As a unique city full of striking architecture, a tour of historical hotspots is almost unavoidable in Moscow for first time visitors. Whether you are a lover of history or not, it is hard not to launch yourself into its fascinating story when visiting this city. The great first stop for most people would be the State Historical-Cultural Museum-Preserve, more commonly known as The Moscow Kremlin. Historically Moscow was the centre of Russian political power, but the city still holds political significance today. The Kremlin is situated in the city’s centre, and as you enter the area, you are struck by the impressive buildings and their imposing nature. It is no surprise that the Kremlin is one of the world’s most famous examples of large-scale architecture.
A highlight of the Moscow Kremlin is most definitely the Armoury Chamber, where one can view a collection of over four thousand items. Take a look at the impressive carriage and a set of ceremonial arms, weapons, tsar’s vestments and traditional dress. In addition to this, there is an exhibition of one of the largest collections of Russian-crafted gold and silverware. Beyond the Armoury Chamber, you’ll find a number of fantastic cathedral museums, including the Annunciation Chamber, the Ivan the Great Bell-Tower complex, Assumption Cathedral and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Virgin.
Of particular historical importance is the Cathedral of the Archangel, the site of burial for tsars and grand princes for a significant period of Russian history. Within the cathedral there are a large number of burials and grand white tombstones. One tomb to look out for is that of Ivan the Terrible’s son, Tsarevich Demetrius, from the early 1600s.
Nearby, you will see the Red Square, which has been the scene of much political and historical activity in Russia. The Square was originally built to replace the flammable wooden structures around the Kremlin and has played a key role through the different stages of history. In the early 1500s the Lobne Mesto, known as ‘the place of execution’, was erected in the Square, and as well as deaths, the Square saw government announcements and solemn ceremonies. Much later in Russian history, Lenin’s burial site, the Mausoleum, was built here in 1924. The Square hosted the grand scale Soviet parades and demonstrations during the period when communism prevailed in the Soviet Union.
It is on the Red Square that you can see the magnificent and world-famous Saint Basil Cathedral (which we once featured as a must-see on this blog and it is certainly one of the most impressive cathedrals to see on the “trail of the onion”). The Cathedral is famous for being one of Moscow’s largest architectural constructions, consisting of nine chapels that are symmetrically arranged. Each chapel holds the name of a saint, and is topped with a different brightly coloured and grandiose cupola with varying use of windows incorporated in their design. Although disputed by some historians, some have claimed that Ivan the Terrible feared the creation of something more stunning and so had the architects blinded.
Located between Red Square and Manege Square is the State Historical Museum, a must-see for any lover of history. The building was opened to celebrate the coronation of Alexander III in the late 19th century. This architectural masterpiece was the result of 20 years of construction and its design is evidence of what was known as Russian Revivalism. The museum contains a huge number of items including many related to archaeology, art work from the Romanov dynasty, Peter the Great’s silver death mask, and court costumes.
Another key museum worth exploring is the Museum of Moscow History, established in the late 19th century by the Russian scientific community. Containing over a million items, the museum explores Moscow’s journey and development from ancient times, explained through a large collection of maps, items of everyday life, reconstructions of district areas and buildings, bronze and stone objects, photos and jewellery to name a few. The day-to-day life of an ordinary inhabitant in Moscow’s past is revealed, including the momentous events that they would have lived through.