Sep 15


In the past 20 years, the symbol – city of the former Red Empire has reborn in a way that former communist leaders such as Lenin, Stalin or Brezhnev would not have ever anticipated and it became the world capital of Western-like “decadent” refinement, designed to meet the demands of numerous millionaires who are now spinning wheels of power.

Luxury boom

The Soviet Union is now long gone and Moscow – as we know from the past times of pompous military parades celebrating with glittery propaganda the Victory Day or the Great October Revolution, or when MiGs flown over haughty official stand, where leaders of the Bolshevik Party, with their backs bent down from so many decorations and medals, were governing the scenery – has transformed into exactly the opposite as the Communist leaders and philosophers had imagined it would be for eternity.

Ex-communist metropolis is continually borrowing the made in USA commercial symbolism: from KFC to the Hard Rock Café. Becoming a center of big business, Moscow – although it remains in a proportion of 70% a gulag of the needy, hosts successive waves of expats, but also the local oligarchy out of which rows of Forbes nominees are being regularly recruited for the magazine’s charts. Logically, their lifestyle expectations have changed and there are already plenty of individuals and clans that do not exclude cosmopolitan luxuries or even daily extravaganza from their way of living.

The Russian economic growth rate, higher than in Western Europe, partly justifies this trade boom of luxury goods, considered until recently one of niche. Besides legal affairs, in Moscow also bloomed an impressive black economy with sophisticated transactions, including weapons of last generation. And the beneficiaries of this boom – “les nouveaux riches” -, when they don’t buy luxury residences on the French Riviera (where more than half of the restaurants are already displaying their menu in Cyrillic alphabet), they invest heavily in their personal comfort, ready to shell out any price for whatever latest fashion caprice that, only a decade ago, it would have seemed unthinkable.

Why should you get to Moscow?

Because it truly is a very beautiful city, whose center can be compared without any exaggeration, to any other major European capitals – Paris, London, Rome or Madrid. In addition, although today the capital of the East turned into the citadel of the oligarchs and demanding millionaires, it is not “so” expensive: a night in a decent 4 star hotel in close proximity to the center should not be more than 65 euros for 2 people , while prices in restaurants and bars are surprisingly low; and as for shopping, the ladies will have plenty of surprises: in malls and shopping spots in central Moscow there are crowded the most prestigious brands in the world and the prices here are usually consistently lower than those of Paris or Vienna. If money is not a problem, in Moscow you will find the latest collections of famous designers before they get to London or New York. Besides all these issues more or less questionable of “decadent capitalist consumerism”, Moscow has a special charm build upon the symbols that provide its identity:

The Red Square. It is the heart of the city and should be the first destination to visit to sample more of the consistent flavor of the metropolis. St. Bazil’s Cathedral is flanked by the State History Museum, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the most exclusive mall Moscow, GUM, and one of Kremlin’s walls. Basically, here you have comprised the quintessential of the city: ancient historical buildings, relics of communism and symbols of New Russia, all concentrated in a few square kilometers. For a leisurely visit to all locations embodied in the Red Square you will need at least two days. To make it easier, take the subway from one of the metro stations in the vicinity of Red Square: Ohotnii Ryad, Ploschad Revolutsii.

Old Arbat Street. At first glance it looks like a combination between a hardly digestible Turkish bazaar and an alley in the historic center of Naples, but Arbat but has its particular charm: it is crowded with cafes, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. The prices of the latter can be negotiated.

Bolshoi Theater. The price of a show is pretty steep, starting at 1,000 rubles, you can relax on the majestic fountain in front and admire the famous building.

Tretyakov Gallery. It is one of the largest and finest museums in the world – if you want to visit one museum in Moscow, you should definitely pick it up. Here you will find exclusively Russian art: paintings and sculpture the most famous Russian artists and the richest collection of ancient Russian icons.

Gorky Park. The biggest and most famous Moscow Park boasts impressive green spaces, promenades, statues and cafes. It is the most popular meeting and leisure place for city residents. During winter, most paths are decorated with statues of ice.

