Moscow

On this expedition, we’ll walk the streets of Moscow, on the Moskva River in western Russia.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners and AirPano, now available on Google Arts & Culture

With a population of about 12 million people, the city is very much alive today, but its squares and building also serve as a kind of museum of the city’s rich history.

Vodovzvodnaya Tower

Here is a bird’s eye view of Moscow from atop the Kremlin’s Vodovzvodnaya Tower.  Moscow’s Kremlin, a complex of structures along the Moskva River, is the heart of the Soviet Union’s government. The word kremlin means “fortress inside a city.” You will understand that meaning as you take in the walls and towers that surround the Kremlin. 

The original Kremlin was a wooden structure, but in the 14th century it was rebuilt in white stone. Even later, much of the white stone was replaced with whitewashed brick.

Vodovzvodnaya Tower

The Vodovzvodnaya Tower stands almost 62 meters high and was built in 1488 by Italian architect Anotonio Gilardi. The tower contains a water pumping machine that was installed in 1633. 

This water pump took water from the Moskva River and supplied water to Russia’s first pressurized pipe system, and so was named “Vodovzvodnaya” which means “water lifting.” Note that the tower you see is not the original. The tower had to be rebuilt after it was blown up in 1812 by the French army.

Cathedral Square

If you look beyond the Kremlin’s white-walled and green-roofed structure, you’ll see an area where a number of golden domes rise into the sky. This is Cathedral Square. Three cathedrals, two churches, and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower stand together on the square.

In the 15th century, all of the Kremlin’s streets converged here, and for several centuries, this was a focal point of power—the power of the Russian Orthodox Church and the power of Russia’s ruling elite. All of Russia’s tsars were crowned here, and their funeral processions proceeded from here as well.

The Moskva River

Look down. The river you see winding alongside Moscow’s Kremlin is the Moskva River. This river is about 503 kilometers long and flows right through western Russian as well as through the heart of Moscow.

The river is a popular route for both private and commercial boats, but it does freeze over during the frigid winter months. 

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

As you gaze up the river, you’ll see the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This 103m-high white-walled and copper-domed structure is the world’s tallest Orthodox Christian church. Tsar Alexander I ordered the cathedral built in 1812. 

However, what you see is the second cathedral to be built on the site. The first was destroyed by Joseph Stalin to make room for a palace. But during World War II, construction of the palace was abandoned. Years later, the cathedral was rebuilt.

Saviour Tower

Also called Spasskaya Tower, Saviour Tower is easy to recognize by the illuminated red Kremlin star at the top of its wooden spire. This Gothic-inspired tower was built in 1491, and contains the official entrance to the Kremlin. Until 1658, it was called Frolovskaya Tower.

But when an icon of the Saviour was placed above the gate facing Red Square, the name was officially changed. This tower is so important to the Russian people that it is used as a greeting place for all foreign leaders who visit Russia.

The design of the tower changed over the years. The clock and turret, or belfry, were added in the 17th century. Chimes were added in 1851, and then repaired in after being damaged during the October Revolution in 1917.

Bolshoi Theatre

If you turn your gaze to the right, there in the distance you’ll see the Bolshoi Theatre, which is home to the Russian opera and ballet. The theater, which features a neoclassical façade, has been rebuilt several times over the years. 

The Russian people are so proud of this theatre that it is pictured on the 100-ruble banknote.

Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building

Turn your gaze to the left of the Saviour Tower and look out toward the far end of the river. There, on the left side, you’ll see the dark silhouette of one of the city’s seven Stalinist skyscrapers, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building. 

These skyscrapers were designed by Kmitry Chechulin and Andrei Rostkovsky, and built between 1947-1952. This 32-level 176m-tall building features terra cotta panels and numerous pseudo-Gothic turrets. This building houses apartments and elite living suites.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

 If you look at Red Square directly across the street from Saviour Tower, you’ll see Saint Basil’s Cathedral. This fancifully painted brick building, which was built in 1560, was designed to suggest a bonfire. The structure is actually a collection of ten churches. 

Eight are positioned around one central church called the Church of Intercession. It is thought that this design was meant to represent an eight-pointed star. The tenth church was later built on top of Saint Basil’s grave.

Bolshoi Theatre

The Bolshoi Theatre company was founded in around 1780 by Prince Peter Urusov and English impresario Michael Maddox. Performances were originally held in a private home and then in the Petrovka Theatre.

The Petrovka Theater was destroyed by a fire in 1805, and a new theatre—the New Arbat Imperial Theatre—was built in 1808. Unfortunately, this theatre was also destroyed by fire in 1812. 

