Moscow is the capital and the largest city of Russia, and the largest city in Europe, with its metropolitan area ranking among the largest urban areas in the world. Moscow is the country’s political, economic, religious, financial, educational and transportation centre. It is located on the Moskva River in the Central Federal District, in the European part of Russia. Historically, it was the capital of the former Soviet Union and the Grand Duchy of Moscow, the pre-Imperial Russian state. It is the site of the Moscow Kremlin, which serves as the ceremonial residence of the President of Russia. Moscow is a major economic centre and is home to the largest number of billionaires in the world; in 2007 Moscow was named the world’s most expensive city for the second year in a row. It is home to many scientific and educational institutions, as well as numerous sport facilities. It possesses a complex transport system that includes the world’s busiest metro system, which is famous for its architecture and artwork.
Climate & Geography:
Moscow has a hemiboreal climate with warm, somewhat humid summers and long, cold winters. Typical high temperatures in the warm months of June, July and August are around 22 °C (72 °F); in the winter, temperatures normally drop to approximately -12 °C (10 °F). The highest temperature ever recorded was 36.7 °C (98.1 °F), and the lowest ever recorded was -42.2 °C in January 1940. Monthly rainfall totals vary minimally throughout the year, although the precipitation levels tend to be higher during the summer than during the winter. Due to the significant variation in temperature between the winter and summer months as well as the limited fluctuation in precipitation levels during the summer, Moscow is considered to be within a continental climate zone.
Moscow is situated on the banks of the Moskva River, which flows for just over 500 km through the East European Plain in central Russia. There are 49 bridges across the Moskva River and its canals within city limits. Moscow’s road system is centered roughly around the heart of the city, the Moscow Kremlin. From there, the roads in general radiate out to intersect with a sequence of circular roads or “rings” focused at the Kremlin. The first and innermost major ring, Bulvarnoye Koltso (Boulevard Ring), was built at the former location of the sixteenth century city wall around that used to be called Bely Gorod (White Town). The Bulvarnoye Koltso is technically not a ring; it does not form a complete circle, but instead a horseshoe-like arc that goes from the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to the Yauza River. In addition, the Boulevard Ring changes street names numerous times throughout its journey across the city. The second primary ring, located outside the Boulevard Ring, is the Sadovoye Koltso (Garden Ring). Like the Boulevard Ring, the Garden Ring follows the path of a sixteenth century wall that used to encompass part of the city. The third ring, the Third Transport Ring, was completed in 2003 as a high-speed freeway. The Fourth Transport Ring, another freeway, is under construction to further reduce traffic congestion. The outermost ring within Moscow is the Moscow Automobile Ring Road (often called the MKAD from the Russian Московская Кольцевая Автомобильная Дорога), which forms the approximate boundary of the city. Outside the city, some of the roads encompassing the city continue to follow this circular pattern seen inside city limits.
Moscow’s architecture is world-renowned. Moscow is also well known as the site of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, with its elegant onion domes, as well as the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the Seven Sisters. The Patriarch of Moscow, whose residence is the Danilov Monastery, serves as the head of the Orthodox Church. Moscow also hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics. For a long time, the view of the city was dominated by numerous Orthodox churches. The look of the city changed drastically during Soviet times, mostly due to Joseph Stalin, who oversaw a large-scale effort to modernise the city. He introduced broad avenues and roadways, some of them over ten lanes wide, but he also destroyed a great number of historically significant architectural works. The Sukharev Tower, as well as numerous mansions and stores lining the major streets, and various works of religious architecture, such as the Kazan Cathedral and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, were all destroyed during Stalin’s rule. During the 1990s, however, both the latter were rebuilt.
Architect Vladimir Shukhov was responsible for building several of Moscow’s landmarks during early Soviet Russia. The Shukhov Tower, just one of many hyperboloid towers designed by Shukhov, was built between 1919 and 1922 as a transmission tower for a Russian broadcasting company. Shukhov also left a lasting legacy to the Constructivist architecture of early Soviet Russia. He designed spacious elongated shop galleries, most notably the Upper Trade Rows (GUM) on Red Square, bridged with innovative metal-and-glass vaults.
Stalin, however, is also credited with building the The Seven Sisters, comprising seven, cathedral-like structures. A defining feature of Moscow’s skyline, their imposing form was allegedly inspired by the Manhattan Municipal Building in New York City, and their style — with intricate exteriors and a large central spire — has been described as Stalinist Gothic architecture. All seven towers can be seen from most elevations in the city; they are among the tallest constructions in central Moscow apart from the Ostankino Tower which, when it was completed in 1967, was the tallest free-standing land structure in the world and today remains the world’s second-tallest after the CN Tower in Toronto. The Soviet policy of providing mandatory housing for every citizen and his or her family, and the rapid growth of the Muscovite population in Soviet times, also led to the construction of large, monotonous housing blocks, which can often be differentiated by age, sturdiness of construction, or ‘style’ according to the neighbourhood and the materials used. Most of these date from the post-Stalin era and the styles are often named after the leader then in power — Brezhnev, Khrushchev, etc — and they are usually ill-maintained.
