For three days I was in Moscow with the rest of my AIFS group and, in all honesty, I think I liked Moscow slightly more than Saint Petersburg. It has a different culture, one that seems more traditional. If you find yourself in Moscow, here are some sights you can’t miss.
If you are uncertain of where to start, I suggest one of the most important locations in Moscow: Red Square. I am unable to really explain what the Red Square is other than beautiful. It’s closest metro is Ploshad Revolyutsii .
Heading south from there, you first see the Khazan Cathedral. The Khazan Cathedral was the first Cathedral to be reconstructed after the fall of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s war on religion destroyed the church in 1936 and it was reconstructed in 1993.
State Historical Museum
Standing next to the Khazan Cathedral is the State Historical Museum. Created in 1872 by a decree from Alexander II, the museum houses exhibits ranging from Kievan Rus through to contemporary times. If you are a history buff like I am, this is a very interesting and informative museum.
Going into Red Square from the State Historical Museum, on the right is Lenin’s Mausoleum. Unfortunately, it was under reconstruction and we were not able to see it. However, it is usually considered a must-see. There, you can see Vladimir Lenin’s preserved body.
Across from Lenin’s Mausoleum is GUM, (pronounced goo-m) which is a beautiful and ornate shopping center. There are some small historic areas with information on Moscow through the times, but the majority of GUM is dedicated to shopping. It is definitely worth looking through, even just to see how splendid the décor inside the mall is. It looks nothing like any mall I’ve ever been to, so I highly suggest you see this one.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
Down the square, across from the State Historic Museum, stands Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The official name of this cathedral is the Cathedral of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, but most people call this iconic Russian holy site Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Ivan the Terrible commissioned the building in 1555, and it stood as a Cathedral until 1929. After, it was repurposed as a state museum although Stalin wanted to demolish the building. In 1991, the church began holding services, but it remains a tourist attraction and museum.
Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge
Behind Saint Basil’s Cathedral is the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge. For those who are following current political events in Russia, this is the bridge where Boris Nemtsov was assassinated on February 27, 2015. The bridge is less than a minute away from Saint Basil’s, and is constantly lined with flowers and grievers. Mr. Nemtsov represented something positive to a lot of people, and his assassination is truly a tragedy.
Cathedral of the Assumption
The Kremlin is a large area that contains many buildings, but is itself connected to Red Square. The Kremlin is home to a number of very beautiful Cathedrals. One of these is the Dormition Cathedral. This church is the burial place of the patriarchs of Moscow, as well as the place where tsars were anointed. The final tsar to be anointed here was Nicholas II in 1896. Created by Ivan I in 1326, it stood as a single dome and wasn’t made a full-fledged Cathedral until 1472 by order of Ivan III. Sometimes called the Cathedral of the Assumption, it is one of the most important buildings in Moscow, as it is the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is also where Russian emperors and dukes were crowned. Unfortunately, this Cathedral was damaged during the revolution. Napoleon also used this church as a stable for his horses, which many Russians still find extremely insulting. The Cathedral, closed in 1918 after a final Easter liturgy by Patriarch Tikhon, was reopened to the public in 1990.
The private church used by the Patriarchate of Russia is a tiny, medieval church called the Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Virgin (although in Russian, it’s only two words; go figure). The Церковь Ризоположения (Tserkov Rezopolozheneya) was built in 1451 to commemorate the deliverance of Moscow from the tatars. It was used as a private church, though stopped performing services in 1918 as well. Liturgies began again in 1993, and there is a small exhibition dedicated to beautiful religious wood carvings from around Russia.
The Archangel Cathedral, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, is the final resting place for many medieval rulers of Russia. It was commissioned in 1333 and houses the bodies of tsars and rulers in Russia up until Peter II. Like the other churches here, between 1918 and 1991 services were prohibited. Today, tourists can see the graves of some of the most powerful figures in Russian history.
Belltower of Ivan the Great
The Belltower of Ivan the Great is a massive bell tower with 21 separate bells and a belfry. For quite a long time, it was the tallest structure in Moscow at about 265 feet. The Assumption Bell is a 70 ton bell that sits in the main belfry. This belltower survived Napoleon’s attempt to destroy it, and still dominates the Moscow skyline.
Outside Red Square, there are plenty of things to see as well. Here are some of my favorite attractions.
If you are interested in the Cold War “space race” or just find Soviet or astronaut history interesting, do yourself a favor and see the Cosmonaut Museum. This museum is fascinating, and has plenty of information in Russian and English about Russia’s journey to space. It even contains the preserved bodies of Belka and Strelka, the first dogs to successfully return from space. And a beautiful mural commemorates the men and women of the space program. It is easy to see from outside, as a huge obelisk with a rocket attached stands 350 feet tall above the museum. A Russian poem is engraved at the base, which says:
“And thus rewarded are our toils,
That having vanquished
Lawlessness and dark,
We have forged great flaming wings
For our nation, and this age of ours!”
Moscow Royal Circus
Another fun excursion was the Moscow Royal Circus. It is everything you can image about a Russian circus: popcorn, ice cream, plenty of attractions for little kids, and plenty of exotic animals. The show itself was very interesting. Between dancers and trapeze artists, there truly was never a dull moment. The performers are professionals, and put on an amazing and breathtaking show. As much as it sounds like I’m being paid to advertise for them, I promise I’m not. As an animal lover, I was expecting some animal cruelty. However, at no point was any animal harmed and you could definitely tell there was love between the animal and handler. Between every “serious” act, a clown picked an audience member and created goofy comedic relief. It was a very memorable experience.
One of the last things I was able to experience was the Novodivechy Graveyard. While you can take pictures, I refrained and only took a picture of the entrance. The graveyard is a beautiful site with gorgeous tombstones. Several famous Russians are buried here, including Khrushchev and Yeltsin. Stalin’s wife is also buried here, with her own marble statue adorning her grave. Walking around this graveyard is a worthwhile experience, very humbling and surreal.
Over the next week, I spent my spring break in Budapest so my next blog will be about the history and sites I experienced there. <y second month in Saint Petersburg ended quicker than the first. Now, I have one and a half months left in Saint Petersburg. My mission is to experience as much of this beautiful city as I can. I absolutely do not want to return to the United States and think, “Wow, I wish I had seen more.” Remember, you are here (wherever you are) to experience the culture and the history, and to grow as a human being. However, it won’t come to you on it’s own. My advice to you is this: put in the effort, find out of the way attractions and sights that interest you, and experience them. Get out of your comfort zone, and do not let yourself sit in bed. There is a huge world out there, and you owe it to yourself to see it, in all its wonder.