History of Moscow

History of Moscow dates back to the year 1147, when Moscow was first mentioned in the historic documents.

It's safe enough to assume there was a settlement even before, as some archeological artifacts are more than 1000 years old. However, since we don't have enough evidence to prove that, we assume that Moscow was founded in 1147.

Moscow sits on the shores of Moskva River, and that's basically how the city got its name - "Moskva". It's hard to say what it means, but it probably comes from the old Russian word "mosk" - something wet and swampy.

It seems very reasonable to me because the place was covered with swamps back then. In fact, draining the swamps and putting rivers into tubes has always been a large part of city's expansion.

Moskva River played an important part in history of Moscow. Back then, it was used to transfer goods and raw materials. Basically, you could get as far as Black and Caspian seas from Moskva River, so the trade was flourishing.

That same manuscript that mentions the foundation of Moscow also mentions prince Yuri Dolgoruky. It appears that he had a mansion in Moscow settlement back then, and that is where he met his friends and some other prince in 1147.

It's believed that Moscow was started on Krasnaya or Shvivaya hill. By the way, today one of Moscow's Seven Sisters sits there - on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.

Yuri Dolgoruky was the prince of Rostov and Suzdal. Back then, Moscow was a small insignificant town, while Rostov and Suzdal already were major Russian cities. They were so important that in 1156 a small fortress was built on Borovitsky Hill in Moscow to protect Suzdal from enemies. The fortress also became Moscow's first Kremlin.

Walls and towers of Kremlin. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

View on Kremlin's walls and towers from Moskva River.

Right now the hill isn't very tall as it was leveled several times in the past. Right now, one of Moscow Kremlin's towers stand upon it. It's called "Borovitskaya", just like the former hill. By the way, before that hill was called "The Witch Mountain" because there was a pagan temple there. Oooow, creepy!

In 1177, the fortress on Borovitsky Hill burned down. However, since it was a strategic spot it was rebuilt quickly. That was the time when Moscow was beginning to gather influence by becoming one of Russia's important trade centers.

In the 13th century, Moscow grew large and important, and it became a center of independent principality. It was ruled by many princes, and the rule itself was passed as a heritage. However, during the Mongol invasion of 1238, Moscow was burned and looted.

Then again there were several princes who ruled the city, but they didn't leave a significant trail in history of Moscow. Later on, Alexander Nevsky's junior son Daniel became Moscow's ruler. He was only 2 years old, and so his uncle had to step in.

Daniel ruled for more than 30 years - from 1271 to 1303. That is a huge amount of time considered all the power struggle that was going on. That is why Daniel was called the first true prince of Moscow and the founder of the new dynasty.

Later on, when Moscow became one of Russia's pillars, its princes became the rulers of the entire country. The dynasty lasted until the end of the 16th century, but already during Daniel's rule Kolomenskoye and Mozhaiskoye principalities were added to Moscow.

By the way, the people of Kolomenskoye principality who were escaping from invading Tatar Khan's forces founded a village on their way to Moscow. Later on, it became the estate of Moscow princes and Russian Tsars. Right now, Kolomenskoye Estate is a functioning open air museum. In addition, Daniel founded Bogoyavlensky and Danilovsky monasteries, probably the oldest ones in the history of Moscow.

It may sound strange, but the Mongol invasion contributed to the growth of Moscow. In the 14th century, Daniel's sons Yuri and Ivan Kalita collected tribute from Russian principalities in favor of the Golden Horde. For that, the Horde allowed them to rule parts of Russia.

Yuri was the first to receive the right to rule Vladimirskoye principality, which was sort of Russia's capital back then. After that, Moscow became even more influential. In addition, the city was surrounded with dense forests that attracted many refugees who sought to hide from the Mongols.

In 1325, the residence of Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia was moved from Vladimir to Moscow, making it the main religious center of the country. Thus, Vladimir lost its privileged status.

The Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

The Cathedral of the Dormition - the first stone cathedral in Moscow.

Ivan Kalita ruled Moscow for a long period after Daniel. He was so successful mainly because he was a good negotiator. He managed to establish good relations even with Tatar Khans, and while other cities suffered from Horde's attacks, Moscow principality was steadily growing. New lands were acquired, and first stone buildings were erected including churches and cathedrals. In 1339, Moscow Kremlin was surrounded with new wall, but the Kremlin itself remained wooden.

Ivan's heirs also contributed a lot to Moscow, which was constantly growing and remained the ruling Russian city. Unfortunately, not everything went smoothly. In 1353, there was an outbreak of plague that claimed thousands of lives. In addition, since the city was wooden it burned many times.

