Moscow is the capital city of Russia, the world’s largest country. It is the country’s main political, economic, financial, educational, and transportation center. The city lies in the central federal district, in the European part of Russia. The city's population is 8.3 million, which constitutes around 7% of the country’s entire population.
The city of Moscow is situated on the Moskva River which flows through the southern and western parts of the city. The majority of city’s sights are located on the northern bank of the river. The very heart of the city is undoubtedly the Red Square and the Kremlin. Its architecture and cultural scene are world-renowned. The Kremlin is the center of the city and indeed the entire country. The Red Square is world-renowned, as it is the site of the magnificent colorful St. Basil’s Cathedral, the city’s most recognizable icon, as well as the State Armory featuring breathtaking Tsarist treasures. The Danilov Monastery, the residence of the patriarch of Moscow, serves as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Moscow is also home to numerous educational and scientific institutions, as well as numerous sports facilities.
Moscow is a city of contrasts. On the one hand the it boasts beautiful cathedrals, monasteries and palaces, and on the other it is dotted with ugly concrete structures and high-rise apartment blocks dating from the Soviet era. Also the extremes of wealth and poverty are evident everywhere. The city not only attracts wealthy businessmen but also the poor from around the country. Currently, the city is working hard to shed its Socialist image.
The city is also one of the major economic centers, and is also one of the most expensive cities on earth and home to numerous billionaires.
Moscow has a harsh climate with extremely cold long winters and hot summers. Spring and autumn periods are brief. Winter temperatures are usually around -12°C, sometimes rising to 0°C. The lowest recorded temperature is -42°C. Winter days are very short with only around six hours of daylight in mid winter. Snowfall occurs early, often as early as October and usually lasts until March. Summer temperatures in the warmest months of July and August reach around 22°C although the highest ever recorded temperature is +36.7°. Summers are pleasantly warm and can be humid. Precipitation levels vary little throughout the year, but are highest in the summer. The warmest month is in general July, the coldest is January. Most rainfall usually occurs in July.
January average temperature -9.5 deg Celsius, 26 mm rainfall February average temperature -8 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall March average temperature -3 deg Celsius, 26 mm rainfall April average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 27 mm rainfall May average temperature 12 deg Celsius, 50 mm rainfall June average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 73 mm rainfall July average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 77 mm rainfall August average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 74 mm rainfall September average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 53 mm rainfall October average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall November average temperature -1 deg Celsius, 48 mm rainfall December average temperature -6 deg Celsius, 48 mm rainfall
Moscow is the main air traffic hub of Russia. It is served by four airports: Sheremetyevo International Airport, Domodedovo International Airport, Vnukovo International Airport, and Bykovo Airport.
Sheremetyevo II, located to the north of the city, handles most international flights. Sheremetyevo I 30 km northwest of the city center is actually Terminal I of the Sheremetyevo II airport, and handles domestic air travel as well as flights to several former Baltic republics. It is located quite a distance from the Sheremetyevo II so it is considered a separate airport.
Domodedovo, 48 km southeast of Moscow, is one of the largest airports in the world. It handles carriers like British Airways, Swiss and Transaero, as well as flights to Central Asia.
Vnukovo 29 km southwest of Moscow handles flights to Georgia, Ukraine and the southern republics.
Bykovo is the smallest airport handling primarily internal flights and a few flights to Ukraine.
Municipal Buses service all airports.
There are also the minibuses ‘mashrutka’ operated from outside the airport to the Rechnoy Vokzal metro station. The metro links passengers to the city center.
Taxis are available at airports but be cautious. It is advisable to opt for private firms, which are known to be less risky. It is a smart thing not to leave the cab first thing when you reach your destination but rather wait for the driver to get out. The driver could easily drive away with all your belongings.
Domodedovo and Vnikovo airports also have train links to the city.
