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    Highlights of Moscow

    statue of Marshal Zhukov the second world war commander

    Soviet architecture has a well-deserved reputation for sterility and drabness, and its statuary is dominated by communist functionaries and military types, however that doesn't mean that Moscow is an uninteresting place to visit as a tourist.

    Although nazi armies came within artillery range of Moscow during world war two, the city escaped the catastrophic damage done in central and eastern Europe, or even in Russian and Ukrainian cities like Leningrad and Stalingrad.   This means that communist architects never had the opportunity to remake the face of Moscow in the way that they rebuilt cities in Germany, Poland and other parts of eastern Europe.   They did demolish some architectural treasures in Moscow and certainly set up a large number of statues of Lenin, Stalin and their ilk, however most of the buildings erected during tsarist times survived and can still be seen today.

    Most people have seen images of communist era statues being torn down and thrown together in empty plots of ground, awaiting their turn to be melted down.   However, there are still some statues from this period scattered around the country, including this one of Marshal Zhukov outside the state history museum at the north end of Red Square.   Zhukov somehow managed to survive the bloody purges Stalin ordered against his own military forces before world war two, and became the leader of the Russian forces in a largely unknown war between Russian and Japan in 1939, and was later appointed to defend Moscow in late 1941 as the Germans closed in on the city.   He was also involved in the battles of Leningrad, Stalingrad and Kursk.

    In this photo, Zhukov's horse looks shocked and embarassed that it's accidentally trodden on and broken someone's favourite heirloom.   In fact, it's one of the Nazi eagles that were a common feature of fascist Germany, a reminder that Zhukov captured Berlin and commanded the Soviet occupation force in Germany after the war.

    Resurrection Gate at entrance to Red Square

    The Resurrection Gate is the northern entrance to Red Square, just a few hundred meters from the statue to Zhukov.

    There's a small orthodox chapel that you can see on the right of this photo, people selling tourist knick-knacks, and street performers with eagles and other circus type attractions.   Through the gate you can see the domes of St Basil's cathedral at the opposite end of Red Square.   It's all a great drawcard both for foreign tourists and local families.

    In 1991 Red Square was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, and it really acts as the focal point of Moscow and therefore the whole of Russia.   This is a view of the north end of the square - unlike Times Square in New York, this really is a square (OK, it's actually a bent rectangle, but you know what I mean).   The lack of people in this photo is very uncharacteristic, I'm not quite sure how I managed it or even whether it's a good thing.   From left to right in this photo you can see the domed Senate Building behind the high walls of the kremlin, with the Senate Tower built into the wall directly behind the tomb of Lenin.   The next structure to the right is the St Nicholas Tower, with the Corner Arsenal Tower to its right, marking the far northern corner of the more-or-less triangular kremlin.   Again we have the State History Museum on the right hand side of the photo, with the Resurrection Gate next to it.

    north end of Red Square

    Lenin's body still lies in the tomb where it was placed when he died.   The bodies and ashes of various communist dignitaries and celebrities are interred under and in the Kremlin wall behind the tomb, including Marshal Zhukov, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and Lenin's lover Inessa Armand.   Stalin shared the tomb with Lenin from 1953 to 1961 until the country's leaders summoned up the nerve to disavow his tyranny and kick him out.   Although the communist era is over, the tomb is now part of the country's history and is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

    Lenin's tomb

    Here's the south end of Red Square, taken on a different day with rather more clouds and rather more people.   Again you can see St Basil's cathedral at the far end of the square.   The name "red" square didn't come about as a reference to communism, or even to the large amount of red brickwork around the square, instead it was originally a reference to St Basil's.   The Russian word "krasnaya" can mean either "beautiful" or "red", and it was the term "beautiful" which was originally applied to the cathedral, but then shifted in meaning and location to become Red Square.

    south end of Red Square   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
    north side of St Basil's cathedral   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

    St Basil's cathedral is the iconic building in Russia, and deservedly so.   It's a marvellous piece of architecture with instant appeal to anyone who sees it, whether they know anything about architecture or not.   This style of church is uniquely Russian and a great introduction to this whole school of building.   The lack of symmetry and consistency in the towers and domes is very disarming, but the effect of each individual part and of the whole structure taken together is very pleasing.  There are nine separate chapels, one under each of the onion domes, but the tall central tower unifies the structure into a single whole.

