Miracles of Russia

Most foreigners associate Russia with white-stone churches, little wooden houses, beautiful girls wearing kokoshnik head-bands and other exotic things of the kind. However, Russian culture has much closer connections with the West than it appears on the face of it. Just take a look at the fortifications of Königsberg (the locals keep calling Kaliningrad by this name) or the Scandinavian archaeological finds within the Rurikovo Gorodische or the rich collections of European art in the Pushkin Museum or the State Hermitage, and you will find out that this is true. Indeed, these have nothing to do with the habitual stereotypes. And this is a real wonder.

Kaliningrad, the “Russian West

Kaliningrad, formerly the East Prussian city of Königsberg is the west-most city of Russia. This is the place where the European and Russian (including the Soviet one) cultures interlace and where Gothic architecture verges modern buildings.

The Königsberg Cathedral is the city’s landmark. It is located in the city’s historic district, the island of Kneiphof (informally they call it the “Kant Island”: this is where philosopher Immanuel Kant the Königsberg citizen of honor is buried). The Cathedral, being an example of Brick (or Baltic) Gothic style, was constructed in the 14th century. Public worships are no longer held here, but you can visit it as a museum or attend a concert. Almost all of its rich decorations were lost in fire during the World War II, though the stone epitaphs and an inner tower formed by interlaced pointed arches remained.

The city’s unique skyline is shaped by different military structures, like the Friedrichsburg Gate that was constructed in the 19th century and named after the currently destroyed fort. The city has many Catholic and Protestant churches extant, but these are not always used as intended. For example, the Neo-Gothic Church of the Holy Family, built in the early 20th century after the plan by architect Friedrich Heitmann, now hosts the concert hall of the Kaliningrad Philharmonic.

The city has unique museums. For example, the Amber Museum that was opened in 1969 in one of the former fortresses, the Dohna Tower at Rossgarten Gate. The matter is that the world’s largest (explored) deposit of Baltic amber is located near Kaliningrad. The museum exhibits amber items and works of art. Another Kaliningrad museum is the Museum of the World Ocean. Here you will know about navigation and marine life. The museum exhibition includes some ships, a submarine, a cachalot’s skeleton, and a collection of old cannons and anchors.

Kaliningrad’s Botanical Garden welcomes visitors from early spring till late autumn. Its collection includes more than 2,500 plants. The Central Park created as an English park was formerly known as Luisenwahl. In the early 19th century it was used as an official summer residence by the Prussian royal family. Here you will also see the church commemorating Queen Louise (now the Kaliningrad Puppet Theatre) and statues of Vladimir Vysotsky and Baron Munchausen.

Kaliningrad (formerly the Prussian city of Königsberg) is Russia’s west-most city. This is the place where the European and Russian cultures interlace and where Gothic architecture verges modern buildings

Rus as Described by Chronicles

To see with your own eyes the places where the Russian state was founded, you are recommended to visit the ancient capital cities of the North-West of the country.

Staraya Ladoga, the first capital of Ancient Rus, is a part of the famous trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks. Today, this is a small settlement. In 862, Rurik, a Varangian (Nordic) chieftain invited to rule the Slavs, made his capital here. The legend says that the first wooden church in Staraya Ladoga was erected by Oleg of Novgorod (also known as Oleg the Prophet) whose burial place is also here. Today the old Staraya Ladoga citadel is partly reconstructed, and some of its fragments date from the 12th century.

Another structure of the same period is St. George's Church. Here you will see wall paintings dated from the 12th century and the oldest image of St. George in Russia. The museum located in the Gate Tower of Staraya Ladoga Fortress has a rich exhibition telling about the history of the place. Staraya Ladoga is a popular place for Medieval reenactment festivals.

Veliky Novgorod overlorded the northern Russian lands. This is one of the most ancient and beautiful cities of Russia. The city was founded in the 9th century as residence of Rurik and with time it grew in a wealthy merchant city. It suffered heavily during the World War II. Upon reconstruction the historic city center became a quiet and inviting tourist area. Kremlin, a red-brick citadel on the bank of the Volkhov River, is definitely a must-see. The Cathedral of St. Sophia (built in 1045) is an austere big five-domed stone cathedral surrounded with galleries.

