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Best Places to Visit and Destinations in Russia

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Few countries have captured the public imagination the way Russia has, and with good reason. Within its once-closed borders, there is another world – a world of majestic cities and endless birch forests, onion-domed churches and wooden, deep brooding rivers and the sweeping vastness of the steppes – a world that more and more are discovering every day.

 

Why is St Basil’s Cathedral So Famous?

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If you’ve got nothing to do one day, try asking the people around you this question: What is the most famous building in Moscow?

If most people were asked, chances are they would reply with one of two answers: either the Kremlin, or the Cathedral of St Basil and its swirling onion-domes. The Kremlin leaps to mind for the obvious reason that it is the seat of ultimate power in that vast country, but the almost equally instantaneous choice of St Basil’s Cathedral is rather interesting, because apart from the fact that it is a pretty building, most people don’t actually know that much about it!

 

For a start, the Cathedral’s proper name is the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat (referring to the moat which still runs beside the Kremlin today). Since the official name is quite a mouthful, it’s not surprising the Cathedral was quickly nicknamed ‘St Basil’s’, after Saint Basil the Blessed (1468-1552), a popular figure with the Muscovites of the time whose was buried in a tomb in the ninth chapel after his death. Be that as it may, the popular choice of St Basil as the most famous building in Moscow does lead us to the question: Why exactly is it so famous?

 

Because It’s Pretty

 

Of course, a lot of things become famous just because they’re pretty, and St Basil’s Cathedral is very pretty indeed. The redstone walls are highly ornamented with arches, triangles and other traditional Russian designs (rather like an elaborate wedding cake), but the Cathedral’s best known feature are its eight brightly-coloured onion domes, each a different size and pattern. The vibrant, cheery colours of the Cathedral make a sharp contrast to the more subdued colours of the buildings surrounding it, and on a gray winter’s day, when the rest of Moscow seems wrapped in gloom, the Cathedral remains one of the brightest sights in the city. If everything were decided by looks, little wonder then the Cathedral is a popular symbol for Russia, used in everything from little snowball globes to airline advertisements!

 

Because It’s Historic

 
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Still, the Cathedral’s looks aren’t the only reason why it is so well known. The Cathedral has been intimately tied to Russian history for the since it was first commissioned by the infamous Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1555, and it was built to commemorate the tsar’s victory in retaking the distant city of Kazan from the invading Mongol Horde in 1552. The idea was to build one chapel in honor of each saint on whose feast day a successful assault occurred, which is why there are eight onion domes, with a towering central spire uniting the eight into a single Cathedral. So, from a purely historical point of view, the Cathedral would probably definitely be considered famous for being a religious monument built to celebrate a military victory.

 

Another reason for the Cathedral’s enduring fame is, literally, its endurance. It has barely escaped destruction numerous times over its history, but perhaps the closest it came to actual demolition was at the hand of Napoleon’s invading forces. Napoleon was reportedly so taken with the pretty cathedral that he wanted to bring it back with him, but since he couldn’t figure out a way to do that, didn’t want anyone else to have it either; so he gave orders for it to be destroyed during the retreat from the city. Napoleon’s soldier reportedly set out kegs of dynamite and lit the fuses, but a sudden short shower put out the fuses and stopped the impending explosion. Whether that’s actually true is debatable, but a miraculous save certainly didn’t hurt the Cathedral’s holy reputation and did help increase its stature!

 

Because It’s on TV!

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Still, when it comes down to it, for most people, the reason they’re familiar with the Cathedral may just come down to television, or more specifically, television reporters. In true television journalism tradition, when the reporters make their news broadcasts, they prefer to stand in front of some scene relevant to the news they’re reporting – and for the last fifty years or so, most of the news worth reporting from Moscow have had to do, one way or another, with the dictates emanating from the Kremlin. So, journalists would stand in front the Kremlin, and since the Cathedral is right next to the Kremlin – and it’s is a whole lot more noticeable than the imposing walls of the Kremlin – people would of course notice it, and perhaps mistake it for the Kremlin. So over the years, after seeing the Cathedral peeking over an earnest reporter’s shoulder on TV thousands of times, you can hardly blame people if they immediately think of it when they think of famous buildings in Moscow!

So there you have it – the reasons why Saint Basil’s Cathedral is today one of the most iconic Russian sights around the world!

Moscow: Things To See & Do

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Red Square

This vast cobbled expanse is the most historic and important square in the country. Long serving

as a forum for public gatherings and celebrations, it is bordered by the most important buildings

in the country and is the most popular tourist attraction in the city.

