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Российская Федерация Rossiyskaya Federatsiya Russian Federation
It has been over 300 years since Peter the Great decided to “open” Russia to the West. Since then, Russia has become much closer to western civilization, perhaps even a part of it. It has been enriched by western culture in many ways and yet has preserved its distinct Eurasian character. Russia has had a troubled history, but continues to stand proudly and boasts many splendors for foreign visitors to behold. Onion-shaped domes inherited from the Byzantine Empire, castles built to fend off the Mongol hordes, streets constructed by Soviet planners–every corner has a rich and fascinating history. Remember it then, Imagine it now.
Moscow is the cradle of Russian nation and is sometimes called “the heart of Russia.” In 13th century, its dukes had unified Russian lands to fend of the Mongols and ever since, Moscow had occupied a prominent role in Russian politics, economics, culture and national identity. Moscow unique heritage, its immense size and wealth, its vibrant cultural life make it one of the world’s capitals and one of the world’s most exciting travel destinations.
Russia could be cold, but not always. You would be surprised to learn that Russian southern cities are located on the same latitude as Nice. The three largest southern cities of Russia are Sochi, Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don. Sochi, which is located on the banks of Black Sea next to gorgeous mountain slopes is famous for its summer resorts and for being selected as the site for 2014 Winter Olympics. Volgograd (former Stalingrad), located on the banks of Volga River, is famous for the Battle of Stalingrad – a turning point in the World War II. Rostov, also located on the banks of Volga, is famous for being the capital of Russian Cossacks.
So remote and desolated (only one inhabitant per square mile), so beautiful and pristine, Siberia is one of the world’s most untouched places. Siberia is huge – 2/3 of Russia’s territory. In the east, on Kamchatka, you will find chains of volcanoes and geysers. In south, you will find Lake Baikal – world’s largest. Siberia is roughly two times bigger than United States. Explore the unexplored, leave civilization behind to discover lands beyond the horizons.
If Moscow is “Russia’s heart,” St. Petersburg is its soul. St. Petersburg is relatively young, it was established just 300 years ago. Rapid growth of Russian commerce necessitated access to seas, but powerful neighbors sought to prevent emergence of a new naval power. Russia’s young tsar Peter the Great who aspired to transform Russia into a world-class European power waged the Seven Year War with Sweden in a result of which he gained a small swampy stretch of land in the Gulf of Finland. There, he laid the foundation for a city named after him and for his empire.
Russian composer Tchaikovsky composed the world’s most famous works of ballet— Swan Lake, The Nutcrackers and Sleeping Beauty. During the early 20th century, Russian dancers Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky rose to fame and impresario Serguey Daighilev and his Ballets Russes` travel abroad undoubtedly influenced dance worldwide and during the 20th century famous star after another, including Plisetskaya, Nureyev and Baryshnikov. The Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and the Kirov in Saint Petersburg remain famous throughout the world.
Russian literature is considered to be among the most influential and developed in the world, contributing much of the world’s most famous literary works. Russia’s literary history dates back to the 10th century and by the early 19th century a native tradition had emerged, producing some of the greatest writers of all time. This period began with Alexander Pushkin, considered to be the founder of modern Russian literature and often described as the “Russian Shakespeare Amongst Russia’s most renowned poets and writers of the 19th century are Chekhov, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Gogol, Turgenevm Dostoevsky, Goncharov, Saltykov, Pisemsky and Leskov made lasting contributions to Russian prose. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in particular were titanic figures to the point that many literary critics have described one or the other as the greatest novelist ever.
The State Museum of Ceramics in Kuskovo, 10km (6 miles) from the center of Moscow, has a fascinating collection of Russian china, porcelain and glass. Arkhangelskoye Estate, a museum housed in a palace 16km (10 miles) from Moscow, exhibits European paintings and sculptures, but the main attraction is the grounds which are laid out in the French style. Zhostovo, 30km (19 miles) from Moscow, is a center renowned for its lacquered trays, and Fedoskino, 35km (22 miles) from Moscow, produces lacquer miniatures, brooches and other handicrafts. Located near the town of Tula, 160km (100 miles) from the capital, Yasnaya Polyana is historically significant as the author Leo Tolstoy’s estate. The author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina is buried here and his house, surrounded by landscaped parkland, is now a museum open to the public. Tchaikovsky’s home at Klin, 90km (56 miles) from Moscow, and Boris Pasternak’s home at Peredelkino (30 minutes’ drive from the capital), are also museums.
