Historic landmarks

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The seat of the government of Russia, popularly known as the "White House," stands by the Moskva River, across from Hotel Ukraina. Built in 1979 to the design of Pavel Shteller and Dmitry Chechulin, the White House went through a particularly troubling experience in August 1991, when a group of Soviet officials attempted a coup d'etat, and this building was the locus of events. The coup fell through, and the Soviet Union broke up soon thereafter. Formerly known as the House of Soviets, the building was renamed White House after the events of August 1991.
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It is believed that travellers who headed east or west in the 14th-19th centuries would pause atop this hill in the west of Moscow to admire the majestic sight of the city beyond and bow respectfully. A similar hill – a kind of a natural observatory – also existed in the vicinity of today's Yaroslavskoye Shosse (Yaroslavskoye Highway), but was built over in the 20th century. Poklonnaya Hill, literally "Bow-down Hill," was the place to welcome distinguished guests arriving in Moscow from the west. In 1812, Napoleon waited here in vain for the people of Moscow to bring him the keys to the city. Nowadays Poklonnaya Hill is simply a sprawling walking area with fountains and the Victory Park memorial complex. Victory Park includes the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War, monument to the heroes of World War I, combat dog monument, Holocaust Memorial with synagogue, the lilac vista planted for the 70th anniversary of the 1945 victory, and an outdoor museum of military machinery. Poklonnaya Hill is the site of official celebrations and memorial events. Crowds of Muscovites come here for a stroll. Newlyweds stop by to pay their respects to the city, and rollerbladers congregate on the hill. They make a skating rink on Poklonnaya Hill in winter. Fairs are organized here at Christmas, Maslenitsa and Easter.
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TsUM, or Tsentralny Universalny Magazin (Central Universal Department Store), was Moscow's second most prestigious Soviet department store after the GUM. Built in 1885 to the design of two Scottish architects, Andrew Muir and Archibald Merrilees, the future TsUM was originally conceived as a fancy goods shop that also sold fabrics and hats. From the beginning, the shop set some rules that were not customary to Russian retail at the time: bargaining was not allowed, the price on the price tag was final, purchases could be returned or exchanged. Before, all retail in the city had been governed by the laws of the marketplace.

The first building of the future TsUM quickly fell into disrepair. In 1908, an amazing Neo-Gothic seven-storey edifice was erected in its stead, designed by Roman Klein. Engineer Vladimir Shukhov designed the frame of the building. Muscovites loved the new shop. Shopping at Muir and Merrilees bespoke affluence and good taste. At least it did before 1917, when the shop was nationalized. The new authorities changed the name Muir and Merrilees to TsUM, for Tsentralny universalny magazin. The offering of goods was also changed. Trained sales staff were dismissed and 200 young Komsomol activists were hired instead. The era of Muir and Merrilees was over, but TsUM lived on as Moscow's best-looking and most expensive shop.
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The Northern River Boat Station was built on the bank of the Khimki Reservoir in 1937, concurrently with the Moscow Canal, before the reservoir was filled with water. The shape of this Stalin's Empire building resembles a ship, decorated with a majolica mural, a hammer and sickle encrusted with semiprecious stones from the Urals, a chiming clock, a gorgeous staircase, and a high spire, the tip of which bears the star from the Moscow Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower, moved here in 1937. The spire can be raised or lowered, signifying the beginning and end of the navigation season, respectively. But the mechanism that manipulates the spire has only been used a few times in history. The "North" and "South" fountains at the sides of the building are a reminder of Moscow's two riverboat stations: the Northern and Southern ones. Boats from the Northern Station sail to Saint Petersburg, Astrakhan and Rostov-on-Don. Small cruise boats, the so-called "river trams," also dock here. They sail up and down the Moscow Canal, putting in at Bay of Joy, a popular picnic spot. Adjacent to the Northern River Boat Station is a large park that covers both sides of the Leningradskoye Shosse (Leningradskoye Highway). It is a great place for biking and rollerblading in summer. There are some rides for kids, too. The park next to the Northern River Boat Station is one of Moscow's spots where official fireworks are set off in the evening on major holidays.
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Built in 1927, the central telegraph at Tverskaya Ulitsa (Tverskaya Street) was designed by Ivan Rerberg, who had earned acclaim with his previous creation, Kiyevsky railway terminal. Style-wise, the Telegraph is somewhere between Art Deco and Constructivism, blending in seamlessly with Tverskaya Ulitsa's look, so Muscovites welcomed it. For decorations, it has a clock, a revolving glass globe, and impressive moving illumination, turned on on holidays. All-Union Radio hosts spoke here in the 1930s. The Soviet Union's People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, told the nation of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War here on 22 June 1941.
The architect Ernst-Richard Nirnsee built several houses in Moscow, but only one bears his name: a residential high-rise in Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok (Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky Lane). There is quite a story behind this house. Nirnsee paid his own money for the land underneath it, planning to build Moscow's first high-rise, or "cloud-cutter," of nine storeys with small apartments and an in-house refectory on the top floor. It was Nirnsee's design that earned the house its alias: Bachelors' House. The design was given flesh in 1913. The eclectic building, welding Art Deco, Neoclassicism and the nascent Constructivism, towered over Tverskaya Ulitsa (Tverskaya Street). Lest his creation's no-frills facade depress the locals, Nirnsee designed each balcony with flower boxes, so that his cloud-cutter might look green in summer. The banker Dmitry Rubinstein lived here, and they say that the royal family's close friend, Grigory Rasputin, attended Rubinstein's soirees in 1914. The Krysha (Roof) Restaurant and observation deck opened on the roof of Nirnsee's House in 1915. In 1918 the building was nationalized and renamed 4th Mossovet House. Top-ranking Soviet officials moved in, the likes of Vadim Podbelsky, Ivan Likhachyov, Andrey Vyshinsky, and others.

