Moscow—Its 850th Anniversary
A City That Has Prevailed
“COME to me, brother, to Moscow.” This invitation by Yury Dolgoruky to a fellow prince in 1147 appears to be the first mention of Moscow in historical annals. The date—850 years ago—has been accepted as the founding of Moscow, the capital city of Russia, even though archaeological evidence shows that a settlement had existed on the site long before.
In anticipation of Moscow’s 850th anniversary, hundreds of the city’s facilities were refurbished and restored—stadiums, theaters, churches, railway stations, parks, and public buildings. What a marvelous transformation! “Whole blocks of buildings,” noted one Muscovite, “have changed beyond recognition.”
During a visit to Moscow this past June, we saw crews working on restoration projects all around the city’s center, near Red Square. Work was ongoing, 24 hours a day. And everywhere, there were reminders of the 850th anniversary—in store windows, in the Metro, on lampposts, on merchandise for sale—even a performance of the Moscow circus that we attended included reference to it.
By September, when thousands of visitors from around the world were present for special 850th-year festivities, the improvement in Moscow’s appearance was spectacular. Yes, despite terrible periods of adversity throughout its history, Moscow has survived and flourished.
A Bible scholar evidently had in mind one such period in Moscow’s history when, during the early part of the last century, he commented on the “battle” that is associated with “Armageddon” in the Bible. (Revelation 16:14, 16, King James Version) He noted that some had alleged that the place of Armageddon was Moscow, although he himself did not subscribe to that view.*
Why did some claim that? Well, consider the fascinating and often tragic history of Moscow.
Prevailing in Early Years
Moscow is situated at a strategic intersection near major rivers (the Oka, the Volga, the Don, and the Dnieper) as well as important land routes. Prince Dolgoruky “laid the foundations of the town of Moscow,” reports a chronicle of 1156, evidently meaning that he built the first fortifications of earthen ramparts topped by a wooden wall. This Kremlin, or citadel, was located on a triangular piece of land between the Moskva River and the Neglinnaya, a small tributary.
Tragically, only 21 years later, the prince of nearby Ryazan “came upon Moscow and burned the entire town.” Moscow was rebuilt, but in December of 1237, the Mongols under Batu Khan, grandson of the famed Genghis Khan, captured and again burned Moscow to the ground. The Mongols also sacked the city in 1293.
Do you find it remarkable that Moscow prevailed after each crippling blow? The city also emerged as Russia’s religious center in 1326, when the prince of Moscow, Ivan Kalita, persuaded the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to live in Moscow.
Eventually, by the time of the rule of Ivan the Great (from 1462 to 1505), Moscow had gained independence from the Mongols. In 1453 the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks, which left the rulers of Russia as the only remaining Orthodox monarchs in the world. As a result, Moscow came to be identified as the “Third Rome” and Russian rulers were called czars, or caesars.
Toward the end of Ivan the Great’s rule—when Christopher Columbus was making voyages to the Americas—the Kremlin was enlarged, and brick walls and towers were built that survive until today almost unchanged. The walls are well over a mile [well over two kilometers] in length, up to 20 feet [6 m] thick, and 60 feet [18 m] high, and they enclose the Kremlin area, nearly 70 acres [nearly 30 ha].
It may surprise you that by the mid-1500’s, Moscow was said to be larger than London. Then, disaster struck on June 21, 1547, when the city suffered a devastating fire, which left practically the whole population homeless. Again, the resourceful people of Moscow rebuilt. Also appearing at this time was St. Basil’s Cathedral, which was constructed to celebrate military victories over the Tatars, or Mongols, in Kazan. Even today, this architectural masterpiece on Red Square (completed by 1561) is a widely recognized symbol of Moscow.
Some ten years later, in 1571, the Crimean Mongols broke through and captured Moscow, wreaking unbelievable havoc. They burned practically everything but the Kremlin. Records reveal that of the city’s 200,000 inhabitants, only 30,000 survived. “The Moscow River was so choked with bodies that its course was diverted, and the water was crimson for miles downstream,” editors of Time-Life books report in Rise of Russia.
Once more, Moscow had to be restored. And it was! In time, the city again radiated outward from the Kremlin, with successive walls enclosing sections called Kitai Gorod, White City, and Wooden City. A similar circular layout of Moscow remains today, with ring roads rather than walls circling the Kremlin.