 


 

Kremlin

Seat of the Russian government, this massive fortress is a symbol of the country. The Kremlin

 is actually an entire complex which includes three cathedrals (including the Cathdral of the Dormition where all the Tsars were crowned) and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, which is said

to mark the exact centre of Moscow.

 

Details

Opening Hrs: Open daily, except Thursdays, from 10am to 5pm.  The Armoury Chamber has sessions at 10am, 12pm, 2:30pm  & 4:30pm.
Pricing:

Full ticket: 300 RUR; Foreign schoolchildren & students: 150 RUR

Contact:

24-hour inquiry phone (095) 202-37-76,                  e-mail: prs@kremlin.museum.ru

More Info: Ticket offices located at the Kutafiya Tower at the Aleksandrov Gardens, in the Armoury Chamber and on Cathedral Square (open daily, except Thursdays, from 9:30 to 16)
Getting Here: The nearest subway stations are Borovitskaya &  Biblioteka imeni Lenina.

 


St Basil’s Cathedral

Formally known as the Intercession Cathedral, this beautiful monument, world-renowned for

its colourful onion domes, was built in the 16th century and commemorates the capture of the Khanate of Kazan.

 

Details

Opening Hrs: Daily from 11 to 5:30pm, closed on Tuesdays.
Pricing:

Adults: RUR90; Concessions: RUR45

Contact:

(095) 298 5880 (095) 298 3304 (Excursions)

More Info: 1 service a year is held, on the Day of Intercession in October.
Getting Here: 4 Krasnaya Ploshad, Kremlin, Moscow. Metro: Kitai Gorod

 


 

Lenin’s Mausoleum

Perhaps the most famous mausoleum in the world, this imposing building still holds the

preserved body of the country’s former leader. Despite the endless debate over the authenticity

of the body found within, the mausoleum is still a very popular attraction.

 

   Details

Opening Hrs: The tomb is open every day except Mondays and Fridays from 10am to 1pm.
Pricing:

Adult ticket: RUR 100

Getting Here: Metro: Ploshchad Revolutsii, Okhotny Ryad & Alexandrovsky Sad

 


Bolshoi Theatre

The most famous theatre in the country, this was the home of the legendary Bolshoi Ballet

Troupe and is indelibly linked to some of the most famous ballets in the world, especially Tchaikovsky’s immortal Swan Lake.

 

    Details

Pricing:

Ticket price varies depending on the performance.

Contact:

Ticket outlets: tel. +7 (095) 250-73-17, +7 (800) 333-1-333 (free)

Getting Here: Teatralnaya Ploshchada. Metro Teatralnaya

 


 

Ostankino Tower

For many years known as the tallest tower in Europe, this free-standing television and radio tower has since lost the title to the CN Tower in Toronto and has had to content itself with the title of highest freestanding structure in Eurasia.

St Petersburg: Things To See & Do

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Winter Palace

In a city filled with gorgeous palaces, this vast structure is the grandest, with dazzling interiors and an opulent facade. Built to house the Russian Tsars (and the place where the first assault of the Bolshevik forces which toppled them took place), today the palace is part of the Hermitage Museum, which holds one of the world’s greatest collections of art.

 


Summer Palace

More modest than the winter palace (by Russian Tsarist standards), this was the home of Peter the Great and is especially known for the surrounding Summer Gardens, often considered the most romantic in the city.

 


Statues

The most famous statue in the city is that of Peter The Great, a masterpiece which dominates the Senate Square. Other famous statues and markers include the Alexander Column in Palace Square, the Catherine II statue in Nevsky Prospekt and the triumphal arches which commemorate the Russian victory over the German forces.

 


St Isaac’s Cathedral

The largest church in the city and one of the largest domed structures in the world.

 


Church of The Saviour on Blood

Built on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated, this magnificent church is in the Old Russian Style.

 


Peter & Paul Cathedral

Located in the Peter and Paul Fortress and long considered a symbol of the city, this church is particularly popular for containing the sepulchres of Peter the Great and other Russian Emperors.

 


Catherine Palace

The summer home of Catherine the Great and located in Tsarkoye Sele near to St Petersburg, the original building was destroyed by vengeful German troops during the failed siege of St Petersburg. After the war, it was faithfully recreated.

 


Gatchina

About 45 km southwest of St Petersburg, this is a gorgeous royal castle, known for its 600 lavish rooms and vast park-like grounds surrounding the residence.

 


Peterhof

A grand estate near to the city, the Grand Peterhof Palace and the magnificent fountain cascades on the grounds were badly damaged during the German siege, but were later restored.

 

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