Metro is efficient and cheap. Tickets can only be bought at manned booths at the stations. The metro is famous for its magnificent architecture. No day tickets are available, but you can buy a multi-trip card for 10 or 20 trips. The metro operates from 5:00 am – 1:00 am. Web: engl.mosmetro.ru/
Hailing a cab on the street is easy: Just hold out your arm and within minutes a cab or an ordinary car will stop. The cabs are very rarely metered, so negotiate and agree upon a price beforehand. Also, if you find the driver suspicious do not get in the car. There are also several official taxi services but these tend to be extremely expensive.
OTHE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
In addition to the metro, Moscow has a wide network of tram, bus and trolley-bus lines.
These, however, are more difficult to use, unless there is a conductor.
Traditional Russian sauna is not for the faint-hearted. The expert sauna-goers whip themselves with birch branches, plunge in icy water and boil in steamy hot sauna. The Finnish variant will seem like a walk in the park.
The oldest and the most spectacular is the Sandunovskiye Baths (Neglinnaya Street 14; www.sanduny.ru ) but there are many others to be found throughout the city.
CULTURAL NIGHT OUT IN BOLSHOI THEATER
Bolshoi Theater is Russia’s chief ballet and opera house and is famous for world class performances. Its 18 th century interior is magically beautiful, richly decorated with velvet, gold and massive chandeliers and ensures a classy cultured evening out.
PICNIC IN AN ARCIHTECTURAL WONDERLAND
Kolomenskoye is a former royal estate located several miles southeast of Moscow downtown. The area provides beautiful landscapes, and overlooks the steep banks of Moskva River. Kolomenskoye boasts breathtaking architecture. The 16 th century Church of the Ascesion and the wooden house of Peter the Great are surrounded by groves, lawns, hilly paths and orchards. This is a nice day trip from Moscow and perfect spot for a picnic.
SIPPING BEER IN THE FAMOUS PATRIARCH’S PONDS PARK
Patriarch’s Ponds is a distinguished neighborhood, and a popular spot where Muscovites come to relax, sip beer or other beverages and watch the world go by. The park is made famous in the well known Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, Master and Margarita. The park features a large pond which becomes a skating rink during the winter.
Address: Krasnaya Ploschad 4/ the Red Square Phone: (095) 298 5880 Open: daily: 11:00 am - 5:00 pm; Monday closed. Access: Metro (Kitai Gorod)
St Basil’s Cathedral, with its characteristic colorful onion-shaped domes, epitomizes the ultimate Russian symbol. The church was built between 1555 and 1561 to celebrate Ivan the Terrible’s conquest of Kazan, the Tartar stronghold. The church is based purely on Russian design developed in previous wooden churches. It consists of nine main chapels: the central ten-roofed chapel is surrounded by four octagonal chapels and four smaller ones
Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible was so astonished by the beauty of the church, he had the architect blinded, so that he would not be able to create anything else as beautiful. During the Soviet regime the church was closed and turned into a museum. The building itself escaped destruction many times.
Address: the Red Square Web: www.kreml.ru Phone: (095) 202 3776 Open: daily: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; Thursday closed. Access: Metro (Borovitskaya; Biblioteka imeni Lenina; Aleksandrovsky Sad)
The Kremlin is located in the heart of Moscow, atop the Borovitsky Hill above the Moskva River. It is surrounded by a thick red wall adorned with 20 towers. The complex features golden-domed cathedrals, ancient palaces, museums, residences, offices, halls and monuments.
Several beautiful churches are located within Kremlin. The beautifully painted Annunciation Cathedral was intended for the private use of royalty, and the Cathedral of the Assumption, featuring the throne of Ivan the Terrible, was used for the coronation of the Tsars. The belfry of Ivan the Great is also a notable city landmark and the tallest structure within the Kremlin complex. At its foot lies the world’s largest bell which cracked when it fell from the belfry in 1701.
The Kremlin complex also features the State Armory, Kremlin’s oldest and richest museum. It is home to a staggering collection of royal treasures and priceless artifacts. The vast collection features everything from the crown jewels and Tsarist uniforms, to historic arms and royal carriages.