During this time the people of Moscow were greatly distressed by the tyrannical rule of Ivan the Terrible, grandson of Ivan the Great. Then, in 1598, Ivan the Terrible’s son and successor, Fyodor, died without an heir. That began the “Time of Troubles,” which Rise of Russia calls “the wildest and most confusing period in all Russian history.” It lasted about 15 years.
Enduring a Unique Crisis
Shortly after Boris Godunov, Fyodor’s brother-in-law, assumed the throne, Moscow suffered from a terrible drought and famine. During one seven-month period in 1602, 50,000 reportedly died. Altogether, over 120,000 perished in the city between 1601 and 1603.
On the heels of that calamity, a man claiming to be Prince Dmitry, a son of Ivan the Terrible, invaded Russia with the help of Polish soldiers. Actually, evidence indicates that the real Dmitry had been killed in 1591. When Godunov died unexpectedly in 1605, the so-called False Dmitry entered Moscow and was crowned czar. After only a 13-month rule, he was executed by opposers.
Other pretenders to the throne followed, including a second False Dmitry, who was also assisted by Poland. Intrigue, civil war, and murder became rife. King Sigismund III Vasa, of Poland, invaded Russia in 1609, and in time, a treaty was signed that recognized his son Władysław IV Vasa as the Russian czar. When the Poles gained entrance to Moscow in 1610, the city came under Polish control. But soon Russians rallied against the Poles and expelled them from Moscow by the end of 1612.
These terrible times of trouble turned Moscow into ‘a wasteland overgrown with thistle and weeds that stretched for miles in place of former streets.’ The wall of the Wooden City had been burned down, and Kremlin buildings were in disrepair. A visiting Swedish envoy concluded: “That was the terrible and disastrous end of the famous city of Moscow.” However, he was mistaken.
A Russian czar from the Romanov family was elected in 1613, and this new dynasty of Romanov czars lasted for over 300 years. Although the young new czar, Michael, reportedly “had nowhere to live” because of the devastation, Moscow was rebuilt and again became a major city of the world.
In 1712, the czar Peter the Great, grandson of Michael, moved Russia’s capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, which he had built on the Baltic Sea. But Moscow remained the beloved “heart” of Russia. In fact, the French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte, seeking conquest, reportedly said: ‘If I capture Petersburg, I’ll take Russia by its head, and if I capture Moscow, I’ll destroy its heart.’
Napoléon did take Moscow, but as history indicates, it was his heart that was broken, not Moscow. What occurred in Moscow was so horrible that this is what evidently caused some to identify the city with Armageddon.
Moscow Rises From Ashes
In the spring of 1812, Napoléon invaded Russia with a military force that swelled to about 600,000. Adopting a “scorched earth” policy, the Russians retreated and left nothing for the enemy. Eventually, they decided to leave an abandoned Moscow to the French!
Many authorities say that Muscovites themselves set their city ablaze rather than let the French have it. “A gale-force wind turned the fire into veritable hell,” reports a Russian history. The French were left without food or fodder, as this history explains: “Not a single sack of flour nor a cartload of hay was delivered by Russian people to the French army.” With no alternative, the French left Moscow less than six weeks after entering and lost practically their whole army in their retreat.
The courage of the Muscovites had saved their illustrious city, and with determined resolve they raised it from the ashes. Aleksandr Pushkin, often considered Russia’s greatest poet, was 13 when Napoléon invaded Moscow, Pushkin’s beloved hometown. Of Moscow he wrote: “What thoughts in each true-hearted Russian come flooding at that word! How deep an echo there is heard!”
Survival and Prosperity
Many living today recall, either from memory or from films, the terribly hard times Moscow experienced during the Russian revolution that began in 1917. Yet, the city not only survived—it prospered. A metro was built, as was the Moscow-Volga Canal to supply the city with water. Illiteracy was essentially eliminated, and by the late 1930’s, Moscow had over a thousand libraries.
In 1937 a former mayor of Manchester, England, wrote in the book Moscow in the Making: “If there should be no great war, . . . I believe that at the end of the ten year plan Moscow will be well on the way to being, as regards health, convenience, and amenities of life for the whole body of citizens, the best planned great city the world has ever known.”
