May 04

The Moscow Metro (Metroul din Moscova)

While the subway train is generally perceived as a means of public transportation, you might be surprised to learn that in a particular part of the world, more precisely in Moscow, the metro is also a tourist attraction.

This occurs due to the impressive architecture of the construction and the works of art that decorate the metro stations: such as paintings, sculptures, mosaics, marble domes and even chandeliers. This is definitely not your average subway station where a damp and desolate atmosphere prevails due to the poor lighting, crowdedness, and lack of décor (the design is mainly created having practicality in mind, not for the purpose of pleasing the eye).


General facts

The Moscow Metro is used on a daily basis by more than 9 million people (tourists or locals). Just to understand the massive agglomeration of the metro, you should know that the New York metro is used at half of the capacity of the one based in Moscow. This later one consists of 12 lines and more than 170 stations, each more beautiful than the next.

The architectural design is specific for the Soviet style, but it is impressive nonetheless. While we are generally reluctant to regard any accomplishments of the former dictator Joseph Stalin as glorious in itself, we do have to bow ourselves to him when it comes to the beautiful construction he developed in his time.


It is precisely the design that has transformed the Moscow Metro into a cultural emblem of Russia and into a tourist attraction which draws visitors from all over the world to Moscow.



The metro lines were constructed over an extended period of time, but dedication was definitely not lacking. When it came to this project, Stalin was adamant in his decision to continue the work even if the Soviet Union was traversing a difficult time. Thus, neither World War II, nor the Cold War was an impediment in the construction of the Moscow Metro. In fact, some of the stations were constructed as shelters against nuclear attacks.

According to a popular legend, when the developers of the project presented themselves in front of Stalin to show their plans, the dictator was drinking coffee and spilled a drop on the mug. Displeased with what he saw, the dictator said nothing, but his actions were enough to express his opinion: he placed the mug right in the center of the plans, thus leaving a ring circle.


It seems that it was this circle that gave the planners the idea to incorporate a ring line into the design of the metro lines which would connect all of them. Whether or not this happened in reality, it cannot be said, but it does make an interesting story.

There is another aspect that attracts the attention of visitors: the Metro II line which was initially kept secret as it served communist purposes of transportation for the political leaders. However, there is no actual evidence that this line is or has been part of the Moscow Metro as the authorities have made no declarations in this regard, keeping the whole matter shrouded in mystery.


The impressive architecture is explained in an easy manner: the Soviet leaders envisaged an ideal urban society which would be guided by the communist principles. And it is precisely this ideal that it is represented in the decorative elements encountered all over the Metro: the grand staircases, the frescoes, the murals, the beautiful paintings and sculptures (located both at the interior and at the exterior).

Just to give an example, the Mayakovskaya train stop presents the “happy worker”, thus making propaganda for the good life experienced under the communist government. There is a series of values presented in the paintings illustrated here, but the tour de force of the station is the ceiling which is reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel, the difference lies in the socialist values depicted.

So if you are ever in Moscow, you should definitely check out the Metro because, leaving aside its practical function, it is a true work of art, representative for the socialist era.

Apr 27

Peterhof Palace (Palatul Peterhof)

Peterhof Palace is actually an ensemble of palaces and gardens, located in Sankt Petersburg, built by the order of Peter the Great. Peterhof is considered the Russian equivalent of the Versailles Palace, but once you gaze on the majestic edifice you might find yourself among the group of people who consider the comparison to be detrimental to the magnificence of the Peterhof.


Peter the Great did draw inspiration from the Versailles upon designing the estate, but the result exceeds the original by long. Empress Elizabeth, the Tsar’s daughter was extremely fond of the palace, in as much that she extended the entire domain.

The first step was to enhance the Grand Palace and then the gardens. The exterior underwent massive transformations as they were adorned with an impressive number of fountains, to which a cascade was added: the Grand Cascade.

Peterhof was no longer the official royal residence under Catherine the Great, who chose Pushkin instead. But Tsar Nicholas I changed this and Peterhof become once again the imperial dwelling. It was during the reign of Nicholas I that the Cottage Palace was constructed – back in 1826.


WWII left its imprint on this estate. The German armies pillaged the palace, together with other residences found in the area. But Peterhof was not left to chance. The ensemble of parks and palaces was the first to be reconstructed. The restoration work, conducted by the military engineers and by the impressive number of volunteers who signed up to help with the revival of Peterhof (more than 1.000 people), was completed in 1947.