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Feb 10

Lenin’s Mausoleum

A while back, I have published an article on the website in which I have presented the famous Red Square in Moscow. Today, I ‘return’ to Russia and to the Red Square in order to depict more accurately  one of the attractions located here  which has only been mentioned in passing in the previous article.

I am talking about Lennin’s Mausoleum, which has been erected in the Red Square shortly after the death of Vladimir Lenin. Located in the center of Moscow, the mausoleum is a well-known tourist attraction, especially since visitors can actually gaze upon the communist revolutionery.

Shortly after his demise, which occured on the 21st of January 1924, a wooden burial chamber was constructed in order to lay to rest his earthly remains. But such a construction was not worthy of the Soviet ruler. Thus the architect Aleksei Shchuse was commissioned to erect a much appropriate and lasting mausoleum for Lenin.

The construction was completed in 1930 and it was exquisitely executed, inasmuch as it complements the Kremlin which stands behind it, the architect having used the same pallet of colors and materials, so that the two seem to be part of a unity. The pyramidal construction appears to be small which is quite a surprise taking into account the Russian masterpieces which impress not only through their architectural designs but also through their impressive stature.

But the eye is oftentime deceiving and that is the case in what concerns Lenin’s Mausoleum. Looking at it from the outside, the vault is relatively small, but exploring the mausoleum unveils that its width enlarges towards the underground. There are two levels underneath the building. One floor was designed as a resting space for public figures who visited the place and for Kremlin guards, while the other had administrative functions, more accurately it was used for supervisory purposes during the embalming procedure. Unfortunately for tourists, this areas is not open to the public, even if it has lost its initial scope and it is no longer used.

One is allowed to enter into the funerary chamber, but items such as bags or cameras have to be left in the coatrooms because photographing or filming is forbidden inside the premise. Even though tourists get the chance to literally look Lenin in the face, this occurance is swift in the sense that guards rush visitors so that they do not glance at Lenin more than a few minutes. The reason? Well, there has been a lot of controversy in the past regarding this matter. Some have actually implied that it wasn’t actually the body of Lenin deposited in the mausoleum. At least not any more. It was rumoured that the body was substituted long ago by a wax figure and this is why visitors are ushered out of the funeral room so quickly. Whether or not this is the case is debatable. Maybe you should venture yourself on Russian territory and see the body with your own eyes. Then you can judge for yourself.

Besides the fact that you cannot film inside the mausoleum, there is an etiquette you need not overlook. Respect has to be shown when inside the tomb which means no talking out load, no smoking, no keeping your hands in your pockets and no wearing hats (with the exception of women).

With the exception of Mondays and Fridays, as well as legal holidays, the mausoleum is open for visits daily from 10:00 until 13:00.  Tourists still wait in line to get access inside Lenin’s tomb and it is really no wonder because who would not want to visit the resting place of such an important historical figure?

Oct 29

The Kazan Kremlin

When it comes to masterful blending of history, art, cultural characteristics and architectural wonders, Russia occupies one of the highest places among the world’s countries. It is not my intention to undermine the impressive artistic expression of other countries around the world, but today we are going to bring homage to the architects who with an utmost care and immense craft managed to create architectural jewels.

The Kazan Kremlin is an ensemble of archeological and architectural testimonials of great cultural value, as we have already been accustomed with when it comes to Russia. The complex, which consists of numerous monuments which date from different centuries (from the 16th up to the 18th century), has become a part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage since 2000.

Up next, we are going to look at some of the constructions that make up the Kazan Kremlin and even detail brieftly some aspects about their history.

First of all, I will mention the Söyembikä Tower as it is one of the most recognizable monuments within the complex. In the incipient stage of the city’s kremlin, this leaning tower was one of the tallest structures constructed. In time, the inclination of the edifice became more and more visible so that by the first years of the 20th century, its tilting was measured at about 194 cm. Due to the obvious advancement of the tower’s leaning rate, various methods to stabilize the construction were undertaken all throughout the 20th century.

