Things to Do in Russia - page 2
Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad) is the central square of St. Petersberg, which conjoins some of the city’s major landmarks and monuments, including most famously the Winter Palace. Because it is so spacious it regularly functions as the grounds for national parades, bards, and concerts. In the past, the square has been transformed during the winter months to become a free ice rink.
Palace Square was also the setting for some of Russia’s most significant historical events including the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the 1905 massacre Bloody Sunday, where peaceful protesters were gunned down while trying to present Tsar Nicholas II with a petition .
Although the buildings surrounding the square were built in different eras, they were all built to scale, giving the square a beauty in symmetry.
Just west of the Kremlin, the Alexander Garden (Alexandrovsky Sad) was laid out between 1819 and 1823 in an effort by Tsar Alexander I to rebuild Moscow after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the first urban public parks in Moscow, it was built on the site of the riverbed of the Neglinnaya River, which was channeled underground.
The garden actually includes three separate gardens, which stretch all along the western wall of the Kremlin, but the Upper Garden is of most interest to visitors. It includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which contains the remains of a soldier killed in World War II. A faux ruined grotto was built underneath the Middle Arsenal Tower in 1841, and a large granite obelisk was erected in 1914 to celebrate the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty. While it was originally engraved with the names of the Romanov tsars, the Bolsheviks re-carved it with names of socialist and communist philosophers and political leaders.
In the Middle Garden stands the Kutafiya Tower, the most prominent feature of the garden. This is also where you will find ticket booths for the Kremlin. The Lower Garden was the last to be laid out and stretches to the road to the Borovitskaya Tower, one of two entrances to the Kremlin.
Tverskaya Street (Ulitsa Tverskaya) is Moscow’s version of Main Street, running uphill from near the north end of Red Square out toward St Petersburg. The street existed as early as the 12th century and connected Moscow with the cities of Tver and Novgorod. It was the center of Moscow’s social life in the 17th and 18th centuries and was often used by the Russian tsars as a promenade through the city to their residence in the Kremlin. By the end of the 19th century, grand residences had been largely replaced by commercial buildings in a mix of styles, and during the Stalin era, many churches and historical buildings were torn down to widen the street and to make room for large apartment blocks and government buildings.
Today, Tverskaya Street is the most expensive shopping street in all of Russia, and in 2008, it was the third most expensive street in the world for real estate. In addition to being a high-end shopping mecca, it is a center of nightlife, culture and entertainment. On or near the street, you can find the Yermolova Theater, the Museum of Traditional Russian Art, the Moscow Contemporary Art Museum, the Moscow Town Hall and monuments to Pushkin and the founder of Moscow, Prince Yuri Dolgoruky.
The Kubinka Tank Museum is the largest museum in the world of armored vehicles. Located just outside of Moscow, it houses more than 300 tanks and vehicles from throughout the 20th century. One of the most unique vehicles on display is the German super-heavy tank prototype known as the Panzer VIII Maus—one of just two made and the only one still in existence.
Other exhibits include the Troyanov heavy tank and a Karl-Gerat self-propelled artillery, as well as single and limited edition prototypes from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and Cold War era tanks that were war trophies from the Middle East, Africa, Vietnam and Latin America. The vehicles are displayed throughout seven hangars, including four for Soviet and Russian armor alone, divided into heavy, medium, light and wheeled vehicles hangars. In 2000, all of the old vehicles were repainted in their original manner by Russian historical specialists.
Located on parklands overlooking the Moskva River, Kolomenskoye is an open-air museum that brims with architectural gems. Just south of Moscow, the 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site once served as a summer residence for the Grand Dukes of Moscow and Russian Tsars.
Showcasing more than 170,000 works from the 11th to the 20th century, the Tretyakov Gallery is a glorious tribute to Russian art. From medieval icons to Soviet-era masterpieces, it’s the world’s most comprehensive collection of Russian art.
The elegant, canary-yellow façade of Yusupov Palace (Yusupovsky Dvorets) is somewhat understated in comparison to St. Petersburg’s typically ostentatious architecture, but don’t be fooled by its demure frontage. Step inside the palace and you’ll find a series of ballrooms, banquet halls and bedrooms richly decorated with colorful frescos, sumptuous furnishings and gilded chandeliers. The exquisitely preserved interiors date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries and provide a fascinating glimpse into the aristocratic life of the era, with highlights including the Rococo style private theatre, the Moorish Drawing Room and the grand Ballroom.
Built by French architect Vallin de la Mothein the 1760s, Yusupov Palace was inhabited by the noble Yusupov family until they were exiled during the 1917 Revolution and became notorious as the location of the December 1916 murder of Rasputin. Today, the cell where Rasputin met his grisly and untimely end is a popular visitor attraction, with an exhibit chronicling the evening’s events as Felix Yusupov and his followers attempted (and finally succeeded) to poison, shoot and drown the “mad monk.”
Part of Moscow’s vast All-Russian Exhibition Center (VDNK), the Russia – My History historical park chronicles some of the key moments in Russia’s history through an innovative series of interactive exhibits and multimedia installations. Organized throughout the country by the government and the Russian Orthodox Church, the exhibit offers a nationalistic view of historical events and figures.
