Formerly the centre of one of the world's two superpowers, Moscow (Moskva) is still reeling from the rapid pace of change that the past decade has wrought. It is a brash city with sparks of ostentatious new-found (and often ill-gotten) wealth surrounded by a vast majority who are struggling to live on meagre salaries or pensions. The spiritual, political and economic capital of the world's largest country, Moscow is quite different from the rest of the Russian Federation and the worst ravages of industrial decline have bypassed the city as it is more focused on the administrative and service sectors. It is a magnet, not only for the entrepreneurs of the new Russia, but also for some of the most destitute from the far reaches of the country.
For most of eight centuries, the Kremlin, at the heart of Moscow, has been the seat of power for the grand princes, tsars and, most recently, presidents, as well as an important religious site. For Westerners, the adjacent Red Square and especially the bulbous, multicoloured domes of St Basil's Cathedral have been an image synonymous with the Soviet Union and Russian state since the advent of television. Surrounding this centre, Stalin's so-called Seven Sisters, gothic-looking socialist realist skyscrapers, humble the individual as they loom large from the outskirts of central Moscow. On the approach to the Kremlin along Novy Arbat, high rises are lined up like giant dominoes waiting to tumble. But tucked away are the remnants of the older city: beautiful neo-classical houses and impressive structures like the Bolshoi Theatre. And, most surprisingly of all, there are the underground palaces of the metro system, itself the largest and probably the most efficient in the world.
Nowadays, the posturing Soviet military driving their tanks through Red Square for the October Revolution Parades have been replaced by the posing of wealthy Muscovites with their shiny new Mercedes Benz. The impressive Stalinist buildings along Tverskaya Street, the main drag leading up to Red Square, now house glitzy Western franchises, while providing the incongruous backdrop for the babushkas who sell anything from dish cloths to kittens to make ends meet. The well-heeled New Muscovites may have greeted capitalism with open arms, but after 74 years of communist-imposed atheism, many in the Russian capital have enthusiastically embraced their once-banned Orthodox faith. This is reflected in the restoration of old churches, the rapid construction of new ones and the decision to give the remains of Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II, a Christian burial.
As the second democratically elected President of Russia, Vladimir Putin is the youngest and perhaps the most vigorous leader the Kremlin has seen. His hard-line stance on Chechnya and a raid carried out at the offices of a liberal media group just four days after the new president's inauguration indicate that Putin favours a more centralised administration. But while more power is being vested in Moscow, the bombing of a central metro station and residential tower blocks, are tragic reminders of the Kremlin's fallibility as the ordinary people in the capital suffer the consequences of decisions mete out from within the Kremlin walls.
One aspect of the city remains constant though and that is the harshness of the Moscow winter. But, despite the bitter cold, there is nothing so beautiful as seeing St Basil's Cathedral in the falling snow; and, in contrast, summer temperatures over 30°C (86°F) are not unusual.
Location: Province of Moscow, west Russian Federation.
Population: 8,436,447 8,537,2000(city; 10,446,000 11,001,700
Ethnic mix: Predominantly Russian; minorities from all over the former Soviet Union.
Religion: Russian Orthodoxy is the predominant religion
Time zone: GMT + 3 (GMT + 4 from last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October).
Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz; round two-pin plugs are standard.
Average January temp: -13°C (-9°F).
Average July temp: 18°C (64°F).
Annual rainfall: 624mm (24.3 inches).
The city's cultural history spans all the arts, and having been the capital for so long, much of the nation's artistic effort was concentrated here. Notable achievements include the long period of icon painting up to the time of Peter the Great. The most famous icon painter of the Russian Orthodox Church, Andrey Rublyov, had his workshop and was buried in the Spaso-Andronikovsky Monastyr (Monastery of the Saviour and Andronicus) in the eastern suburbs of the city. The nineteenth century brought painters such as Ilia Repin, whose realist works portrayed peasants and other ordinary people. The excitement of the constructivists' avant-garde work in the early twentieth century was dampened by Stalin's regime and, until recently, socialist realism has been the only publicly produced art.
The former Soviet Union took great pride in its cultural institutions, and these were often of the very highest calibre. A number of these are based in Moscow, notably the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera Company and the Moscow Circus. Advance tickets can be quite cheap, but those purchased from ticket touts on the evening of the performance are usually fairly expensive. Concert and theatre tickets may be purchased at the venues or from your hotel concierge. Alternatively pre-book through select-a-room.com or call our local office in Moscow on +7 495 605 3241.