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The Exhibition of Achievements of the People's Economy, which epitomized internecine friendship in the Soviet Union, was born when the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition opened in the north of Moscow on August 1, 1939. With its 250 buildings one more unusual and striking than the other, it was a veritable city in its own right inside Moscow. The core of the complex was formed by the pavilions devoted to each of the Union republics and the key industries and agricultural occupations. The best Soviet architects and engineers contributed to the VDNKh concept. The exhibition was officially closed in the summer of 1941, when the war began. Some of the core exhibits were sold, and some evacuated. The newly vacant premises were re-specialized for defence needs. One of the pavilions was reappointed for a counterintelligence training centre. Many of the pavilions fell into decrepitude during the war, but the whole complex was renovated with great enthusiasm once the war ended. The old pavilions were restored, and new ones built. School kids were brought here to admire the specially fattened turkeys and suckling pigs. At the republic pavilions, visitors were treated to free fir cone jam and churchkhela (a Georgian dish of walnuts on a string, boiled in grape juice). Two amazing fountains were opened in 1954: Friendship of the Nations and Stone Flower, the world's first fountain where music was synchronized with a light show. The music was composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. From the 1950s through the early 1990s, VDNKh served as the showcase of an ideal happy nation with its beautiful pavilions decorated in the ethnic traditions of the Soviet republics, each offering the best the respective national cuisine had to offer, proudly displaying all the agricultural achievements, e.g. pedigree pigs, cows and all kinds of poultry, and marvels of Soviet industry (the Cosmos Pavilion was truly remarkable). VDNKh fell into neglect after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

VDNKh's second life began in 2013. The pavilions went into reconstruction (some have already been restored in their former glory), illicit trading was stopped, and the Green Theatre opened, which now books world-class performers, most notably Yury Bashmet and Sinead O'Connor. The exhibition complex is now home to the Polytechnic Museum and Europe's biggest aquarium. VDNKh's endless walkways are great for rollerblading, scooting and biking. Right of the main entrance towers Vera Mukhina's Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture, created in 1937 for the World's Fair in Paris.
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Bolotny Island (Marsh Island) is an artificial island in the centre of Moscow, which owes its existence to Vodootvodny Canal (water drainage canal), built at the end of the 18th century. The island has several historic names, which even Muscovites often confuse. Some call this island Sadovniki after Sadovaya Village, which existed here in the 16th-18th centuries. Ulitsa Balchug (Balchug Street), a street next to Bolotnaya Ulitsa (Bolotnaya Street), was a swamp ("balchug" means "puddle" or "marsh" in Turkic languages) before Vodootvodny Canal was built at the end of the 18th century. Balchug is another folk name of the island. The street's other claim to fame is the fact that Ivan the Terrible ordered Moscow's first public house opened here in 1552. The island's other folk aliases are Bolotny Island and Kremlyovsky Island. The island owes its notoriety to Bolotnaya Ploschad (Bolotnaya Square), the arena of fist fights in the 17th century, where folk rebel leaders Stepan Razin and Yemelyan Pugachev were executed.