Gaming enthusiasts won’t want to miss a visit to this quirky museum—the counterpart to the St. Petersburg museum of the same name. Come to play on the many working games at the interactive museum that's styled like a Soviet-era games arcade and is home to around 60 restored arcade machines from the 1970s and 80s.
The A.S. Pushkin Memorial Apartment (Memorial'naya Kvartira A.S. Pushkina) in Moscow was once the home of the poet Alexander Pushkin and his wife Natalya Goncharova. Pushkin was one of the greatest Russian poets of the 1800s and is considered to be the founder of modern Russian literature. His most famous play, Boris Godunov, was written while he couldn't publish it due to the Tsar's political police. The couple was a great source of Russian romanticism, and the apartment provides insights into their lives in Moscow. They spent the first three months of their happy marriage in this pretty blue house in 1831.
Visitors to the house can see oil and water color paintings and drawings, portraits of the poet, rare etchings and lithographs, red wood and Karelia birch furniture, gold plated bronze, leather bound books, manuscripts, old magazines and newspapers, and other antiques that decorated the couple's home. Many of the original pieces of furniture can still be seen in the Pushkin House. Across the street is a statue of the two lovebirds.
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The grand epicenter of the Kremlin and the official residence of the Russian president, Moscow’s Cathedral Square (or Sobornaya Square) takes its name from the trio of magnificent cathedrals that stand watch over the plaza—the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Cathedral of the Archangel, and the Cathedral of the Annunciation.
Opened in 2004, the Gulag History Museum is the only museum in Russia devoted to Joseph Stalin’s legacy of terror in the early to mid-20th century. Founded by a former labor camp prisoner, it tells the stories of the creation of the first labor camps in 1918, the formation of the Gulag system in the 1930s, the expulsion of Germans from the Volga region and the mass deportations in the 1940s. To give visitors a small sense of what the camps may have been like, the museum features a reconstruction of some aspects of the camps, including a barracks, a punishment cell, an investigator’s office and a guard’s watchtower.
Visitors will also learn of the personal stories of gulag victims, with exhibits displaying documents, letters and memoirs of those sent to the camps by Stalin, as well as a collection of art by former gulag prisoners. Contemporary artists have also contributed pieces of art with their interpretation of the labor camps.
The Kremlin Armoury houses the most precious treasures of the Russian czars, many of which were made right in the Kremlin. Some 4,000 glittering valuables are spread across two floors and arranged according to themes, from heavily embroidered royal regalia and carriages to weapons and jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs.
The Bronze Horseman is a statue of Peter the Great on a horse. Catherine the Great had the statue built in the late 1700s to honor Peter the Great as the founder of the city of St. Petersburg. She commissioned the French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet who had spent a long time studying the movements of horsemen on reared mounts. The horse stands on a rock meant to represent a cliff. This huge block of granite weighs more than 1,600 tons and took more than nine months to transport from the Gulf of Finland.
Visitors can still see an inscription on the stone that says "to Peter the First from Catherine the Second” in Latin on one side and in Russian on the other side. The statue faces west to represent Peter “leading Russia forward” because he drew inspiration from countries in the west. Legend has it that St Petersburg can never be taken by enemy forces as long as the statue remains standing in Senatskaya Square. You will often see newlyweds having their wedding photos taken in front of the statue.
With its red and white towers and gleaming gold domes rising up from the banks of the Moskva River, the Novodevichy complex paints a striking picture. Built in the 16th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the convent where Peter the Great imprisoned his sister Sophia. Its cemetery houses notable Russian figures.
Home of the Alexander and Catherine palaces and parks, Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo) is one of Russia’s most significant and beautiful cultural heritage sites. The imperial family’s former summer residence is a must for first-time visitors to St. Petersburg.
The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow was built to commemorate the achievements of the Soviet Union in space exploration. Sitting at the base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space that was erected in 1964, the museum opened in 1981, on the 20th anniversary of the first manned space flight. Among the 85,000 objects in the museum’s collection are the first Soviet rocket engine, the moon rover Lunokhod, the first Soviet satellite, the personal belongings of the first Soviet astronaut, specimens from the moon and propaganda posters reflecting the “space race.”
The museum exhibitions provide an overview of how the Soviet space program evolved, from the first man-made satellites to the first space walks and moon exploration programs. Closed for renovations for three years, the museum re-opened in 2009 with three times the original space and new exhibitions on international space programs, including the USA, Europe, China and the International Space Station. Outside, Cosmonauts Alley that connects the museum with the Metro feature large stone sculptures of the most important figures in the Soviet space program.
The Pushkin Museum (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts) is the largest European art museum in Moscow, with over 560,000 works of art. Opened in 1912, it actually has no connection to Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian poet – it was simply renamed in his honor in 1937 to mark the centenary of his death.