Tver, situated 160km (100 miles) from Moscow on the Upper Volga, is where Catherine II built a palace in order to take a rest en route from Moscow to St Petersburg. The Putyevoi Dvorets (Route Palace) was built by Kazakov in 1763-75. The palace overlooks the river, a convenient location for the tsarina to disembark. The town is also notable for its star-shaped square.
The Golden Ring
Several ancient towns of great historical, architectural and spiritual significance make up the ‘Golden Ring’, extending northeast from Moscow. They are a rich collection of kremlins (citadels), monasteries, cathedrals and fortresses. All are within easy reach of the capital. Since many were founded on river banks, a cruise is a pleasant way of discovering the region. Modern boats plying the Volga afford comfortable accommodation. As some major sites such as Vladimir and Suzdal are not located near the Volga, a minibus tour with hotel accommodation is a better option for visitors whose primary interest is the region’s architectural heritage.
This small town, formerly known as Zagorsk, is situated on two rivers and is the center of the handmade toy industry; the Toy Museum has a collection beginning in the Bronze Age. The Trinity Monastery of St Sergius dates from the Middle Ages and is a major pilgrimage center. Its Cathedral of the Dormition has wonderful blue domes decorated with gold stars. The museum contains examples of Russian ecclesiastical art and crafts.
In nearby Sofrin, the Icon Workshops produce ecclesiastical ware. Also near Sergiyev Posad, the literary and artistic museum of Abramtsevo houses paintings by Repin, Serov and Vrubel. The museum is surrounded by parkland and birch woods. Ornate traditional Russian huts are dotted around the estate.
Founded in the ninth century, this town has a beautiful Kremlin and Cathedral of the Dormition. The town overlooks the shores of the Nero Lake, and is surrounded by ancient monasteries.
Neighbouring Yaroslavl lies on the banks of the Volga, and contains a host of ancient churches, most notably the Transfiguration of the Saviour Cathedral, built in the early 16th century.
This town stands at the confluence of the Volga and the River Kostroma. It is a renowned cheese-making center. Its most outstanding building is the Ipatievski Monastery-Fortress. Built during the first half of the 14th century, it became the Romanovs’ residence three centuries later. The open-air museum features a collection of traditional Russian buildings, including wooden churches, log cabins and windmills brought from all over the Russian Federation.
East of Moscow is Suzdal, perhaps the most important town in the Golden Ring. It boasts 50 well-preserved examples of ancient architecture contained within a relatively small area, providing a wonderfully coherent vision of its past. Historically it was a political and religious center, and is now a major tourist attraction. The wives of tsars and boyars were exiled to the Blessed Virgin Convent.
Less than 32km (20 miles) away is Vladimir, which played a prominent part in the rise of the Russian state. The city’s two magnificent cathedrals date from the 12th century. Another notable monument is the Golden Gate, a unique example of old Russian engineering skills. The nearby village of Bogolyubovo features a 12th-century fortress and Church of the Protecting Veil.
Another beautiful town on the banks of the Volga, this is notable for its Kremlin and the Chambers of Prince Dmitry. Prince Dmitry, son and heir of Ivan the Terrible drowned here, after accidentally being dropped in a river by his nurse.
