Moscow is one of the biggest cities in European Russia. It has a storied past that dates back to several centuries. It has experienced revolutions, toppling of monarchs, wars and internal upheavals. The eclectic mix of old and new makes the city a prime tourist destination in Eastern Europe. I was eager to soak in the culture and history of this vibrant city.
Exploring the Urban Jungle
If it’s your first time in Moscow, your first stop is likely Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The church is one of the most striking structures in Russia. Its colorful domes typify the usual Russian Orthodox Church. Its flame-like appearance comes out during blue hour until sunset when the sun’s last rays shine on it. It has a history that dates back to the 1550s and is a famous landmark for both locals and tourists.
The Red Square is a hangout destination for foreigners and Russians. Here, you’ll find the city’s beautiful buildings and historic destinations such as the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, GUM Department Store, the State Historical Museum, and other churches and museums. The site is popular for taking pictures, dining at the nearby restaurants, shopping or just soaking in Russia’s culture and history. The area has seen several proclamations, parades, coronations and ceremonies throughout the centuries.
The Kremlin used to be the residence of Russia’s tsars, but is now the official residence of the country’s president. Some sections are open to tourists such as Cathedral Square where some members of the royal family are buried. The Armoury Chamber is another section you can visit and see various weapons, artifacts and treasures. The GUM Department Store is a beautiful building that the state used to own. The revolutionaries opened it to consumers regardless of their class. Fast forward to today, it is still a department store but is now privately owned.
The royal family of previous centuries had palaces and monuments that outlived them. One such place is the Tsaritsyno Palace. This beautiful complex belonged to Tsaritsa Irina in the 16th century. Catherine the Great purchased it in 1775. The late empress Catherine had it torn down with new plans and designs for a new structure. Reconstruction stopped after her death and was only continued after 200 years. The estate is now a museum with a huge park that tourists can explore.
Russia is home to many fetching churches such as the Church of the Ascension, Kolomonskoye. The white stone church has a history dating back to the 1530s. Not far is the reconstructed Wooden Palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. The original structure dates back to 1667. It had more than 200 rooms with elaborate carvings. The complex had a section for male and female family members of the Tsar. The government had the palace reconstructed in the 1990s by following archaeological research and historical evidence.
Tourists who want to tick off a UNESCO site on their list can add the Novodevichy Convent to their itinerary. From the outside, the complex looks like a fortress, but once inside, you’ll see beautiful centuries old churches. Vasili III established the convent in 1524 after conquering Smolensk.
Day trip to Sergiyev Posad
I had a day to spare and decided to visit the nearby town of Sergiyev Posad. It was accessible by train and took more or less an hour to reach. The main reason I wanted to visit was to see the Trinity Lavra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lavra is one of the most important monasteries in Russia and is recognized as the Russian Orthodox Church’s spiritual center. Sergius of Radonezh established the monastery in 1337. He later became a patron saint in 1422. When the Soviets took control of the government, they had the lavra closed. It reopened at various times throughout the 20th century. Today, it is a prime tourist destination attracting devotees and casual visitors.
Moscow is at the confluence of the old and the new. Its streets have seen revolutions, changing of regimes, defeats and victories. Its iconic structures such as the Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin have withstood the test of time. Remnants of the Soviet Union remain, as exemplified by the Stalinist architecture of buildings found in different parts of the city. I managed to scratch only the surface during my visit. There’s still a lot to see and experience.
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