Moscow is a powerful mix of history and edginess, full of world-famous sites and attractions. Russia’s capital has been in existence for more than 800 years, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that this city is filled with some of the oldest fortresses, grandiose cathedrals to well sought out public transportation and futuristic skyscrapers. Here is a list of a few gems an architect must tick off his travel list, when in Moscow.
1. Red Square
Centrally located in Moscow, the Red Square has inextricable links to Russian history since the 13th century. Initially, a marketplace, the square became famous as the site of large-scale military parades and other demonstrations designed to showcase Soviet strength. Presently it is occasionally used for official ceremonies by all Russian governments. The ‘red’ in Red square is unrelated to the crimson brick buildings that surround the square. The Russian name of Red Square- “krasnaya Ploschad” derived from the word “krasnyi” meant beautiful in Old Russian and only later became associated to the colour red. The prominent buildings that surround the Square are Lenin’s Mausoleum, Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral to name a few.
2. The Grand Kremlin Palace
Built in 1849, was formerly the tsar’s Moscow residence. Intended to emphasise the greatness of Russian autocracy it towers over the Borovitsky hill looming over the Moscow River. Since it is currently the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation, parts of it are restricted for the general audience. The façade has three levels of windows, however the palace consists of only 2 floors. The opulent interiors of the palace that it was once stripped off of during the Soviet times, were refurbished in the 1990’s.
The palace complex also houses the Terem Palace, which is currently the residence of the Russian President, which is not accessible to the public. The exterior of this is exuberantly decorated with brick tracery and coloured tiles, is brilliantly painted in red, yellow, and orange.
3. Kuskovo Museum
The former summer country house & estate of the Russian nobility, Sheremetev family is now home to the Russian museum of Ceramics, world’s largest collections of ceramics & glass from various countries.
Built in the 18th century, this neo classical Palace that exudes Wes Anderson aesthetic with soft pastel colours on the exterior. The entire Estate was designed for entertainments, festivities & state occasions. The ostentatious interiors accommodate around 26 rooms of which 12 are large state rooms that completely mesmerise you, right from the marble columns of the vestibule, Flemish tapestries, carved motifs in the state bedroom and mirror covered walls in white and gold in the Dancing Hall.
The estate sprawled over 720 acres holds over 20 architectural monuments, including Italian & Dutch houses, an old church, grotto, a Petrine baroque style wooden church and numerous other buildings. It also boasts of an extensive French park, the only kind in Moscow.
4. St. Basil’s Cathedral
At the southern end of the Red Square, stands the whimsical masterpiece of Russia, the St. Basil Cathedral. Unlike any other cathedral, the columnar church is each decorated with onion domes, where none of the designs repeat onto the other. 8 column chapels cluster around the ninth& the tallest one, which houses the main nave of the church. The cathedral’s original colour was said to be white, to complement the white stone of Kremlin, while the domes were gold. However in the 17th century, the domes began to be painted the remarkable colours that are seen today. Inside this composite church is a labyrinth of narrow vaulted corridors and vertical cylinders of the churches.
5. State historical museum
The red brick building which echoes the St. Basil’s Cathedral resonates well into the architectural narrative of the Red Square. Its exterior is an excellent example of the Russian revival style while incorporating motifs from Muscovite architecture with its tall spires. The museum exhibits a range of relics of prehistoric tribes that lived on the territory of present day Russia. It boasts of 39 halls with unique interiors with different exhibits. The interiors are reminiscent of Russian churches and princely courts. One of the halls is built like a byzantine cathedral and resembles a miniature Hagia Sophia from the inside.
6. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, is the highest orthodox temple in the world and the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and all Russians. Located between the Kremlin and Moskva River, it is a magnificent white structure that dominates in a Neo-Russian and Byzantine architectural style. It was built over a period of 40 years from 1839 to 1883, only to be demolished in 1931 by Stalin’s command. It was to be replaced by an authoritarian 415m high structure, from which the concept of Seven Sisters, or Moscow’s 7 large skyscrapers, in Stalinist architecture was developed. The stone façade with white marble, four columns and 5 gold gilded domes were beautifully rebuilt, back to its former glory in the early 90’s as a place of pilgrimage.
The GUM, also known as the State department store, is an opulent shopping mall facing the Red Square. The trapezoidal building features a combination of elements of Russian medieval architecture and a steel framework and glass roof, a similar style to the great 19th-century railway stations of London. After the 1812 fire, the moat near the Kremlin wall was replaced with sand and the ramparts were eliminated, this along with rows of numerous shops were replaced to pave way for a large Classicist building. The building has three levels and covered with a glass roof resting on a curved steel framework that allows the sun to stream into the space that paves way for customers, a stark contrast from a typical departmental store anywhere.
