Moscow is one of the oldest capitals in the world. The city's appearance is a unique blend of architectural styles, including early Moscow architecture, Russian decorative styles, baroque, classical, empire-style, modern, avant-garde and constructivist architecture. Our walking tour is a chance to see the most prominent of these architectural styles.
We begin our excursion at the walls of the Kremlin. Red Square is a great example of Moscow's unique architecture. Located on the eastern side of the Kremlin, it was the city's main marketplace for many centuries. The fortification walls visible today were built in the 15th century and designed by several Italian architects.
The famous dovetail-shaped merlon embrasures are typical of the northern Italian architecture of the time. Each of the Kremlin's 20 towers is unique.
Place: Red Square
This cathedral showcases the finest features of medieval Moscow's stone architecture, including tented roofs, intricate domes, gables, narrow windows, barrels and other architectural elements. In the late 16th century, a heated church was built on the north-eastern side of the modern cathedral on the spot where Saint Basil was buried— hence the cathedral's name. The domes were originally painted green, and were repainted in their current colours in the late 18th century. The cathedral's domes signify the cardinal directions, with the blue-white dome standing to the north (the colours representing snow and cold) and the red dome (symbolising heat and a red sun) in the south.
Place: 7 Red Square
The cathedral was built to mark the end of the Time of Troubles in 1612. The original wooden building housed the miraculous Our Lady of Kazan icon, which Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky's militia had with them when they liberated Moscow. The single-dome stone church with gallery was built in the Russian decorative style. A notable feature of this style is its proliferation of gables, intricate window and door casings and tented bell tower. It was rebuilt in 1993 using historic measurements. The nearby Resurrection Gate in the Kitay-gorod wall was also rebuilt at around the same time.
Place: 3 Nikolskaya
In the 16th century, Red Square became home to the main body of city government, the Zemsky Prikaz. The original building and its decorative tiles were torn down to make space for the construction of the Historical Museum. The building was designed by Vladimir Sherwood and is an interesting example of the neo-Russian style. Numerous elements of ancient Russian architecture were recreated here: the facade features 15 types of gables, 10 types of square recesses, tented roofs, arches, drop ornaments, bands of arcades, Kyoto style elements and stretched ledges. The outline of the facade neatly matches the appearance of Saint Basil's Cathedral, creating a compositional balance in Red Square.
Place: 1 Red Square
Two more neo-Russian structures were added the ensemble in the 1890s in the form of the Upper and Middle trading rows, which are now home to the GUM department store. The small tower facades of the building match the towers of the Kremlin and Saint Basil's Cathedral, while the double towers over the main entrance evoke the style of the Historical Museum. The main structure is an arcade—a style often used in late-19th century European architecture for retail facilities—with a main hall and glass ceiling running the length of the building and shops on both sides of the main passage. The building comprises 16 structures with three galleries running along and three running across.
Place: 3 Red Square
The most modern structure in Red Square is Lenin's Mausoleum, a unique design from the avant-garde era. Architect Aleksey Shchusev used the eternal shape of the cube to create a five-tiered pyramid with a tower reminiscent of the Ziggurat of Babylon and ancient pyramids. The mausoleum's style is often referred to as Egyptian-like due to its shape. The reddish hue of its granite stone covering allows it to blend naturally with the other elements in Red Square.
Place: Red Square
To see what Moscow looked like during the time of Ivan the Terrible, you need to leave the bustling square and turn into the small Varvarka Street. Dmitry Donskoy's troops travelled up the street in 1380 on their return from the Battle of Kulikovo. The Varvarka of today is an unusual mix of various architectural styles and eras. Let's stop in front of the Chambers of the Romanov Boyars. It was here that the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, Mikhail Fedorovich, was born. The original house church in the courtyard was replaced by the Znamensky Cathedral — the main place of worship for the residents of the monastery. The chambers are a great example of secular Russian architecture from before the time of Peter the Great.
Place: 10 Varvarka
Zaryadye isn't just a natural phenomenon, it's also a unique architectural and engineering construction. The roof's artificial landscape boasts plants from Russia's main climate and landscape areas, including forests, steppes, tundra and flood plains. The roof of the concert hall features a large outdoor amphitheatre covered by glass 'bark', a very unusual transparent structure. The temperature underneath remains above zero all year round. There is a floating bridge hanging over the Moskva River accessible from the park. This unique structure offers breathtaking views of Moscow.