The exact moment when the Söyembikä Tower was constructed is unknown. There are several theories according to which the tower was erected at the end of the 17th centuries, but other scholars claim that the tower came into being in the second half of the 16th century when this type of construction became widespread in Russia.

Legend has it that the tower was in fact built under Ivan the Terrible and its construction lasted for only one week. The most important part of this tale is actually meant to explain the name given to the construction. According to this legend, Söyembikä, who was the queen of Kazan in that time, committed suicide by throwing herself from the tower.

The main entrance to the Kazan Kremlin is made up of two elements: the Church of the Holy Savior’s Image which incorporates a gate within it, thus allowing access within the complex, and the Spassky Tower. The aforementioned church was initially constructed with the purpose of holding within items which stand as testimonials of the battle carried in Kazan in 1552.

The Preobrazhensky Gate Tower is a four-sided construction with two levels which is encircled at the bottom by fortified ramparts for sustainibility.

As it has been previously mentioned the complex is also renowned for its archeological discoveries. In the later years of the 20th century, excavations in the area have revealed stone gates built between the 11th and the 16th centuries. Pylons and other fragments have help scholars put the pieces together and untangle some of the historical past of the area.

The Governer’s Palace was artistically designed by a well known architect, K.A. Ton, who has also designed the plans for two other famous buildings: the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the Grand Kremlin Palace, both situated in Moscow. This particular building was finished in 3 years time (1845-1848).

The Kazan Kremlin constain many more noteworthy monuments and if I have managed to capture your attention even just a little bit, then you will have no problem in finding further information about this one-of-a-kind touristic attraction. And who knows? Maybe you might even make it your goal to visit this place sometimes in the future.

May 29

Gorky Amusement Park

Are you ready for the ride of your life? Or should we say ‘rides’? In many of the articles posted on this website we have emphasized the importance of retreating to a tranquil resort and of finding that inner peace which would make us return to our day-to-day routine with a new energy. But while an escape into nature is always a good idea, there are moments when you simply need to have fun, and a lot of it.

And what can be more appropriate in this department than finding a great amusement park where you can leave everything behind and experience the thrill of the ‘dangerous rides.’ Yes, it might be a bit crowded for some, but this is part of the definition of an amusement park. In fact, you would not find it that interesting if you were to go on a roller coaster ride all by yourself, would you? And even if you have to wait in line for what seems to be forever, the best part is that when you finally reach the top of the line, and the machine starts to move, you know that the wait was worth it.

In this department of amusement parks, Gorky is renowned. Gorky Park, or Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leasure, as it is officially known, is situated in Moscow and has opened its gates to the public in the early 20th century (1928). The beauty of this park is that it comprises several gardens which extend over an area of 300 acres and it neighbours the Moskva River. And among this natural landscape you discover fun fairs and great rides which fill you with adrenaline.

Gorky was designed by the famous architect Konstantin Melnikov so it is no wonder that the avant-garde influences are noticible within the architectural style of the park. It comes as no surprise that the park had became popular immediatelly after opening. The novelty of this particular type of entertainment attracted masses of people who were impressed not only with the architecture of the park but also with its rollercoasters, space shuttle, big ferris wheel and so on.

But the park was changed almost completely in 2011 when the new administrator of the park decided to take Gorky to the next level and transform it into a ‘green’ recreational facility. This meant removing the majority of the food stands and some of the fun rides and replacing them with different types of leisure activities such as yoga or aerobics. The idea was to get people interested in sport and thus boost their energy level throught healthy activities. Other attractions include various fairs which revolve around art, thus emphasizing the importance of culture and promoting it as much as possible, an open-air cinema and several coffee shops.

In winter, there are specially arranged areas where people can engage in skating or hockey and the best part is that the area dedicated to these activities extends over 18.000 square meters so there is room for everyone to enjoy themselves on the ice.

Mar 12

Azov Fortress (Cetatea Azov)

There are many touristic attractions throughout Eastern Europe worth mentioning, but all will be tackled in due time. For the time being we will focus our attention towards Russia, and more precisely, towards a town situated 16 kilometers off the coast of the Azov Sea. The name of the town is actually Azov, due to its close proximity to the mentioned sea.