    The cathedral is old, having been built between 1555 and 1561 to commemorate Ivan the Terrible's defeat of the Tatar city of Kazan.   The statue in front of the cathedral dates from 1818 and portrays Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who drove Polish invaders out of Moscow in 1612, 200 years before the French under Napoleon came to grief in this same place.   This statue was originally in the middle of Red Square, but the communist government moved it here in 1936 because it was impeding parades.

    Basil himself, after whom the cathedral is named, was one of those barefoot "holy fools" who periodically turn up in Russia, perhaps the most famous being Rasputin.   Basil correctly predicted Ivan's ultimate downfall, but died while Kazan was still under siege.   Somehow the cathedral ended up named for him, rather than for the victor of the battle which is commemorated by the cathedral!

    Almost all photos of St Basil's show it from the north, but it's equally attractive viewed from any direction, though unfortunately its lower parts were undergoing extensive work while I was there.   Kazan cathedral at the north end of the square and the Resurrection Gate were both demolished to allow military parades to pass through, and they've only been rebuilt in recent times.   It looked as if St Basil's might suffer the same fate, but fortunately there was enough space to allow traffic past it, and Stalin himself is said to have intervened, unwilling to allow such a marvellous piece of architecture to be destroyed.

    south side of St Basil's cathedral   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

    The large GUM department store dominates the eastern side of Red Square.   GUM was once synonymous with fat cat communists who enjoyed a comparative life of luxury above the daily grind of ordinary Russians, but much has changed since that time, and it is now full of very stylish and expensive European boutiques which allow Russia's fat cat oligarch robber barons to enjoy a comparative life of luxury above the daily grind of ordinary Russians.

    GUM department store   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

    The acronym GUM stands for "state universal store", but its tsarist name of "upper trading rows" is perhaps more appropriate, because it doesn't consist of a single undivided building, but rather three rows of shops, each of which is built on three levels.   At the time of the October Revolution there were 1200 separate shops in this building, with more in the "middle trading rows" located across Ilyinka Street, directly to the south.   The far wall in this view is actually a divider, and there's another stretch of stores of equal length on the other side of the wall.   There are also another two rows of stores just like this one, which aren't visible in this photo.

    inside the GUM department store

    The Russian word "kremlin" actually means "fortification", and so there are many kremlins in Russia, but around the world Moscow's kremlin is referred to as "the Kremlin".   Historically the Moscow Kremlin was the seat of both political and religious power in Russia, but that changed in 1712 when Tsar Peter the Great announced that he was moving the capital to St Petersburg.   Moscow didn't regain its primacy until the communists moved the capital back there in 1918, fearing that St Petersburg was too vulnerable to invasion.   This photo is taken from the Bol Kamenny bridge over the Moscow river.   The tall Water Tower marks the south-western corner of the Kremlin, the Great Kremlin Palace is in the center of the photo, and you can see the domes of the Annunciation Cathedral and Archangel Cathedral next to it, along with the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the attached belfry.   From 1600 when Boris Godunov raised its height to 81 meters until the 20th century, the bell tower was the tallest structure in Moscow.

    a boat passing the Kremlin   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

    It's futile to cover the Kremlin in a few photos, so I'm going to set up a separate page devoted to the things that are within its walls.   However, here's one photo showing the inside of the Assumption Cathedral, whose walls and ceiling are completely covered in interesting religious paintings and icons.

    inside of the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin

    The Kremlin is immediately to the west of Red Square, and immediately on the east side is an historic part of town called Kitai Gorod.   It's an ideal part of town to walk around, with various interesting pieces of architecture scattered around, like the Church of the Trinity in Nikitniki, a Russian baroque church built in the 1630s.

    church of the trinity in Nikitniki    (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
    monastery of the epiphany

    The Monastery of the Epiphany is in the same district, its Epiphany Cathedral was also built in Russian baroque style, in the 1690s.

    It seems surprising that the communists allowed so many cathedrals and churches to remain standing.   Apparently Stalin was somewhat superstitious, even ordering a special service in one of the Kremlin cathedrals during the Great Patriotic War in the hope of keeping the encroaching Germans at bay.   His successor Khruschev was apparently more ruthless as far as the church was concerned.