The Federation’s second-largest city, 715km (444 miles) northwest of Moscow, is known both as a cultural center and for its elegant buildings. The city is spread over 42 islands in the delta of the River Neva. In comparison to Moscow, which tended to be more Eastern in character, St Petersburg has always retained a European flavor and was intended as a ‘Window to the West’. It was built by Peter the Great in 1703 and remained the capital for 200 years of Tsarist Russia. Known as Petrograd after the civil war, and Leningrad during the Soviet period, the city reverted to its original name in 1991 by popular demand. Wide boulevards, tranquil canals, bridges and some of the best examples of tsarist architecture gave rise to the epithet the ‘Venice of the North’. Although badly damaged in World War II, much of it is now reconstructed. In June and July the city has the famous ‘White Nights’, when darkness recedes to a brief twilight and the city is imbued with an unusual aura. Many of the most interesting sites, especially those on the left bank of the River Neva, can be explored on foot. The Palace Square and the Winter Palace are among the most popular attractions for followers of Russian history. Troops fired on demonstrators there in 1905 and the Palace witnessed the capitulation of the provisional government, allowing the Bolsheviks to take the country into eight decades of Communist rule. The Hermitage houses the vast private collection of the tsars. The Museum of the History of the City gives a comprehensive picture of St Petersburg’s history. While exploring the city the visitor will inevitably see the Alexandrovskaya Column. St Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the biggest dome buildings of the world and, like the Kazansky Cathedral, houses a museum. Also worth a visit is the St Peter and Paul Fortress, a former prison that is now a popular museum. Members of the Romanov Dynasty are buried in the Cathedral of the same name. The gorgeously decorated Yusupov Mansion was built for the Romanovs. Its rooms are sumptuousy decorated in mid-19th-century style. The mansion’s concert hall is now a venue for recitals, theatrical productions, opera and ballet. A waxwork exhibition commemorates Rasputin, who died in the building. The grand Nevsky Prospekt, dominated by the spire of the Admiralty Building, is one of the city’s main thoroughfares and is lined by opulent buildings. These include the Kazan Cathedral and the Church of the Resurrection. The collection at the Russian Museum covers nearly 1000 years of Russian art history. Nevsky Prospect crosses the Fontanka River at Anichkov Bridge, and continues to Palace Square. Further sights are the Cathedral of St Nicholas (Russian Baroque), still a working church; the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, the main religious center in St Petersburg; and the Museums of Ethnography and Russian Art. The homes of Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Anna Akhmatova and Rimsky-Korsakov serve as museums dedicated to their former occupants. The cruiser Aurora is berthed on the Neva. A blank shot was fired from her bow to give a signal to start the assault on the Winter Palace in 1917. Lenin also announced the victory of the Revolution from here.
The Summer Palaces
The following palaces beyond the outskirts of St Petersburg are collectively known as the Summer Palaces. Petrodvorets is a former summer palace of Tsar Peter the Great and is known for its beautiful cascades and fountains. It is located 34km (21 miles) from St Petersburg on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. The tsar designed the initial plans himself, and he appointed European and Russian architects to realise his grand project, which was intended to rival Versailles. Oranienbaum was built as the summer residence of Alexander Menshikov, Peter the Great’s associate. From here, Alexander oversaw the construction of the Kronstadt naval fortress on the nearby Kotlin Island. Thankfully, the palace and its parkland escaped damage during World War II. Its Chinese and Sliding Hill Pavilions are exceptionally beautiful. The Grand Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo was built for Peter the Great’s wife. The Scottish architect Charles Cameron designed some of the interiors, although a greater number by Bartholomeo Rastrelli survive. Pushkin spent his formative years in the town. Cameron also designed the subtle buildings at nearby Pavlovsk, which were intended to complement the parkland’s beauty. The park itself, designed by the Italian Gonzago, is one of the finest landscaped parks in Europe. The estate was originally part of Tsarskoye Selo, but Catherine II gave it to her son Paul. Although she commissioned Cameron to design the estate, Paul, whose relationship with his mother was strained, decided to redecorate the palace.
Vast and often turbulent, Lake Ladoga is linked to St Petersburg by the River Neva. Valaam is the most significant of the islands in the lake’s northern archipelago because of its ancient monastery. Its golden domes suddenly rise from the mist that frequently shrouds visiting cruise ships. The founding religious community frequently suffered Swedish and Viking attacks during the Middle Ages. The present buildings date from the late 18th century. As well as being an important pilgrimage center, the monastery was a noted center for innovations in crafts and agriculture. Its missionaries brought Orthodox Christianity to the shores of Alaska. A religious community was re-established on the island in 1989, and restoration of the monastery is already under way. Despite years of neglect, Valaam still retains a mysterious air.
South of St Petersburg, Novgorod was founded over 1100 years ago and was one of the most important towns of ancient Russia. Novgorod was the founding city of Rus, the nucleus of modern Russia, although Kiev later became the capital. Picturesquely located on the banks of the River Volkhov, the city is a treasure trove of ancient architecture, with 39 cathedrals and churches. Within the walls of the Kremlin, St Sophia’s Cathedral (mid-11th century) is the oldest stone structure in the Russian Federation.
