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Russia

Welcome to Russia

Explore Our Best Destinations Russia

If ancient walled fortresses, glittering palaces and swirly-spider churches are what you’re after, focus on European Russia. Here, Moscow and St Petersburg are the must-see destinations, twin repositories of eye-boggling national treasures, political energies and contemporary creativity. Within easy reach of these cities are charming historical towns and villages, such as Veliky Novgorod, Pskov and Suzdal, where the vistas dotted with onion domes and lined with gingerbread cottages measure up to the rural Russia of popular imagination.

Whether you’re a culture vulture in search of inspiration from great artists and writers or an adventure addict looking for new horizons to conquer, Russia amply delivers. Tread in the footsteps of literary greats, including Tolstoy and Pushkin, on their country estates. Ski or climb lofty mountains in the Caucasus, go trekking or white-water rafting in the Altai Republic, hike around Lake Baikal, or scale an active volcano in Kamchatka – the variety of possibilities will make your head spin.

Russia’s vast geographical distances and cultural differences mean you don’t tick off its highlights in the way you might those of a smaller nation. Instead, view Russia as a collection of distinct territories, each one deserving separate attention. Rather than transiting via Moscow, consider flying direct to a regional center such as Rostov-on-Don, Irkutsk or Yekaterinburg and striking out from there.

We won’t lie: bureaucracy and occasional discomfort and inconvenience, particularly away from the booming urban centers, remain an integral part of the Russian travel experience. However, a small degree of perseverance will be amply rewarded: one of the great joys of travel in Russia is being swept away by the boundless hospitality of the people.

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Moscow(Discover more Moscow)

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St.Petersburg(Discover St.Petersburg)

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Sochi(Discover more Sochi)

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Kazan(Discover more Kazan)

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Nizhny Novgorod(Discover Nizhny Novgorod)

Capital of Russia: Moscow
Official language: Of all the languages of Russia, Russian is the only official language at the national level. There are 35 different languages which are considered official languages in various regions of Russia, along with Russian. There are over 100 minority languages spoken in Russia today
The currency: Russian ruble
Climate: he climate of Russia is formed under the influence of several determining factors. The enormous size of the country and the remoteness of many areas from the sea result in the dominance of the continental climate, which is prevalent in European and Asian Russia except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstructing the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean and the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences.
Population: 144.3 million (2016 census)
President: Vladimir Putin
Prime Minister: Dmitry Medvedev
Calling code: The international calling code is +7

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

Russia is located in northeastern Europe and northern Asia. It is the largest country in the world—slightly less than 1.8 times the size of the United States, with a total area of 17,075,200 sq km (6,592,771 sq mi). Russia shares boundaries with the Arctic Ocean on the N , northern Pacific Ocean on the W , China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia on the S , and the Black Sea, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Finland on the W with a total land boundary of 19,990 km (12,421 mi) and a coastline of 37,653 km (23,396 mi). Russia’s capital city, Moscow, is located in the eastern part of the country.

WEATHER & CLIMATE

Best time to visit

As you’d expect Russia’s climate is hugely dependent on where in the country you find yourself. With temperatures known to hit a tarmac-melting 37°C (99°F) in the cities and fall to -30°C (-22°F) and lower during the Siberian winter, there’s no point generalising about Russia’s weather except to say, be prepared.

The most favourable temperatures are found along the Baltic coast, where many Muscovites decamp for balmy summer holidays, whilst the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi, also doubles as a beach resort, due to its tropical climate, earning it the epithet ‘Florida of Russia’. Minus the overly tanned pensioners of course.

While the notion of visiting a snow-blanketed Moscow or St Petersburg has a definite romance, most tourists prefer to come calling in the warm summer months of June, July and August. This means the shoulder seasons of April, May, September and October are good options for visitors keen to avoid the peak crowds – prices are generally lower from September to May, and tourist sites almost invariably less crowded.

Spring is often characterised by slushy roads. And if your heart’s set on that winter wonderland, December’s the best bet. Seasonal climates apply elsewhere in Russia – Siberia can have devastatingly cold winters, while its summers are generally fairly pleasant, if a little rainy. The region of Russia near the Black Sea has mild winters, but again attracts a fair amount of rain.

Required clothing

Those visiting over summer should pack a mixture of lightweight and mediumweight clothing – natural fibres such as cotton and linen are best. For the winter visitor, meanwhile – layers, layers, layers. Wools and cashmeres are great material for keeping in the warmth. Sturdy shoes are always a good idea, no matter what time of year.