The Stalinist-era constructions, usually in the central city, are massive and usually ornamented with Socialist realism motifs that imitate classical themes. However, small churches — almost always Eastern Orthodox – that provide glimpses of the city’s past still dot various parts of the city. The Old Arbat, a popular tourist street that was once the heart of a bohemian area, preserves most of its buildings from prior to the twentieth century. Many buildings found off the main streets of the inner city (behind the Stalinist facades of Tverskaya Street, for example) are also examples of the bourgeois decadence in Tsarist times. Ostankino, Kuskovo, Uzkoye and other large estates just outside Moscow originally belong to nobles from the Tsarist era, and some convents and monasteries, both inside and outside the city, are open to Muscovites and tourists. Attempts are being made to restore many of the city’s best-kept examples of pre-Soviet architecture. These revamped structures are easily spotted by their bright new colours and spotless facades. There are a few examples of notable, early Soviet avant-garde work too, such as the house of the architect Konstantin Melnikov in the Arbat area. Later examples of interesting Soviet architecture are usually marked by their impressive size and the semi-Modernist styles employed, such as with the Novy Arbat project, familiarly known as “false teeth of Moscow” and notorious for the wide-scale disruption of a historic area in the Moscow downtown involved in the project.
As in London, but on a broader scale, plaques on house exteriors will inform passers-by that a well-known personality once lived there. Frequently, the plaques are dedicated to Soviet celebrities not well-known outside of Russia. There are also many ‘house-museums’ of famous Russian writers, composers, and artists in the city.
Moscow’s skyline is quickly modernizing with several new towers under construction. One tower will be the second tallest in the world when it is completed in 2010, the 2,009-foot (612 m) tall Russia Tower.
Moscow’s world-famous museums and galleries with their collections, are some of the largest and most important in the world. Frequent art exhibitions thrive on both the new and the classic, as they once did in pre-Revolutionary times, and are derived from diverse branches of the arts – painting, photography, and sculpture.
One of the most notable art museums in Moscow is the Tretyakov Gallery, which was founded by Pavel Tretyakov, a wealthy patron of the arts who donated a large private collection to the city. The Tretyakov Gallery is split into two buildings. The Old Tretyakov gallery, the original gallery in the Tretyakovskaya area on the south bank of the Moskva River, houses the works of the classic Russian tradition. The works of famous pre-Revolutionary painters, such as Ilya Repin, as well as the works of early Russian icon painters can be found in the Old Tretyakov Gallery. Visitors can even see rare originals by early-fifteenth century iconographer Andrei Rublev. The New Tretyakov gallery, created in Soviet times, mainly contains the works of Soviet artists, as well as of a few contemporary artists, but there is some overlap with the Old Tretyakov Gallery for early twentieth century art. The new gallery includes a small reconstruction of Vladimir Tatlin’s famous Monument to the Third International and a mixture of other avant-garde works by artists like Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky. Socialist realism features can also be found within the halls of the New Tretyakov Gallery.
Another art museum in the city of Moscow is the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, which was founded by, among others, Marina Tsvetaeva’s father. The Pushkin Museum is similar to the British Museum in London in that its halls are a cross-section of world civilisations, with many plaster casts of ancient sculptures. However, it also hosts famous paintings from every major Western era of art; works by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso are all sampled there.
The State Historical Museum of Russia (Государственный Исторический музей) is a museum of Russian history wedged between Red Square and Manege Square in Moscow. Its exhibitions range from relics of the prehistoric tribes inhabiting present-day Russia, through priceless artworks acquired by members of the Romanov dynasty. The total number of objects in the museum’s collection numbers in the millions. The Polytechnical Museum, founded in 1872 is the largest technical museum in Russia, offering a wide array of historical inventions and technological achievements, including humanoid automata of the 18th century and the first Soviet computers. Its collection contains more than 160,000 items. The Borodino Panorama museum located on Kutuzov Avenue provides an opportunity for visitors to experience being on a battlefield with a 360° diorama. It is a part of the large historical memorial commemorating the victory in the Patriotic War of 1812 over Napoleon’s army, that includes also the Triumphal arch erected in 1827. There is also a military history museum not to be missed, it includes statues, military hardware, along with powerful tales of that time.
