The capital was founded in 1147, but there is evidence that there has been a settlement here since Neolithic times. The focal point of the city is Red Square, on one side of which is the Kremlin surrounded by a thick red fortress wall containing 20 towers altogether. The Sobakina Tower, designed to withstand sieges, contains a secret escape passage. The Tainitskaya Tower translates as the ‘Tower of Secrets’, because it also had a secret subterranean passage leading to the river. The Trinity Gate is the tallest of the towers. The Water-Hoist Tower conveyed water to the
Kremlin. The Nabatnaya Tower contained an alarm bell that was rung in times of danger. In the Kremlin grounds, the Uspensky Cathedral (1475-79), designed by the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti, contains three of the oldest Russian icons. The tsars were crowned here; Ivan the Terrible’s throne is situated near the entrance. Also within the Kremlin stand the 14th-century Grand Kremlin Palace and the golden-domed Belfry of Ivan the Great. St Basil’s Cathedral (built 1555-60), at another end of the square, is famous for its brightly colored domes. As the story goes, Ivan the Terrible was so overwhelmed by its beauty that he blinded the architect so that he could never create another building as impressive as this. Opposite St Basil’s, the Spassky (Redeemer’s) Gate is the main entrance to the Kremlin, built in 1491 by Pietro Antonio Solario. The Blagoveshchensky (Annunciation) Cathedral was built for Ivan III. It is extravagantly decorated, from its copper domes to its agate- and jasper-tiled floors. It contains 16th-century frescoes and a precious collection of icons. Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral has recently been reconstructed and rededicated. The superb murals in the Faceted Chamber date from the late 15th century; sadly, the Chamber is not open to the public. The State Historical Museum is also located in Red Square. Although there is talk of finally burying Lenin’s embalmed body, Lenin’s Mausoleum is still open to the public on certain days. However, the changing of the guards in front of the Mausoleum, a ritual which used to attract many sightseers, was discontinued in 1993. Tverskaya Street near Red Square is one of the main shopping streets. Arbat Street is the main thoroughfare of a traditionally bohemian quarter. Today it is a pedestrian zone with crafts and artists’ stalls and street performers. The area known as Kitai-Gorod lies east of the Kremlin, and is notable for its 16th- and 17th-century churches, especially the five-domed Cathedral of the Sign, with its amazing acoustic properties. The splendid English Estate dates from the same period, a remnant of the area’s former importance as a diplomatic and commercial center. The nearby Romanov Apartments are now a museum. Zayauzie is a quiet, attractive district, with its handsome merchants’ mansions. The world-famous Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater at Teatralnaya Square dates from 1824 and has an interior color scheme of red and gold. Moscow University is situated on the southwestern periphery of the city in the Vorobyevi Hills. The lookout tower in the park in front of the University complex offers excellent views over the city and the vast Luzhniki Stadium. Novodevichy Convent near Sportivnaya metro station houses a museum of rare and ancient Russian art, and is one of the finest examples of 16th- and 17th-century architecture in the city. The neighboring Ostozhenka and Prechistenka Streets feature urban mansions and estates associated with many classic Russian authors, including Tolstoy. The dancer Isadora Duncan shared her studio with her husband, the poet Sergei Yesenin, in the classically designed estate of the millionaire Ushkov in Prechistenka Street. Herzen Street is one of the oldest in Moscow. It contains the Moscow State University, the grand Tchaikovsky Conservatoire and the ornate Mayakovsky Academic Theater. The area around Kuznetzky Most and Petrovka Street is a hub of social and cultural activity, with its popular theaters, fashion shops and business community. One of the most popular new, but macabre attractions is the KGB Museum housed in the sinister Lubyanka building. The well-preserved Zamoskvorechye district was originally a mercantile and artisans’ quarter. Many of its churches, warehouses, shops and houses survive. The area is home to the Tretyakov Gallery, containing the work of Russian artists and an extensive collection of icons, among them the Trinity by Andrei Rublyov. Other places of interest are: the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts with its cosmopolitan collection; the Moscow Circus, the original with animal acts and clowns and the newer with more technical wonders; Izmailovo Park, formerly the Tsar’s estate and the elegant Tsaritsino landscaped park; the Exhibition of Economic Achievements, where on a large site in the northwest of the city all aspects of Russian life are displayed – such as agriculture, industry, culture and science. The site also contains a zoo and a circus and there is skating and skiing. The nearby Ostankino TV Tower is the tallest in Europe, with a revolving restaurant at the top. The Space Conquerors’ Monument, representing the trajectory of a rocket launch, also dominates the area. The local Museum of Serf Art is a reminder of the past. The Metro system is a tourist attraction in itself, as well as a cheap and convenient means of traveling around the city. Many stations are sumptuously decorated with marble, glittering chandeliers and works of art. A boat tour on the Moskva River is a pleasant way of discovering the city. Excursions start at the Kutuzovskaya Pier, accessible from Kutuzovskaya Metro. The river is a superb vantage point to view the White House (the Parliament Building), scene of the dramatic siege of 1991, as well as many of the sights listed above.