For most westerners, Russia is associated with its European cities - Moscow and St.Petersburg. This is the heartland of Russia, and these great and ancient cities often become the focus for most guests. However, there is much more about Russia, a country that spans eleven time zones, ending less than 85 km from North America. Within this vast expanse lie the largest freshwater lake in the world, rivers and forests teeming with fish and wildlife, awe inspiring volcanoes, and towering mountains. Russia is the largest country of the Earth, with enormous tracts of land, its natural and cultural heritage waiting to be discovered.
Russia has a formidable pool of recreational resources, including natural landscapes of endless variety and inimitable beauty, monuments of history and cultural heritage, unique engineering structures, and unmatched cities, towns and smaller communities.
The most popular tourist attractions are the old Russian cities of Vladimir, Suzdal, Sergiev Posad, Pereyaslavl Zalessky, Rostov, Uglitch, Yaroslavl and Kostroma, the biggest gems of Russia’s Golden Ring. Also high on every tourist’s priority list are itineraries by boat from Moscow to St.Petersburg and the Valaam Island, a central point of religious piligrimage, or to Kizhi, the wonderland of old Russian wooden architecture, the Northern Caucasus and the Black Sea coast, to Mount Elbrus, the Ural mountains, and the Altai country, in different natural settings, from the Black Sea coast (like Gelenzhik and Anapa), the Baltic Sea (Sestroretsk, Komarovo, Zelenogorsk, Svetlogorsk, etc.) to the mountains of the Northern Caucasus (Teberda and Dombai), Ural (Kisegatch and Uveldy) and Altai (Chemal).
In the forest steppe and steppe areas, the invigorating nature is supplemented with refreshing koumiss, which is a favourite drink among the vacationers in Bashkortostan (Aksakovo, Yumatovo and Shafranovo).
There is no doubt that the most celebrated among Russian balneological resorts, a craze since the early 19th century to our day, of course, are the Caucasian Spas, a cluster of mineral springs at Yessentuki, Zheleznovodsk, Kislovodsk and Pyatigorsk, with Naltchik a short way off. The most famous among the local springs are Slaviansky, Smirnovsky, Lermontovsky, Batalinsky, the narzan springs of Kislovodsk, and mineral treats No.17 and No.4 at Yessentuki.
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union crime has been rising throughout Russia, however, it is safer here than in many American cities. Precautions include not flaunting valuables, or walking alone at night through city streets or parks.
Moscow is conveniently sited in the centre of Russia’s European part where the rivers Moskva and Yauza cross the Central Russian Plateau.
A settlement of artisans and traders arose at the site of the present-day Kremlin and Zaryadie long before the first mention of Moscow in chronicles (the year 1147). Standing at the crossing of the main trading routes (the Moskva river and the Yauza), it had its centre on Borovitsky Hill. In the 15th century Moscow became capital of the Russian state. With the transfer of Russia’s capital to St.Petersburg in 1712, it became the country’s second capital. In 1918, it became the capital of the Russian Federation, and from 1922 to 1991, it was the capital of the USSR.
Present-day Moscow is a capital of the Russian Federation. Moscow is one of the biggest cities in the world. It occupies the area of 1035 square kilometres. Moscow has more than 5.000 streets. The population is about 9 million people, plus more than three million tourists and guests coming annually. Climate is moderate. The average temperature in July and August is +20(25)°C; in December and January -10°C. The humidity is moderate. The Moscow’s winters are, as a rule, cold and snowy.
Administratively, Moscow is segmented into 10 administration districts. The names of the districts comply with their location: Central, West, North-West, etc. The districts are, then, segmented into city regions, there are 128 of them in Moscow.
The Moscow City Duma is the main legislative body. The executive power is exercised by the Moscow Mayor, the prefects and the sub-prefects. The municipal authorities are elected by the citizens of Moscow (vote by secret ballot).
Moscow is a unique city, its architecture combines the features of Oriental and Western cultures. The Vysantium traditions were overlapped by the creations of architects from Italy, England and other West-European countries.
The Moscow museums preserve invaluable treasures, including unique collections of Russian and foreign art and material culture. Currently, in Moscow there are more than 80 museums. The most famous attractions include:
The Moscow Kremlin, the beautiful and ancient ensemble stands high on the hill towering over the left bank of the Moskva river. The Kremlin has always been perceived as a symbol of power and might of the Russian state, the national idea expressed in stone. It is the oldest part of the city, its political, historic and cultural centre, and the seat of the country’s highest bodies of power. The Kremlin contains unique specimens of Russian metal casting art - the Tsar Bell (cast in 1733-1735 by the father and son Motorins) and the Tsar Cannon (1586). Besides, it is the site of several museums.
