1. RED SQAURE
The large open square and market area in Moscow has been the geographic and metaphorical center of Russian life since the 15th century. The square, called Krasnaya Ploschad in Russian, measures 800,000 square feet and houses, at its western end, the historic fortress and government building known as the Kremlin. A number of beautiful cathedrals, including the Assumption Cathedral, are situated in Cathedral Square, and at the southern end stands Saint Basil’s. Other historic buildings and monuments in Red Square are the State Historical Museum; a white stone platform called the Lobnoye Mesto; the former State Department Store called GUM; and Lenin’s Tomb.
In 1990, the Kremlin and Red Square were named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. It is one of 16 UNESCO cultural sites in Russia.
The construction of Red Square was finished by the late 19th century together with the erection of the Imperial Historic Museum (today the State Historical Museum), the Upper Trading Rows (GUM) and the Middle Trading Rows. Red Square, closely associated with the Kremlin, lies beneath its east wall. At its south end is the famous Pokrovski Cathedral (Cathedral of St Basil the Blessed), one of the most beautiful monuments of Old Russian church architecture, erected in 1555–1560 to commemorate the victory of Ivan the Terrible over the Kazan Khanate.
Nowadays Red Square is closed to traffic, which means the space is filled with tourists, bridal parties and businesspeople snapping photos and marveling at their surroundings. The square empties out at night, but this is also when it is at its most atmospheric. The Kremlin towers and St Basil’s domes, illuminated by floodlights and set against the night sky, create a spectacular panorama (even better in person than on a postcard).
2. Novodevichy Convent
The Novodevichy Convent, situated in the south-western part of the historic town of Moscow at the crossing of the Moscow River, was founded by Grand Duke Vasily III in the 1520s and was a part of a chain of monastic ensembles that were integrated into the defence system of the city. The ensemble consists of 14 buildings, including 8 cathedrals (a shrine, 4 churches, a belfry with the Barlaam and Josaphat church and two chapels) and a number of residential and service buildings. The monastery is sometimes called “the Moscow Kremlin in miniature”.
The Convent is the only ancient nunnery which served as a fortress at the same time. In the 16th-18th centuries the nunnery was the chosen convent for women from the tsarist dynasty as well as the wealthy boyar and nobility families to take the veil. The elite nature of the convent means that it contains examples of the highest class of architecture with rich interiors. Built in the late 17th century, the monastery is one of the most outstanding and representative examples of the so-called “Moscow Baroque”, having retained its integrity better than any of the other rebuilt monasteries in Moscow.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk is the oldest, and the most important, building in the convent. It was built at the time of the Convent’s founding, although its dazzling onion domes were added over a century later. The interior is also impressive, with glorious frescoes dating from 1684 and painted by Dmitry Grigorev of Yaroslavl. There is also a fine five-tiered iconostasis dating from the same period, but in fact brought from the Assumption Church in Pokrovka, which was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.
The cemetery next-door is well worth visiting also, not just to pay homage to the great and good buried here – Chekhov, Bulgakov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Eisenstein and Stanislavsky, to name but a few – but also to marvel 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.
3. METRO TOUR OF MOSCOW
TSee the best examples of underground Soviet-era architecture, including iconic Mayakovskaya. Widely praised as one of Stalin’s finest architectural achievements, Moscow’s subway was created to symbolize his rising regime and a recognized empire. Visit Revolution Square Station (Ploschad Revolyutsii) and admire the 72 magnificent bronze sculptures that depict the people of the former Soviet Union, set underneath marble arches designed by the legendary Russian architect Alexey Dushkin. Another Dushkin-created station is Novoslobodskaya, and you’ll head here next to admire its dazzling stained-glass panels. Discover Baroque décor, vaulted ceilings and chandeliers at Komsomolskaya Station, and then marvel at the grandiose and pompous design of Kurskaya Station — one of the first stations to be built. Its design reflects Stalin’s communist ideals and you’ll note its left-wing slogans on the walls, next to mosaics that symbolize the ‘victory’ of his regime over poverty and starvation.Finally, pay a visit to Mayakovskaya, the station that’s named after Russian poet Vladmir Mayakovsky, and see why it’s often considered the most beautiful and iconic Moscow Metro station. Gaze upward at some 30 fascinating mosaics that depict Stalin’s vision for a bright Soviet future, and then admire the features of typical pre-World War II architecture that the station embodies.
4. Arbat Street Moscow
In every city steeped in history there is always a street which attracts tourists like a magnet. This is a place filled with spirit of its own, while buildings bordering it and side-streets stemming from it each have a story to tell. In Moscow it is Old Arbat or simply Arbat – one of oldest and most popular walking streets.
Today Arbat is as important landmark as Red Square, the Bolshoi Theatre and St. Basil Cathedral. Arbat is a kind of a cozy world where you can immerse yourself in the amazing creative atmosphere. The street became pedestrian in 1986.
Soon, the renovated street attracted artists, musicians, street performers and vendors, creating custom creative world within Arbat. Contemporary Arbat is something like the ‘Montmartre’ where you can see people draw, sing, dance, recite poetry, oratory and much more.
It is not only the place where you can enjoy the beautiful artworks and handmade items, but also meet people who represent a variety of cultures of the ex USSR republics.
5. The State Museum
The State History Museum has an enormous collection covering the whole Russian empire from the time of the Stone Age. The building, dating from the late 19th century, is itself an attraction – each room is in the style of a different period or region, some with highly decorated walls echoing old Russian churches. Reopened in 1997, each year sees the addition of a few more Galleries.
6. Bolshoi Theatre
An evening at the Bolshoi is still one of Moscow’s most romantic and entertaining options for a night on the town. The glittering six-tier auditorium has an electric atmosphere, evoking over 240 years of premier music and dance.
The Bolshoi takes its role as Russia’s national theatre seriously, and the policy is to ensure that 70% of its repertoire is made up of Russian masterpieces. In recent years the company has made every effort to increase the number of works by 20th century Russian composers not performed or little performed in the Soviet Union, and some of the most exciting recent additions to the repertoire have been ballets and operas by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, etc.
For genuine lovers of opera and ballet, it is worth doing some research before choosing the performance you wish to attend, as quality can be variable. For the rest of us, the breathtaking beauty of the setting, the idiosyncrasies of Russian theatre-going and the historic atmosphere should be more than enough to guarantee a truly memorable evening out.