One other outstanding feature of Bolotny Island is its Strelka, or spit, which was the compound of Krasny Oktyabr (Red October) candy factory until the early 2000s. The factory has moved, and its historic red-brick buildings now house a creative cluster of the same name. The erstwhile factory shops have been rented out to galleries, studios, restaurants and glossy magazines, as well as the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design with an eponymous bar, both named after Bolotny Island's spit.
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Three of Moscow's key railway terminals, Leningradsky, Yaroslavsky and Kazansky, are in Komsomolskaya Ploschad (Komsomolskaya Square), popularly christened Three Station Square. Komsomolskaya Ploschad is a critical transport junction and a notable historic spot.

The Art Deco building of Yaroslavsky railway terminal was designed by the great Moscow architect, Fyodor Schechtel, and built in 1904. Trains run from Yaroslavsky railway terminal to Arkhangelsk, Yaroslavl, Vladivostok and Nizhny Novgorod. Leningradsky railway terminal next door, built in 1849 and named Nikolayevsky before 1917, covers Saint Petersburg, Pskov, Murmansk and Petrozavodsk. Across from these stations lies Kazansky railway terminal, a festive-looking early 1900s building in the faux Russian style with Art Deco features, designed by Alexey Shchusev. The terminal took decades to build, and was not finished until 1940. The square is also home to the Railway Workers' Culture Centre, also designed by Shchusev, and one of Moscow's Seven Sisters: Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel.
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This historic street, first mentioned in the chronicles as early as the mid-16th century, was appointed a pedestrian street in Soviet time, which happened very rarely back then, even in Moscow. The name Arbat derives from the historic location Orbat, west of the Kremlin, but the provenance of that place name itself is unknown. More than half of Arbat's 19th-century mansions and boarding houses remained intact during the Soviet years, and many of them are now officially protected landmarks. Arbat is the place to shop for Matryoshka dolls, Orenburg down scarves, and amber jewellery. The flea market right in the street sells antiques (mostly Soviet paraphernalia) and old books. Arbat is filled with tourists at all times, amused by street bands, mime actors, and costumed entertainers. Street artists will paint your portrait or caricature. The poet, bard and composer Bulat Okudzhava, who lived here, put Arbat lanes on the map for the whole nation with his songs.
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Shukhov Radio Tower is a famed hyperbolic structure designed by Russian architect and inventor Vladimir Shukhov. The vertical wire mesh structure was erected in Moscow's Ulitsa Shabolovka (Shabolovka Street) in 1922. It was meant to transmit radio signals, but instead began to transmit television signals in 1939. Shukhov was an internationally renowned engineer, who invented and patented the hyperboloid construction principle at the end of the 19th century. Steel wire-mesh shell towers, built according to Shukhov's principle, exist in the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Japan.
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One of Moscow's signature landmarks, the classical Pashkov's House stands atop the Vagankov Hill. Assumed to have been designed by Vasily Bazhenov, the house was built at the end of the 18th century for Pyotr Pashkov, an Imperial Guard captain with the Semyonovsky Regiment. When first built, Pashkov's House looked so unusual Muscovites came in droves to have a look. The government purchased the building in the 19th century for the Moscow Noblemen's University, but eventually it became part of the Rumyantsev Museum. The Russian State Library (formerly Public Library) moved in in the early 1900s, and has stayed to this day. Rumour has it, Ivan the Terrible's lost library is buried deep in the entrails of the Vagankov Hill, underneath Pashkov's House. Individual visitors are not admitted: tour groups only.
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Patriarshiye Ponds (Patriarch's Ponds), is a historic spot in downtown Moscow, consisting of a pond, the park around it, and the adjacent streets. This was Kozye Boloto (Goat Swamp) before the 17th century, so named because of a goat farm next door. The farm produced goat wool for the Russian royal court. The swamp became property of Patriarch Hermogenes in the 17th century, and became Patriarch's Village. Three ponds were dug here for fish farming, hence the name of Tryokhprudny Pereulok, or Three Ponds Lane, nearby. A hundred years later, in the early 1800s, all fish were removed, and two ponds were filled. One pond was left intact. Muscovites love to stroll here. There are swans in the pond in summer. In winter it becomes a skating rink. In Bolshoy Patriarshy Pereulok (Bolshoy Patriarshy Lane), not far from the pond, you will find Tarasov Mansion, designed by the architect Ivan Zholtovsky in the spirit of Italian Renaissance, built in 1912. The House of Lions, built by Zholtovsky's pupils for Soviet top brass in 1945, to the order of Joseph Stalin, is in Yermolayevsky Pereulok (Yermolayevsky Lane) nearby.
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Krymskaya Naberezhnaya (Krymskaya Embankment) is a pedestrian section of the Moskva River embankment in the vicinity of Museon Park and the Krymsky Bridge. Multicoloured fountains spew forth right out of the ground amid the beautiful flowerbeds and benches along the riverbank, designed by Wowhaus Architects. Krymskaya Naberezhnaya is a continuation of Pushkinskaya Naberezhnaya (Pushkinskaya Embankment) in Gorky Park. You can rent a bike here and enjoy a nice ride to Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills), when the weather is good.
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Designed by Fyodor Schechtel, this 1903 mansion is one of the finest buildings in Moscow, built for factory owner and patron of the arts Stepan Ryabushinsky, founder of the AMO (ZiL) truck factory. In 1932, this exquisite Art Deco building became the home of Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, who had just returned from Italy and had to prepare for the 1st Soviet Writers' Convention. Gorky did not like his new home. He wanted to get rid of the decorations, created by Mikhail Vrubel. When Gorky died in 1936, his son's widow Nadezhda Peshkova continued to live in the house, eventually turning a part of it into a Gorky Memorial Museum. The Ryabushinsky Mansion is one of the very few buildings remaining in Moscow, which looks exactly as it had looked pre-1917, largely thanks to Gorky's descendants, who made an effort to conserve the building in its original splendour.
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This is Moscow's and Russia's main square, the immediately recognizable cityscape few foreign films about Russia do without. Surrounding the square are the Kremlin with its Nikolskaya and Spasskaya Towers overlooking the square, the State Historical Museum, GUM department store with multicoloured windows and outdoor café, and Pokrovsky Cathedral (Saint Basil's Cathedral), behind which there opens up a peaceful view of the Moskva River and the tranquil Zamoskvorechye District beyond. Also in the square or facing it are the Lobnoye Mesto (execution spot), Lenin's Mausoleum, the monument to Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, the leaders of the second people's militia, which freed Moscow from Polish occupation in 1612, and a part of the Kremlin Wall with entombments of famous Soviet political and cultural figures, including Joseph Stalin and the writer Maxim Gorky.