Bounded by Finland and the White Sea, Karelia’s landscape is a patchwork of lakes, marshes and forests, whose canopies shade abundant mushrooms and berries. The region’s capital, Petrozavodsk, is a staging post for a variety of holiday activities in the region. The small island of Kizhi within Lake Onega is easily accessible by hydrofoil from here. The island was an early pagan center. Its surviving heritage features the 22-domed 18th-century Church of the Transfiguration, whose wooden structure was built without a single nail. The open-air museum is a collection of Russian and Karel wooden buildings from the 14th to 19th centuries. The region is ideal for adventure holidays on the Shuya, Suna and Vama-Vodla rivers. Tranquil waters offering spectacular views of the countryside are suddenly interrupted by rapids cascading over glacial boulders. The white waters may be negotiated by kayak or cataraft. The Suna River is excellent for fishing. The Kivach Waterfall along its path is especially beautiful. Karel pies called kalitkas may be sampled in the local hamlets, often no more than a cluster of sturdy wooden cottages. A real sauna followed by a plunge into a river or lake is an ideal way to unwind at the end of an adventure-packed day.
Almost due north of St Petersburg, this is the largest city within the Arctic Circle. This important port on the shores of Kola Bay is warmed by the waters of the Gulf Stream and is free of ice throughout the year. It was built with British assistance during World War I. The Northern Lights are seen here in November and December and the Sports Festival of the Peoples of the North is held in March.
The largest city in the White Sea area, Arkhangelsk was only opened to tourists in 1990. Before the founding of St Petersburg it was the first and only seaport in Russia. From here, visitors may travel to the nearby village of Mali Kareli to view Russian white stone and wooden architecture.
The tract of land sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic shoreline is an annexe of the Russian Federation. Its principal town is now called Kaliningrad, although it was known as Königsberg when it was the center of German East Prussia. The area was ceded to the erstwhile Soviet Union following World War II. The territory’s future prosperity depends on the Government’s plans to give it special economic status. Architectural remnants which survived the war mark the city’s German heritage, such as the Cathedral. The philosopher Immanuel Kant, the town’s most famous son, is buried near here, and his memory is honored by the Kant Museum. The Amber Museum, housed in a restored German fortress tower, celebrates this local precious stone. The town has many attractive parks and gardens, as well as a zoo. Nearby, Svetlogorsk is a verdant coastal spa resort which has lost none of its charm. The Kursche Spit is a beautiful sand peninsula extending nearly 100km (63 miles) along the coast, and is a rich habitat for plants and animals.
Once an Armenian town, its low buildings still show Armenian influences. Especially interesting is the Cathedral of the Resurrection. There are several parks, four theaters, an orchestra, a race-course and a beach. Rostov is the gateway to the Caucasus.
A popular resort with a subtropical climate and a famous health spa, it is situated on the Black Sea’s eastern coast beneath the dramatic Caucasus Mountains. An observation tower on Mt Bolshoi Akhun, 23km (14 miles) from the town, provides a spectacular view of the town, almost all of the Caucasian Riviera and the surrounding mountains. There is a large Riviera Park with many tourist facilities and a Botanical Garden, founded during the last century, with beautiful, interesting trees and shrubs from all over the world. Boat and hovercraft trips on the Black Sea are available from the town’s port.
For those who want a resort-based holiday, this new holiday center lying to the north of Sochi is ideal. Overlooking the Black Sea, it is beautifully located amongst thickly wooded hills and subtropical greenery. Nearby is the Dagomys State Tea Farm where visitors can sample the fragrant Krasnodar tea accompanied by the delicious local pastries, jams, fruits and nuts whilst enjoying the spectacular mountain scenery.
The mighty Volga provides an additional road into the Russian Federation. Traveling by river from Kazan to Rostov-on-Don makes a pleasant tour.
The cultural centre of the Tartars, this city boasts a Kremlin dating from the 16th century which, with its towers and churches, is fascinating to visit. The Tartar State Museum and the 18th-century mosque are also of interest.
Lenin’s birthplace; his parents’ house situated here used to be a popular museum.
A major space centre, the city was founded in the 16th century around a fortress surveying the Volga and Samara rivers. The Old Town is notable for its fine turn-of-the-century buildings. The Volga shoreline and the nature reserves of the Zhiguli Hills are accessible from Samara.