What is it that makes this town enter our list of ‘places you ought to visit’? Probably it has something to do with its historical background. Many peoples have settled on this land and each had had its influence on the way in which the landscape changed throughout the years.

Azov Fortress

But the ones who we are going to mention in this particular article are the Ottomans, due to the fact that their control over the area in the latter years of the 15th century (1471) had led to the appearance of an imposing fortress, the Azov Fortress. This is actually the touristic attraction on which this article revolves.

The construction was erected with the purpose of hindering the Don Cossacks from invading the Ottoman Empire and from gaining control over the Black Sea, which represented an important trading instrument.

Of course, this particular aspect did not impede the former from attempting to attain their goal and that is to crush the Turks and gain control over the area. Thus, the fortress was the main target due to the fact that it was a well fortified construction in which the rivals could resist for time on end against their attackers. Azov Fortress witnessed a great number of battles and if you are interested in finding out more about the turnout of each of the mentioned clashes, you should definitely look into the subject. But for the time being, we will turn to the reasons for which you should definitely visit this less known part of Russia.


There is no doubt that Russia has many tourist attractions and that most of them are located in Moscow and Sankt Petersburg, but a tourist interested in comprehending the entire history of a given country and in visiting even the most secluded places in order to gain insight into the development of a specific place, will not think twice before embarking in a ‘quest of discovery’.

To put it in simpler words, the fortress had changed many hands throughout time, only to be ceded to the Russian government at the end of the 18th century when the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji was signed (the peace treaty signed at the end of the first Russo-Turkish Wars in 1774).

The Old Fortress of Azov

But enough about historical facts. Tourists will be pleased to hear that the climate of the region is characterized by mild precipitations and that the weather is relatively good. Even if the time of the year in which they decide to travel to Azov is relevant, the temperature is not the same as in other parts of Russia. The summers are very warm and while winters are cold, they are by no means comparable to the other areas where extremely low temperatures recorded.

Many legends revolve around the fortress and more particularly around the cellar, where it is said that the Ottoman Empire used to preserve its outstanding riches.

In the 20th century, the fortress was declared a cultural monument and the City Council took all the measures to preserve the remnants of the glorious past, especially since the construction was such an artful depiction of military engineering development. Thus, the fortress, with the cellar, gates, walls and ditches that had survived the passage of time, was declared a monument and restoration was initiated. The goal was to preserve the ancient structure for the posterity.

The Entrance Gate- Azov

The cellar was reconditioned and passed on into the patrimony of the historical museum. When Azov celebrated its 900th birthday, the City Council organized a special event in which all the important battles of Azov were reenacted with the help of an exhibition organized by the Russian artist Arseny Chernyshov.

The authenticity of the exhibition was remarkable and the fact that the fortress was preserved so well until this day it can only mean one thing: that tourists are given the possibility to indulge themselves with a piece of historical recollection. So do not hesitate to visit this unique monument.

Sep 20

Tretyakov Gallery (Galeria de Arta Tretyakov)

Russia is a ‘reservoir’ of culture and art and the multiple galleries and museums that spread throughout its territory are a clear example of this. The State Tretyakov Gallery is an art gallery located in Moscow which is renowned for the exquisite exhibitions found within its walls.

The gallery officially came into being at the beginning of the 20thcentury, but its history goes back half a century. In 1856, Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov, a Russian merchant, had begun collecting works of art signed by Russian artists that lived in his time. His goal was to acquire paintings, drawings and sculptures which would in time evolve to encompass a considerable number of works that represent the Russian national art in its different forms. The purpose was to put the basis of a museum.

Between 1856 and 1892, he dedicated his time to finding exquisite works of art, his collection reaching more or less 2.000 pieces at the end of this term – the collection comprised 1,362 paintings, 526 drawings and 9 sculptures.