The Kremlin has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It has been the stronghold of Russian political power ever since the Tsarist rule. From 1918 it was the seat of the Communist government, and since 1991 it has been the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.
Address: Lavrushensky Pereulok 10/12; Krymsky Val 10 (20th century art) Web: http://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/english/ Phone: (095) 951 1362 Open: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 7:30 pm Access: Metro (Tretyakovskaya, Novokuznetskaya); & Metro (Park Kultury, Oktyabrskaya) for the Krymsky Val
The gallery’s collection consists entirely of Russian art and is composed of over 130,000 paintings, sculptures, and graphics dating from 18 th to the 20 th century. The highlight is a collection of Russian icons dating from the 11 th to the 17th centuries.
The gallery is named after Pavel Tretyakov, who donated about 2,000 art works that constitute the basis of this marvelous art collection. He also donated his house which served as the original gallery. As state acquisitions were added, the gallery is now located at two different sites. The new house at Krymsky Val features 20 th century art.
Dating from 1824, The Bolshoi is Moscow’s oldest and most famous theatre. The opera and ballet companies in residence are world-renowned. The building itself is a neoclassicist masterpiece. The entrance is adorned with eight pillars topped with the statue of god Apollo on a horse-drawn chariot. The interior is richly decorated with red velvet, gold and magnificent chandeliers. Its Auditorium is the largest in the world. The theatre has held many world-renowned performances throughout its history.
Address: the Red Square Phone: 495 923 5527 Open: daily: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm; Monday and Friday closed.
Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, is immortalized in this granite tomb featuring his embalmed body. He died in 1924 and was embalmed 6 months later. The crystal casket contains his body has become one of the world’s most famous mummies. The initially wooden mausoleum was replaced by a granite and marble tomb constructed in 1930. In 1973, sculptor Nikolai Tomsky designed a new sarcophagus. Over 73 million people visited Lenin's Tomb between 1924 and 1972.
Russia has a long and cold winter so the majority of food is quite heavy. Fresh fruit and vegetables are rarely used. The bulk of Russian cuisine is based on fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries and honey. Russia produces a lot of wheat so it is no wonder that there is such a diversity of bread, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer and vodka. Tasty soups, stews composed of seasonal produce, meat or fish are also popular.
Hot and strong Russian black tea from the samovar is a delight not to be missed. The tea is usually accompanied by soft jam-filled bliny (a kind of Russian pancake), pirozky (pie) filled with meat or fruit; or caviar on toast.
Moscow offers a wide range of eateries and restaurants of all prices and kinds. The best budget meals are found in cafés, and in Georgian restaurants. More expensive restaurants have to be selected more cautiously. There are several venues around serving preposterously expensive but mediocre food aiming primarily at nouveau riche Russians and unaware tourists.
Date: 25 December – 5 January Location: Izmailovo Park
The period between Christmas and New Year is celebrated in Russia with a festival displaying Russian customs, festivities, food and drink. There is traditional music, dance, sleigh games and cultural performances.
Date: May (annual) Location: Victory Park
This annual holiday celebrates Russian victories at Stalingrad and Berlin. It is not so much a festivity as a time to reflect. The dead are commemorated at Victory Park / Park Pobedy. WW II ended on May 8, 1945 and the Russians celebrate the first day of peace annually on May 9. On this day huge crowds gather at the park bearing bouquets of flowers. There is crying amongst the singing and dancing, accordions are played, and at night, the city is illuminated by fireworks.
The festival, first held in 1959, has become one of the major competitive film events on the agenda. International juries award several prizes each year. There are three prizes: the golden St. George for best film, the silver St. George for best director/actor/actress, and a special jury prize.
Date: January 1
The Russian say goodbye to the old year with vodka and greet the New Year with champagne. Presents to each other are tucked under the fir trees.
Night life in Moscow offers a wide range of possibilities, from high-class culture such as a ballet performance in the Bolshoi Teater or a concert in the Kremlin, to a wild evening in one of Moscow’s many night clubs.