Formerly Stalingrad, the Victory Museum celebrates the victory over the Nazis, and the whole city is a monument to the year-long battle that took place there. Tours to the battlefields are available. The town stands at the confluence of the Volga and Don rivers. Boat trips and fishing tours taking in both rivers are possible. Visits to outlying Cossack and Volga-German villages provide a glimpse of the region’s history.
The Urals, Siberia & the Far East
The birthplace of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The city is also historically important as the last resting place of the Romanov royal family, murdered during the Bolshevik revolution.
Covering an area of over 12,800,000 sq km (4,000,000 sq miles), Siberia contains unimaginably vast stretches of marshy forest (taiga). This ‘sleeping land’, the literal translation of its name, possesses a million lakes, 53,000 rivers and an enormous wealth of natural resources. Although the temperature in winter falls well below freezing point, the weather in summer can be very warm. Tourism is less developed than elsewhere in the Russian Federation and some parts are still not accessible. However, much of the region has been opened up, including Sakhalin Island and the Chukchi Peninsula just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. The taiga is within easy reach of many of the region’s cities. Air-hopping is one way of discovering the wilderness. A famous alternative is the Trans-Siberian Railway, the longest continuous railway in the world, a journey which is one of the greatest travel adventures. The line cuts through an area bigger than Western Europe, crossing a landscape which includes arctic wastes, tundra and steppe. The most scenic part of the journey is between Irkutsk and Khabarovsk.
Irkutsk is over 300 years old and owes much of its development to its location on the tradeways to Mongolia and China. At the end of the last century, the city began to take on the aspect of a ‘boom town’ when trade in gold, fur and diamonds suddenly created new wealth. It was to Irkutsk that many 19th-century revolutionaries, such as the Decembrists, were exiled. The University of Irkutsk was the first establishment of higher education in eastern Siberia. Today, as in former times, this important Siberian city is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of fur. The town lies on the banks of the Angara, the only outflowing river from Lake Baikal.
The lake is accessible from Irkutsk by hydrofoil during the summer. Statistics about Baikal are astounding; with a depth of 1637m (5371ft) it is the world’s deepest lake. Its surface area equals that of Belgium and The Netherlands put together. It is 25 million years old, and it would take three months to walk around its 2000km (1243 mile) shoreline. The purity of its water is maintained by millions of tiny crayfish, providing a habitat for a wide variety of fish, including sturgeon, loach, grayling and omul (a type of salmon), one of many species unique to Baikal. Its shores are a feeding ground for wildfowl and the occasional bear. Freshwater seal colonies are found around the Ushkan Islands in the center of the lake. Olkhon Island is the site of primitive rock drawings and a unique necropolis of an ancient Siberian tribe whose members are thought to have been ancestors of indigenous North Americans. The local climate is often harsh; the surface of the entire lake often freezes over in winter (trains were moved across the ice during the Russo-Japanese war). The sarma wind can sink boats and rip the roofs off buildings. While the human race now dominates the lake, it remains to be seen whether it will be a responsible custodian of the region’s flora and fauna.
Many of the inhabitants of the Buryat Republic are Buddhists. Dozens of picturesque temples (datsans) sprang up round Lake Baikal after Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s daughter, recognized the Buddhist religion in the Russian Federation. Although most datsans were destroyed during the 1930s, many of their treasures were preserved in the Russian Orthodox church in Ulaan Ude, the capital. The Sandalwood Buddha, on display in the town’s Exhibition Hall, is said to have been made with the Buddha himself sitting as a model.
Founded as a garrison town, Yakutsk is capital of the vast Sakha (Yakutia) Autonomous Republic. Today it is a major scientific center for permafrost research. The republic’s landscapes range from Alpine meadows to moss-covered tundra, with sandy deserts close to the Arctic zone. This is pioneer country, complete with gold-mining settlements.
The largest industrial center of eastern Siberia and an important transport junction is located on the Amur. The town (founded in 1858) was named after the scientist Khabarov. The red brick houses in the center have curious roofs shaped like pine needles, and are intermingled with the constructivist architecture of the 1930s. Worth a visit is the regional museum, which offers an insight into the different cultures of the Amur people.
A military and naval port, Vladivostok was opened to foreign visitors in 1990. As a gateway to the Pacific and the East, the town has enormous commercial potential. It is within easy reach of the Ussuriysk taiga, a unique habitat for plants of the pre-glacial period, as well as tigers, leopard, bison, boar and bears.