The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace is the focal point of the ensemble and was the first one to be erected. The construction work was initiated in 1714 by the architect Jean Baptiste Le Blonde, but the palace was finalized 7 years later (in 1721).

Tsar Peter the Great was extremely passionate about the imperial estate in as much that he urged the constructors to undertake a massive work load in a short period of time. Thus, the Lower Park was arranged, the Sea Canal was built, as well as the Marly and Monplaisir Palaces, and the Hermitage (but this was partially constructed in this timeframe).


When the Grand Palace was finished, this seemed unfit for the overall presentation (especially since the landscaping was so exquisitely performed), so the Tsar ordered the architects to make it worthy for the imperial residence by enlarging it.

But the death of Peter the Great in 1725 represented a turning point for the palace as this was practically abandoned. It was not until the Tsar’s daughter, Elizabeth, became empress that the construction work was continued at Peterhof. Bartolomeo Rastrelli was appointed by the empress to erect a unique edifice, worthy of the imperial family.

The architect did not want to replace the initial building, but to incorporate it in his design. As surprising as this might be, the new palace is the epitome of elegancy, without being too overbearing. The architect knew exactly what architectural style and decorative elements to use for the palace.


The edifice is reflexive of the neoclassical and minimalist styles. The interior is extremely extravagant and even though this had to be redesigned after the Second World War, when so many damages were inflicted on the palace, the unity of the elements is preserved. Thus the edifice maintains its magnificence in its entirety.

The first thing that tourists cast their eyes on while entering the Grand Palace is the grand staircase. The décor abounds in frescoes, golden statues and exquisite pieces of furniture. The lavishness of the edifice is obvious from the bejeweled elements of decoration, porcelains and fine silks which adorn the rooms. The imperial private chambers, which are extremely luxurious, are decorated in the 19th century style.

Visiting hours for the Grand Palace:

Tuesday – Sunday: from 10:30 until 17:00;

Monday: closed (as well as in the last Tuesday of each month).



When Peter the Great first envisaged the Peterhof Palace, fountains were an intrinsic part of its design. In fact, it was precisely his determination to incorporate fountains in the ensemble that led to the decision to change the site for the construction from Strelna to Peterhof.


The reason was that the land in Strelna did not benefit from enough water so as to make the complex system of fountains come to life.  His desire was met to the fullest. Not only did he get the fountains he so badly desired, but his followers completed his work by adding inventive elements to the waterpark.

One such outstanding system is the Grand Cascade which is made out of 64 fountains, more than 200 bronze sculptures, bas-reliefs and other impressive elements of décor. The entire system draws the water by means of the pipes located in the Grotto. This is situated behind the Grand Cascade and it was originally used as the site for small parties.

Some of the most renowned fountains from the array are the Chess Cascade, the Pyramid Fountain and Joke Fountains. In this latter collection, there is one fountain which sprinkles water on those that pass by, if they happen to walk on a certain paving stone. (You can now understand why these are called the Joke Fountains).


Naturally, the fountains are not functional throughout the year. These are usually turned on at the end of May and the moment does not go unnoticed. There is a festival held in that specific day which involves all sorts of performances, fireworks and classical music. The fountains are not turned on all at once, but each sector in its own due time. It is truly an amazing “event”.

Marly Palace

The Marly Palace was built by the orders of Peter the Great and served as his retreat place. The edifice is constructed in the Baroque style and it is a reflection of a Parisian edifice, the Marly Le Roi royal hunting house.

The construction of this palace consisted first of digging two ponds (a quadrilateral one and a semicircular one) which were meant to enclose Marly Palace. Johann Brounstein, the architect behind the structure, constructed a one-floor edifice, but the result did not satisfied the Tsar who wanted a grandeur palace.


As a consequence, an additional story was constructed in 1723. But even if the two floors were constructed separately, these combine harmoniously, forming a unity. The image conveyed is wonderful. The palace, with its serene appearance, is mirrored in the clear water of the ponds.

After the death of the Tsar, no one used the Marly as dwelling any more. In turn, the edifice was transformed into a storehouse for the Tsar’s personal belongings, such as clothes, pieces of art, furniture, or objects of décor. In fact, many of these are still preserved at Marly, and thus being available for tourists.