The Armory ("Oruzheynaya Palata"), within the fortress walls of the Moscow Kremlin. One of the oldest Russian museums. It was founded about 500 years ago. In 15th century the Armory was used to store the Tsar treasures. On display here are unique specimens of applied art and precious utensils, including the collection of jewelry of the 12th-20th centuries; the collection of West-European silver utensils of the 13th-19th centuries (ambassadors’ gifts); the collection of elite arms (12th to 19th centuries); the collection of golden and silver embroidery (14th to 19th centuries); the collection of fabrics and clothing of the 14th to the beginning of 20th centuries; accoutrements and Tsars’ carriages.
Diamond Fund (near the Armoury), a collection of jewelry and precious stones of great cultural and material value and a selection of gold and platinum nuggets. Established in 1922, it contains the symbols of imperial power (the orb, scepter and crown), unique precious stones (like the diamonds Orlov, 189.62 carats, and Shah, 88.7 carats), the imperial family’s jewelry, and the world’s biggest gold nugget, the Grand Triangle, weighing 36kg.
The Red Square (Russian: "Krasnaya Ploshchad"), the main square in Moscow and Russia, the Red Square together with the Kremlin make a harmonious architectural ensemble. The old Russian "red" meant "handsome", "the best", "the main". The Red Square witnessed many important events in the history of the Russian state.
The northern side of the Red Square is bordered by the building of the State History Museum, which was erected in the 1870-1880s. On the eastern side there is a large department store built in 1893.
The Red Square is famous with brilliant Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, popularly known as St.Basil’s Cathedral (at the southern end of the square). The church has a uniquely scenic and festive appearance, with 8 columnar churches soaring up from a common pediment, with a ninth, central tent-like church towering above the rest. Tsar Ivan the Terrible ordered the construction of this Cathedral in the memory of the seizure of Kazan, the capital of Tatar Khanate, which disturbed Rus by endless raids. The Cathedral was built by Russian architects Barma and Postnik.
Not far from the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, in the Red Square, there is Lobnoye mesto. There is an opinion that Lobnoye Mesto was used for executions, but, in reality, it was used to proclaim tsar’s edicts and to hold various religious ceremonies.
Next to the Cathedral stands the monument to Minin and Pozharsky, Russian national heroes, defenders who led the people’s volunteers in 1612. The author of the well-known monument is the famous Russian sculptor I.Martos.
In the central part of the square, near the Kremlin wall, in 1930 the Lenin Mausoleum was built to the project of well known Soviet architect A.Shchusev.
The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the largest museum of Russian national art. Named in honour of art patron and art collector Tretyakov, who donated to Moscow the family collection of paintings in 1892. On display here there are the specimens of early Russian art of the 9th to 17th centuries, including the icons from Kiev, Novgorod, Central Russia painted by Andrey Rublev, Simon Ushakov, Dionysius; world famous pictures; drawings and sculptures; interesting exposition of the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s; the Soviet art of the 1930s.
The Museum of Applied and Folk Art in Moscow, here are displayed the best samples of the true Russian art, ceramics from Gzhel, specimens from Khokhloma, Palekh, Fedoskino, samovars, fine collections of furniture, china, glass, clothing, textile, etc.
The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, the museum comprises the collections displayed in the Halls of Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Antique, Early-Christian Arts. On display here there are paintings and sculptures by famous Italian, Holland, Flamand, German and French artists.
The Moscow Metro is not the oldest one in the world, its stations welcomed the first passengers in 1935. However, the architectural style and wide scope of the stations’ design deserve the name of the "Undeground Palace". Nearly all stations are reveted with various natural stones having unique structure and beauty. Currently, there are over 150 stations of the Moscow Metro. The Metro stations were designed and embellished by prominent Russian architects, artists and sculptors. Their great talent and decorative skills created not only one more transportation facility, but a peculiar underground network of great artistic value.
Kolomenskoye, the residence of Russian tsars (today, it is within Moscow’s limits), lying in a scenic place on the high bank of the Moskva river. The museum of Kolomenskoye explains about the history of this place since the ancient times. On display are the collection of early Russian painting; fine samples of decorative and applied art; tower-clock mechanisms, ceramics, decorative metal works, wood-carving. The museum of Russian wooden architecture displays the structures brought here from different places in Russia. Among them the house of Peter the Great brought from Arkhangelsk is especially popular. The funds of the museum exhibit the unique masterpieces of the Russian art (icons, drawings, early printed books, etc.). Each guest visiting Kolomenskoye can feel and enjoy the Russian traditions and peculiar national colour. Not only the interesting excursions attract people here, but also many festive occasions to celebrate folk, religious and state holidays. The festivals of art are held in Kolomenskoye and special programs reestablish the ancient traditions.
