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Famous Tourist Attractions in Moscow

Updated on April 19, 2014
Moscow | Source

Moscow is the capital of the Russian Federation and the administrative center of the Moscow oblast, situated on the European Russian Plain. Until 1991 Moscow (Russian, Moskva) was the capital of the USSR and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

The city is built on both sides of the Moskva River, a tributary of the Oka, as it traverses a gently rolling landscape of river terraces and glacial deposits. Moscow's climate is one of relatively warm summers and cold winters. The summer months are the wettest ones, while snow is common from mid-October to early April.

Kuznetsky Most (Moscow Metro)
Kuznetsky Most (Moscow Metro) | Source

The plan of Moscow reveals something about its history. The first settlement was made on a defensible, fortified site (the Kremlin) on the higher north bank of the Moskva River. Thereafter the settlement grew in a series of rings defined by walls. The walls, now replaced by boulevards, together with the highways that led from Moscow to all points of the compass, have helped to define the city's generally radial-concentric street plan.

Thanks to this historic development pattern, the city can be divided for descriptive purposes into three zones: 1) the Inner City, from the Kremlin to the Sadovoye or Garden Ring of boulevards; 2) a Middle Zone extending approximately to the Circular Railway, which connects the various lines entering the city; 3) an Outer Zone, from the Circular Railway to the 68-mile- (110-km-) long Circular Highway that forms the city's boundary.; and

The Inner City contains the Kremlin, the historic core, as well as the principal center of administrative, cultural, and commercial activities, of the city. The Middle Zone, once Moscow's industrial periphery, contains much of the city's manufacturing and its railway terminals. The Outer Zone is an area of recent urbanization, with tall housing blocks and new, wide streets. It is surrounded by a green belt about 6 miles (10 km) wide, in which development is controlled.

Places of Interest

The Inner City consists of the Kremlin; the Kitai Gorod, which formed the first extension of the city to the northeast of the Kremlin; and the area within the Sadovoye or Garden Ring of boulevards.

The Kremlin


The Moscow Kremlin may be the most culturally significant spot in Russia, symbolizing as it did in the past both the temporal authority of Russia's czars and the sacred authority of the Orthodox Church. Until 1991 the formal seat of the Soviet government was located within the Kremlin. The cathedrals have been converted to museums. Thus the Kremlin is a mecca for visitors drawn by its historic associations, architecture, and art.

The Kremlin's triangular enclosure covers some 12 acres (5 ha), studded with magnificent churches, palaces, government buildings, and museums. Many of its structures were erected under the supervision of Italian architects and reflect a blend of Italian and Russian traditions. The brick walls and towers were built in 1485–1495, in the reign of Ivan III. The decorative superstructures of the towers date mostly from the 17th century. The Spasskaya (Savior's) Tower, fronting on Red Square, is, with its great clock, the handsomest of the Kremlin's towers.

Inside Kremlin
Inside Kremlin | Source
Gold doors of the Kremlin.
Gold doors of the Kremlin. | Source

The interior of the Kremlin forms a complex of sacred and secular buildings. Of the former, the most important are grouped around Cathedral Square. The Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspenski Cathedral) was built in 1475–1479 from plans drawn by the Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti. A masterpiece of northeastern Russian architecture, with gabled arches and five golden domes, the cathedral served for four centuries as the place of coronation of Russia's czars. The Cathedral of the Archangel (1505–1509), designed by Alevisio Novi of Milan, was the burial place of the czars through the 17th century. Built by Pskov masters, the beautiful Cathedral of the Annunciation, or Blagoveshchenski Cathedral (1484–1489), which is topped by nine golden domes, was the site of royal christenings and weddings. The Cathedral Square complex, around which these churches cluster, is set off by the imposing Belfry of Ivan the Great (1505–1508), 267 feet (81 meters) high.

The Kremlin's palaces include the Palace of Facets, or Granovitaya Palace (1487–1491), containing a sumptuously decorated reception hall; the Terem Palace (1635–1636); and the huge block of the Great Kremlin Palace (1838–1849), which once housed the Supreme Soviet.

Government buildings, in addition to the Great Palace, include the former Senate (1776–1788), designed by the Russian architect Matvei Kazakov, which was the meeting place of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Near the western entrance to the Kremlin stand the 19th-century Armory, which preserves the treasure of the czars, and the modern marble and glass structure of the Palace of Congresses, built in 1960–1961.

Red Square
Red Square | Source

Red Square and Kitai Gorod

Red Square (Krasnaya Ploshchad), 2,300 feet (700 meters) long and 430 feet (130 meters) wide, is used for ceremonial occasions, parades, and strolling. It received its present name in the 17th century, when the Russian word krasnaya had the meaning "beautiful." It is fronted on one long side by the Kremlin wall and on the other by a complex of buildings. The square was the original focus of the many roads that led to Moscow and in medieval times was the city's major marketplace.

The architectural keynote of the square is the fantastically domed Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, or Pokrovski Sobor (Cathedral of the Intercession). Built in 1555–1560 to the design of Postnik Yakovlev, it represents a masterly translation of traditional Russian wooden architectural forms into stone. By the Kremlin wall stands the Lenin Mausoleum, built in 1930 of polished red and black stone from the plans of Alexei Shchusev. Behind it are the last resting places of other figures from Soviet history, including Joseph Stalin.

