Behind the iron curtain

Russia is one of those places that has always fascinated me but I that I am a little scared of. I would love to visit in winter when it is freezing and snowing and everyone is dressed in fur, but there is a doubt about whether I would come back alive that holds me back from booking. I am sure these thoughts are all completely unjustified and are just years of it being known as the Iron Curtain, images of the cold war and reading far too many books from the 1920s.

But there is part of me that yearns to go to this secretive, interesting country with its amazing architecture and chandeliers in some of its metro stations.

Russia is the largest country in the world and it has a huge 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Ensemble of the Novodevichy Convent – probably an image that we all associate with Russia.

Architecture in Russia is probably the most distinctive in the world. It was in the 15th and 16th Century that the spiralling domes and ornately decorated churches became a distinctive part of the landscape.  The churches with their unique tent like spires and elaborate decoration come together perfectly in one building, the Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. During the 18th century tastes changed and a lot of neoclassical styles appeared, think Roman columns. This is most notable in St Petersburg. During the 19th century tastes changed again and under the rule of Alexander II the Neo- Byzantine flourished until the outbreak of world war I. This style is very distinctive in Russia and you can easily spot it by the following details:

Curved domes always crown Byzantine churches. Onion domes and tented roofs were seen as too excessive; however they were seen again in the Russian Revival period at the end of the century. The next detail is the domes runs smoothly into the arches. The neoclassical style saw all masonry (bricks etc.) covered in flush stucco. The Byzantine and then the Russian revival architects exposed their brickwork and relied on it for their style. They then used the traditional Byzantine way of adorning flat surfaces with stripes made from using different types of brick. During the 20th century Stalinist architecture was the name given to buildings in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. This lasted until 1955 when Nikita Khrushchev condemned the excesses of the past decades and got closed down the Soviet Academy of Architecture. His most famous construction is a collection of high rise buildings, which in English are nicknamed the Seven Sisters, In Moscow.

The two most visited places in Russia are Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg is situated on the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea.  Founded by the Tsar Peter the Great it has had a few name changes. In 1914 it was changed to Petrograd, then in 1924 to Leningrad and in 1991 it went back to Saint Petersburg. It is the second largest city in Russia with 5 million living there. It is the only city that far north to have a population over one million. It is also home to The Hermitage, which is one of the largest museums in the world.

The climate in Russia is quite extreme with only two distinctive seasons: summer and winter. In St Petersburg averages 18 degrees Jun – August and gets down to -8 degrees in January and February. The coldest it has even got was a very chilly -35.9 degrees!!!

Russia has a lot to offer in terms of culture, architecture and history. Saint Petersburg has elements of each of these and would make it a really interesting place to visit.

Need some hotel inspiration?



3* Hotel Mark Inn
You will be able to hear the daily salvo of a cannon on one of the St Peter and St Paul’s fortress every day from your room. You are short walking distance from the Alexandrovsky Park which houses a zoo, music hall, planetarium the Baltic house theatre, the Museum of Artillery and many shops, restaurants and cafes.




Amaranta Matisov Domik

Located in St. Petersburg, Amaranta Matisov Domik is in the historical district and close to Mariinnsky Theater, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace. Nearby points of interest also include Palace Square and Kazan Cathedral.



Break the bank!

Grand Europe Hotel

This place looks incredible! A cultural and culinary landmark, Grand Hotel Europe has played a central role in the life of St Petersburg for over 130 years. It stands on Nevsky Prospekt among the city’s great architectural treasures. It is renowned for its impressive façade and decorative interiors.




(All prices were right at the time of publication and were based on visiting Saint Petersburg at the end of October 2011)


Congratulations Madelaine McLaughlin who correctly guessed St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia in this week’s Where in the World Wednesday competition!
A £25 voucher is on its way to you.


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