The capital of Russia is slowly developing into an international metropolis, producing and east European counterpoint to London.
The capital of Russia is not often compared with the capital of the UK, yet as way of grasping the vast metropolis of Moscow, on at least a superficial level, a comparison with London might not be amiss. Both are gigantic sprawls situated at opposite ends of a continent, neither are pretty; both are brutally fast-paced and exciting.
The first impression is that of a chaotic frenzy, of traffic; of mismatched buildings, both stylistically and in size. The city is circled by impressive boulevards, which like machines bore their ways through to the heart of the city. Buildings are caked in grey and exhaust, much like how the dour-coloured brick terraces of London glower at passers-by. Both cities exhibit impressive architecture on a grand scale, both embody a rugged charm that creeps up on you.
First stop on the tourist trail is inevitably the Red Square where a throng of visitors and locals alike take the pulse of the city. Arguably the most iconic of any structure in Moscow, St. Basil’s Cathedral may seem a lot less imposing than what old cold war movies may have led you to expect, but its relative miniature stature does it no less credit. The interior is a fascinating maze of chapels spread across several stories, confounding any prior expectation of conventional church layout.
Behind the red wall of the Kremlin, rises even more onion domes, vying for attention with oddly tent-shaped turrets and towers. It is easily one of the most headily exotic skylines in Europe.
Nonetheless, the Kremlin is not the only part where Moscow reaches for the sky. Like London, it has rediscovered a taste for shining skyscrapers. The two cities are currently competing for the title of tallest building in Europe. Indeed, the proliferation of towers in the international business centre of Moscow is a credible bid to become an eastern counterpoint to London as an international finance centre. As for now, however, the Russians can remain smugly content with outfoxing the Brits to the honour of staging the World Cup.
Shiny new department stores, sushi bars, or opulent food halls, such as the famous Yeliseev’s, complete the comparison with the capitalist haven that is London. However, comparisons only take you so far. For one thing, Moscow is green; a highly recommended river tour offers views of huge swathes of it. Moreover, the centrality of the Kremlin and the grandeur of the Moscow metro, both point towards the hand of a central authority, a dictatorial patronage of the arts, which has no counterpoint in London.
Bristling with vitality and contradictions, the vivacious sounds of an outdoor violin concert leaves the lasting impressions of a fast-paced city and self-consciously cultured city. Moscow is still gritty, yet vying amongst the most glitzy.