After yet another fire of 1365, Prince Dmitry Donskoy decided to set up a stone kremlin and make it several times bigger. In addition, several new monasteries were built around Moscow for defense purposes. By the way, that was when people started calling Moscow "Belokamennaya", meaning "made of white stone".

Troitskaya tower of the Kremlin. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

Kremlin's Troitskaya tower, 1495.

During the expansion of the Kremlin, part of the old Great Posad district was expelled, and so it grew east, creating Kitay-Gorod neighborhood. It was also surrounded with a fortress wall, and later on became very popular with nobility that replaced the traders and craftsmen. Today, Kitay Gorod is part of historic center of Moscow.

Dmitry Donskoy is one of the few Moscow princes who are still known among the people. He was the first in the history of Moscow to start fighting the Golden Horde and uniting the Russian lands. The most famous battle took place in 1380 on Kulikovo Field. However, the attempt failed, and Moscow was re-captured and looted in 1382.

Somehow, Dmitry still managed to get approval from the Horde and continued ruling Moscow. During the later years he even managed to expand his influence by acquiring Nizhegorodskoye and Muromskoye principalities.

Later feudal wars of the 15th century helped Moscow to increase its power even more. Prince Vasily the Blind put an end to many fiefdoms inside Moscow principality, and after the fall of Constantinople Moscow became an international religious center. Thus, history of Moscow took a new turn...

Fortress wall of Novodevichy Convent. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

A fortress wall of Novodevichy Convent, founded in 1524.

In 1547, Ivan the Terrible became Tsar of all Russia. Instead of Moscow principality, Russian kingdom was created. Since the capital was placed in Moscow, the city started growing again.

At the end of the 16th century, after another attack of Tatars and the fire of 1571, a third wall was built surrounding the White City - a historic district around Kremlin and Kitay Gorod. Since then, it was only allowed to erect stone buildings in that area.

Entrance to restaurant Godunov in the building of Zaikonospassky monastery. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

Entrance to Godunov restaurant situated in the building of Zaikonospassky monastery.

During the later centuries, there were lots of uprisings and revolts, Moscow was captured and freed again. Such was the story of the famous people militia led by Minin and Pozharsky who liberated Moscow from Polish-Lithuanian invasion in 1612. Thanks to them, the history of Moscow didn't end...

Up until the 17th century, there were territories around the White City that weren't part of Moscow called "Zemlyanoy Gorod". There were villages, monasteries and artisan suburbs. In 1593, during the war with the Swedes, an earth mound with wooden towers was built around those territories. Before the mound, a ditch was dug, and you could get inside the territory of Zemlyanoy Gorod only trough special gates. The White City was also separated from Zemlyanoy Gorod by another earth mound and a ditch.

Pushkin square. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

Pushkin square on Boulevard Ring.

In the 18th century, the ditch of the White City was filled up, the mound was razed and the gates were demolished. Where the White City towers used to stand, now there's famous Moscow Boulevard Ring, with multiple squares occupying the place of the former gates. After the mound and the ditch of Zemlyanoy Gorod were removed in the beginning of the 19th century, Garden Ring (Sadovoye Koltso) was set up there.

Garden Ring. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

Bolshaya Sukharevskaya square - a part of the Garden Ring.

Peter the Great was the only ruler who made Moscow lose its central status for some time. In 1712, the capital was moved to Saint-Petersburg. From 1728 to 1730, it was officially moved back to Moscow, but Saint-Petersburg still remained the unofficial center of Russia.

Moscow became capital only in 1918 after the Bolshevik revolution. It became the center of the new Soviet republic - RSFSR, and later USSR. During the Soviet era, Moscow metro appeared, VDNH was built, and a lot of new buildings were erected including famous Stalin's skyscrapers and universities.

The entrance to VDNKh. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

The entrance to the famous VDNKh.

Moscow Ring Road also appeared back in those times, and the city finally acquired constant boundaries. Unfortunately, history of Moscow suffered because a lot of historic buildings were demolished to give way for the new era. It hasn't stopped even today, as there is a sad joke among the Muscovites "restoration of historic building ended up with its demolition".

I guess you remember the rest of the history. Gorbachev, Perestroika, the 1991 coup d’état attempt, tanks shooting at the White House in 1993...

By the end of the last century, the political situation stabilized, and we started building churches and cathedrals according to the new official ideology. Can't say I agree with it, but I'm sure glad that Cathedral of Christ the Savior was restored.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior. By Moscow Russia Insider's Guide.

The restored Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

In general, Moscow started building again - Victory Hill memorial, new metro stations and even our own International Business Center. I sure hope our city will continue to expand and renovate itself...

...if only it would treat its history more carefully!

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