It is no wonder that everyone was taken aback when faced with such an impressive assortment of works of art. Thus the construction of the Tretyakov Gallery was put into motion. The edifice to house the collection had to be worthy of the privilege it was bestowed on it. The façade of the structure was artistically created by Victor Vasnetsov, the painter who conferred a unique Russian fairy-tale architectural design to the gallery.

The construction work took only two years to be completed (from 1902 to 1904) and the site chosen for the gallery was near the Moscow Kremlin (to the south). But the gallery did not remained unchanged, on the contrary, expansion was underway and it can actually be said that in the 20th century the gallery experienced a ‘boom,’ having expended to encompass a number of adjacent buildings. Among these edifices was the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi which dated from the 17th century.

At present, the Tretyakov Gallery is home to more than 130.000 pieces of art, one more valuable than the next. Just to name a few, ‘Trinity’ by Andrei Rublev, ‘Composition VII’ by Wassaily Kandinsky and ‘Black Square’ by Kazimir Malevich can be admired at the gallery.

Painting by Vasily Perov –

But the Tretyakov Gallery is not solely a place where artistic pieces are on display. The institution also organizes various events which are in a way connected to culture. For instance in 2012, the gallery was the site of the famous FIDE World Chess Championship which was disputed among Vishwanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand. There might be some voices to disagree with this type of events taking place inside the gallery but there has to be underlined that culture comprises several segments and chess might just be one of them. It is in effect a form of art, especially when discussing it at the level at which it is played in the championship. Not to mention that the event attracted two types of audiences, those interested in fine arts and chess lovers.

1985 marks an important year in the history of the Tretyakov Gallery this being the moment when the gallery merged with a gallery of contemporary art, but solely from an administrative point of view. The latter gallery still kept the position it occupied to the south of the Crimean Bridge. This addition was quite important for the museum as it consisted of an important collection of sculptures which were representative for Socialist Realism.

In close proximity of the gallery of contemporary art tourists can admire sculptures which have been ‘exiled,’ so to speak. The statuettes are representative for the Soviet Union and when the URSS had fallen, every reminder of that time had to be erased. But the sculptures were not destroyed; they were relocated in this garden which comprised the remnants of a fallen regime.

Those who visit the State Tretyakov Gallery will not regret their decision because they will have the chance to admire unique works of art, some of them having been created more than a century ago.

Sep 06

St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Isaac)

St. Isaac’s Cathedral is named after the saint to whom it is dedicated: Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, and it is located in Sankt Petersburg, being the largest Orthodox cathedral found in this specific town.

The church was erected by the order of Tsar Alexander I, but the actual building process took quite some time to be initiated, mainly because the designs which were presented before the commission appointed to supervise the project were deemed unworthy. The architect to receive the job was Auguste de Montferrand, but even his design was received with immense criticism. Montferrand’s plan consisted of a gigantic structure with 4 identical porticos, but this was not what the commission had in mind.

They considered the design to be quite dull in its repetitiveness and this definitely did not inspire grandeur, which was what they were looking to achieve through the cathedral. Even if the edifice was to be colossal in size this did not necessarily mean that it was to be the epitome of greatness. This was quite a dispute in this regard, so the Tsar himself intervened in the matter and appointed Montferrand to supervise the construction of the cathedral.

Thus, the project was under way. However, the edifice did not see the light of day until 40 years had passed – this being the timeframe in which it was built (beginning 1818 and being finished in 1858). The history of the cathedral is very interesting, the church having witnessed different political regimes, time in which its appearance and scope had changed. For instance, when the Soviet Union was in power, any depiction which was religious in nature was destroyed. In fact, in 1931, the building was transformed into an Antireligious Museum.

As a consequence of this shift, the dove sculpture – the symbol of the Holy Spirit, but also of peace and conciliation – was removed, so as to make room for Foucault’s pendulum. This device was used to demonstrate in the simplest way possible that the earth is indeed round. The symbolism behind this? The Soviets felt the need to erase all remnants of religion, or more accurately of blind belief in something that cannot be demonstrated, and replace these with something palpable, logically explained.