Russian "Sankt Peterburg", formerly "Petrograd" (1914-24), "Leningrad" (1924-91), northwestern Russia, one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. St. Petersburg - the Venice of the North - is a city of haunting magnificence, an imperial capital that seems to have been built as a monument to its own passing.
The second largest city (after Moscow) in Russia. The population is about 5 million people. St.Petersburg has played a vital role in Russian history. Founded as St.Petersburg by Peter the Great in 1703, it was for two centuries the capital of the Russian Empire (1712-1918). It was the scene of the February and October revolutions in 1917 and was a besieged and fiercely defended city during World War II. The modern city is important as a cultural and industrial centre and as one of the nation’s largest seaports.
St. Petersburg is situated on the delta of the Neva River where it flows into the Gulf of Finland, about 160 km from the Finnish border. The city once spread across nearly 100 islands of the delta. The low and originally marshy site has made the city subject to recurrent, often severe flooding. Canals and natural channels assist drainage and make St.Petersburg a city of waterways and bridges.
The climate is of the modified continental type, with marked maritime influences. February temperatures average -8° C, and July’s average +18° C.
Central St.Petersburg is divided by distributaries of the Neva River into four sections: the Admiralty Side, Vasilyevsky Island, the Petrograd Side, and the Vyborg Side. Industrial and residential suburbs spread north and south. The Admiralty Side is particularly rich in museums, monuments, and historical buildings and squares. From the Admiralty, the nucleus of Peter’s original city, the great street known as Nevsky Prospekt goes eastward. The street is lined by palaces, churches, stores, cafes, and theatres.
St.Petersburg displays a remarkable richness of architecture that includes the cathedral of the Peter-Paul Fortress, the Summer Palace, the Winter Palace, the Smolny Convent, the Vorontsov and Strogonov palaces, the Kazan and St.Isaacs Cathedrals, the Smolny Institute, the new Admiralty, and the Senate. Music, ballet, and theatre enjoy a long and continuing tradition in the city.
Hermitage in St.Petersburg, one of the largest museums in the world, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great. The present-day Hermitage has several departments - prehistoric culture, the Antique World, Oriental cultures, history of Russian culture (including the palace interior and the 1812 Gallery), numismatics, West European art, displaying the world-famous works of Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Titian, Giorgione, Velazques, Murillo, Rubens, Van Dyke, Hals, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, and many others, and sculptures by Michelangelo, Rodin, etc.
Velikiy Novgorod is situated on the banks of the picturesque river Volkhov, 190 kilometres to the south of St.Petersburg. The city was founded more than 11 centuries ago. Modern Novgorod is important as a tourist centre. The population is about 234.000. During World War II, the city suffered heavy damage after the Nazi bombings, but the historic buildings were subsequently restored. Among the places to see is the oldest stone building in Russia - St.Sophia Cathedral in the Novgorod Kremlin.
Murmansk (probably from the Sami word "murman" meaning "the edge of the earth"), northwestern Russia, the largest town in the world north of the Arctic Circle, lies 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, and on the eastern shore of Kola Bay, at the ice-free Barents Sea, home to Russia’s nuclear-powered ice-breakers. The population is about 473.000.
The town, founded in 1915 as a supply port in World War I, was a base for the British, French, and American expeditionary forces against the Bolsheviks in 1918. In World War II Murmansk served as the main port for Anglo-American convoys carrying war supplies to the U.S.S.R. through the Arctic Ocean. The town is now an important fishing port, and its fish-processing plant is one of the largest in Europe.
A lot of guests flock in during the Festival of the North, held in the last week of March and featuring reindeer races and a ski marathon.
Northwestern Russia, the town stands at the head of Vyborg Bay of the Gulf of Finland, 113km northwest of St. Petersburg. It’s one of Europe’s oldest cities and has an imposing medieval castle built on a rock in the bay. First settled in the 12th century, Vyborg was built as a fortress in 1293 by the Swedes after they had captured Karelia. In 1710 the fortress was captured by Peter I the Great, and Vyborg thenceforth remained under Russian rule. From 1918 to 1940 the city was part of Finland and held the name Viipuri, but it was ceded back to the Soviet Union in 1940 after the Russo-Finnish War. The city was occupied by Finnish and German forces from 1941 to 1944, after which it was returned to the Soviet Union. The city sustained severe damage during World War II but was subsequently rebuilt. Vyborg is an important fishing port and also has ship-repair yards. The population is about 81.000.
