The centre of Mother Russia, politically and financially if not geographically, Moscow lies as far north
and further east than
It has not always been the capital of Russia, that
status has belonged to
for a considerable time, but it is now one of the largest cities
in Europe with around ten million inhabitants, and more billionnaires than
Whereas St Petersburg is known as the most
of the Russian cities, Mosocw feels much more Soviet. However, since
the fall of the Soviet Union, things in Moscow have improved a lot for some people, and got considerably worse
We visited Moscow as part of our
tour in 2004, staying for three nights at the Traveller's Guest
House near Prospekt Mira in the north of the city. The hostel was part of an old Soviet hotel in
a non-descript block on a street of non-descript blocks. As we were there over a weekend that allowed
us to take advantage of a loophole and to not get visa registration for Moscow, as we were already
registered in St Petersburg.
There is no other building that says "Russia" more than St Basil's Cathedral, at the south end of Red
Square. It is a cacophony of domes and colours and I was surprised when I learned that it is more
than 450 years old. It was built by decree of Ivan the Terrible in the mid-16th century, and has nine
seperate churches inside, each with its own dome.
Lenin, one of the great Russian leaders, siezed power in 1917 during the revolution, died in 1924 and
lies within this mausoleum by the Kremlin wall on Red Square. He has been chemically preserved and
lies in a glass case on display to the people. Unfortunately Lenin is closed after lunch, so we missed
out seeing him in the flesh, in much the same way as we were denied a glimpse of
Ho Chi Minh in
Hanoi a couple of years later.
The State Historical Museum on the north end of Red Square, which like the walls of the Kremlin is painted
red. It is the colour of the walls that gives the name to the square, as opposed to the amout
of blood that has been spilled there over the centuries.
GUM or the State Department Store is perhaps Moscow's counterpart to Harrods of
London. It lines the
east side of Red Square, and has a continuous glass roof along the interior, not unlike a similar
The south wall of the Kremlin, facing onto the Moscow River. The Kremlin is a roughly triangular enclosure
housing the official and residential buildings of the Russian government. In the distance you
can see Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
There are a great many churches within the walls of the Kremlin, dating back hundreds of years. They
are all Russian Orthodox, and are topped with gold-plated onion-shaped domes.
The Tsar Cannon, reputedly the world's largest at sixteen feet long, almost forty tonnes and built in
1586 by a commission of Ivan the Terrible's son. It is aimed at some buildings across the courtyard
which are off-limits to tourists. There were no barriers to stop me walking over to those buildings,
but there were certainly guards to shout at me when I tried.
The Tsar Bell is cast from two hundred tonnes of bronze, and sits at the foot of the Ivan the Great
Bell Tower, a relic from the Romanov Dynasty. It has never been rung as shortly after its commissioning
in 1734 it was cracked in a fire, chipping off an 11 tonne chunk.
The Grand Kremlin Palace is where Putin resided during my visit, although I am not sure whether other
Russian presidents in recent times have lived here. Occasionally a black car would sweep in or out
of the courtyard.
The Faberge company of
created the world-famous Faberge eggs, and one of the best known
is seen here. This is the Trans-Siberian Railway egg, featuring a solid gold and platinum model of
the train itself.
We used the Moscow metro for all our journeys across town, it is the world's busiest. Operations must
be very well orchestrated, as there are no more than thirty seconds between trains on the circular
line. It is also one of the world's deepest metro systems, with creaking wooden escalators descending hellward.
Many stations were built hundreds of feet down so that they could double as nuclear shelters.
One of Stalin's more popular legacies on Moscow was his construction of the splendiferous metro stations
around the city centre. Statues, mosaics, chandeliers and stained glass abound in these underground
palaces of urban transport, which are a tourist attraction in themselves. This was our local station,
Prospekt Mira, on the Koltsevaya circle line, which hosts the most splendid examples.
The Ostankino Tower was at the time of my visit the second-tallest freestanding structure in the world,
CN Tower. Built in 1967, it is 540 metres to the top. There was a fire in 2000 in
the large pod towards the summit, damaging it to such an extent that demolition was considered. It
still stands today, but tourists have not been allowed inside since the fire.
Stalin's final architectural legacy on Moscow was his "Seven Sisters", a series of buildings resembling
wedding cakes or hypodermic syringes, depending on your take. This picture of the Hotel
was taken from inside the Kremlin walls. The hotel has since been bought and renovated into a five-star
Moscow State University is the largest of Stalin's "Seven Sisters", built in the early 1950s in the
art-deco style of the 1930s. The architect is the very same who worked on many of the buildings of the
It stands 240 metres tall, and has over six thousand rooms. Seen here is only the central
section, there are four gigantic wings spanning off in each direction out of the shot.