In 1937, this antireligious museum was turned into a museum for the cathedral and the collections it contained were transported to another museum, the Museum of the History of Religion, where they could integrate themselves into the historical path traversed by religion as a whole, or better still, by the way in which religion was perceived throughout time.

The edifice was once more turned into a cathedral when the communist regime fell. Thus, the museum which was housed here was closed and the cathedral began being used for religious purposes. However, the religious activity is conducted solely in the left segment of the cathedral, the main edifice being used only during feast days.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral stands out due to the fact that it comprises several unique elements of architecture. At the exterior, the first thing that draws one’s attention is the columned structure – there are 112 pillars with Corinthian capitals which are formed out of red granite. There are 48 statues in total in the structure of the edifice, divided equally between the rotunda (the circular ground plan) and the roof.

The main dome is another point of interest as it is elevated at more than one hundred meters, it is gilded in pure gold and there are 12 statuettes depicting angels which adorn it.

The interior of the cathedral is beautifully adorned with statues made out of multicolored granites and marbles which have been brought from all over Russia. The massive doors at the entrance are made out of bronze, while the iconostasis is enclosed by means of 8 pillars made out of semiprecious stones. The paintings adorning the interior of the cathedral were masterfully created by Karl Bryullov. However, these depictions did not survive the dire conditions found inside of the cathedral in terms of humidity and cold. Montferrand decided not to have the paintings redone as these were bound to suffer the same faith with the passage of time, instead he had them meticulously replicated in the form of mosaic works. However, the job was left unfinished even to this day.

Aug 23

The Bolshoi Theatre (Teatrul Bolshoi)

It is literally impossible to be unaware of the great Muscovite theatre, the Bolshoi Theatre. It is renowned throughout the world so it is only natural to schedule a tour at this great edifice on your visit to Russia.

The architect behind the project, Joseph Bove, has designed the edifice in the neoclassical style and at present, the artistically crafted theatre can be seen on the 100-rubble banknote.

The main building had been subjected to several renovation processes since its appearance, but the constant work conducted on the edifice goes to show that the Moscow administration has recognized the importance of the edifice and the significant role it plays in the cultural life of the city, and of the entire nation for that matter. So it is of no surprise that the theatre has become a landmark of Russia.

The most recent restoration work was initiated in 2005 and it took 6 years to be completed. The work undertaken by the contractor consisted of restoring the high acoustical quality of the edifice which had been lost when the soviet regime was instituted and Russia was traversed by an outburst of social and political change. It was during this refurbishing work that the Bolshoi Theatre regained its majestic decorative architecture.

The company which administered the theatre came into being in the 18th century (1776), but the performances were not hosted in a grand edifice, which could proudly bear the name of theatre. In turn, the cultural events were held in a private house. It was not until 1780 that the company acquired the Petrovka Theatre and extended its area of interest so as to include plays and operas.

But this location was bound to change in 25 years’ time as the theatre caught fire and was severely damaged, in as much as it had to be rebuilt from the ground. The new edifice was constructed in 1824 in Theatre Square, under the supervision of Andrei Mikhailov, the architect to develop the plan for the new theatre.

The name attached to the theatre was meant to reflect the importance of the purpose it held in the Russian community. For one, it should be mentioned that theatres were seen as being the epitome of cultural life, especially those which housed opera and ballet performances. Thus the name given was of “Grand Theatre” which in Russian translates as the Bolshoi Theatre.  The reason for which this occurred was that the two types of artistic performances were regarded as being noble, exceeding the plays (comedies, tragedies or dramas) in the degree of artistry used in putting the enactments on stage.

The Bolshoi Theatre, the national theatre of Russia, has always been regarded as an icon of Russia and it is no wonder that it had preserved this status throughout time. It is within its walls that the cultural life of Russia was formed and carried out, having maintained the traditions of Russia alive.

