As the capital of Russia and the country’s largest city, Moscow is where most visitors get their first real taste of Russian culture. The city is surprisingly cosmopolitan, but it still maintains its traditional charm thanks to the many historic buildings and monuments.
Moscow, located in the far western part of Russia was first mentioned in 1147 as the city grew around the Moscow Kremlin and has played a vital role in Russian history ever since. It became the capital in the late 13th century and remained so until 1713 when the capital was moved to Saint Petersburg. Moscow was reinstated in 1918 as the capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) and has remained so even during the tremendous economic and political change. Today, Moscow is not only the political center of Russia but also the country’s most populous city and its industrial, cultural, scientific, and educational capital. Moscow also has been the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church for the last 600 years.
Often a habit to compare Moscow with St. Petersburg, its rival and the former capital of Russia. While St. Petersburg has absorbed western European influences, Moscow is viewed as a traditional Russian city. Unlike its rival, Moscow has a well-defined city center marked by the Kremlin. Other characteristics of Moscow are its physical layout in radial spokes and rings that have been extended over time, its hodgepodge of architectural styles, and its historical buildings that were mainly built by Russian architects.
If St. Petersburg is Russia’s “window on Europe,” Moscow is Russia’s heart. It is an upbeat, vibrant, intriguing, sophisticated, and sometimes wearisome city. Much of Moscow was reconstructed after it was occupied by the French under Napoleon I in 1812 when it was almost entirely destroyed by fire. Moscow has never stopped being refurbished and modernized as it continues to experience rapid social change. Russia’s Soviet past collides with its capitalist present everywhere in the country, but nowhere is this contrast more visible than in Moscow.
With a long and tumultuous history, Moscow is an almost intimidating mega metropolis bursting with world-class art galleries, incredible museums, topnotch restaurants and shopping, old and invigorating cultural institutions, and a thrilling nightlife. It’s no wonder Moscow has always been regarded as a city of superlatives and dramatic contrasts, and a hub of creative and intellectual energy.