The section of the city that lies to the northeast and east of the Kremlin and Red Square is known as Kitai Gorod (often translated as Chinese, or Middle, City; the origin of the name is in dispute). The area was the main commercial and crafts center of the city from the 14th century. Most of these functions were banished from the Kitai in the Soviet period, and the zone has lost the bustling character it had in the 19th century.

On the western edge of the Kitai, facing Red Square and the Kremlin, is the large GUM, or State Department Store. The present building was erected in 1890–1893. The area also contains a number of historic buildings, including the first Russian printing works (founded in 1563), several churches, and the Romanov Boyar's house (1565), home of the first Romanov czar. Along the quarter's riverfront stands the enormous Hotel Rossiya. On its site was the old Zaryadie quarter, a slum district of petty crafts enterprises and for a time the Jewish ghetto.

The Area Adjacent to the Kremlin and the Kitai Gorod

Alexandrovsky Garden
Alexandrovsky Garden | Source

On the west side of the Kremlin lies the Alexandrovsky Garden, which provides a welcome green space in the center of the city. Across from the garden is the old Moscow University building (dating from the late 18th century) with its Hall of Columns. The university, the first in Russia, was founded in 1755 by Mikhail Lomonosov. The University Library is still located here, but most of the academic departments have moved to the new complex on Lenin Hills across the Moskva River to the southwest.

North of the old university building is the modernistic Soviet Council of Ministers building, dating from the 1930s. A short distance farther north is the celebrated Bolshoi Theater. Beyond lies Dzerzhinsky Square (formerly Lubyanka Square), on which stands the building that housed the Committee of State Security (the KGB). The broad street leading southeast from the square follows the line of the old Kitai Gorod wall. Located here are the Polytechnical Museum and the Museum of the History and Reconstruction of Moscow.

Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts | Source

Remaining Area within the Sadovoye Ring

The area of greatest tourist interest is the west side of the district. Before the 1917 Revolution, this was an area of fashionable shops, government and cultural institutions, and upper-class residences. Today it is still the most important retailing area. It also has numerous cultural attractions, including the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the Moscow Conservatory, and the Moscow Art Theater, founded by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko.

Two key axes of this area are Gorky Street and the Kalinin-Arbat. Along or near Gorky Street stand hotels, a number of theaters and restaurants, and many shops. Kalinin Prospekt begins at the Lenin Library, the nation's largest, with over 25 million books. Farther west, between Arbat Square and the Sadovoye Ring, stretches the new part of Kalinin Prospekt, a showplace of recent urban redevelopment, built in the 1960s. The lower floors of its modern buildings are occupied by shops and restaurants. Paralleling Kalinin Prospekt is the Arbat, a narrow 19th-century street also lined with shops.

Across the Moskva River from the Kremlin is the Zamoskvorechie, a mixed zone of former merchant housing and manufacturing. Its winding streets provide a glimpse of the old Moscow. Here also is the famous Tretyakov Gallery, donated to the city by the Tretyakov brothers in 1892 and housing a superb collection of Russian art.

Middle Zone

The Middle Zone extends from the Sadovoye to approximately the line of the Circular Railway. This was the area of industrialized suburbs in the 19th century. Today it has a mixed character. Both transportation and industry are prominent features of the zone. The city's nine main railway terminals are positioned on squares surrounding the city center. The area has undergone considerable redevelopment, and new housing districts have risen to replace the substandard workers' quarters of the past. Several monasteries, which once formed part of the defensive outerworks of Moscow, are in the Middle Zone.

Also located here is the popular Gorky Park. To the northeast lies Sokolniki Park, a recreational area since the 18th century, and the Exhibition of Economic Achievements, featuring displays of Soviet progress in science, industry, agriculture, transport, and culture. Nearby, and dominating the skyline, is the Ostankino television tower. Completed in 1967, it is more than 1,750 feet (530 meters) high and has a revolving restaurant and observation deck.

Moscow State University
Moscow State University | Source

Outer Zone

This area between the Circular Railway and the Circular Highway constitutes more than half the total area of the city. For the most part, this is a zone of urbanization engulfing previously existing settlements and villages. Huge apartment blocks, separated by parks or undeveloped open land and woodland, pushed steadily into this area beginning in the late 1950s. Because of continuing pressures caused by housing shortages, the new districts tend to lag in their provision of services and cultural amenities, with the result that the urban environment is rather bleak.

Among the important institutions and landmarks in the Outer Zone is the new campus of Moscow State University, on the Lenin Hills in the southwest. It is the largest of the seven grandiose skyscrapers built in the Stalin era, which are scattered over the city. Also in the Outer Zone are the city's river ports. On the south side of the Outer Zone is Kolomenskoye, the estate of the grand princes of Moscow and the Russian czars.

The majority of the sites selected for the 1980 Summer Olympic Games were situated in the Outer Zone, including the Olympic Village in the Lenin Hills area. The primary stadium chosen for the Olympic Games was the Lenin Stadium, across the river from Moscow State University.

The Moscow Metro

The Metro, or subway, is not only a highly efficient transportation system but also a tourist attraction in its own right. The system has been under continuous development since the early 1930s, construction continuing even during World War II. The first line opened in 1935. The stations are renowned for their elegance and cleanliness. Many of those built in the first decades of the system's development are richly decorated and carry out various historical or heroic themes. The newer stations are of simpler, functional design.

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