GEOGRAPHY

The Russian Federation covers almost twice the area of the USA, and reaches from the enclave of Kaliningrad in the west over the Urals and the vast Siberian plains to the Sea of Okhotsk in the east. The border between European Russia and Siberia (Asia) is formed by the Ural Mountains, the Ural River and the Manych Depression. All in all Russia has 16 international borders with countries including Finland, Lithuania, USA, Japan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and China.

European Russia extends from the North Polar Sea across the Central Russian Uplands to the Black Sea, the Northern Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. Siberia stretches from the West Siberian Plain across the Central Siberian Plateau to the Lena River and takes in the Sayan and Yablonovy ranges in the south. East of Siberia stretches the Russian Far East, a region almost as big as Siberia itself, running to the Pacific coast and including the vast Chukotka and Kamchatka peninsulas.

Given the vast size of the country, Russia’s terrain is hugely variable. From the Siberian tundra to the mountains of the Urals, the beaches on the Black Sea coast, and the plains of western Russia, such variable geography means one can experience many different Russias.

POPULATION

People of Russia. Nationalities living un Russia

Russia has always been not only a densely populated but also multi-national state. Permanently more than 145 million citizens reside in the country.

They represent over 160 nationalities, speaking their own languages. Small population groups alive in specific locations. Only seven nations have more than one million representatives – Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkir, Chuvash, Chechens and Armenians.

Russia is the seventh largest in the world in terms of population after China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan.

As the density of population goes Russia takes the second place in the world after the United States. Almost a fifth of the population lives in 13 cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Omsk, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Rostov-on-Don, Ufa, Volgograd, and Perm. The population of the largest mega-cities of Russia: Moscow – more than 10 million people, Saint Petersburg – about 5 million people. The capital of the Russian Federation is among the twenty most populated cities in the world.

The greater part of the population are, of course, Russians – more than 80%. The remaining percentage is – Tatars – 3.8%, Ukrainians – 3%, Chuvash – 1.8%, Belarusians – 0.8%, Mordovians – 0.7%, Germans and Chechens – by 0.6%, Avars, Armenians, Jews – by 0.4% and others. Tatars, the second in number, live in the Volga region. Together with the Bashkirs Tatars make up the largest grouping of Muslim nations located almost in the center of Russia. Chuvash, other Turkic people, total about two million people. In Siberia live Altai, Khakassia, Yakuts. In the Caucasus live the people of Abkhaz-Adyghe Group: Kabardins, Adygea and Circassians; Nehsko-Daghestanian Group: Chechens, Ingush, Avars, Lezgins; Ossetins are related to the Iranian group.

Russia is a home for the Finno-Ugric peoples – these are the Finnish, Karelians, Komis and Saami in the north of European Russia; Mari and Mordovians in the Volga region, the Khanty and Mansi, engaged in hunting and reindeer, in Western Siberia.

In the Far North there are Nenetses involved in reindeer herding. In East Siberia live Evenks. On the Chukotka Peninsula – Chukchi – reindeer herders and fishermen. Mongolian group is represented by Buryats in Siberia and Kalmyks on the Caspian Sea.

Each nation is seeking to preserve the language, customs and traditions, costumes, traditional occupations and trades. Most of these people have maintained their identity and traditional classes. The wealth of national cultures is the heritage of the country.

RUSSIAN TRADITIONS

Russia is indeed a unique country, which, along with highly developed modern culture carefully preserves the national traditions deeply rooted not only in the Orthodox religion but also in paganism. The Russians still celebrate pagan holidays, many people believe in numerous omens and legends.

LANGUAGES

It’s very easy to assume that, in a country one doesn’t know much about, only one or two languages are spoken. This may be the case in some extremely small countries, but Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of land area. There are also 160 different ethnic groups in Russia, and about 100 languages spoken by these groups. The linguistic diversity found in Russia is just as astounding as the ethnic diversity, even though it is a country that belongs to two different continents.

Here are just a handful of the languages native to Russia that are spoken by its inhabitants, besides Russian:

Tatar

The language of the Volga Tatar ethnic group, Tatar is spoken by some 6.5 million people as a native language. Besides Russia, where it is a native language, it can be found in Ukraine, Finland, China, Romania, Turkey, and other countries. Tatar is a Turkic language, which means it shares characteristics like vowel harmony, agglutination, and more with other Turkic languages such as Turkish, Uzbek, and Kazakh, for example. It is the official language of the Republic of Tatarstan (along with Russian), a republic that forms part of the Russian Federation.

Chechen

Chechen is the language of the ethnic group of the same name, whose members can be found mostly in the Chechen Republic/Chechnya, which is part of the Russian Federation. Chechen is a Northeast Caucasian language and has at least 8 different dialects. Many of the sounds and consonants of Chechen are very similar to those of Arabic and some of the indigenous languages of the Pacific Northwest. The vowels are very similar to those of German and Swedish, giving the language an interesting mix of sounds. Depending on the dialect, Chechen can have between 40 and 60 consonants.