Before the 1900s, the Red Square, the city's finest place (the Russian word for "red" – "krasny" – meant "beautiful"), was always abuzz with life. Here vendors hawked their wares, royal edicts were read out loud, the occasional public executions were staged, and the public house Pod Pushkoy by the Lobnoye Mesto, surrounded by trophy cannons, was always full. The archaeological digs conducted here yielded lots of small change, cheap glasses and human teeth.

While Red Square is still crowded most of the time, fairs are only held here during the Christmas season. Those fairs are lots of fun, with skating, the honey brew, hot pancakes and beautiful Russian porcelain. At the beginning of September, Red Square becomes the grounds of the Spasskaya Tower international festival of military brass bands, and welcomes the military parade on Victory Day, May 9. The rest of the year the square remains open to strollers, enjoying the sight of the illuminated GUM and listening to the chimes of Spasskaya Tower.
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Moscow's No. 1 shop, Gosudarstvennyi universalnyi magazin (State Department Store), or GUM, has always been a tourist Mecca. The spot where the GUM stands was an outdoor market during the Middle Ages and later, before Catherine II ordered a proper indoor market built here in the Classicist style in the 18th century. They put Giacomo Quarenghi, the creator of the Pavlovsk Palace and Smolny Institute in Saint Petersburg, on the case, but the building was never completed according to his design. After the 1812 fire of Moscow, the project was commissioned to Joseph Bové, the creator of the Bolshoi Theatre, the Moscow Manege and the Triumphal Arch, but the building he had designed quickly went out of date and fell into neglect. The current building of the Upper Trading Rows, which GUM used to be called, was designed by Alexander Pomerantsev, an architect famous for innovation, and built in 1893. Pomerantsev's creation came out as a classic shopping mall of the same configuration that was widespread in Europe in the 19th century, albeit in the Pseudo-Russian style. When it came to the amazing glass vaults, Pomerantsev outsourced the work to Vladimir Shukhov, an engineer of genius, the inventor of arched vaults and numerous hyperboloid structures, including the famous Shukhov's Tower at Shabolovskaya. Shukhov has built the enormous 800-ton roof, which shines in the sun and appears weightless.