Visiting hours for Marly Palace:

May – September: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:30 – 17:00;

Monday closed;

October – April: Saturday- Sunday: 10:30 – 17:00.

Apr 19

The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Biserica Invierii din Sankt Petersburg)


This church, also known to locals as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, was erected in Sankt Petersburg in the memory of Tsar Alexander II who was assassinated on the 1st of March, 1881. This decision was taken by his son, soon after the news of his father’s death reached him.

Visitors can immediately notice the imposing edifice which stands out from the surrounding buildings (which bear the marks of Baroque, Classical and Modernist periods) due to its architectural design. Alexander III wanted to construct the church while respecting the traditional Russian structural design, and not giving in to the western styles which seemed to have “polluted” the Russian town.


Alexander III analyzed various designs but none was to his liking. Eventually, Archimandrite Ignaty appointed Parland as the architect for the construction under discussion, but he decided to make the plan of the building himself. The project was inspired from St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev.

But the church did not serve the conventional purpose one would expect. Instead, Alexander III decided to organize special sermons and requiems every week in order to eulogize his father. Oddly enough, these religious services attracted big crowds.


The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was officially turned into a cathedral in 1923, but the edifice did not preserve itself as it was devastated after the Revolution. The damages were immense in as much as it was closed 9 years later and step by step it became a junkyard. The entire Sankt Petersburg buzzed over the idea that the church would be demolished. Even today, the edifice bears the marks of the second worldwide conflagration and the Siege of Leningrad.


This church of immense architectural value was destroyed almost in its entirety after the 2nd World War, when the Small Opera Theater started using it as a storage space. What remained from the original construction were 4 columns on which the mosaic representations were still noticeable and a segment of the balustrade.


Massive repair works were conducted after 1970, when the church became a subdivision of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral museum, and this institution funded the restoration. The “tormented” history of the church which saw periods of decay and rejuvenation came to an end in 1997 when the cathedral was reopened. The event was of massive proportions as thousands of visitors flooded the area in an attempt to cast their eyes on the new edifice for the first time.


The total costs of the restoration works was assessed at 3.6 million rubles, but in reality, the project exceeded this sum by 1 million rubles. The reason for this was the exquisite assortment of mosaics. There is a mosaic work that expands over 7500 sq. meters in which the assassination of Tsar Alexander II is connected to the crucifixion of Christ, as if both had suffered the same faith and under the same conditions.

The fact that the church was dedicated to the Tsar is obvious from the monument erected on the exact place where Alexander II fell to his death. This was created according to the structural plan developed by Parland and was finished in 1907.


The icons found within the church are varied in terms of the style used to create them. Some are representative for the academic style, some for the Modernist Age, while others bear the mark of the Byzantine painting style.

The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the emblem of nationalism. It refused to subdue itself to the Baroque and Neoclassical architectural styles which dominated the area and decided to reflect the medieval Russian style instead.

Apr 17

The Kremlin

Whenever we consider the tourist attractions available in Russia, the Kremlin springs to mind.

Its history dates back 800 years, from the moment it bore high importance as a medieval citadel until the present day when it is a fortified construction where the central power in Russia is located.

The Kremlin is representative for two colossal imperial cultures: the medieval Muscovite regime and the Soviet Union, in both cases having held immense power and being looked upon both with fear and admiration.

The architecture of the construction bears marks of the two historical periods: opulence and austerity are blend together offering an impressive tableau of what Russia was once. While some might regard these inconsistencies in the design as architectural absurdities, others see them as enigmas, as markers of cultural change.

With the passage of time, the mystery shrouding the Kremlin has not been lifted. Even today, visitors do not have access to 2/3 of the construction ensemble and because of this we cannot help but wonder what is it that Kremlin hides within its walls?

However, the portion that is opened for visitation is impressive, as it is rich in treasures. One day is insufficient to explore this place. Tourists can visit one of the most remarkable and largest museums worldwide, but also the official dwelling of the Russian President.


The history of the Kremlin begins around 1147, this being the year when a wooden fort was constructed on the location of the present Kremlin on the orders of Yuri Dolgoruky, Grand Duke of Kiev.


The city expanded at a fast pace and as a consequence, constructions made out of stone started to appear every here and there. Near the end of the 14th century the Kremlin had stone walls, thus becoming a truly fortified citadel.