Buryat

Part of the Mongolic language family, Buryat is considered either a Mongolian dialect group or its own language, depending on which linguist you ask. Besides being spoken in Russia, Buryat is spoken in northern Mongolia and parts of China as well. Though it is a Mongolic language, Buryat is written with a modified Cyrillic alphabet in Russia. There are about five different dialect groups within Buryat, with its closest linguistic relatives being Mongolian and Khamnigan. Buryat has eight grammatical cases and uses vowel harmony.

Dargwa

Another Northeast Caucasian language on the list is Dargwa, the language of the Dargin people of Dagestan, a republic that is part of the Russian Federation. Dargwa forms part of a dialect continuum that includes Itsari, Kubachi, Chirag, and Kajtak, with Dargwa being the main dialect of the group as well as the literary dialect. There are around 490,000 native speakers of Dargwa as of 2010, most within Dagestan but some in neighboring republics. Dargwa has about 35 consonants and is written using the Cyrillic script, like most languages native to Russia.

Alpha Omega Translations is a translation, interpretation, and desktop publishing company that is dedicated to providing services in as many languages as possible, both common and uncommon.

RELIGIONS

Religion in Russia Today

With nearly 5,000 religious associations the Russian Orthodox Church accounts for over a half of the total number registered in Russia. Next in numbers come Moslem associations, about 3,000, Baptists, 450, Seventh Day Adventists, 120, Evangelicals, 120, Old Believers, over 200, Roman Catholics, 200, Krishnaites, 68, Buddhists, 80, Judaists, 50, and Unified Evangelical Lutherans, 39.

Many churches and monasteries have been returned to the Church, including the St. Daniel Monastery, the current seat of the Moscow Patriarchate, the spiritual and administrative center of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Some statisticians estimate the percentage of believers at 40 per cent of the entire Russian Federation. Close to 9,000 communities belonging to over forty confessions had been officially registered in the country.

The majority of religious Russians are Christians. The country has over 5,000 Russian Orthodox churches. Many are built anew or under repair on parish and local budgets money.

Among the several more ambitious projects is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, erected in Red Square to commemorate the liberation of Moscow by Minin and Pozharsky’s militia, pulled down in 1936, and recently rebuilt from scratch. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, demolished in 1931, is restored. Patriarch Alexis II described its rebirth as “a sublime act of piety and penitence”.

Russia had 150 Roman Catholic parishes, two theological seminaries and an academy before the revolution of 1917. All were suppressed in the Soviet years, and the believers — ethnic Lithuanians, Poles and Gennans — were banished and seattered about Siberia and Central Asia. 83 communities have reappeared by now, and Apostolic Administrations linked to the Vatican have been established in Moscow for European Russia, and in Novosibirsk for Siberia. There are four bishops and 165 priests working among the approximately 1,300,000 Catholics in the country. The theological seminary, Mary Oueen of the Apostles, opened in Moscow in 1993 and was transferred to St. Petersburg in 1995.

The two million Protestants have 1,150 communities.

The nineteen million Muslims, the second largest religious community in Russia, have over 800 parishes and mosques, mostly in Bashkortostan, Daghestan, Kabarda-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya. The Muslim Board for Central European region has been re-established. The Moscow Muftiyat, an independent ecclesiastical body, is responsible for the Moscow, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma, Tula, Tver, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaluga, Yaroslavl and Kaliningrad regions, and Sochi, the renowned seaside resort in the Krasnodar Territory.

Buddhism is widespread in Buryatia, Kalmykia, Tuva, and the Irkutsk and Chits regions. The Russian Federation currently has ten datsan monasteries, with the total monastic body approaching 200. Another ten monasteries are under construction.

The Russian Federation has 42 Jewish communities. Moscow accounts for over 10 per cent of Russian Jews, and has three synagogues, one of which is Hasidic.

TRANSPORTATION

The transportation system during the Soviet period was organized in the form of vertically integrated monopolies controlled by the central government. Thus, for example, the same administrative agency owned and operated the airports, airlines, and enterprises that manufactured aircraft. The infrastructure eroded seriously in the late Soviet period and requires much modernization and reform, for which Russia relies heavily on foreign investment and aid.