8. IZMAILOVO KREMLIN
Apart from the main Kremlin in Moscow’s famous Red Square, there is a second, lesser known Kremlin in the north-eastern part of the city, Izmailovo Kremlin.
An unexpected wonderland, the Izmailovo Kremlin is a kaleidoscope of colourful towers. The wooden complex was built in the early 2000’s as a cultural centre and marketplace, modelled after traditional Russian architectural and fairy-tale depictions of Old Russia. Set like a small village, it holds a lot of museums, antiques and handicrafts. The variety of built styles is something that keeps you captivated through and through.
9. Tsaritsyno Palace
The palace is part of a magnanimous Palace-museum and park reserve in the south of Moscow. The estate was founded in 1776 and renovated extensively in 2007. The Tsaritsyno architectural monument is a major attraction with its large scale expositions in the museum that immerses you in the spirit of the 18th century. Built in Neo gothic style, the Grand Palace is a three- storey building, flanked by green roofed towers. Just as almost any other Tsaritsyno building, this one too combines red brick with white stone. The steeples on the towers, lancet windows and arches mesmerise you even from afar. The estate is also home to a number of pavilions, pergolas, artificial grottos, decorative bridges, Russian orthodox and a naturally inundating but maintained landscape.
10. Sandunovsky Bath House
Immerse yourself in history by visiting the unique and opulent Russian Bath house. A national heritage, the Sanduny Bath House is the oldest public bath house in Russia. This building holds bath departments, spacious lounge zones, swimming pools and Classical Russian steam rooms, private rooms and 8 separate bath house areas with Jacuzzis. Built in the 1800’s, the baths received water via a specially built aqueduct from the Babyegorodskaya Dam on the Moscow River and from 700 feet of artesian well. The electrical illumination was provided by a private electric power station. The exteriors and interiors are a mix of Baroque, Classical, Renaissance, Gothic and Rococo style. The hallway leading up to the changing rooms are decorated in elaborate mosaics and frescos.
11. Bolshoi Theatre
The historic 19th century theatre originally designed by Architect Joseph Bové continues to be a major contributor to the Russian performing arts. It is also home to one of the oldest ballet and opera companies. A mighty Palladian façade with neoclassical columns and horses galloping across the intricately carved pediment enrich the exterior. Restored multiple times through the course of its existence due to fires, its imperial décor and acoustics were finally restored to its former glory in 2011. The interiors are a mix of Renaissance with Byzantine style, a cue from the alluring theatres across Europe such as Palais Garnier in Paris.
The white balconies interspersed with gold, the bright crimson draping of the interiors and a magnificent chandelier are a sight to behold.
12. Ostankino Tower
The TV tower, built in 1967 by Nikolai Nikitin, has been the tallest freestanding structure in Europe for over 50 years. On contrary to a tall structure relying on a deep foundation, the foundation of Ostankino’s tower was made resilient by making its foundation far heavier than the structure itself.
The concept of the silhouette of the building was an upside down lily, with a firm stem and solid petals as supports. With 2 observation decks at 337m and 340ms, the glass and open observation decks provide breath-taking views of the entire city.
One can only begin to fathom the shear expanse and planning of the city is mesmerizing from that height.
13. Arbat Street
An all pedestrian street where you can roam about and take in all the architecture at your own leisurely pace, Arbat is a dream come true. One of the most famous streets in Moscow, the Arbat was once a bohemian place that transitioned over the ages into being home to a lot of prominent Russian writers and poets. The huts paved way to one – two storey mansions with tower rooms and gardens that further developed into multi-storey tenement houses in various architectural styles. The few prominent styles were Art Nouveau, eclecticism and Avant-Garde, which are still of great interests for architectural connoisseurs.
14. Melnikov House
The eccentric house that Konstantin Melnikov built for him and his family was surrounded by a world wind of controversial and un-acceptance, but over the years turned into a 20th century icon for Russian architecture. With an aesthetic different from a traditional Soviet residential architecture, it was an essence of the later Russian Avant-garde. It features 2 interlocking cylindrical volumes standing 3 stories high with enough space for the family, and a studio space. The windows are a series of shapes resulting in a honeycomb structure with angles that were determined by the quarter lengths of the standard local bricks. These windows provided an even dispersion of light, air and heat that beautifully lit up the interior space.
15. The Moscow Metros
The underground world of Moscow reads of a whole other world of amazing architecture for a daily commuter. The Metro was one of the major propagandas of the Soviet era right from 1938, with a desire of the Soviet leaders to communicate power of the union to citizens and visitors.
The underground palaces for the people were initially a Russian version of art Deco with some avant-garde forms that slowly transitioned to Neo Classical with Imperial motifs. These stations are an embodiment of brilliance and a radiant past. All the stations differ from one another some are richly decorated with ornaments and bas reliefs; some are vaulted with large mosaics depicting historic events in history with gilded arches. The cost to experience them is only that of a metro ticket.