The reign of Ivan the Great (1462 – 1505) is noteworthy in the evolution of the Kremlin. The citadel, as the epicenter of a unified Russia, underwent a series of transformations meant to make it worthy of the new role bestowed upon it.

As time went by, Moscow expanded further and further outside the walls of the fortress and this led to a “separation.” The Kremlin comprised within its walls a different world where the central power of the state and the national religion were based.

This period saw grand transformations. The Cathedrals of the Assumption, the Annunciation and the Archangel were constructed, as well as the imperial abode, the Russian Terem Palace. Ivan the Great Bell Tower was an important addition to the overall construction, transforming it into the magnificent site it is today.

But the remodeling project did not finish with the death of Ivan the Great. His descendants continued his work, transforming the fortress in as much as it would reflect the period they were living in.  Russia’s capital was changed to Saint Petersburg by Peter the Great but this did not impede the rulers of the time to leave their mark on Kremlin – a symbol of the Russian culture.

The Kremlin was further developed with the construction of the Kremlin Arsenal by Peter the Great – this was initially developed as a military museum. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Senate Building and the Great Kremlin Palace were added – real works of art bearing the stamp of the neoclassical period.

The 1917 Revolution led to the Kremlin becoming once more the residence of the Russian regime. As remembrance of the communist regime are the large red stars painted on the towers, as well as inside the State Kremlin Palace.


The surface encompassed by the Kremlin walls reaches 275,000 square meters, with a total length of 2235 meters. The size of the edifices varies from 5 to 19 meters, while the width of the wall ranges from 3.5 to 6.5 meters. The initial construction comprised 18 towers, but 2 more were added back in the 17th century.


The State Kremlin Palace
This edifice was finished in 1961 and the main materials used in its constructions were concrete and glass. The purpose of the construction was to hold congress meetings for the Communist Party. The State Kremlin Palace was constructed in a peaceful period of the nation, when the Khruschev government was in power.


The architecture of the building is exquisite and its most noteworthy characteristic is the immense amphitheater it holds between its walls (which can house as much as 6000 people). Above the stage used to be a uniquely crafted bas-relief which represented Lenin’s head encircled by golden rays – a true statement of the communist regime. But the relief is no longer found within the edifice, where the Kremlin Ballet Company performs its pieces at present.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower

This tower is built out of white stone and has a glistening golden dome which is representative for the entire fortress, not just for the square in which it is located (the Cathedral Square). The construction of the edifice commenced at the beginning of the 16th century under the ruler Ivan the Great (hence the name of the tower) and was finished in 1600, when Russia was ruled by Boris Godunov.

The height of the tower exceeds 80 meters. The Bell Tower is in close proximity of another belfry in which the Resurrection Bell is found – a bell dating from the 19th century and weighting 64 tones.

The Assumption Cathedral

This cathedral is the most relevant one of all the churches located within the fortress. It was built in the same place where Ivan I constructed a smaller church as a means to commemorate the moment when Moscow became the central point of orthodoxy.

When Ivan the Great came to power, he reached the conclusion that the small cathedral was too modest to be representative for the city’s greatness; not to mention that by then the passage of time left its imprint on the construction.

Ivan the Great was not pleased with the local builders so he looked elsewhere for a contractor to develop a one-of-a-kind edifice. This task was appointed to Alberti Fioravante, of Italian origin. The builder first decided to visit different parts of Russia in order to create an idea about the architectural designs used for religious edifices. Only afterwards, did he return to Moscow and resume his work.

It took four years to complete the construction and the result was impressive – in as much as Ivan the Great denied Fioravanti’s request to return to his homeland and threw him in prison. The Italian never got to see his country again as he died incarcerated a couple of years later.

The cathedral is renowned for its architecture which consists of elaborate frescos and icons. The architect managed to blend beautifully all the elements characteristic of Russian religious structural design and this is what attracts tourists the most to this place.

But the Assumption Cathedral also bears high importance due to the historical events that it witnessed. For once, it was on its steps that Ivan the Great ripped to pieces the agreement through which the rulers of Moscow were supposed to pay tribute to the Mongolian people. Not to mention that this was the first church dedicated to the orthodox religion.


Only a couple of edifices have been presented here but the Kremlin has numerous towers, cathedrals, museums and palaces. All of these are representative for the Russian culture and stand as evidence for different regimes which have come to power in this region. But the most relevant fact is that all of them combine impressive decorative elements.