Roads

Roads were one of the least-used forms of transportation in the Soviet Union, a characteristic that has continued in the Russian Federation. Soviet industry placed little emphasis on the production of automobiles and other modes of personal transport, and the privately owned vehicle was a relatively rare phenomenon; therefore, the demand for road construction was small. The dominance of the railroads for cargo transport also constrained the demand for the construction of roads. In 1995 Russia had 934,000 kilometers of roads, compared with 6.3 million kilometers in the United States (see fig. 10). Of Russia’s total, 209,000 kilometers were unpaved, and 445,000 kilometers were not available for public use because they served specific industries or farms.

The World Bank has estimated that in twenty years the demands of Russia’s new economy will increase the road system’s share of transportation to 41 percent from its 1992 level of 13 percent. However, in 1992 some 38 percent of Russia’s highway system required rehabilitation or reconstruction, and another 25 percent required repaving. Many major bridges also required large-scale repair in the mid-1990s.

Railroads

Railroads are the dominant mode of transportation. In 1995 Russia had some 154,000 kilometers of railroads, 26 percent of which were electrified, but 67,000 kilometers of that total served specific industries and were not available for general use (see fig. 11). The entire system is 1.52-meter gauge. In 1993 railroads accounted for 1,608 billion ton-kilometers of cargo traffic, compared with the 26 billion ton-kilometers provided by trucks. The prominence of railroads is the result of several factors: the vast distances that need to be covered; the penchant of Soviet economic planners for locating manufacturing facilities in politically expedient areas rather than where raw materials and other inputs were available; and the conditions for granting state fuel subsidies, which provided no incentives to break up cargo transportation into shorter-haul operations that could be covered by road. Cargo traffic is the predominant use of railroads, in contrast to the emphasis on passenger traffic in West European railroad systems (see table 19; table 20, Appendix). This pattern is a product of the Soviet emphasis on heavy industry and production rather than on consumers. In 1992 Russia’s railroads accounted for 253,000 passenger-kilometers, and by 1994 the total had dropped to 227,000 passenger-kilometers.

Railroad traffic has plummeted since the beginning of Russian economic reform, reflecting a general decline in economic activity. Between 1992 and 1994, freight haulage dropped from 1.9 million ton-kilometers to 1.2 million ton-kilometers, and Russia’s rolling stock and roadbeds deteriorated, mainly because of insufficient maintenance funding. In 1993 an estimated 8.5 percent of Russian rail lines were defective. As a market economy takes shape, experts forecast a smaller relative role for the railroads. The combination of fuel and material costs, substantially higher in the absence of government subsidies, and new alternative routing will likely prompt Russian manufacturers to find more efficient means of transporting goods. For shorter hauls, trucks will replace rail service, and intermodal transportation will receive greater emphasis as an outgrowth of marketization.

Air Transportation

Of the modest amount of passenger traffic in Russia, air service accounts for a relatively large portion, although the volume of traffic declined in the first half of the 1990s. In 1990 the monopoly service of Aeroflot, the Soviet Union’s state-owned airline, accounted for 22 percent of the total distance passengers traveled, a proportion comparable with the proportion of travel on the airlines of the United States and Canada. However, the contribution of air service to total travel had dropped to 12.5 percent by 1993, and the number of passengers flying was less than half the 1990 total. Subsidized air fares and long-distance flights between cities accounted for much of the air activity in the early 1990s. In 1994 Russia had a total of 2,517 airports, of which fifty-four had runways longer than 3,000 meters, 202 had runways between 2,400 and 3,000 meters, and another 108 had runways between 1,500 and 2,400 meters.

As with the rest of the economy, air travel has declined substantially as prices have increased and travelers’ incomes have declined. The airline industry also has undergone major adjustments in the 1990s. Aeroflot, since 1995 a joint-stock company with majority state ownership, remains the main Russian airline. However, more than 200 regional carriers have emerged in the former Soviet Union, and most of them are in Russia. With flights from so many carriers, direct service is now available between regions, including direct flights from the Russian Far East to Japan and Alaska, without the previously obligatory stop in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

At the same time that airlines decentralized, so did reservation systems and navigation control networks, making those aspects of airline travel less efficient. Experts predict that as market forces continue to work in the sector, higher fuel costs and declining passenger demand will force mergers and bankruptcies that eventually will lead to a more efficient system.

The airline industry also must deal with an aging capital stock. As of 1993, some 48 percent of the national system’s aircraft were more than fifteen years old. To upgrade, Russian airline services have purchased aircraft from Western firms and demanded more modern aircraft from domestic manufacturers.

Water Transportation

Maritime transportation plays an important role in Russian transit, but the country’s geography and climate limit the capacity of shipping. Many Russian rivers run from south to north rather than from east to west, constraining their use during the Russian winters.