The Bolshoi Teater hosts both the Bolshoi Opera and the Bolshoi Ballet. The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the world’s most prominent ballet companies and definitely worth seeing. The Opera and Ballet season runs from September 1 to June 30.
Even though the Bolshoi is the main place to see Opera and Ballet, there are several other operas staged in the city, for example at the Kremlin Palace of Vongress, or the Stanilavsky & Nemirovitch-Danchenko Musical Theatre.
The Tchaikovsky Concert Hall is the main venue of the famous State Symphony Orchestra.
The Moscow State Conservatory, the main Russian music school, also holds concerts and offers good value tickets.
The performances of the Old (Nikulin) Circus focus primarily on acrobats, whereas the New Circus gives more prominence to clowns.
NIGHT CLUBS AND LIVE MUSIC
Moscow comes alive in bars, pubs and clubs which start filling soon after dark. These all vary considerably in price, from extravagantly expensive to downright cheap.
The scene changes quickly so ask someone at the hotel desk for the new and most popular clubs. Note that some nightclubs have a dress code.
The area of Moscow was settled already in the Stone Age. Towards the end of the first millennium AD, the Moscow area was inhabited by the Slavic tribes.
The Kremlin area was settled in the 11 th century. The founding date of Moscow is considered 1147 when Yury Dolgoruky, Prince of Suzdal, held a feast there.
In the first half of the 13 th century the Mongolians came and overpowered the already fading Kievan civilization. They dominated the area until the end of the 15 th century when Ivan the Great came to power. Moscow became quite a prominent settlement mostly due to its position on the river at the major trade routes and because it was the seat of Orthodox Church. Under Ivan III (also known as Ivan the Great) Moscow freed itself from Mongol domination. Ivan III brought Italian architects to the city to improve and beutify the Kremlin, which became the center of a flourishing city. By the end of his reign Moscow controlled a large area stretching from Novgorod in the west to Tula in the south and from Urals in the east to the Barents Sea in the north.
Ivan IV (The Terrible) further expanded the territory by conquering Siberia and the Volga region. In 1571 Moscow already had 200,000 inhabitants and was at the time one of the world’s biggest cities. After his death the country faced a period of unrest, also termed the Times of Trouble, during which time Moscow suffered an invasion from Poland.
The Poles were driven out by Cossack soldiers and Mikihail Romanov was elected tsar. This was the beginning of the Romanov dynasty which lasted until the revolution in 1917. During this time Moscow expanded to the south.
Peter the Great (1672 – 1725) carried out a policy of "Westernization" and expansion that transformed the Tsardom of Russia into the Russian Empire and a major European power. He moved the capital to St. Petersburg on the Baltic, so as to open up Russia to Western influences and to strengthen a military victory over Sweden. He forced the nobility to move to St. Petersburg. The capital was from then on St. Petersburg and remained so until 1917.
Moscow nevertheless retained some of its old importance, as it was the primary target of Napoleon when he marched on Russia in 1812. The bloody battle of Borodino was lost and Russians fled the city. Napoleon installed himself in the Kremlin but was torched out of the city. The French were chased away but Moscow was in a bad state. Much of the city was destroyed but soon a fervent reconstruction began and the population expanded. Much of the modern central Moscow dates from this period.
During the 19 th century discontent with the Tsarist rule grew increasingly strong. Serfdom was abolished in 1861 but the Imperial regime remained strict. The end of the 19 th century saw increasing resentment of the aristocracy and underground revolutionary movements began to flourish.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
WW I brought much devastation and the Romanov rule soon ended. The last tsar of Russia, Nicolas II, abdicated. Not long afterwards, in October 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution introduced Communism which was to dominate the political scene for 70 years. In 1918 the government was returned to Moscow after two centuries, for fear that the Germans might attack St. Petersburg due to its vulnerable position by the sea. Moscow became the seat of Stalin and the center of vast political changes. An era of industrialization and a time of horror started. Numerous people were tortured, killed or exiled to labor camps. This era of terror also saw great construction and development. The first line of the metro was open in 1935.