    Both the Epiphany Cathedral and the Church of the Trinity in Nikitniki were undergoing restoration when I visited in August of 2006, and it literally seemed that the same was true for about half of all the historic buildings I saw.   This might be partly a consequence of many decades of neglect and partly a consequence of the severe Moscow climate.

    cathedral of Christ the Saviour

    One church building which didn't survive Stalin was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour built from 1839 to 1883 to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon.   Originally envisioned by Tsar Alexander I, its design was redone and a new location set aside by his brother and successor, Nicholas, before being consecrated on the day Alexander III was crowned.   A year before that, Tchaikovsky's famous "1812 Overture" debuted in the cathedral.

    Stalin decided that he wanted the site for a 315 meter high Palace of the Soviets, with a 100 meter high statue of Lenin outside.   In 1931 Stalin had the cathedral demolished, but the Palace of the Soviets was never built and instead the location was used for the largest swimming pool in the world.

    Come 1995 and Moscow's go-getting mayor Yury Luzhkov started work on a replacement Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, completing it in only two years, but at a cost of US$350 million.   Church building and restoration is certainly a boom industry in Russia, I saw work being done in all the places I visited.   Ordinary Russians seem to have welcomed orthodox beliefs back into their lives, and the orthodox church is once again a major part of Russian national identity.

    hotel Ukrainia, one of Stalin's 'Seven Sisters'

    It's worth doing a boat trip along the Moscow river, but be warned that the concept of a round trip doesn't exist here.   On the mistaken assumption that I could go down the river and back again on the same ticket, I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of money to go just three stops.   The best thing to do is to take the subway to one of the end points, such as Novospassky Most boat landing, and then take the boat to the other end point.

    One building you'll see near Novospassky Most is the Kotelnicheskaya apartment block, one of Stalin's "Seven Sisters", a group of seven skyscrapers built in the 1950s in an odd mixture of styles which were supposed to impress the world with the splendour of Russia's progress and architectural achievements under communist rule.   Instead the Seven Sisters seem more like a monument to the inferiority complex Russia felt towards America's skyscrapers.

    Nowadays Russia has started to find its own voice, and there are some really interesting buildings being put up, like these ones about a kilometer along the river from their ugly sister.   The one on the right is the Moscow International Concert Hall, the ones on the left comprise the Riverside Towers business center.   In 2004 Forbes magazine claimed that there were more billionaires living in Moscow than in other city in the world - a total of 33, compared to 31 in the runner-up, New York.

    Moscow International Concert Hall and River Towers business center   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
    Lenin library

    The Lenin Library is another communist monument, and only a short walk from the main entrance to the Kremlin.   Its squat Soviet Realistic exterior didn't induce me to go inside, but I took a photo anyway since it's right next to the subway station I used whenever I visited Red Square and the Kremlin.

    I'm not too knowledgeable about Russian communists, but even I knew that the statue isn't of Lenin - it turns out that it's the Russian writer Dostoyevsky.

    subway train

    The subway is certainly the best way to get around, and is fairly easy to navigate even if you don't have much in the way of Russian language skills.   It's fairly clean, trains are very frequent and they can take you anywhere you'd want to go in this large city.

    After getting his start in the mines of the Ukraine, the man who became Premier Khruschev was assigned to oversee the construction of the subway system, and by all accounts he did a very good job.

    The stations still carry their original names, this photo was taken in the "Proletariat station" and there are other stations named for the 1905 revolution, the barricades set up during the October revolution and Lubyanka, which is where the notorious and dreaded KGB prison was located.

    It's well worth using the subway to explore parts of Moscow beyond the central area.   There are many large parks and historic estates which can be visited, as well as literary and other cultural sites.   I was only in the country for about 10 days so I had to limit the number of places within Moscow I visited, because I wanted to go outside Moscow to the historic towns of the so-called "Golden Ring", and I had also set aside several days to photograph the 2005 MAKS airshow and to visit the Russian air force museum at Monino.   One place within Moscow I was determined to visit was Novodevichy convent, which you see here.

