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 pivotal events on the world stage has been reflected in the minds of the country’s famous writers, philosophers and artists.
Russia’s history is reflected in its extraordinary range of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Boasting 26 in total – 16 cultural and 10 natural – there are no shortage of destinations to visit. Here’s our pick of the best historic UNESCO sites in Russia.
1. Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow
The exact date of the establishment of Red Square is unknown and probably goes back to at least the 15th century when it was the site of high profile public executions. Throughout the twentieth century, Red Square became an important site of political, military and social significance, particularly during the Soviet era, when military parades took place there. Several important events have taken place at Red Square, especially during the Second World War.
The Kremlin’s history can be traced back as far back as 1156, preceding even the founding of the principality of Moscow in 1236. The Kremlin offers visitors a plethora of incredible sites. Many of these, including the Cathedral of the Assumption, which was built in the 1470s, are contained in Cathedral Square. Many of Russia’s important religious leaders are buried here. The sites were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990.
2. Church of the Ascension
The Church of the Ascension is a sixteenth century church in Kolomenskoye built by Prince Vasili III in the south of Moscow. Unlike other Russian churches of the time, this was probably built by Italian architects – masters of their trade. It’s also the first brick church with a tent-shaped roof found in Russia: a break with tradition that would be echoed with the construction of St Basil’s Cathedral, built 25 years later by Ivan himself to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. The white stone and Renaissance details are some of its dominant characteristics.
Alterations have been made over the centuries, particularly brickwork renovations in the 19th century, along with some decorative and ornamental work. In 1994, it joined UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites due to its contribution to Russian ecclesiastical architecture.
3. Kizhi Pogost
Kizhi Pogost is located on a narrow spit in the southern part of Kizhi Island, a small island off the Kizhi Archipelago in Lake Onega. The collection of buildings includes two 18th-century wooden churches, the Church of the Transfiguration and the Church of the Intercession, and an octagonal wooden bell tower built in 1862 and considerably reconstructed in 1874.
The buildings demonstrate the highly developed carpentry skills of the Russian people. Today, it is the only ensemble with two multi-domed wooden churches preserved in Russia. In particular, the Church of the Transfiguration is a monument with exceptional architectural and structural features which has no parallel in either Russian or global wooden architecture. Considered by locals as the true wonder of the world, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.
4. Ferapontov Monastery
Ferrapontov Monastery is situated in the Vologda region, in the north-western part of the Russian Federation between Borodaevskoe and Paskoe lakes, northwest of the city of Vologda. Dating to the 15th-17th centuries, the core of the Ensemble is the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin (1490), which is especially remarkable among the six surviving buildings of the Monastery. The others are the Church of the Annunciation, with a refectory chamber, the Treasury Chamber, the St. Martinian Church, the Churches of Epiphany and St. Pherapont above the Holy Gate, and the Bell Tower.
The architecture of the monastery is outstanding in its inventiveness and purity, and the interior is adorned by magnificent wall paintings by Dionisy, the greatest Russian artist of the end of the 15th century. It was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.
5. Novodevichy Convent
A working nunnery to this day, Novodevichy Convent dates back to Muscovy’s conquest of Smolensk and the subsequent construction of the Smolensk Cathedral in 1524. Owing to its part in Russia’s religious history, the site’s fourteen buildings and four stunning cathedrals represent some of Russia’s most striking and famous architecture.
The main attraction is the five-headed Smolensk Cathedral, built to resemble the Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral. Boasting stunning snowy white walls and a pristine golden onion dome as its centerpiece, its gold-lined interior frames the cathedral’s famous fresco collection. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.