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Moscow History

Throughout its 800 years, Moscow has fended off waves of invaders (from Mongols to Napoleon and Hitler), though often at great cost. In the 12th century, it was little more than a town, but owing to its strategic position at the confluence of the rivers Moscow and Yauza, it grew in importance. The first fortified Kremlin dates to this time.

In the 13th century, the Golden Horde burned the city to the ground, but Moscow soon became rich as a vital tax-collecting outpost for the Mongols. They set the city alight again in 1380, and it would take another century to lift the old foe’s yoke. In 1480, Prince Ivan III united the eastern Slav principalities and defeated the Mongols at River Ugra.

In the years following, Ivan III became Grand Prince and invited architects from Renaissance Italy to design the new Kremlin’s walls and towers. His successor, Ivan IV (the Terrible) added many gold-domed Orthodox churches to the city’s skyline as it became the biggest city in the world by the turn of the 17th century.

Peter the Great then moved Russia’s capital north to what became St Petersburg. After a period of decline, Moscow resurged to repel Napoleon’s ill-fated attack during 1812, although the city was briefly occupied and heavily damaged. It was rebuilt and grew rapidly, with a population of 1 million by 1900.

After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Lenin ordered that the capital be reverted to Moscow. Later, under Stalin’s leadership in the 1930s, the city underwent a programme of massive industrialisation, with much of old Moscow unflinchingly destroyed. In WWII, Hitler followed in Napoleon’s footsteps by succumbing to the Russian military and relentless winter.

In 1980, the Olympic Games came to Moscow, although they were boycotted by the USA and other Western countries. In 1991, the city formed the backdrop to a failed coup attempt by hard line Communists opposed to Gorbachev’s reforms, after which the Soviet Union began to break up. Since then, the city has become increasingly westernised and one of the richest cities on Earth.

Did you know?
• Operation Barbarossa by the Nazis caught Stalin by surprise, as he had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. In June 1941, the German army was on the edge of Moscow, and only the early onset of winter and General Zhukov’s now legendary counteroffensive stopped them taking the city.
• Under Brezhnev, Moscow’s defence industry accounted for one-third of its industrial production and one quarter of its workforce.
• After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans, Moscow branded itself the ‘Third Rome’, and claimed to be the true heir of Christendom.

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Hotel Baltschug Kempinski

Facing the Kremlin across the Moskva River, the opulent Baltschug Kempinski is elegance incarnate. Rooms are lavish, with flowing drapes, piles of soft linen and every imaginable convenience, but it's the views of domes and spires across the river that steal the show. There's a plush restaurant with a view of St Basil's, plus a swish spa too.

Izmailovo (Gamma-Delta)

Constructed to accommodate visitors to the 1980 Olympics, the concrete towers of the Izmailovo boast a staggering 8,000 rooms. Institutional in atmosphere, and located far out in the northern suburbs, the hotel is handy for the enormous Izmaylovo Market and has decent city centre links. There are several onsite restaurants and in-room Wi-Fi is available too.

Peking Hotel

Built in 1956 as a little sister to Stalin's Seven Sister skyscrapers, and intended as post-war headquarters for the secret police, Moscow's Peking Hotel is a heritage hotel with a small 'h', in a good location just northwest of the centre. Although slightly old-fashioned, its 130 rooms are comfortable enough, with satellite TV and en-suite bathrooms.

Warsaw Hotel

Although its location may not be one of Moscow's most picturesque, the Warsaw Hotel is convenient for Gorky Park. Considering the quality of the competition, this is one of the best cheap options in the city, with clean and comfortable rooms, albeit in a rather dated style. Wi-Fi is complimentary and the Oktyabrskaya Metro station is right next door.

Golden Apple

A boutique hotel on a refreshingly human scale, the Golden Apple offers imaginative styling and a personal touch that many 5-star hotels lack. Behind the baroque facade, its minimalist rooms are cosy, and there's an onsite restaurant and an open-plan bar too. Staff speak excellent English and there's Wi-Fi access, a gym and a sauna.

Historical Hotel Sovietsky

In the 1950s, Joseph Stalin decreed that the famous Yar restaurant should be upgraded to a hotel and the Historical Hotel Sovietsky was born. It quickly became a showcase for the image of sophistication that the Soviet government wished to present to the world, and its 107 rooms still conjures up the nostalgia of this period in history.