Capital of the world’s largest country, it may come as no surprise that Moscow masquerades as a billionaire’s playground, where a fast-paced lifestyle is second nature to the movers and shakers on the city’s financial and social scene. And yet in amongst the exuberance of wealth and prosperity on display in the hippest nightclubs and most exclusive of restaurants, there’s an abundance of heritage and culture to provide a welcome shot of equilibrium to the rapid development and demands of 21st-century life. Be it the brilliance of the Bolshoi or Chekhov, churches and Tchaikovsky, there’s no shortage of iconic cultural charms to take in on a Moscow city break. In this outing however, we concentrate on the marvels of Red Square.
Most visitors to Moscow will naturally gravitate towards Red Square as their sightseeing starting point, the distinctive onion-shaped domes and colourful tented roofs of St Basil’s Cathedral a natural draw. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 and officially titled the Church of the Intercession, this elaborate contortion of hues, patterns and shapes, a veritable masterpiece of Orthodox art, makes for one of the most spectacular and recognisable landmarks that Moscow has to offer.
On one side of St Basil’s sits the GUM department store (pronounced ‘goom’), one of Moscow’s top shopping precincts where you might bump into an oligarch or two. To its other flank meanwhile is the mighty Kremlin, Russia’s nerve centre of political power and one-time commander-in-chief of the country’s Orthodox Church. A visit here offers a fascinating wealth of treasures to explore, from its many cathedrals – Cathedral of the Assumption being the oldest, biggest and grandest; it was here that Ivan the terrible was crowned Emperor in 1547 – to the Patriarch’s Palace, Ivan the Great Bell Tower (currently closed to the public) and Diamond Fund (separate entrance required). Also situated inside the Kremlin’s walls (although again you’ll need a separate ticket) is the Armoury, home to an abundance of arms and armour, carriages, glittering gems, jewels, gold, silver and elusive Fabergé eggs.
Beyond St Basil’s and the Kremlin, there’s still plenty on offer in Red Square. For the curious and the Communist, this is the site of Lenin’s Mausoleum, where the body of this notorious leader has lain in state since 1924 (apart from a brief sojourn to the Ural Mountains during World War II). You’ll also find here the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, situated within the Alexander Garden, containing the body of an unidentified Soviet soldier who helped to stop the German advance into Moscow during World War II. Last but by no means least is the fascinating State History Museum, whose extensive collection dates all the way back to the ice age.
We’ll be back in Moscow soon to explore the many delights situated beyond Red Square.