Northeast of Moscow, town in the Vladimir oblast, one of the most celebrated tourist attractions in Russia, famous for its abundance of historic architectural features, including such marvels as the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God (built in the 13th century), the St.Euphymius Cathedral of Our Savior (16th-17th centuries), the Cathedral of the Deposition of the Veil (16th-19th centuries), the Protection Cathedral (15th-18th centuries), and monasteries and churches of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The ancient Russian town of Suzdal is about 1000 years old. Its architectural monuments have been shortlisted by UNESCO as international cultural heritage. Today it is a huge open-air museum.
With the Caucasus mountains as its backdrop, Sochi is a wonderful Russia’s resort at the Black Sea. With its subtropical climate, warm sea and adjoining modern resort complexes, Sochi has long attracted heads of state, foreign tourists and Russians alike. Sochi has dozens of hotels, tourist centres, and campsites and more than 50 sanatoriums. Its streets and gardens are filled with exotic subtropical trees and shrubs. There are picturesque waterfalls, hilltop views, mineral springs and alpine vistas to enjoy.
Old Russian: "Rule the East", seaport and administrative centre of Primorsky kray (region), extreme southeastern Russia. The town was founded in 1860 as a Russian military outpost. During World War I Vladivostok was the chief Pacific entry port for military supplies and railway equipment sent to Russia from the United States. After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Vladivostok was occupied in 1918 by foreign, mostly Japanese, troops, the last of whom were not withdrawn until 1922. The antirevolutionary forces in Vladivostok promptly collapsed, and Soviet power was established in the region.
During the Soviet period Vladivostok remained the home of the Pacific Fleet, which was greatly enlarged in the decades after World War II. Vladivostok’s military importance was such that from 1958 to 1990 it was entirely closed to foreigners.
Vladivostok is the chief educational and cultural centre of the Russian Far East. It is the site of the Far Eastern Scientific Centre, the Far Eastern State University (founded 1920), and medical, art education, polytechnic, trade, and marine-engineering institutes. The city has amateur and professional theatres as well as a philharmonic society and symphony orchestra. There are also museums of local history and of the history of the Pacific Fleet. The population is about 648,000.
The city is surrounded by the Far East Maritime Reserve and the Ussuri Nature Reserve, home to black and brown bears, Siberian boars, Ussuri tigers, the rare Amur leopard and hundreds of local and migratory birds.
Russian: "Transsibirskaya Magistral", the longest rail system in Russia, stretching from Moscow 9.198 km east to Vladivostok or (beyond Vladivostok) 9.446 km to the port station of Nakhodka. It had great importance in the economic, military, and imperial history of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
The Trans-Siberian Railway is the great way to see the massive country. The full rail trip on the passenger train from Moscow to Nakhodka now takes about eight days, passing through endless forests of birch and pine, original settlements and vast steppes. Life on the rails can be really fascinating. The route takes you past Siberia’s Lake Baikal, a waterway as big as Belgium and home to the world’s only freshwater seal, and multicultural Irkutsk. The city of Ulan-Ude is home to the country’s seat of Buddhism. Those who get into the rhythm of the stops and starts, and the passing parade of trees and towns, will find it an experience never to be forgotten.
To experience Russia only from the land, however, is to miss a central feature of its character, for river travel has always stood at the heart of Russian life.
The main artery of the Russian heartland has always been the 3700km-long River Volga (Europe’s longest river), which slowly meanders from Yaroslavl, north of Moscow, all the way down to Volgograd, from where a tributary runs off to the Caspian Sea. The Volga-Don Ship Canal links it with the River Don, bound for the Azov Sea. Cruisers and steamships ply the Volga’s waters, the most interesting section is between Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don. Towns en-route include Kazan, one of the oldest Tatar cities in Russia, which features a limestone Kremlin and mosques; and Lenin’s birthplace, Ulyanovsk, full of memorable sites. Volgograd, previously known as Stalingrad, is best known for the decisive and protracted battle fought here during WW II. After Stalingrad the Soviet forces advanced almost continuously all the way to Berlin. The city has since been built from scratch. There are extremely interesting museums and monuments here. Now Volgograd is a prosperous commercial and industrial centre.