But most important, the theatre strives to offer continuity in the sense that all the changes that occur, from a cultural point of view, are outlined within the performances held at Bolshoi. This means that while the classical pieces are still performed on regular basis, being masterfully executed by true artists, contemporary pieces are also presented. Only the best productions will take the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre so if you have the opportunity to visit, and even more importantly, to attend to the opera or the ballet acts put together both for connoisseurs and common audiences, you should not miss out on it. The fact remains that the artistry with which the people on stage present themselves will definitely impress even those who are not knowledgeable of this art. The fact remains that beautiful things will always entice the eye.

If we have captured your attention and you are already taking into consideration the idea of visiting Moscow and this specific tourist attraction, then you will be pleased to hear that some of the tickets to the performances (20%) are reduced so as to be accessible to everyone. Another aspect of general interest is that the Bolshoi Theatre contains 2 stages: the main one and the new one.  As you have probably already guessed, tickets for the performances held on the main stage are more expensive than those from the new stage. This structure of the theatre gives the company the opportunity to address several matters, allowing it to hold performances concomitantly and thus offer some variety to its audience.

There is only one way in which the theatre can be described and that is as a “living and breathing organism.” Why? Because its evolution goes hand in hand with the evolution of the society, and not just the Russian society. The artists and the pieces presented at Bolshoi Theatre have different origins and the reason is simple: the company is dedicated to culture in general, and to Russian art in particular, pinpointing the cultural evolution of the world.

Aug 02

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Catedrala Sf. Petru si Pavel)

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is located in Sankt Petersburg and it is the oldest and tallest cathedral in the city. In fact it is the second highest edifice in St. Petersburg, if you are to take into account the television tower.

But what makes the cathedral an important tourist attraction are the historical events it had been a witness to, some of which are tightly connected to the House of Romanov, the second and last dynasty to rule over Imperial Russia. Furthermore, the cathedral is the resting place of almost all the Russian rulers since Peter the Great.


The construction work

The cathedral goes back since the period in which Sankt Petersburg was founded. Initially, the house of worship was a wooden construction, erected one month after the city was established. In 1712, the Italian-born architect Domenico Trezzi designed a plan for the cathedral in which stone was used as the primarily material. The construction work was initiated soon afterwards, but the final result was not to be seen for 20 years. The cathedral was sanctified on the 29th of June, 1733.

The architectural design definitely contrasts the traditional style used in constructing Orthodox churches as it is a reflection of the Early Baroque. The architect drew inspiration from the protestant churches located in the western part of the continent and thus came up with the quadrilateral structure, the specific shape of the belfry and the needle-like tower which seems to pierce the sky.


Architectural design

The walls of the cathedral consist of ornamental columns, while the windows are artistically adorned with angel heads. In constructing the bell tower, the architect used the multi-layers technique and added the gilded needle atop the construction. This one-of-a-kind development, the needle, was created by Dutchman German von Bolis, who added a further detail on top: a flying angel that holds a cross in its hand. There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the representation. The needle is reflexive of the transcending experience one undergoes while embracing religion. The needle pointing upward is a symbol of this uplifting experience.


A new detail was added to the bell tower in 1720, but this had no religious meaning attached to it. The clock we can see today was purchased from Holland for the price of 45.000 rubles, which was quite a large amount of money for that particular time.

The interior of the cathedral is a true work of art. The iconostasis is really impressive, and how else could it be taking into account that more than 40 architects from Moscow used their artistic creativity to create this unique piece. The first part of the 18th century brought about further improvements. The interior walls were covered with paintings which illustrated different biblical scenes.


But the past of the cathedral is sprinkled with tragic events. The bell-tower is considered impressive, especially due to the needle which finishes it, but because of this tall structural design, the tower was subjected to the devastating effects of bad weather conditions, more precisely, of lighting. The tower burned to the ground in 1756. But while everything else was turned to ashes, the iconostasis managed to survive the terrible fire, having been removed from the cathedral in due time. The reconstruction work was not initiated until 1766, when Catherine the Great gave order for the edifice to be recreated in the exact same manner. But it took another ten years until the finished tower was revealed to the public.

