Moscow

If St. Petersburg is Russia's imperial crown, Moscow is its familial heart. It is a city in which one comes face to face with all that is finest and all that is most frustrating in Russia. The gregarious geniality of its people is as evident as the extreme tensions of a city coming to terms with the confusions of rapid social change. More than anywhere else in the country, it is in Moscow where the Soviet past collides with the capitalist future. Lenin's Mausoleum remains intact, but today it faces the newly chic GUM (pronounced goom), which is becoming ever more akin to Macy's or Harrod's. 

Yet, as the new Moscow emerges, it is becoming increasingly clear that any move into the future will be marked by a strong appreciation of the city's rich and varied heritage--a heritage that vastly predates the era of Soviet rule. Indeed, the most striking aspect of the city today is not Moscow's much-publicized embrace of Western culture but its self-assured revival of its own traditions. Ancient cathedrals are being restored and opened for religious services, innovative theaters are reclaiming leadership in the arts, and traditional markets are coming back to life. Moscow is once more assuming its position as the capital and mother city of the ancient state of Russia.

  

Points of interest:

THE KREMLIN: 
Russia 's mythic refuge, the Kremlin is a self-contained city with a multitude of palaces, armories, and churches. Though its name instantly sparks images of formidable walls, glistening onion domes, and cloistered rulers of eras past, the word "kremlin" simply means "fortified town." 

The Kremlin dates back to 1147 and the very beginnings of Moscow. The original towered walls were completed in 1157, ten years after Moscow's founding, and by the late 14th century, Moscow had risen enough in power and prestige to become the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church. This change brought with it the construction of some of the Kremlin's most impressive structures, including the Cathedral of the Assumption, where Ivan defiantly tore up the charter binding Moscow to Mongol rule. Over the centuries, almost every ruler added their own, monumental touches to the ensemble, leaving us with the dazzling citadel we see today. 

Sites within the Kremlin: 
The Arsenal 
The State Kremlin Palace 
Senate 
Tsar Cannon and Bell 
Cathedral Square 
Ivan the Great Belltower 
Assumption Cathedral The Church of the Deposition of the Robe 
The Cathedral of the Archangel Michael 
The Cathedral of the Annunciation 
Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles and The Patriarch's Palace 
The Terem, Faceted, and Great Kremlin Palaces 
The Armory 

RED SQUARE: 
For most visitors, Red Square is indelibly associated with images of stonefaced Soviet leaders standing in the bitter cold as a panoply of military might rumbles past their review stand atop Lenin's Mausoleum. Although the Square is no longer witness to the imposing parades of May Day, it remains a profoundly impressive space. Delimited by the stark severity of the mausoleum, the expansive facade of the world-famous GUM department store, and the exuberant colors of St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square is, and deserves to be, the requisite first stop for any visitor to Moscow. 

Lenin's Mausoleum 
St. Basil's Cathedral 
GUM 

CHRIST THE SAVIOR CATHEDRAL: 
Symbolizing Moscow's awakening is the newly reconstructed Christ the Savior Cathedral, which Stalin's regime demolished in 1931 along with countless other churches and monuments. Construction began on the new cathedral over two years ago, and crews have been working around the clock to complete it. Rising 103 meters above the city and glittering with gilded domes and crosses, the massive cathedral is a magnificent symbol of the largest construction boom in Moscow's recent history. All over the city crews are renovating historical buildings, erecting new monuments and museums, and enriching the cityscape. 


OLD MOSCOW: 
For centuries the palaces and churches of the Kremlin were the only buildings made of stone. The rest of the city was constructed of wood and was destroyed with each great fire (of which ancient Moscow had plenty). As a result, surviving artifacts of old Moscow are rare. They consist of major structures around the city and just a few wooden buildings hearty enough to survive the conflagrations.

  

Novodevichy Convent & Cemetery: 
At the same time that Moscow's Kremlin was reinforced as a protective citadel for the city center, a series of fortified monasteries were constructed as an outlying defensive chain to the south. The most famous of these is the beautiful Novodevichy Convent, founded in 1524 and situated along a prominent bend in the Moskva River. The convent's fame, however, has less to do with its role as a protective fortress than with its aristocratic and political history, for Novodevichy was the favored destination for high-ranking women banished from court. The most famous such inmate was Peter the Great's elder sister Sofia, who had ruled as Regent during his minority. After Peter came of age and--with some difficulty--claimed his throne, it was to Novodevichy that he banished his Machiavellian sibling in 1689. Nine years later, as Peter was returning to Russia after his travels in Europe, Sofia engineered an attempted coup from the convent. The coup failed, and Peter reached home in time to participate in the mass execution of the rebels. Although Sofia was not to be harmed, she was apparently driven mad when the bodies of her supporters were strung up outside her window. Novodevichy is also famous for the cemetery that lies beyond its south wall. Here lie many famous writers, artists, and politicians including Gogol, Checkov, Bulgakov, Mayakovsky, Stanislavsky, Shostokovich, Eisenstein, and Nikita Khrushchev, the only Soviet leader not buried behind Lenin's Mausoleum


