Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow
Photograph by Izzet Keribar/IML Image GroupLegend has it that St. Basil’s Cathedral’s beauty cost its architect his eyes. The Moscow monument was built between 1555 and 1561 by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate a victory over the Mongols, and he’s said to have blinded the architect so that he couldn’t create a rival masterpiece. The Russian St. Basil the Blessed lies interred within the church.
Garden Ring, Moscow
Photograph by Gerd LudwigMoscow’s Garden Ring road was laid out in the early 1800s, but the view in those days was nothing like this one from the top of the Peking Hotel. The original ring was a tree-lined boulevard that traced the path of the city’s ancient outer wall. Today central Moscow lies inside the ring, but the city stretches well beyond.
Photograph by Michael MelfordKrasheninnikov Volcano boasts two stunning, snowcapped summit cones. Located on the Pacific shore of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, it last erupted some 400 years ago. One indication of how big Russia is: The peninsula is as far from Moscow as Moscow is from Boston.
Photograph by Randy OlsonA brown bear in Kurilskoye Lake shows its fishing prowess—and he won’t be practicing catch and release. This Kamchatka Peninsula lake is home to hundreds of bears, and visitors can see them tuck into a feast during the wild salmon run, one of Earth’s greatest. The bears share the fish with white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, and Steller’s sea eagles.
Soldiers at Kremlin, Moscow
Photograph by Georgy Zvonkov,Troops line up at one of the gates to the Kremlin. A walled fortress has stood on this Moscow site for the better part of a thousand years. Today the Kremlin is the home of Russia’s president, but on its grounds are public attractions such as the Patriarch’s Palace, the State Armory, and several churches.
Photograph by Steve WinterA man herds reindeer in Bystrinsky Park on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. He’s one of the region’s indigenous Even people, who cherish their traditional herding culture even as they welcome increasing numbers of tourists to the high peaks, sprawling forests, and lush tundra and meadows of their homeland—one of the world’s truly wild places.
Easter Midnight Mass, Vorkuta
Photograph by Gerd LudwigA congregation in Vorkuta gathers to celebrate Easter at a midnight Mass. This coal-mining town, north of the Arctic Circle, was founded as a labor camp. Partly because it was a notorious gulag, partly because of the antichurch positions of the Soviet Union, the town didn’t have a dedicated church building until 2007.
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photograph by Richard NowitzThe Hermitage houses one of the world’s greatest art collections in one of the world’s most impressive groups of buildings. A famous former occupant of the palace, Catherine the Great, acquired the core of the collection during her 18th-century reign. Later, new treasures and buildings were added for the enjoyment of other royals and, eventually, the public.
Alexander Column, St. Petersburg
Photograph by Richard NowitzThe Alexander Column, celebrating Russia’s victory over Napoleon, seems small when framed by an arch of the General Staff Building. But at 165 feet (50 meters) and 660 tons (599 metric tons), it’s one of the world’s largest freestanding monuments. The column fronts the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg’s Palace Square, the scene of the 1905 Bloody Sunday and the 1917 Bolshevik storming of the palace.
Russian Orthodox Priest
Photograph by Gerd LudwigFather Sevastyan meditates on the Gospels at Svyato-Kazansky hermitage, one of many Russian Orthodox communities resurrecting across the country. Driven underground for 75 years, the faith of the Russian tsars now enjoys favored status.
Ballet Dancers, Moscow
Photograph by Gerd LudwigPerhaps dreaming of the legendary Bolshoi, young dancers prepare for class at their academy in Moscow. Ballet has long been a Russian passion.
Country House, Mandrogy
Oil Pipeline, Siberia
Photograph by Gerd LudwigMuch of Russia’s economic might depends on its vast reserves of fossil fuels, which account for some 60 percent of the nation’s export revenues. This man, constructing an oil feeder pipeline in western Siberia, is one of some 71,000 employees of the Russian oil giant TNK-BP.
Photograph by Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty ImagesSiberia’s Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world—at over a mile (1,700 meters)—and holds an incredible 20 percent of Earth’s unfrozen fresh water. Formed some 25 million years ago, it’s also the world’s oldest lake. Because of its age and isolation, hundreds of aquatic species evolved here that are found nowhere else on the planet.
- Moscow; 10,672,000
- 17,075,400 square kilometers (6,592,850 square miles)
- Russian Orthodox, Muslim, other
- Russian ruble
- Life Expectancy:
- GDP per Capita:
- U.S. $9,700
- Literacy Percent:
Russia Facts Flag
Invading Mongols controlled Russia from 1240 to 1380. In 1547 Ivan IV, a Muscovite prince, adopted the ancient title of caesar (tsar in Russian). He and his successors unified fragmented lands and began taking the region that is today Siberia.
Russia looked westward after 1698, when Peter the Great returned from his travels in Europe. Conquering territory along the Baltic Sea, he built his mostly landlocked realm a port capital, St. Petersburg (known from 1924 until 1991 as Leningrad), and established Russia's first navy. Russia entered the 20th century as enormous and imperial.
The forced abdication of Nicholas II in March 1917 ended tsarist rule. In November Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a Marxist, gained power and moved the capital to Moscow—deep in the Russian interior. The new communist state would look inward, expanding and confronting the West. Eventually the Soviet Union came to consist of 15 republics. Soviet planners relocated entire peoples, to reward or punish. Relocation often moved minority peoples eastward (often to Siberia) and replaced them with Russians—who came to teach the Russian language, to organize (and often dominate) the local Communist Party, and to implement Moscow's decisions. Military power and Soviet security forces held the empire together—extending Soviet control into Eastern Europe after World War II.
Mikhail Gorbachev took office in 1985 and unveiled sweeping plans for economic restructuring (perestroika), soon followed by unprecedented political openness (glasnost). The Soviet Union dissolved after a failed coup in 1991, producing Russia and 14 independent republics—with Russian minorities totaling some 20 million. Russia seeks to protect these minorities, maintain its economic influence on resources (like oil), and confront separatism at home (as in Chechnya).
- Industry: Mining and extractive industries, machine building, shipbuilding, road and rail transportation equipment, communications equipment
- Agriculture: Grain, sugar beets, sunflower seed, vegetables; beef
- Exports: Petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, wood and wood products, metals, fur