    Novodevichy convent and lake   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
    Novodevichy convent transfiguration gate church

    The convent was founded in 1524 to commemorate the recapture of the Russian town of Smolensk from the Lithuanians.   As well as being a convent it was also intended as a fortress, which is why it has crenulated towers.   It became a favoured place for noble women to seek a religious life, and was also used more or less as a prison for politically inconvenient women, such as Tsar Peter the Great's first wife, and also for his half-sister.

    It's association with nobility made the convent very wealthy, and it ended up owning a huge area of land, a large number of villages and about 14,500 serfs.   With the church acting in this way it's not too surprising that communism was able to take root in Russia by proclaiming the "dictatorship of the proletariat", nor is it surprising that communism was so hostile towards religion.

    There are quite a few interesting buildings within the grounds of the convent, such as the Transfiguration Gate Church which you see here, built between 1687 and 1689.   The church actually sits above the gate which it's named after.

    Prokhorov chapel at Novodevichy convent

    This unusual squat structure is the Prokhorov chapel.   The bell tower which you can see behind it is widely considered to be the finest in all of Moscow.   It is octagonal and has six tiers, and for a long time it was the second tallest structure in Moscow, after the Ivan the Great bell tower.

    As you can see there are quite a few tombs within the grounds of the convent, including Sofia and Peter the Great's wife.

    The bell tower again, this time with the Smolensk Cathedral which is said to be modelled after the Assumption Cathedral within the Kremlin.

    Smolensk cathedral at Novodevichy convent   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

    Novodevichy convent is also famous for its cemetery, which is the main reason I visited.   Just as the convent was associated with noble women, so the cemetery became the final resting place for nobility, both men and women.   It became the burial place of many elite members of society, both in tsarist times and during the communist era.

    Novodevichy cemetery   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

    I was largely interested in visiting because this is the burial place of Andrei Tupolev, the ingenious and prolific Russian aircraft designer.   I also wanted to see the graves of a couple of the Russian composers whose music I listen to, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.   There are other cultural luminaries here, such as the writers Gogol and Chekov, as well as a fair number of Soviet era military types, including this guy who decided to take his tank with him!

    tank tombstone in Novodevichy cemetery  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
    premier Khruschev's grave  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

    As I mentioned earlier, the premier burial place for Russia's communist elite is the area in and under the Kremlin wall behind Lenin's tomb, but Novodevichy was used for many of the lesser lights, as well as a few who were very prominent but became politically inconvenient at some point.   Chief amongst this latter group of people is Nikita Khruschev, who managed to survive and ascend the political ladder during the bloody and lunatic reign of Stalin, and who then clawed his way to the top during the power struggle that followed Stalin's death.

    The black and white blocks surrounding Khruschev's bust are symbolic of the mixed feelings Russians have towards him, and of the very public good and bad aspects of his personality.   Like all of Stalin's henchmen he participated and even orchestrated purges of people Stalin perceived to be political enemies, so he certainly had a great deal of blood on his hands.   However, he also showed his very real humanity and compassion throughout this entire period, protecting some people he felt deserved it and showing real empathy to people like Stalin's daughter Svetlana who was treated very coldly by her father, and ended up defecting.

    It was also Khruschev who made the decisive break with Stalin by denouncing his actions and policies in the so-called Secret Speech given at the 20th party congress in 1956, three years after Stalin's death.   This might have been a somewhat pre-emptive and forced action on Khruschev's part, but there's no doubting that he sincerely felt that Stalin's actions while in power were wrong, and it took a lot of courage in the dog-eat-dog world of communist politics to stand up and be counted by flatly contradicting the many years of propaganda that had built up Stalin's personality cult by portraying him as the wise and benevolent father of the country.   This campaign had been so successful that even political prisoners imprisoned in the gulags had broken down weeping when they heard the news of Stalin's death, believing that Stalin's corrupt cronies had been responsible for their imprisonment, rather than Stalin himself.

    It was Khruschev who caused the release of many thousands of political prisoners, however in 1964 his own flaws caught up with him.   The Politburo had grown tired of his erratic policies, his uneducated crudeness and embarassing international buffoonery, most notably the occasion on which he pounded on his desk with his shoe in the United Nations general assembly.   It was a measure of the improved political climate under Khruschev that he was allowed to retire quietly to private life, rather than being lined up against a wall and shot as an enemy of the people on trumped-up evidence.







































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