Moscow is the capital of the world's biggest country, and is situated in the centre of the European part of Russia. The Kremlin lies at the very heart of the city, and indeed the country. It has been the Russian centre of governmental and religious power for almost eight centuries, and includes five palaces and four cathedrals. The view over Red Square and the exquisite, colourful domes of Saint Basil's Cathedral may be the most iconic image of the Soviet Union.
GUM Department Store, Moscow © Josef F. Stuefer
The city's fusion of splendour and ugliness is evident in the massive concrete slabs and high-rise apartments of the Stalinist era, and the ornate churches, beautiful neo-classical houses, and impressive architecture of the old city. Wide grey thoroughfares give way to narrow winding inner city streets, and golden church domes gleam between the looming skyscrapers. Moscow attracts all those eager to embrace new business and free enterprise, and the divide between affluence and poverty is always evident.
Since the fall of communism, Moscow has been injected with a sense of urgency to change the face of its capital, embracing capitalism and shaking off the years of communism with flashy shop fronts housing Western franchises, new restaurants, glossy hotels, and the frenzied restoration of lavish Orthodox churches. The once dreary streets are now a vibrant commotion of life, with markets and eager vendors offering an assortment of goods that were unavailable during the Soviet years.
It is also a city of entertainment, with theatres and the renowned Moscow Circus, museums and art galleries. It boasts the world's largest and most efficient metro system, which features gleaming stations deep underground, astonishingly decorated in elegant marble, glittering chandeliers and magnificent mosaics. Moscow is the soul of the new Russia and an intriguing mix of history and politics, business and culture.