English House: 
The English House provides an interesting little glimpse of the life of an imprisoned Brit in Ivan the Terrible's court. In the middle of the sixteenth century, Ivan gave the house to English representatives of the Muscovy Company, a private trading consotium similar to the East India Company. The envoys hoped to win for England a share in the increasingly lucrative fur trade. Ivan's diplomatic interests, however, centered on the possibility of marrying Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen." When the Tsar learned that Elizabeth wasn't exactly jumping at this idea, he became (surprise) rather upset. In order to express his frustrations, Ivan confined the queen's ambassador to English House for four months. Although the house is currently undergoing restoration, even those sections that are still open give visitors a sense of the life of a foreigner in Moscow four hundred years ago


Palace of the Romanov Boyars: 
This reconstructed palace was the home of the Romanovs before they became Russia's ruling family. The palace was built in the sixteenth century by Nikita Romanov, Ivan's brother in law and Michael Romanov's grandfather. When Michael was named as Tsar in 1613, at the end of the Time of Troubles, the entire family moved into the Kremlin. The Romanov palace was restored in the nineteenth century, from which time it has served as a public museum. The rewards of a visit today go beyond a glimpse at the ancestral home of the last Tsars--the palace is also a lovely and intriguing example of early aristocratic life in Moscow


THE TRETYAKOV GALLERY 
The Tretyakov Gallery possesses the finest collection of traditional Russian painting in the world. The core of the museum's collection was assembled in the middle of the nineteenth century by Pavel Tretyakov, a wealthy Moscow merchant whose passion for collecting included violins, birds, and milk cows as well as Russian art. Tretyakov donated his extensive collection to the city in 1892, and subsequent enlargement has long since provided the Gallery with far more works than it can possibly exhibit in its limited space. Although this means that innumerable fine works rarely see the light of day, it also means that those works that are displayed are without exception masterpieces of their period and genre. While everything in the Tretyakov deserves and rewards patient attention, its collection of icons stands as the definitive presentation of this most Russian of art forms. 



BOLSHOI THEATRE 
The imposing home of the internationally-famed Bolshoi ballet was constructed in 1824 by Osip Bove, though the company itself was begun in 1773 as a dancing school for the Moscow Orphanage. For much of its history the Bolshoi was overshadowed by the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, but with Moscow's restoration as the capital in 1918 it gained preeminence. For most of the last three decades the Bolshoi was led by Yuri Grigorovich, an artistic director known as much for his autocratic control as for his accomplished, classical choreography. Under Grigorovich's tenure, and graced by the presence of a series of remarkably gifted dancers, the Bolshoi's became known as one of the world's great companies. Despite Grigorovich's departure in 1995, its performances continue to elicit international acclaim, and an evening at the Bolshoi remains one of Moscow's sublime pleasures.


VDNKh 
This former Exhibition of Economic Achievement was at one time a permanent World Expo of the great glories of Soviet--and particularly Stalinist--rule. It began in 1939 as the All-Union Agricultural Exposition, a celebration of the fruits of Stalinist progress, and many of its most grandiose elements date from that period. In ensuing decades the VDNKh was revived and eventually established on a permanent basis, becoming an exhibition of the finest achievments of the Soviet state. While the VDNKh is slowly restructuring itself to a less idealistic showroom for consumer goods from all over the world, it remains a truly outstanding place to visit, a kind of crazed Soviet visionary's wonderland. VDNKh encompasses a wide area and is filled with pavilions for everything from grain and furs to atomic energy. Many of these exhibition spaces still offer interesting and informative displays. However, what many find most fascinating is the overall dimension and vision of Soviet state imagination. 
Among the most interesting sights at VDNKh are the monumental Soviet realist sculpture "Worker and Woman Collective Farmer," the gleaming jet-age Space Obelisk, the imposing Stalinist Central Pavilion, and virtually all of the Stalinist-era trade pavilions. Between December 25 and January 5 each winter, the VDNKh is the venue for a Russian Winter Festival, replete with folk music and dancing as well as troika rides. 


THE METRO 
Moscow 's grand metro stations, make those of the great western capitals look tawdry in comparison. For New Yorkers in particular, a visit to Moscow's metro induces severe station envy. The first and still the finest of the Moscow metro stations were the product of a Stalin's first Five-Year Plan. The system was begun in 1931, and the first line opened four years later. Many stations worth checking out--a few in particular are as worthy of a visit as any sight in the city. Mayakovskaya Station, completed in 1938, features a central hall supported by lovely stainless steel and red marble columns, which soar up to a ceiling festooned with socialist realist mosaics. Other notable stations include Ploshchad Revolyutsii, where the passageway arches are supported by vivid sculptures of Red Army soldiers, and Kropotkinskaya Station, with its elegantly-columned platform and upper galleries.