The museum includes an impressive collection of Dutch and Flemish masterpieces from the 17th century, including several works by Rembrandt, as well as Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by painters such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso. The latter are now housed in a new Gallery of European & American Art of the 19th and 20th centuries next door to the main museum building. Many of the museum’s paintings were obtained in the 1920s and 1930s when private estates were nationalized; other works were taken from the History Museum, the Kremlin Museum, the Hermitage and other museums in St Petersburg.
The Pushkin Museum is also home to an Ancient Civilizations exhibit featuring ancient Egyptian artifacts and a Treasures of Troy collection that includes pieces dating back to 2500 BC.
One of several churches standing on Cathedral Square inside Moscow’s Kremlin, the Cathedral of the Archangel was the main burial place for Russian tsars for centuries until the capital was temporarily moved to St. Petersburg. Built in the early 16th century, it represented the culmination of a grand building project initiated by Ivan the Great. Built in a style unique from the other Kremlin cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Archangel features Italian Renaissance design elements, as well as five domes representing Jesus and the four evangelists.
While many of the cathedral’s treasures are now displayed in the Kremlin Armory Museum, the 17th century iconostasis remains, as do many 16th and 17th century wall frescoes, painted by more than 100 different artists. The oldest icon in the cathedral, which depicts Archangel Michael in full armor, dates back to the 14th century. Visitors can see more than 40 tombs inside the cathedral, with those of the Grand Dukes and their families lining the southern wall and the vaults of the Romanovs standing in the center of the building.
Located in the town of Sergiev Posad, the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius (Svyato-Troitskaya Sergieva Lavra) is the most important monastery in Russia and the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church. Founded in 1345, the monastery originally centered on a wooden church surrounded by several buildings and became the model for more than 400 similar cloisters throughout Russia. After the first church burned down, a stone cathedral was built, dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
It still stands today, housing relics of St. Sergius and works by some of the greatest iconic painters in Russia. Over the centuries, additional buildings were added to the monastery complex, including the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption Cathedral, the Church of John the Baptist’s Nativity, a royal palace and a patriarch’s palace. Once the richest monastery in Russia, it was closed after the Russian Revolution and many relics were lost or destroyed. It was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1945 and was restored throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The monastery was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
One of several churches in Cathedral Square inside of Moscow’s Kremlin, the Assumption Cathedral(Dormition Cathedral) is arguably the most important. Constructed between 1475 and 1479 at the request of Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow, it is regarded as the mother church of Muscovite Russia.
It was long the place of coronation for the Romanov tsars, and it was the burial place for Moscow metropolitans and patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. Designed by an Italian architect, the cathedral was built with five domes and became a model for other churches throughout Russia with its colorful frescoes that dominate the interior and its impressive iconostasis that dates back to 1547. The tsars often added icons to the iconostasis from the cities they conquered, and the oldest of those, from the 12th century, was brought to Moscow from Veliky Novgorod after it was captured in 1561. Near the south entrance to the cathedral, you can see the throne of Tsar Ivan IV.
The vast, open spaces of Revolution Square (Ploshchad Revolyutsii) lie just north of Moscow’s fabled Red Square in the Tverskoy District and the two are connected by the twin spires of the Resurrection Gate, which was first built in 1535 and restored in 1945 after the end of World War II. Revolution Square is so-named thanks to its role as a gathering place during Russia’s socialist revolution in 1917 and in recent times has once more been the hub of dissension under the rule of Putin; however visitors are more likely to find it full of market stalls selling souvenirs than protesting crowds.
In a pedestrianized public square surrounded with monumental pre-war architecture, the standout building is the vast, red-brick edifice of Moscow City Hall. Built in Russian Revivalist style in 1890, this was originally home of the ruling Duma, which was disbanded after the Revolution in 1917. Post-WWII, it became the Lenin Museum but now its lavish apartments host an exhibition dedicated to Napoleon.
Other fine constructions around Revolution Square include themajestic façade of the Hotel Metropol, completed in 1907 and one of the finest Art Deco buildings in the city. Ploshchad Revolyutsii metro station is the most elegant metro station in Moscow, liberally adorned with colonnades and bronze sculptures by Matvey Manizer.
Originally named the Decembrists’ Square, after the December 1825 uprising, Senate Square (Senatskaya Ploshchad) is one of St. Petersburg’s most famous public squares, encircled by some of the city’s top attractions. Linked to the central hub of Palace Square by the 407 meter-long Admiralty building – the one-time Russian Naval Headquarters – Senate Square is also home to the grand Senate Building and the early 19th-century Cavalry Manege, now home to the Central Exhibition Hall, and backs onto the grounds of the gold-domed St Isaac’s Cathedral.
The unforgettable centerpiece of Senate Square is its Bronze Horseman statue, one of the most iconic symbols of St. Petersburg. Commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1778, the statue is the work of French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet and depicts a horseback Peter the Great atop the “Thunder Stone,” an enormous cliff-like pedestal fashioned from a single piece of red granite and weighing in at around 1,500 tons.
With an imposing Neoclassical façade over 1,900 feet (580 meters) long, the Carlo Rossi–designed General Staff Building is one of St. Petersburg’s architectural highlights. The grand building, which is part of the enormous State Hermitage Museum complex, houses a large collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art works.
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