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August - September 2007
At home in Russia
There are different notions about culture and life in Russia. In the cold war period a great deal of secretiveness existed in the society of the then Soviet Union. The situation changed with the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. He introduced Perestroika (reforms) and Glasnost (0penness) to encourage new ideas into politics. The Union of Soviet Republic, founded in 1923, was eventually dissolved in 1991 and Russia was reborn as the Russian Federation. Currently, under President Putin a lot of progress is being made, and society is more open and religion can be practiced freely.
Russia is the largest country of the world. 25% of mass is in Europe and the remaining 75% is in Asia extending right up to the Pacific Ocean. Therefore the country is extremely diverse in terms of its natural and man-made treasures, including the140 million people who live in it.
Imperial Russia had many great Tsars (kings / rulers) and the most remembered are Peter the Great who laid the foundations of the new capital city of St Petersburg, and Catherine the Great who made Russia a great power. The revolution of 1917 brought Lenin into power, and later notable leaders who influenced affairs were Stalin, Khruschev and Gorbachev.
The Trans - Siberian railway can take traveller to the Far-East, however, for the first time visiteor to Russia the prime attractions are Moscow, St Petersburg with towns and villages in between. Besides taking a train or motoring, a more relaxing way to these places is to take a cruise along the Russian waterways including rivers Neva, Svir and Volga, lakes Ladoga, Onega and the white lake, and canals. Interesting places between these two major cities are: Uglich on the banks of the Volga; Yaroslavl – a ‘Golden Ring’ city with its Spaso Monastery and the Church of Elijah the Prophet; Goritsy on lake Onega with Kirilo Monastery; Kizhi Island with Open Air Museum of Architecture; and Mandroga Island with buildings re- erected in Russian traditions of wooden construction.
Moscow: is the Capital city with 10 million people. The shape of the city is like a spider’s web with historic Kremlin (fortress) at its centre. There are seven ring roads and all arterial roads converge towards the Kremlin. Highlights of Moscow are:
Kremlin: It is the heart and seat of power of the country. It is situated on a hill at the banks of Moskva River. The encircling high walls of the Kremlin are 2.25 km long with 20 distinctive towers and four gates. Inside the grounds there are wonderful monuments, Churches, Senate building, Armoury, Palaces and beautifully laid out Gardens. The Great Bell Tower is the tallest structure in Kremlin and is a landmark visible from miles away. Besides this tower stands the world’s biggest bell that weighs 200 tonnes.
Red Square: In Russia, ‘Red’ symbolizes many things – bravery, blood or beauty. Red Square which adjoins the Kremlin does represent all these three. It is used as a market, meeting place and a parade ground. In the past, it displayed the Soviet might of tanks, missiles and troops.
St. Basil’s Cathedral: This building is unique and is the symbol of not only of Moscow but of Russia. It has a touch of the Orient with colourful twisted onion shaped domes which cover its nine chapels.
Metro: It is the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to get around. Most of the elegant stations look like a palace or an art museum. They are lavishly decorated by using marble, mosaic, mirrors, fresco paintings, gilded works, sculptures and large chandeliers. All art works are themed to feature war, past heroes, farming, hunting, sports and educational scenes.
St Petersburg: was built as a port in the early 18th century by Tsar Peter the Great on the marshy land at the Gulf of Finland and on the banks of River Neva, with a view to gain access to the sea. It is a stately and regal city and have many interesting places. Few of them are:
Hermitage Museum: It is housed in four buildings; the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the New Hermitage, and the Old Hermitage. It is famous for Western European art to include Italian works, French Impressionists and Modern art. The architecture and interior of the buildings are of equal interest in particular the Grand Staircase, the Great Hall and the Throne Room.
The Palace Square: faces one side of the Hermitage. The monolithic 156 feet high granite Alexandra Column stands in the centre of the Square. It was erected to commemorate the final victory in the Napoleonic War.
Other important places are Peter and Paul Fortress, St Isacc’s Cathedral, Admiralty, Nevsky Prospekt (shopping Street), the Cruiser Aurora – from where a blank round was fired to signal the October revolution in 1917.
There are two excellent sights which are a few miles away from St Petersburg. The first is Peterhoff, which is the largest complex of palaces and famous for its water features. The main sight is the Grand Palace, framed by terraces and cascading fountains. The second is Catherine Palace, Pushkin which is an architectural masterpiece set in the charming gardens with lakes, pavilions and gazebos.
Travel in Russia has now become freer, more relaxed and therefore more exciting. It is due to the freedom to go and explore places of interest. The Russian Tourism Industry is on the move and making great efforts for visitors to feel comfortable and at home.