The Rise of Muscovite Russia

jury_dolgorukiyThe first Russian state, founded in the 9th century, was centered on the city of Kiev. At the end of first millennium this state reached its peak and in 988 Grand Prince Vladimir adopted Christianity, in its Greek Orthodox form, as the official religion. Kievan Russia, however, was short-lived because of conflicts within the ruling family and invasion by nomads from the East. In little more than a century after Prince Vladimir, Russia had broken up into a number of principalities. Then in 1237 came the conquest of Russia by the Mongols and their Tatar allies, who dominated the country for more than two centuries, until 1480. Even before the 'Mongol Yoke' the center of power had shifted to the forest lands of the North-East, and under Andrey Bogolyubskiy (1157-74) the seat of the Grand Princes was moved from Kiev to the town of Vladimir.

The first reference in the Chronicles to Moscow - 168 km southwest of Vladimir - is related to the year of 1147, the reign of Prince Yury Dolgorukiy in Suzdal (the father of Andrey Bogolyubskiy). On the 800th anniversary of this event (1947) the government decided to erect the statue of Prince Yury which now stands opposite to the building of Moscow Mayor's Office. In reality, however, the area around the modern Moscow Kremlin had been settled for some time before the 12th century. Despite the sack of Moscow by the Mongols in 1237-38 the town grew in importance. The first real Prince of Moscow was Daniil (1276-1303), son of Alexander Nevskiy (Grand Prince, 1252-63). Prince Daniil and his sons fought to make their city the strongest in the North-East, and several factors aided Moscow's rise to primacy. The city occupied a central geographical position and was close to the major river trade routes. The energetic Moscow princes were able to win the support of the 'Golden Horde', the Mongol-Tatar state; indeed, Ivan Daniilovich (1325-40) was such a good tax-collector for the Golden Horde that he was made Grand Prince-and earned the nickname 'Kalita' (Money-Bags).

As time went by the Moscow princes became identified with the struggle against the Tatars. Grand Prince Dmitry (1359-89), the grandson of Ivan Kalita, inflicted the first major defeat on the Tatars, at Kulikovo Field by the river Don (1380). The reign of Grand Prince Ivan III (1462-1505) following decades of political uncertainty was among the most important in the history of Moscow. In 1480 the control of the Tatars was effectively ended, and as many of the neighboring principalities were annexed Ivan began to style himself ruler "of all Russia". Moreover, in 1472 he married a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, and claimed for Moscow the status of the "Third Rome". It was from this time that Moscow took the double-headed eagle of the Byzantine Empire as its symbol. Ivan was also a great builder, and the fortifications and magnificent cathedrals of the modern Kremlin date from his reign.

In the 16th century came the dramatic reign of Ivan IV the Terrible (1533-84), grandson of Ivan III and the first ruler to be crowned "Tsar". Ivan raised further the international status of Moscow; he fought a successful war against the Volga Tatars (St. Basil's Cathedral commemorates the capture of Kazan), and in these years the Russian conquest of Siberia was begun. Russia became more open to the West with the arrival of the first English merchants in the 1550s; the house where they lived has been partly restored. Moscow continued to grow, and by the middle of the 16th century its population of 100,000 made it one of the largest cities in Europe. The main part of the town (the Kremlin) was enclosed by a brick wall.

The Russian Empire

petr_monumentA hundred years later Peter I also known as Peter the Great - the Russian Tsar since 1682 and the Russian Emperor since 1721 - played an exceptionally significant role in the history of Russia. Peter's reforms changed the whole Russia including Moscow. The fact that St. Petersburg, the city founded by Peter the Great, in 1712 became the new capital of Russia, was of particular importance. A portion of the Moscow population was moved to the new capital. Moscow, however, remained the largest economic and cultural center of Russia.

In 1812 Napoleon, having gathered his troops from all of Europe, crossed the Russian frontier. There is a well known phrase of the great conqueror: "If I capture Moscow, I will hit Russia in the very heart". On September 2nd, 1812 French troops entered Moscow. On the same day plundering and the first fires started. The fire raged for 6 days and destroyed more than 2/3 of residential areas. After having stayed in Moscow for slightly more than a month, the French troops left Moscow.

After the October Revolution of 1917, in March 1918 the government of Soviet Russia headed by Lenin moved from Petrograd (former St. Petersburg) to Moscow. Petrograd was associated with the old system in the minds of the people and that is why it did not satisfy the new authorities as the capital. Besides, following the conclusion of the Brest pact, Petrograd found itself too close to the border and could be attacked by enemy forces at any moment.

 


Nikolay Gusarov +7 (964) 762-47-92 gussarov@rambler.ru
Olga Bogoyavlenskaya +7 (985) 766-20-43 olga@rusadventure.com
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