Russia’s major ports providing access to the Baltic Sea are St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, and Novorossiysk and Sochi are the main Black Sea ports (see fig. 12). Vladivostok, Nakhodka, Magadan, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy account for the bulk of maritime transportation on the Pacific coast. The largest Arctic port, Murmansk, maintains an ice-free harbor despite its location on the northern shore of the Kola Peninsula. In 1995 Russia’s merchant marine had about 800 ships with a gross tonnage of more than 1,000, of which half are standard cargo vessels, about 100 oil tankers, and eighty container ships. Russia also owns 235 ships that are over 1,000 tons and sail under foreign registry. In 1991 the merchant marine carried 464 million tons of cargo.

Navigable inland waterways extend 101,000 kilometers, of which 16,900 kilometers are man-made and 60,400 are navigable at night. Boats of the Russian River Fleet do most of the inland shipping, which accounted for 514 million tons of cargo in 1991. The Russian government has made efforts to decentralize control over water transportation and to separate control of liners from ports.

Public Transportation

Although the high price and scarcity of passenger automobiles required Soviet citizens to rely on public transportation, Soviet policy makers gave low priority to civilian transportation. Only six Russian cities have underground systems–Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, and Samara. The extensive and decorative Moscow subway system, built in the 1930s as a showpiece of Stalinist engineering, remains the most reliable and inexpensive means of transportation in the nation’s capital.

Elsewhere, buses are the main form of public transportation. In cities, tramways supplement bus service, accounting for one-third of the passenger-kilometers that buses travel. The Russian Federation continues the Soviet-era 70 percent state subsidy, which keeps fares artificially low. This subsidy has been a drain on the budget and has blunted the public’s demand for alternative modes of transportation. The system’s infrastructure and vehicle fleets require extensive repair and modernization.

Transportation Reform

In the first half of the 1990s, market forces shifted some of the demand among the various transportation services. Russian policy makers had not prescribed the proper role of the transportation sector in the new economy. However, officials indicated that Russia will follow the Western model of assuming government regulation of transportation systems while reducing state ownership of those systems.

Many state-owned transportation monopolies have been dissolved, but some monopolies such as public transportation are expected to remain in place. The role of government will be to ensure that the systems are commercially viable and allow private systems to emerge. The government also will continue to be responsible for maintaining the quality and availability of the road, air, and water infrastructure and for maintaining standards of transportation safety.

HISTORY

From the beginnings to c. 1700

Prehistory and the rise of the Rus

Indo-European, Ural-Altaic, and diverse other peoples have occupied what is now the territory of Russia since the 2nd millennium bce, but little is known about their ethnic identity, institutions, and activities. In ancient times, Greek and Iranian settlements appeared in the southernmost portions of what is now Ukraine. Trading empires of that era seem to have known and exploited the northern forests—particularly the vast triangular-shaped region west of the Urals between the Kama and Volga rivers—but these contacts seem to have had little lasting impact. Between the 4th and 9th centuries ce, the Huns, Avars, Goths, and Magyars passed briefly over the same terrain, but these transitory occupations also had little influence upon the East Slavs, who during this time were spreading south and east from an area between the Elbe River and the Pripet Marshes. In the 9th century, as a result of penetration into the area from the north and south by northern European and Middle Eastern merchant adventurers, their society was exposed to new economic, cultural, and political forces.

The scanty written records tell little of the processes that ensued, but archaeological evidence-notably, the Middle Eastern coins found in eastern Europe—indicates that the development of the East Slavs passed through several stages.

From about 770 to about 830, commercial explorers began an intensive penetration of the Volga region. From early bases in the estuaries of the rivers of the eastern Baltic region, Germanic commercial-military bands, probably in search of new routes to the east, began to penetrate territory populated by Finnic and Slavic tribes, where they found amber, furs, honey, wax, and timber products. The indigenous population offered little resistance to their incursions, and there was no significant local authority to negotiate the balance between trade, tribute, and plunder. From the south, trading organizations based in northern Iran and North Africa, seeking the same products, and particularly slaves, became active in the lower Volga, the Don, and, to a lesser extent, the Dnieper region. The history of the Khazar state is intimately connected with these activities.

About 830, commerce appears to have declined in the Don and Dnieper regions. There was increased activity in the north Volga, where Scandinavian traders who had previously operated from bases on Lakes Ladoga and Onega established a new centre, near present-day Ryazan. There, in this period, the first nominal ruler of Rus (called, like the Khazar emperor, khagan) is mentioned by Islamic and Western sources. This Volga Rus khagan state may be considered the first direct political antecedent of the Kievan state.

