As a city that has been around for more than 800 years, Moscow has plenty of history. And tucked beneath the steel and glass skyscrapers, a lot of that history remains for visitors to discover.
A tour of the Kremlin will take you straight to what has been the political center of both Moscow and Russia for centuries. A kremlin stood on the site as early as the 12th century and in the 1320s it became the headquarters of the Russian church. In the 15th century, the walls and towers you see today were built. Ivan the Terrible carried out his reign of terror from the Kremlin and it was from there that Napoleon watched Moscow burn. The Assumption Cathedral within the Kremlin walls was the burial place for most heads of the Russian church from the 1320s to 1700 and the Archangel Cathedral was traditionally the coronation, wedding and burial church of the Russian tsars. During Soviet times, Lenin and Stalin ruled from the Kremlin and today it remains the official residence of the Russian president.
Sitting outside of the Kremlin’s northeastern wall, Red Square has long held a significant place in Russian history. Originally intended to serve as Moscow’s main marketplace, it later became a popular site for public proclamations and ceremonies, religious processions and even the occasional coronation for a Russian tsar. During World War II (known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War), tanks and troops gathered in the square before heading straight to the front lines in November 1941. Four years later, Russia’s victory in the war was celebrated in Red Square on what is now known as Victory Day.
Surrounding the square, you’ll find the famous GUM department store, the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, the 17th century Kazan Cathedral, the State Historical Museum and Lenin’s Mausoleum.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
Built between 1555 and 1561 to celebrate Ivan the Terrible’s conquest of Kazan, St. Basil’s Cathedral may be one of the most recognized sites in all of Russia. With its colorful façade and onion-shaped domes, the design of the cathedral is completely unique in Russian history. It consists of a larger central church surrounded by eight smaller churches, four octagonal in shape and four square-shaped, all connected by a series of narrow corridors. Historically, the church served as an allegory for Jerusalem in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the tsar and the head of the Russian Orthodox church. It was secularized during Soviet times and today operates as a museum.
State Historical Museum
While the building housing the State Historical Museum isn’t of significant historical importance itself, the exhibits trace centuries of Russian history, from the Stone Age through the 19th century. Founded in 1872, the museum boasts more than four million objects, including the largest coin collection in Russia with nearly two million coins. Displays of note include a Greek sarcophagus from the 4th century B.C., gold artifacts from the Scythians, large paintings telling the stories of the early Russian princes, portraits of 16th and 17th century Russian rulers and a replica of the Ivan the Terrible’s throne.
Kitay Gorod neighborhood
The neighborhood adjacent to Red Square known as Kitay Gorod is one of the oldest quarters in Moscow, settled in the 13th century. Walls were built around the neighborhood in the 1530s and while only small remnants of the original walls remain today, one wall has been rebuilt and there is talk of a full-scale restoration. Stroll along the three main streets of Kitay Gorod – Varvarka, Ilyinka and Nikolskaya – and you will see a variety of 16th and 17th century churches, as well as the Romanov house, built by the grandfather of Mikhail Romanov, the first of the Romanov tsars who ruled for 300 years. For just a few hours, you can take a step back in time to experience Moscow of days gone by.