The historic restroom in GUM's basement was reopened in 2012, following protracted restoration. It looks much too chic for a restroom, rather resembling a room in some nobleman's mansion. The Bolsheviks closed the restroom after the 1917 Revolution. Perhaps they considered such luxury excessive. They say that the GUM was the first shop in the history of Soviet retail to introduce a book of complaints and suggestions, but there exists no conclusive historical evidence to prove it.

Muscovites go to the GUM to have a good time, not just to shop. There are a few cafés and a cinema on the third floor. It is customary to eat the delicious ice cream, sold in the GUM, by the fountain in the middle of the shop. It is also customary to schedule dates by the fountain.

The classical ice cream, which is familiar to any Muscovite from early age, can be definitely found in GUM. The sales of this ice cream started on July 3, 1954. In the basement of the store a special ice cream workshop was opened. In the beginning, only plombir (rich ice cream) and crème brûlée were prepared there, later on some other kinds of ice cream were introduced. The workshop is still operating, people who work there thoroughly keep the recipes and the production secrets of the ice cream in waffle cups.

Some time ago in GUM there were elegant saleswomen with ice cream wagons, where you could see a lot of crunchy waffle cups with traditional flavors: rich cream, crème brûlée, cream with chocolate crisps, melon. Now you can see big kiosk in GUM, where the assortment has become bigger: along with the classical flavors you can find cherry, pistachio, and Eskimo ice cream in foil paper. There is a big line in front of the kiosks even during wintertime.
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The monumental House on the Embankment is actually a complex of houses, built in 1931 for Soviet dignitaries and celebrities. Top-ranking officials, great scientists, great spies, musicians, writers and war heroes… The residents of nearly every apartment made a mark in Soviet history. The house was designed by a great architect, Boris Iofan, in the style of late Constructivism. Iofan personally oversaw the construction, double-checking every detail, down to the furniture and door knobs. The interiors were meticulously thought-out. There were murals, holes for the samovar pipe, and paper presses matching the felt of the table-top. The house was well stocked on all the vital supplies. In case of an emergency, the residents would be able to survive for a long time without leaving their flats. The complex had its own laundry, department store, cafeteria, gym and cinema. Many of the residents and their families were arrested during the years of political persecution under Stalin. There is a museum in their memory in the House on the Embankment, run by Olga Trifonova, the widow of writer Yury Trifonov, who coined the name "House on the Embankment," making it the title of one of his short novels.
Alexander Zelikov / TASS
The magnificent Neo-Gothic palace at Leningradsky Prospect was designed by the great Russian architect Matvey Kazakov. The palace was built at the end of the 18th century on orders from Empress Catherine the Great in honour of the victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774. It was assumed that the noble persons of distinction, who were traveling from Petersburg to Moscow, would want to rest here after the arduous road, and to change their clothes before continuing into the city.

Catherine herself had only stopped here once, in 1787, seven years after construction was completed. Legend says that on that night the Empress had sent her guards and retinue fleeing, announcing that the people would guard her. This led to an awful stampede and almost ended tragically. The beautiful park with mighty trees had appeared around the palace a century later, at the end of the 19th century. Napoleon resided here, watching Moscow burn, and they say that the fire was so strong, that some of his hair was singed. Napoleon's stay in the Petroff Palace was passingly mentioned in Alexander Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin.

Today the palace is managed by Moscow municipal authorities and houses a restaurant, a sauna, a swimming pool, and a small hotel. One of the palace's halls hosts regular concerts of classical music. To have a close look at the building, you can sign up for a tour organized by the Museum of Moscow. Detailed information about the tours is available at the official website.