Within a few decades these Rus, together with other Scandinavian groups operating farther west, extended their raiding activities down the main river routes toward Baghdad and Constantinople, reaching the latter in 860. The Scandinavians involved in these exploits are known as Varangians; they were adventurers of diverse origins, often led by princes of warring dynastic clans. One of these princes, Rurik, is considered the progenitor of the dynasty that ruled in various portions of East Slavic territory until 1598 (see Rurik dynasty). Evidences of the Varangian expansion are particularly clear in the coin hoards of 900–930. The number of Middle Eastern coins reaching northern regions, especially Scandinavia, indicates a flourishing trade. Written records tell of Rus raids upon Constantinople and the northern Caucasus in the early 10th century.

In the period from about 930 to 1000, the region came under complete control by Varangians from Novgorod. This period saw the development of the trade route from the Baltic to the Black Sea, which established the basis of the economic life of the Kievan principality and determined its political and cultural development.

The degree to which the Varangians may be considered the founders of the Kievan state has been hotly debated since the 18th century. The debate has from the beginning borne nationalistic overtones. Recent works by Russians have generally minimized or ignored the role of the Varangians, while non-Russians have occasionally exaggerated it. Whatever the case, the lifeblood of the sprawling Kievan organism was the commerce organized by the princes. To be sure, these early princes were not “Swedes” or “Norwegians” or “Danes”; they thought in categories not of nation but of clan. But they certainly were not East Slavs. There is little reason to doubt the predominant role of the Varangian Rus in the creation of the state to which they gave their name.

Kiev

The rise of Kiev

The consecutive history of the first East Slavic state begins with Prince Svyatoslav (died 972). His victorious campaigns against other Varangian centres, the Khazars, and the Volga Bulgars and his intervention in the Byzantine-Danube Bulgar conflicts of 968–971 mark the full hegemony of his clan in Rus and the emergence of a new political force in eastern Europe. But Svyatoslav was neither a lawgiver nor an organizer; the role of architect of the Kievan state fell to his son Vladimir (c. 980–1015), who established the dynastic seniority system of his clan as the political structure by which the scattered territories of Rus were to be ruled. He invited or permitted the patriarch of Constantinople to establish an episcopal see in Rus.

Vladimir extended the realm (to include the watersheds of the Don, Dnieper, Dniester, Neman, Western Dvina, and upper Volga), destroyed or incorporated the remnants of competing Varangian organizations, and established relations with neighbouring dynasties. The successes of his long reign made it possible for the reign of his son Yaroslav (ruled 1019–54) to produce a flowering of cultural life. But neither Yaroslav, who gained control of Kiev only after a bitter struggle against his brother Svyatopolk (1015–19), nor his successors in Kiev were able to provide lasting political stability within the enormous realm. The political history of Rus is one of clashing separatist and centralizing trends inherent in the contradiction between local settlement and colonization on the one hand and the hegemony of the clan elder, ruling from Kiev, on the other. As Vladimir’s 12 sons and innumerable grandsons prospered in the rapidly developing territories they inherited, they and their retainers acquired settled interests that conflicted both with one another and with the interests of unity.

The conflicts were not confined to Slavic lands: the Turkic nomads who moved into the southern steppe during the 11th century (first the Torks, later the Kipchaks—also known as the Polovtsy, or Cumans) became involved in the constant internecine rivalries, and Rurikid and Turkic princes often fought on both sides. In 1097, representatives of the leading branches of the dynasty, together with their Turkic allies, met at Liubech, north of Kiev, and agreed to divide the Kievan territory among themselves and their descendants; later, however, Vladimir II Monomakh made a briefly successful attempt (1113–25) to reunite the land of Rus.

The decline of Kiev

The hegemony of the prince of Kiev depended on the cohesion of the clan of Rurik and the relative importance of the southern trade, both of which began to decline in the late 11th century. This decline seems to have been part of a general shift of trade routes that can for convenience be associated with the First Crusade (1096–99) and that made the route from the Black Sea to the Baltic less attractive to commerce. At the same time, conflicts among the Rurikid princes acquired a more pronounced regional and separatist nature, reflecting new patterns in export trade along the northern and western periphery. Novgorod, in particular, began to gravitate toward closer relations with the cities of the Hanseatic League, which controlled the Baltic trade. Smolensk, Polotsk, and Pskov became increasingly involved in trade along western land routes, while Galicia and Volhynia established closer links with Poland and Hungary. The princes of these areas still contested the crown of the “grand prince of Kiev and all of Rus,” but the title became an empty one; when Andrew Bogolyubsky (Andrew I) of Suzdal won Kiev and the title in 1169, he sacked the city and returned to the upper Volga, apparently seeing no advantage in establishing himself in the erstwhile capital. (Roman Mstislavich of Galicia and Volhynia repeated these actions in 1203.) By the middle of the 12th century, the major principalities, owing to the prosperity and colonization of the Kievan period, had developed into independent political and economic units.