Place: 6 Varvarka, building 1
The Zaryadye observation deck provides a great view of the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, one of the Seven Sisters (the seven skyscrapers built in Moscow during Stalin's reign). The structure is the height of the post-war Soviet art-deco. The monumental size and rich decoration are reminiscent of Manhattan skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building. However, the Moscow skyscrapers also feature elements of Russian baroque, specifically the towers at their top. The building was designed to serve as a city within a city, with its own shops, post office and the Illyuzion cinema. Famous residents include Soviet celebrities such as Alexander Tvardovsky, Lidia Smirnova, Galina Ulanova, Ludmila Zykina, Evgeny Evtushenko and Faina Ranevskaya.
Place: 1/15 Kotelnicheskaya Embankment
The grandiose two-level Epiphany Cathedral is an example of the 'Moscow', or 'Naryshkin baroque' style. The style emerged in Europe in the 16th century and is characterised by grandiose forms, lush decorations, conspicuous affluence and luxurious interiors. Moscow baroque is distinguished by its octagonal drums, faceted church domes, octagonal windows, torn pediments over windows, moulded helices and ridges— all of which are on display here. As was typical for the late 17th century, the cathedral is painted in two colours: white moulded decorations against a red background. The Epiphany Monastery, founded in the 13th century, is one of the oldest in Moscow.
Place: 2 Bogoyavlensky Alley, building 4
The Synod Printing House was designed with elements of the Gothic style. Classical architecture developed a kind of a pseudo-Gothic branch in the late 18th-early 19th century. Contemporaries saw this as an attempt to reconnect with ancient Russian architecture. The unusual facade of the print house is adorned with lancet windows, carved half-columns with ornaments, and pinnacle towers. Reliefs of a lion and a unicorn reflect the coat of arms of the Moscow Print Yard and serve as symbols of autocratic power. The Institute for History and Archives moved here in 1931. Today, the building houses a branch of the Russian State University for the Humanities.
Place: 15 Nikolskaya, building 1
The Hotel Metropol building is a great example of modern architecture. The building was originally conceived by Savva Mamontov as a large recreation centre with an opera theatre. Its design was intended to show off the Russian art of the time. A large number of famous and very gifted architects and artists worked on the building, including William Walcot, Lev Kekushev and Nikolai Shevyakov. The sketches for the wall paintings and the interior decorations were done by Victor Vasnetsov and Konstantin Korovin. The facades are characteristic of the modern architectural style.
Place: 2 Teatralny Proyezd
The history of the Bolshoi Theatre, the first Imperial theatre in Moscow, begins in 1776, though the building's modern appearance only dates back to the 19th century. After the war with Napoleon, the theatre was intended to become the centre of a large church complex in honour of the victory in the Patriotic War of 1812. The theatre building's grandeur was accented by the classic rectangular square in front of it, which has since been renamed Theatre Square. In 1853, the theatre burned down. It was rebuilt in three years based on a design by Alberto Cavos. The sculpture of Apollo over the entrance portico, destroyed in the fire, was replaced with a bronze quadriga.
Place: 1 Theatre Square
The building, originally constructed for Muir & Mirrielees Co., was designed in the neo-English Gothic style with elements of modern architecture. Prior to the 1880 opening in Moscow, the Scottish entrepreneurs Andrew Muir and Archibald Mirrielees also had shops in Saint Petersburg. This was the city's first department store, where people could buy practically anything except groceries. The new building was the first in Moscow to use reinforced concrete in its construction. It had previously been used to build skyscrapers in New York. Architect Roman Klein designed it in the Gothic revival style.
Place: 2 Petrovka
MAPS.ME offers detailed offline maps and tour guides for travellers. All the sights, parks, museums, restaurants and other tourist destinations are at your fingertips—no matter where you are. Download the map of the city or country you're travelling to and navigate them with ease even when you don't have access to the Internet. More routes can be found in the guidebook catalog.
An online tour through one of the most beautiful and cozy public gardens in Moscow
The largest public library in Russia and one of the largest libraries in the world
How a swamp turned into a prestigious street
One of the oldest zoos in Europe
The imaginary border of the 16th century
From expats to squatters