacing the Soviet era hammers and sickles, embroidered silk tapestries back in place, and the stunning two-ton, 26ft tall chandelier lovingly renovated. Paying homage to traditional techniques, the restoration team is using a combination of vodka and egg whites to apply the gilt finishing to throughout the Bolshoi theatre. Expect performances to take full advantage of the newly installed high-tech wizardry such as hydraulic stage mechanisms, and even an underground stage for chamber concerts. Theatre Square is also home to two more grand theatres, but the Bolshoi is its rightful centerpiece having played host to the premiers of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in 1877 and the Nutcracker in 1919.
No.5 Cathedral of Christ the Savior
The original Cathedral of Christ the Savior was built between 1839 and 1883 as a commemoration of Russia’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars. This architectural gem, designed and built by Konstantin Ton was demolished under Stalin’s orders in 1933, along with numerous other churches and cathedrals across the Soviet Union, but it was rebuilt in 1990 with due reverence paid to the original. The result is the largest church in Russia, with its imposing golden domes able to be seen right across Moscow. The Church of Christ the Savior figures as a symbol of the religious and spiritual revival of Russia following Communist rule and donations flooded in to support its resurrection. However, some Muscovites remain unhappy and claim that the hastily rebuilt church lacks the original’s charm, aesthetic balance, and elegance and was simply a vanity project by the (former) Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov. The fact remains that you cannot, and should not, miss the Church of Christ the Savior as it is splendid, especially as the sun glints off the golden dome.
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in Moscow
No.6 Izmaylovo Market
Folk crafts, antiques, jewellery, Matryoshka (Russian Dolls), and all manner of interesting finds await you at Izmaylovo Market in Moscow. This is the main souvenir market here and can be easily reached by hopping onto the Moscow Metro and disembarking at the Izmaylovsky stop. With prices cheaper than in the city center, there is many a bargain to be had at this bustling flea market encased in a wooden fortress-like building and open every day of the week. Weekends are when most vendors show up however, but this is also the busiest time for tourists too, so you might have to elbow your way through the crowds to get that coveted bust of Lenin, or other gem. Bear in mind that some of the vendors will push their luck and claim that a hat is made of ‘wolf fur’ when it is actually rabbit or rat. Check all wares well and shop around first to see the quality of all the vendors’ goods. The market has a minimal entry-fee of $3 or so, but, even if you don’t find that extra special gift for your Auntie back home, it’s well worth heading down here to talk to the vendors themselves, many of whom have an interesting tale to tell.
No.7 Winzavod-Contemporary Art Center
One of the best modern art galleries in Moscow, this features many European artworks along with contemporary Russian artists, and those from further afield. Often featuring photography exhibitions it is an interesting gallery space housed in a converted winery. There are also a number of small studios where artists arrange more low-key exhibitions of their work and hold question and answer sessions on occasion. Some exhibitions charge an entry-fee but the majority are free and you could spend hours wandering through the galleries making it an excellent rainy-day outing for art-lovers visiting Moscow.
No. 8 Old Arbat Street
Just as Nevsky Prospekt is the main thoroughfare in St. Petersburg, Old Arbat Street is where it’s at in Moscow when it comes to the throngs of tourists and run-of-the-mill souvenirs. Don’t expect to find any unique gems, or souvenirs with a family tale attached here, but do enjoy the antics of street artists, musicians, jugglers, and human oddities trying to attract your attention (and your rubles) when walking the main tourist-strip. Old Arbat Street is completely pedestrianized, which can give all you budding writers a fabulous opportunity to indulge in a spot of people-watching, and indulge the flâneur (or flâneuse) in you.
No. 9 Victory Park
Sitting atop Poklonnaya Gora, which translates to ‘bow-down hill’ or ‘Worshipful Submission Hill’, Victory Park is a memorial to World War II. Known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, the conflict and its huge effect on the Russian people is commemorated with monuments, sculptures, fountains, and the odd tank or two in Victory Park. This is the site of Napoleon’s long and pointless wait in 1812 for the keys to the Kremlin, and the hill has been a site of strategic importance for hundreds, if not thousands, of years as it is one of the highest points in Moscow standing at 171.5 meters. Over the years there have been many monuments added to the existing constructions on the hill, including a 141.8m-high obelisk (10cm for every day of WWII) topped by a statue of Nike, designed by Zirab Tsereteli, and erected in the 1990s. The Moscow Triumphal Arch was relocated here in 1968, and the ‘Battle of Borodino’ by Franz Roubaud also found a home in the Soviet-era open-air museum founded in the 1960s. In recent years there has been a golden-domed Orthodox church built on the site, along with a memorial mosque, and the Holocaust Memorial Synagogue, and Victory Park saw President Putin inaugurate fifteen bronze statues symbolizing the involvement of the Red Army during WWII. Of course, those who find history such as this less than fascinating can simply stare out over the rest of Moscow.
The Triumphal Arch in Victory Park
On a slightly less serious note, no visit to Russia would be complete without a spot of ice-sculpting and with the opening of the all-year-round Ice Sculpture Gallery in Krasnaya Presnya Park, even summer-time visitors to Moscow can enjoy this traditional Russian activity. The refrigerated tent features wonderful, intricate carvings of scenes from Russian fairy-tales, along with classic animal sculptures and more. The atmosphere is delightful as ethereal music and twinkling lights accompany you around the small winter-wonderland. Don’t worry about chilling out too much though as your entrance ticket gets you some snuggly foot covers to keep you toasty warm and a nice vest as you wander through the exhibit which remains at -10°C. Now, if only they threw in a hot chocolate this would shoot straight to number one on the top ten sights in Moscow.