Moscow is also the heart of Russian performing arts, including ballet and film. There are ninety-three theatres, 132 cinemas and twenty-four concert-halls in Moscow. Among Moscow’s many theatres and ballet studios is the Bolshoi Theatre and the Malyi Theatre as well as Vakhtangov Theatre and Moscow Art Theatre. The repertories in a typical Moscow season are exhaustive and modern interpretations of classic works, whether operatic or theatrical, are quite common. State Central Concert Hall Rossia, famous for ballet and estrade performances, is the place of frequent concerts of pop-stars such as Alla Pugacheva and is situated in the soon to be demolished building of Hotel Rossiya, the largest hotel in Europe.
Moscow International Performance Arts Centre, opened in 2003, also known as Moscow International House of Music, is known for its performances in classical music. It also has the largest organ in Russia installed in Svetlanov hall.
There are also two large circuses in Moscow: Moscow State Circus and Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard named after Yuri Nikulin.
Soviet films are integral to film history and the Mosfilm studio was at the heart of many Soviet classic films as it is responsible for both artistic and mainstream productions. However, despite the continued presence and reputation of internationally-renowned Russian filmmakers, the once prolific native studios are much quieter. Rare and historical films may be seen in Salut cinema where films from the Museum of Cinema collection are shown regularly.
There are 96 parks and 18 gardens in Moscow, Including 4 botanical gardens. There are also 450 square kilometers (174 sq mi) of green zones besides 100 square kilometers (39 sq mi) of forests. Moscow is a very green city if compared to other cities of comparable size in Western Europe and America. There are average 27 square meters (290 sq ft) of parks per person in Moscow compared with 6 for Paris, 7.5 in London and 8.6 in New York.
The Central Park of Culture and Rest named after Maxim Gorky founded in 1928. The main part with area of 689,000 square metres (170 acres) along the Moskva river contains estrades, children attractions, including the Observation Wheel water ponds with boats and water bicycles, dancing, tennis courts and other sport facilities. It borders the Neskuchniy Garden with area of 408,000 square metres (101 acres) — the oldest park in Moscow, and a former Emperor’s residence, created as a result of integration of three estates of XVIII century, which contains also the Green Theatre, one of the largest open amphitheatres in Europe, able to contain up to 15 thousand people.
Izmaylovskiy Park created in 1931 is one of the largest urban parks in the world along with Richmond Park in London. Its area of 15.34 square kilometers (5.92 sq mi) is 6 times greater than that of Central Park in New York.
Sokolniki Park, which got its name from the falcon hunting that occurred here in the past, is one of the oldest in Moscow and has an area of 6 square kilometers (2 sq mi). From a central circle with a large fountain radiate birch, maple and elm tree alleys. Farther, after the Deer ponds, there is a labyrinth, composed of green paths.
Losiny Ostrov National Park (literally — “Elk Island”), bordering the Sokolniki park, with total area of more than 116 square kilometers (45 sq mi) is the first national park of Russia, located in Moscow and Moscow Oblast. It is also known as the “city taiga”, where elk can be seen.
Tsytsin Main Botanical Garden of Academy of Sciences, founded in 1945 is the largest in Europe. It covers territory of 3.61 square kilometers (1.39 sq mi) bordering the All-Russian Exhibition Centre and contains a live exhibition of more than 20 thousand of different species of plants from different parts of the world as well as scientific research laboratory. It also contains a rosarium with 20 thousand rose bushes, a dendrarium, and an oak forest with average age of trees exceeding 100 years as well as a greenhouse on more than 5000 square meters.
Lilac Park, founded in 1958, is known for its permanent sculpture exposition and a large rosarium.
Moscow has always been a popular destination for tourists. Some of the better known attractions include the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Moscow Kremlin and Red Square, which was built between the 14th and 17th centuries. Kolomenskoye is another popular attraction with its UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church of the Ascension, which dates from 1532.
Other popular attractions include the Moscow Zoo, home to nearly a thousands species and more than 6,500 specimens. Each year, the zoo attracts more than 1.2 million visitors. The long days will also afford one more time to cover the immense wealth of historical, cultural or simply popular sites in Moscow.
There is a vibrant night life in Moscow. The major and one of the most popular nightlife areas is around Tverskaya Street. The southern part of Tverskaya Street near the Manege Square and the Red Square area is known as an area with many expensive, luxurious bars and restaurants, and is considered being a playground for New Russians and celebrities. Tverskaya Street is also one of the busiest shopping streets in Moscow. The adjoining Tretyakovsky Proyezd, also south of Tverskaya Street, in Kitai-gorod, is host to upscale boutique stores such as Bulgari, Tiffany & Co., Armani, Prada and Bentley.