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS

The paucity of evidence about social and political institutions in Kievan Rus suggests that they were rudimentary. The East Slavs had no significant tradition of supratribal political organization before the coming of the Varangians, who themselves, until well into the 10th century, had little interest in institutions more elaborate than those necessary for the exploitation of their rich, new territory. The territory of Rus, moreover, was immense and sparsely settled. The scattered towns, some probably little more than trading posts, were separated by large primeval forests and swamps.

Thus, although the campaigns of Svyatoslav indicate the extent of the political vacuum that his clan filled, he construed his domains as a clan possession rather than as a territorial or national state. His successor, Vladimir, however, seems to have been conscious of one political element-organized religion-that distinguished both the contemporary empires and the newly established principalities in Poland and Hungary from his own. The church provided the concepts of territorial and hierarchical organization that helped to make states out of tribal territories; its teachings transformed a charismatic prince into a king possessing the attributes and responsibilities of a national leader, judge, and first Christian of the realm.

Once Vladimir had adopted Christianity in 988, his rule was supported by the propagation of Byzantine notions of imperial authority. The political traditions and conditions of Rus, however, required that the actual workings of the political system and some of its style be derived from other sources. The succession system, probably a vestige of the experience of the Rus khaganate in the upper Volga, was based upon two principles: the indivisibility of the basic territory of Rus (the principalities of Kiev, Chernigov, and Pereyaslavl) and the shared sovereignty of a whole generation. Seniority passed through an ascension by stages from elder brother to younger and from the youngest eligible uncle to the eldest eligible nephew. Such a system was admirably suited to the needs of the dynasty, because, by providing a rotating advancement of members of the clan through apprenticeships in the various territories of the realm, it assured control of the key points of the far-flung trading network by princes who were subject to traditional sanctions, and it gave them experience in lands over which they could someday expect to rule from Kiev. This system served well for a century after it was given final form by Vladimir and was revived by Monomakh (Vladimir II, ruled 1113–25), but it could not survive the decline of Kiev’s importance.

Individual Rurikid princes maintained military retinues led by boyars. The princes and boyars drew their most significant revenues from the tribute or taxes collected annually in kind from territories under their control and disposed of in the export trade. The bulk of the population, apparently free peasants living in traditional agricultural communes, had little other connection with the dynasty and its trading cities.

Little is known of law in this period; it may be assumed that juridical institutions had not developed on a broad scale. The earliest law code (1016), called the “Russian Law,” was one of the “Barbarian” law codes common throughout Germanic Europe. It dealt primarily with princely law—that is, with the fines to be imposed by the prince or his representative in the case of specified offenses.

Some scholars have held that, since land was in the hands of the boyar class, who exploited the labour of slaves and peasants, Kievan society should be termed feudal. The meagre sources indicate, however, that Kiev experienced nothing like the complex and highly regulated legal and economic relationships associated with feudalism in western Europe. Kiev’s political system existed primarily for and by international trade in forest products and depended on a money economy in which the bulk of the population scarcely participated. The subsistence agriculture of the forest regions was not the source of Kiev’s wealth, nor was it the matrix within which law and politics and history were made.

Formal culture came to Rus, along with Christianity, from the multinational Byzantine synthesis, primarily through South Slavic intermediaries. A native culture, expressed in a now-lost pagan ritual folklore and traditions in the arts and crafts, existed before the Kievan period and then persisted alongside the formal culture, but its influence on the latter is conjectural.

No single one of the regional (or, later, national) cultures, perhaps least of all that of Muscovy, can be called the heir of Kiev, although all shared the inheritance. The strands of continuity were everywhere strained, if not broken, in the period after Kiev’s decline. But “Golden Kiev” was always present, in lore and bookish tradition, as a source of emulation and renascence.

THE LAND OF RUS

The decline of Kiev led to regional developments so striking that the subsequent period has often been called the “Period of Feudal Partition.” This phrase is misleading: feudal is hardly more applicable to the widely varying institutions of this time than to those of the Kievan period, and partition implies a former unity of which there is insufficient evidence. The distinctiveness of the character and historical fortunes of each of the major East Slavic regions, discussed briefly below, is clear even in the Kievan period and has persisted into the 21st century

After the chaos of Yeltsin’s presidency in the 1990s, Vladimir Putin has maintained a firm grip over the Kremlin since winning the 2000 presidential election. When Dmitry Medvedev was elected President in 2008 Putin became Prime Minister, but returned to the presidency in 2012. For all his efforts to present a modern Russia to the world Putin seems increasingly content to plough his own furrow – deploying troops to Ukraine in 2014 and encouraging the accession of Crimea.