WW II began on June 22 1941 when Hitler broke the pact of nonaggression previously signed by Stalin. Again the best Russian defense proved to be its harsh winter. The defense of the country, however took a heavy toll on its people.
After the war a frenzy of construction began in Moscow. Huge skyscrapers, also known as the Seven Sisters, were built. Moscow was being refurbished to fit the image of the world’s metropolis of Communism. After Stalin’s death in 1953 the country was taken over by Khrushchev and a period of relative political and cultural relaxation took place. After that a period of stagnation under Brezhnev followed. Next was Gorbachev, who aimed to rejuvenate the socialist state but by the late 1980s not much could be done. He was succeeded by Boris Yeltsin who did away with corrupt commercial managers, set up new food markets and allowed public demonstrations. This was the final blow to Communism; Capitalism set in and attracted a massive influx of foreign capital and new development.
Since the 1990s Moscow has become a ‘new city’, with numerous shops, banks, and casinos. Moscow has a huge number of incredibly wealthy tycoons who bought state enterprises cheaply and precipitated a wave of organized crime. New policies, however, are aimed at strengthening state control over business and bolstering stability. The other face of the new Moscow is poverty. People struggle hard to make a living and health and education are underfinanced. Still, young Muscovites are enjoying the new found freedom and the city’s increasing development and well-being.
A typical greeting is a very firm, almost crushing handshake.
When women friends meet they greet with three kisses and men with a pat on the back and a hug.
Russians have a middle name which is a version of the father's name. For a woman it ends in –ovna and for a man it ends in –vich. All three names (first, middle and family name) are used in formal situations.
Russians can be quite conservative when it comes to public display of affection. Russians tend to dress quite conservatively as well. When visiting a religious landmark dress accordingly.
It is true to say that Moscow is not the safest place to be and petty crime is rife. Just take the same precautions against assault, robbery or pickpockets, as in any large city. Note that pickpockets can be anyone; men, women or small children. The most critical areas are underground walkways, the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, restaurants, and hotel rooms. There have been reports of groups of children assaulting foreigners in underground walkways and on city streets.
Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in the nightclubs, bars, or on the way home. Always demand that your drink is open in your presence, especially at night clubs. There have been several instances where a person has been served or bought a drugged drink and then robbed.
To reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime, it is wise to follow these tips: leave all your expensive jewelry and unnecessary credit cards at home. Never display large sums of money in public. Conceal your passport, valuables and cash on your person, rather than in a waist or back pack. Be alert on public transport, around major tourist sights, markets and in all other areas where crowds gather.
Avoid hailing unmarked cars as taxis even though it is a common practice among the Russians. Foreigners have been assaulted and robbed by the drivers of these unmarked cars.
Note that even the police may be less then helpful on some occasions. Foreigners may be approached by the police for a visa check. They will usually find something ‘wrong’ with it, and demand a fine be paid. The best thing to do is to get your visa registered in Moscow, to give the police only the photocopy of your passport and visa and not the original passport. You can also mention contacting your embassy for assistance. This will almost certainly prevent you from paying any fake fines.
Also note that the there are regions in Russia that are best avoided. These include North Caucasus of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and the eastern and the southern parts of Stavrol Krai.
The best time to visit Moscow is in early summer and early autumn. Early summer is not as humid as late summer, and early autumn is still pleasantly warm and the colors of the season are wonderful.
Summer temperatures are comfortable until mid September. The warmest months are July and August but they also have the most rain. Thunderstorms and heavy rainfalls are common and the city is usually overcrowded during this time.
The worst period is between November and March. During this time it is extremely cold and dark. However February can be lovely as the snow covers all and is usually quite crisp. March is slushy and muddy.
If you are well prepared, winter can be good too. Just remember to keep warm; the locals wear fur coats and drink vodka. Normal winter temperatures are around -10°C.