Novgorod was a center for icon-painting. Welcome to the Museum of Icons to learn more about this. Here you will find one of the Russia's best collections of icons. Many 12th century churches are located within the Yaroslav's Court (1113). Another astonishing sight combining natural beauty and architect's ideas is Yuriev Monastery and Peryn Chapel by the shores of Lake Ilmen. Nearby there is a Museum of Wooden Architecture.

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Pskov is a little bit younger than Novgorod. Chronicles link this city to the reign of Saint Olga, Princess of Kiev and grandmother of Vladimir the Great who Christianized Rus. Inside the strong fortress of Kremlin there is the Trinity Cathedral with its carved iconostasis, venerated icons and reliquiae.

The city is famous for its ancient monasteries and churches, whereas the Pogankiny Chamber is a museum telling about the Russian merchants' lifestyle. Pushkinskiye Gory is not far away from Pskov. Here you will find Alexander Pushkin family estate and Svyatogorsky Monastery with the poet's burial place and the miraculous icon of Virgin Hodegetria.

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Izborsk is one of the oldest settlements in Russia. It is nicknamed The Iron Town as it sustained numerous sieges and saved Pskov and Novgorod for many times. Another archaeological site here is Truvorovo gorodishche (Truvor’s hillfort) and the citadel of Izborsk. The place is also famous for its Slovenskiye springs, an orthodox sacred place, also known as the Springs of the Twelve Apostles located at the foothill.

Veliky Novgorod is one of the most ancient and beautiful cities of Russia. The city was founded in the 9th century as residence of Rurik and with time it grew in a wealthy merchant city

Museum Treasures from Europe and Russia

Museums in the Russia’s two capital cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, avail of unique masterpieces of both European and Russian art. Kremlin Armoury is a real gem in the crown of the Moscow museums.

The museum collection is formed by things of great value that were kept for centuries in the Imperial Treasury and the Patriarch's Sacristy. Some of these items were created by Kremlin craftsmen and some were received as gifts from foreign ambassadors. The collection includes more than 4,000 pieces of ornamental arts from Russia, Oriental countries and Europe. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Monomakh's Cap is the most renowned item in this collection. Visiting the State Historical Museum you will learn more about Russian history from the earliest times till the 20th century. The collection of this museum comprises more than 4,500 pieces.

Tretyakov Gallery is renowned throughout the world. It was founded in the mid-19th century by Pavel Tretyakov, a merchant and art patron from Moscow. Today the Gallery possess one of the world’s largest collections of Russian fine arts. The best featured are Russian paintings of mid-to-late 19th century.

For the European and world art you are welcome to visit the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts that is open for general public since 1912. Every year, this museum is visited by about one million people.

The collection comprises about 700,000 items of different historical periods varying from those attributed to ancient civilizations to those made in the early 21st century. The main collections of the Museum include works by French Impressionist painters, artifacts from the Ancient Egypt as well as masterpieces by the Old masters.

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Saint Petersburg is particularly renown for its State Hermitage Museum which is on the top ten list of the world’s most visited art museums. The State Hermitage Museum occupies five buildings with 400 rooms. In overall, the collection comprises about 3 million works of art and pieces of cultural heritage. The museum exhibits a whole range of world art beginning from the stone age and ending by the late 20th century.

Especially popular is the “Older Masters” gallery that exhibits works of Florentine Cinquecento, as well as paintings by members of the Bolognese School, works by Peter Paul Rubens, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Nicolas Poussin, van Dyck, the Lesser Dutchmen, followers of French Classicism, and Rococo. The museum is also rich in works by members of the Spanish and English schools of painting. The gems of the collection are works by the old European masters, like Leonardo da Vinci (Benois Madonna), Giorgione (Judith), Antonio da Correggio, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt (The Return of the Prodigal Son), and Thomas Gainsborough.

The Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg is another cultural center of the northern capital. Founded in the 19th century, it avails of the largest collection of Russian art. The Russian Museum occupies architectural landmarks dated from the 18th and 19th centuries, the Mikhailovsky Palace, the Stroganov Palace, the Marble Palace, and St. Michael's Castle.

The central pieces of the collection are the works of art from the Winter Palace, the Gatchina Palace, and the Alexander Palace, from the Hermitage and the Imperial Academy of Arts as well as from private collections. The collection comprises about 400,000 items. It covers all the historic period and Russian artistic trends from the 10th century till the 21st century.

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Founded in the mid-19th century by Pavel Tretyakov, a merchant and art patron from Moscow, today the Tretyakov Gallery possesses one of the world’s largest collections of Russian fine arts.

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