The bell tower is definitely the main attraction of the cathedral and it is no wonder since it is an architectural emblem. The tower is part of the imperial catacombs – these are located on the ground floor, and it also consists of a platform upon which visitors can ascend and admire the view. These are organized on an hourly basis, beginning at 12:00 and ending at 18:00.


There is a story concerning the edifice that might catch your attention. In 1997, when the angel atop the needle was being cleaned, the renovators encountered a message in a bottle which had been written back in 1953. The persons in charge of the renovation work from the ‘50s were apologetic for having performed a hasty and a bit of a sloppy work. The explanation is that the Soviet prime minister at that time, Nikita Khrushchev gave order for the angel to the restored quickly so that it would be ready for the city’s 250th anniversary. Allegedly, the renovators from ’97 had continued the tradition, leaving a note for the generations to come. However, the text was not made public.

Jul 25

Novodevichy Convent (Manastirea Novodevichy)

The Novodevichy Convent is situated on the bank of Moscow River and consists both of a monastery and a cemetery.

The convent dates back from the 16th century (1524) when it was founded by Tsar Vasily III as a means to commemorate the Muscovite-Lithuanian War through which the Russians managed to capture the city of Smolensk from Lithuania – which was a major trading center at that time. The construction was meant to serve both as a religious site and as a fortification. This was obvious from the thickness of the walls as well as from the strategic location chosen to erect the edifice.


Due to the fact that it was constructed by the order of the Tsar, the convent occupied a higher position among the religious edifices and was designated mainly for noble women. In fact, it was oftentime used to imprison the women of royalty who would defy the tsar. Just to give an example of how disobedience was punished, it is worth mentioning that both the first wife and the half-sister of Tsar Peter the Great were confined here.

The original structure did not survive the passage of time, so the building that stands before the beholder dates from a later period, more exactly from the 1680s. This marks the year when the monastery was subjected to massive restoration work.


After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the convent was closed and in ’22 it was transformed into a museum. This turn of events was actually beneficial because it ensured the survival of the edifice in a period when Russia was traversed by warfare.

The convent was one again restored in the 1960s and even to this day it has maintained the status of museum which was given at the beginning of the 20th century. However, there are nuns dwelling here, thus maintaining the convent alive.

The monastic complex comprises several churches. The most relevant one is the Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk. This follows the architectural style of the Cathedral of Assumption, located in Kremlin, and consists of five colossal domes, an outstanding iconostasis which comprises 84 wooden piers, to which are added 16th and 17th century icons.


There is a legend according to which the cathedral was on the verge of being brought down in 1812, when Napoleon gave order to his soldiers to dynamite the edifice, but a courageous nun had prevented this from happening by extinguishing the fuse.

The Church of Assumption is located to the right of the aforementioned cathedral and the Church of St. Ambrose is located at the back. This later church is all painted in white and contains within its walls icons from the 18th century as well as an exhibition of clergy apparel.


The Gate-Church of Trasfiguration is situated at the entrance of the convent and it is representative for the Moscow Baroque architectural design. The southern gate is ‘guarded’ by the Gate-Church of the Intercession, an edifice consisting of three cupolas and a red and white façade.

As it has been mentioned the complex is officially known as a museum, so exhibitions are bound to be found here. The items on display are paintings dating from Antiquity, ceramic and wooden objects, different types of needlework, as well as an impressive collection of gilded, silver or bejeweled books.


The adjacent cemetery is actually a highly appreciated tourist attraction. Probably this is due to the fact that it resembles a park. There are small chapels every now and then and large sculptures.

In its initial phase, the cemetery was used solely for feudal rulers and for the high figures of the church. As time went by, other important figures started using the cemetery as their burial place, such as intellectuals or traders. Each historical period has its representatives buried Novodevichy Cemetery. Overall, more than 27.000 persons (political leaders, well-renowned artists, actors, authors, etc.) have found their rest here.

Visiting hours:
The museum is opened Thursday to Tuesday from 10:00 until 17:00, while the Convent is opened each day from 10:00 until 18:00.