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War in support of the Assad regime against Islamic State continues to divide opinion.

Did you know?

– Russia’s Soyuz rockets are the only means of transport for astronauts to the International Space Station.

– In 2002 Russian Ark became the first feature-length film to be shot in a single take.

– Russia’s national tree is the birch.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

Tourism in Russia has seen rapid growth since the late Soviet times, first inner tourism and then international tourism as well. Rich cultural heritage and great natural variety place Russia among the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The country contains 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while many more are on UNESCO’s tentative lists.

Major tourist routes in Russia include a travel around the Golden Ring of ancient cities, cruises on the big rivers including the Volga, and long journeys on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. Diverse regions and ethnic cultures of Russia offer many different foods and souvenirs, and show a great variety of traditions, including Russian banya, Nizhny Novgorod Khokhloma and Matryoshka, Tatar Sabantuy, or Siberian shamanist rituals. In 2013, Russia was visited by 33 million tourists, making it the ninth-most visited country in the world and the seventh-most visited in Europe.

Unless exempt, tourists to Russia are required to purchase a visa, in addition to having a valid passport. Visas cannot be purchased at the border, and once at the border, travelers must present other relevant documents.

CULTURAL TOURISM

The most popular tourist destinations in Russia are Saint Petersburg (which appeared in the list of top visited cities of Europe in 2010) and Moscow, the current and the former capitals of the country and great cultural centers, recognized as World Cities. Moscow and Saint Petersburg feature such world-renowned museums as Hermitage and Tretyakov Gallery, famous theaters including Bolshoi and Mariinsky, ornate churches such as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Blood, impressive fortifications such as Moscow Kremlin and Peter and Paul Fortress, beautiful squares such as Red Square and Palace Square, and streets such as Tverskaya and Nevsky Prospect. Rich palaces and parks of extreme beauty are found in the former imperial residences in the suburbs of Moscow (Kolomenskoye, Tsaritsyno) and Saint Petersburg (Peterhof, Strelna, Oranienbaum, Gatchina, Pavlovsk Palace, Tsarskoye Selo). Moscow contains a great variety of impressive Soviet-era buildings along with modern skyscrapers, while Saint Petersburg, nicknamed Venice of the North, boasts its classical architecture, many rivers, channels and bridges.

Nizhny Novgorod is the capital of the Volga region. It is considered to be “younger brother” of Moscow. Because it has its own Kremlin, the metro, the so-called “Nizhny Novgorod Arbat” (Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street) and even a copy of the monument to Minin and Pozharsky, the original of which is in the Russian capital. Nizhny Novgorod is divided into two parts by the Oka River. The Upper City is its historical part. Here are the Kremlin, Minin and Pozharsky Square, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya and Rozhdestvenskaya streets, nightclubs, open spaces, a large number of monuments and simply historical places. The Lower City is its industrial and commercial part. Here are the Fair, the old Sormovo and Kanavino, GAZ and Sotsgorod (the so-called “city in the city”), the railway terminal, the airport and many attractions for people who want to see the styles of underground, industrial and grunge. The city is the main starting point for cruises along Volga River. From here begins shipping to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, shows a unique mix of Christian Russian and Muslim Tatar cultures. The city has registered a brand The Third Capital of Russia, though a number of other major Russian cities compete for this status, including Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Samara, all being major cultural centers with rich history and prominent architecture. Veliky Novgorod, Pskov, Dmitrov and the cities of Golden Ring (Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Kostroma and others) have at best preserved the architecture and the spirit of ancient and medieval Rus’, and also are among the main tourist destinations. Many old fortifications (typically Kremlins), monasteries and churches are scattered throughout Russia, forming its unique cultural landscape both in big cities and in remote areas.

RESORTS & NATURE TOURISM

The warm subtropical Black Sea coast of Russia is the site for a number of popular sea resorts, including Crimea and Sochi, known for their beaches and wonderful nature. At the same time Sochi can boast a number of major ski resorts, such as Krasnaya Polyana; the city was the host of 2014 Winter Olympics. The mountains of the Northern Caucasus contain many other popular ski resorts, such as Dombay in Karachay-Cherkessia.

The most famous natural tourist destination in Russia is Lake Baikal, named the Blue Eye of Siberia. This unique lake, oldest and deepest in the world, has crystal-clean waters and is surrounded by taiga-covered mountains.

Other popular natural destinations include Kamchatka with its volcanoes and geysers, Karelia with its many lakes and granite rocks, Altai with its snowy mountains and Tyva with its wild steppes, Republic of Adygea for Fisht Mountain, Chechnya Republic for Lake Kezenoyam and Republic of Karelia for Ruskeala Canyon.