But in June 1941, Germany mounted an unprovoked attack on Russia, an ally with whom it had signed a nonaggression pact less than two years before. By October, German soldiers reached within 25 miles [40 km] of the Kremlin. The fall of Moscow seemed inevitable. Nearly half of Moscow’s 4.5 million inhabitants had been evacuated. Some 500 factories had packed their machinery and sent it to new sites in eastern Russia. Yet, Moscow refused to fall. The city literally dug in, barricaded itself, and repelled the Germans.
Moscow suffered terribly, as did many other Russian cities. “Moscow has gone through so much in one century,” wrote an American reporter who lived there in the 1930’s and 1940’s, “that I marvel it has survived.” Truly, it is remarkable that Moscow prevailed to become one of the largest and most important cities of the modern world.
Today, Moscow has a population of more than nine million people and an area of about 386 square miles [1,000 sq km], making it larger and more populous than New York City. A series of ring roads encircle the Kremlin, with the nearly 70-mile [the over 100 kilometer] Moscow Ring Road forming roughly the outer boundary of Moscow. Wide boulevards extend outward, like spokes of a wheel, from the city’s center.
Most Muscovites, however, travel by the city’s marvelous Metro, which has expanded to include nine lines and some 150 stations, serving all parts of the city. Moscow’s Metro stations are called “the fanciest in the world,” by World Book Encyclopedia. Some stations look like palaces, decorated with chandeliers, statues, stained glass, and marble in abundance. In fact, the first 14 stations built contained over 750,000 square feet [70,000 sq m] of marble, more than in all the palaces built by the Romanovs over a period of 300 years!
The City Is Given a New Look
During our visit last summer, we took the Metro to see one of the largest renewal projects—the huge 103,000-seat Lenin Stadium, built in the south of Moscow in the 1950’s. New seats were being installed when we arrived, and we envisioned the movable roof that would make it possible to hold events all year round.
The facade of the famous GUM department store, across Red Square from the Kremlin, had a fine new look. On another side of the Kremlin, where the Neglinnaya flowed before it was diverted underground during the last century, landscaping now includes a stream to simulate the former river. Right across from the stream, a gigantic several-story underground shopping mall, including restaurants and other facilities, was under construction. A Moscow writer called it “Europe’s largest shopping centre,” but added, “or so they believe at the Mayor’s Office.”
In another area not far from the Kremlin, building cranes seemed to be everywhere, and construction was intense. Archaeological treasures were discovered at excavated sites, including, at one place, a cache of more than 95,000 Russian and Western European coins dated from the 15th to 17th century.
Churches were being refurbished and some rebuilt. Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral, on Red Square, destroyed in 1936 and replaced by a public latrine, was already completed. The giant Cathedral of Christ the Savior, built to celebrate the victory over Napoléon, had been blown up in 1931 during the Communist antireligion campaign. During our visit it was nearing completion on its former site, which had for years been the location of a huge outdoor heated swimming pool.
Touring construction sites was fascinating, especially as we contemplated the fresh look Moscow would have by year’s end. Yet, what endeared Moscow to us were its people. “The visitor is overwhelmed with all the friendship of which Muscovites are intrinsically capable,” a correspondent to Moscow once noted. We found that to be true, especially as we crowded around a tiny kitchen table, enjoying the loving warmth and hospitality of a Russian family.
Happily, we also found that many Muscovites have learned the true meaning of Armageddon, a battle in which our Creator will cleanse the entire earth. This will usher in a time when all who truly love him can live together, not with prejudice and suspicion, but with understanding and trust, as children of God, who love one another and serve God unitedly. (John 13:34, 35; 1 John 2:17; Revelation 21:3, 4)—Contributed.
Commentary on the Holy Bible, by Adam Clarke, One-Volume Edition, page 1349.
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St. Basil’s Cathedral and Kremlin walls, widely recognized symbols of Moscow
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Everywhere, there are reminders of the 850th anniversary
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The famous GUM department store, with its new look
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Many Metro stations look like palaces
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Refurbishing Lenin Stadium
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New landscaping outside the Kremlin
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Building cranes seemed to be everywhere, and construction was intense