By far the world’s largest country, Russia covers a large swathe of land over eastern Europe and northern Asia. Historically, it is known for its socialist dictators and bloody revolutions which have seen its royal family deposed and the country industrialised. Later involvement in brutal wars on the world stage has been reflected in the minds of famous writers, philosophers and artists who are some of the most prominent in history.
Out of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 has emerged a Russia which is home to a fascinating number of sites which attest to the country’s turbulent history. Here’s our pick of 10 of the very best.
What are the best Historic Sites in Russia?
St Basil’s Cathedral is a strikingly ornate red brick building bordering Moscow’s Red Square. Crowned with several vividly coloured domes, the cathedral bears a striking resemblance in shape to flames licking at the sky.
Today, St Basil’s Cathedral is a popular tourist destination and is a focal point of Moscow’s world renowned Red Square. It contains some interesting medieval paintings and today forms part of the State History Museum. Visitors can also see the resting place of Saint Basil himself. Outside St Basil’s Cathedral is a platform from which the tsar would announce executions and general orders.
The Kremlin is an iconic symbol of Russian statehood and forms the seat of its political power. Characterised by colourful domes and opulent buildings, this vast triangular shaped complex spans an area of around 28 hectares and includes several beautiful palaces, numerous churches, and even armouries and a medieval fortress. The Kremlin offers visitors a plethora of incredible sites. Many of these, including the Cathedral of the Assumption, are contained in Cathedral Square. Many of Russia’s important religious leaders are buried here.
Beyond its religious sites, the Kremlin has much to offer the history enthusiast, notably in its Armoury which contains a myriad of exhibits relating to Russian culture, including ceremonial clothing of the tsars, Faberge eggs, the chalice of the founder of Moscow, Yuri Dolgoruky and, next door, the stunning Orlov Diamond which measures a staggering 190 carats.
The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is one of St Petersburg’s most impressive churches. With multicoloured onion domes reminiscent of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is a breath-taking sight both outside and within its ornately decorated walls.
The church has had a varied history, from its original consecration and veneration to being looted and damaged in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and being used as a storage facility for the deceased during the Second World War, and later as a potato storage facility. It was only in the 1970s that the church was reopened and in 1997, after 27 years of renovation, that it was returned to its former glory.
Lenin’s Mausoleum is the final resting place of one of Russia’s most famous and ruthless leaders, Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s Mausoleum borders Moscow’s Red Square.
Lenin died of a stroke on 22 January 1924 and his body was soon embalmed. Lenin’s mausoleum was built in Red Square to house his mummified corpse, initially as a wooden structure, and later as a more permanent building. Today, Lenin’s Mausoleum is a popular tourist attraction, despite the rumours that his body has since been replaced with a fake.
Red Square is a public plaza in Moscow in Russia and one of the most famous squares in the world. In fact, it is of such historical importance that it is a UNESCO World Heritage historic site. Originally intended to be a marketplace for the city, the name “Red Square” derives from the fact that the Russian word “krasnaya” means both “beautiful” and “red”. Red Square itself is more black than red, owing to its dark cobblestones and spans an area of approximately 74 metres squared.
Today, Red Square is a tourist hotspot and one of the first places visitors frequent on their travels around Russia. This is due in large part to the Red Square’s central location and impressive surroundings. It is bordered by several sites of historical importance, including Lenin’s Mausoleum, the State History Museum, St. Basil’s Cathedral and, of course, the Kremlin.
6. Stalingrad Battlefield
Stalingrad Battlefield was the site of one of the most important and bloodiest battles of the Second World War. The Battle of Stalingrad, which took place from July 1942 and February 1943, was the most important of the standoffs between Germany and the USSR and is commonly thought of as the turning point in the war.
Those wanting to see Stalingrad Battlefield today can view remnants of the clash throughout Volgograd, from destroyed buildings to museums about the battle. The most prominent memorial showing Stalingrad Battlefield is the Mamayev Kurgan statue and complex.
The Hermitage is a vast museum complex in St. Petersburg housing around three million historic and archaeological artefacts, paintings, sculptures, numismatics, and other works. It is one of world’s most well-renowned museums, with an astonishing array of exhibits ranging from the art and culture of ancient civilisations such as the Romans, Greeks and those of the Orient, to Western European art and Numismatic coins.
With so much to see, it’s probably best to join in one of the tours, available in many European languages including in English. For those wishing to see the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre, visits must be booked in advance and must be by guided tour.
The Church of the Ascension is a sixteenth century church in Kolomenskoye built by Prince Vasili III to celebrate the long anticipated birth of the heir to the Russian throne, Ivan IV Vasilyevich. Ivan, who was born on 25 August 1530, would become known as Ivan the Terrible.
Now dominating Kolomenskoye, a former royal estate in Moscow’s suburbs, the Church of the Ascension is a white stone structure characterized by its tent roofs and Renaissance details on a cross-shaped base.
Perm-36 was one of many Gulags established under the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin and the best-preserved of its kind. Essentially, Gulags were forced labour or concentration camps for prisoners of the state, including criminals and political prisoners such as human rights activists and anyone deemed to be opposed to the state.
Perm-36 was only closed down in 1988. In the period after Stalin’s death in 1953, Perm-36 was initially used as a prison for those in his regime convicted of crimes carried out under his rule and later for law-enforcement officials convicted of “traditional” crimes. Political prisoners also continued to be interned there. Today, the Perm-36 Museum offers tours of the former camp as well as exhibits about its history.
The Peter and Paul Fortress was the first building or structure built by Peter the Great in the city of St Petersburg.
The fortress has been a museum since 1924 and part of the St Petersburg UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990. It contains several small museums and exhibits.