The Bolshoi Theatre, built in 1821, has featured performances by many greats, including choreographer Alexander Gorsky, conductor Sergei Rachmininov, and singer Fyodor Chaliapin. 

Many world-famous ballerinas made their names here, including Maria Plsetskaya, Glina Ulanova, Vladimir Vasiliev, and Maris Liepa.

The Statue Above the Theatre's Entrance

The statue that stands above the Bolshoi’s entrance depicts Apollo riding a four-horse chariot. Apollo was the Greek god of, among other things, music and dance. The Bolshoi Theatre itself is neoclassical in design. The architecture suggests an ancient Greek temple.

Vodovzvodnaya Tower

If you look to the left side of the theatre, off in the distance you will see the top spire of the Vodovzvodnaya Tower. This tower was originally built in 1488 but needed repairs after being blown up by Napoleon’s troops in 1812. 

The red star at the very top of the tower’s spire was installed to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution, when Bolsheviks seized state power.

Ostankino Tower

Look into the far distance behind the Bolshoi Theatre and you’ll see a structure reaching high into the sky. This is the Ostankino Tower, a 540m-tall radio and television tower built in the late 1960s. 

This tower was designed by Nikolai Nikitin and built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. At the time it was built, it was the world’s tallest free-standing structure. 

There are restaurants and an observation deck at the top of the tower. If you were to ride the tower’s elevator to the top, the ride would only last 58 seconds! 

Statue of Peter the Great

As you stroll to the west away from the Kremlin, you’ll see a great statue rising up from what seems the middle of the river, where the Moskva River and Vodootvodny Canal merge. 

The statue doesn’t really rise from the water, but stands upon a small man-made island to create that illusion. Standing 98m-high, the statue depicts Tsar Peter the Great, who reigned from 1682 to 1725, standing on a tower of ships.

The biggest ship at the top is meant to symbolize the Russian Navy, which was created by Peter the Great. In fact, the statue was created to celebrate 300 years of the Russian Navy. 

The Statue

The statue was designed by Zurab Tsereteli and erected in 1997. However, not everyone liked the statue. You will notice that you cannot walk right up to the base of the statue, and there is a good reason for that. 

Many thought the statue was ugly and disliked it so much that they threatened to destroy it. So, the base has been fenced off to protect the statue from harm. Moscow even offered the city of St. Petersburg the statue, but St. Petersburg declined.

The Luzhniki Olympic Stadium

Across the river to the left of the statue of Peter the Great is the Luzhniki Olympic Stadium. This oval-shaped stadium can seat over 78,000 people. The stadium was first built in 1955 and was originally named Central Lenin Stadium.

A roof was added and other renovations took place in 1996.  This stadium was used for the 1980 Summer Olympics, the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final, the 2013 World Athletics Championships, and it will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Kremlin from Manege Square

Located right next to the Kremlin and Red Square is Manege Square. This square, which was created in the late 1700s, is rich in history and architectural treasures. 

It is a large, open area where people come to relax, stroll, and meet up to enjoy lunch at a café or to go shopping at Okhotny Ryad, the nearby underground mall. Famous landmarks form the square’s borders.

The buildings of Moscow State University stand on the north side of the square. The Hotel Moskva stands to the east, and  the State Historical Museum to the south.

 On the west side is the Moscow Manege, the riding academy for which the square was named (from the French  word manège, an arena for training horses). Numerous subway lines converge at Manege Square, making it a true Moscow focal point.

Red Square

Look to the east of the Kremlin, and you’ll see a large open area. This is Red Square. Red Square was not named for the red bricks you see in the surrounding buildings.  Its name comes from the word krasnyi which used to mean beautiful, but has since changed to mean red. 

This area was once a collection of poor, run-down wooden houses. But in the late 1400s, Prince Ivan III (also known as Ivan the Great) ordered the houses torn down to make room for the new Kremlin. 

Senate Palace

To the right of Red Square you’ll see a triangular shaped neoclassicist building. This is the Senate Palace. This building was built between 1776 and 1787 under the orders of Catherine II.

Originally, the building was the home of the Governing Senate of Imperial Russia, but today it is the location of the Russian presidential administration. The building features the circular, 24.7m-diameter Catherine Hall where important ceremonies take place.

Lenin's Mausoleum

To the immediate left of the Senate Palace you’ll notice a small, square structure located along the edge of Red Square. This is Lenin’s Mausoleum, or tomb. Vladimir Lenin was propelled to the role of Russia’s leader by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

His embalmed body has been on display in this tomb since his death in 1924. The step-pyramid-type mausoleum is designed to resemble other famous tombs, such as the Tomb of Cyrus the Great in Iran. 

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