Moscow – A Panoramic View – Russian Travel

No other city in the world presents so cosmopolitan an aspect. The gilded domes of Lucknow —the pagodas of China—Byzantine churches Grecian temples—palaces in the style of Versailles—heavy inexpressive German buildings—wooden country cottages—glaring American signs —boulevards, gardens, silent lanes, roaring streets, open markets, Turkish bazaars, French cafes, German beer cellars, and Chinese tea-houses—all arc found here, not grouped exclusively into separate cantons, but mired and jumbled together, until Europe and Asia, the Past and Present, the Old’ World and the New, are so blended and con-founded, that it is impossible to say which predominates. Another city so bizarre and so picturesque as Moscow does not exist. To call it Russian would be too narrow a distinction; it suggests the world.

There are few cities in Europe (Berlin excepted) which have not greater advantages of position than Moscow. Accident or whim seems to have suggested the choice of the site to its founders. The little Moskva is not navigable in summer for steamers drawing eighteen inches of water. It is an insignificant tributary, not of the Volga, but of the Oka, which falls into the Volga at Nijni-Novgorod, and here is the spot pointed at by Nature for the commercial emporium of Central Russia and Western Asia. But in the days of Vladimir, this point was too near the Tartars, and tho Peter the Great at one time seriously designed to make it his capital, his rivalry with Sweden, and his desire to approach Europe rather than Asia, finally prevailed, and St. Petersburg arose from the Finland swamps. Moscow, since then, has lost the rank and ad-vantage of a capital, altho it continues to be the Holy City of the Russians, and the favorite residence of many of the ancient noble families.

The Moskva, in passing through the city, divides it into two unequal parts, about three-fourths occupying the northern bank and one-fourth the southern. The river is so tortuous that it may be said to flow toward all points of the compass be-fore reaching the Kremlin, whence its course is eastward toward the Oka. In the center, and rising directly from the water, is the isolated hill of the Kremlin, a natural mound, about a mile in circumference, and less than a hundred fect in height. On either side of it, thc northern bank ascends very gradually for the distance of a mile or more, where it melts into the long undulations of the country. On the southern side of the Moskva, at the southwestern extremity of the city, are the Sparrow Hills, which, running nearly due east and west, form a chord to the great winding curve of the river, and enclose the whole southern portion of Moscow, which is built on the level bottom between it and their bases. These hills are steep and abrupt on the northern side, and tho rising less than two hundred feet above the water, overtop every other elevation, far and near. Every stranger who wishes to see the panorama of Moscow should first mount the tower of Ivan Veliki, on the Kremlin, and then make an excursion to the Sparrow Hills.

The tower of Ivan Veliki, on the Kremlin, is a belfry 200 feet high, surmounted by a golden dome. When you have passed the Tzar Kolokol, or King of Bells, which rests on a granite pedestal at its base, and have climbed through some half a dozen bell chambers to the upper gallery, you see nearly the whole of Moscow-for the northern part goes beyond your horizon. On all other sides it stretches far, far away, leaving only a narrow ring of dark green woods between it and the sky. The Moskva twists like a wounded snake at your feet, his little stream almost swallowed up in the immense sea of the pale-green roofs. This vast green ring is checkered with the pink and yellow fronts of the buildings which rise above the general level, while all over it, far and near, singly or in clusters, shoot up the painted, reed-like towers, and open to the day the golden and silver blossoms of their domes. How the sun flashes back, angrily or triumphantly, from the dazzling hemispheres, until this northern capital shines in more than tropic fire ! What a blaze, and brilliance, and rainbow variegation under this pale-blue sky!

The view from the Sparrow Hills is still more beautiful. You are enclosed with a belt of birch and pine woods. Under you the river reflects the sky, and beyond it sweep blossoming meadows up to the suburban gardens, over which rises the long line of the gilded city, whose nearest domes seem to flash in your very face, and whose farthest towers fade against the sky. Their long array fills one-third of the horizon. I counted between five and six hundred, one-third of which were either gilded or silvered. The dome of the new cathedral, as large as that of St. Paul’s, London, burned in the center like a globe of flame—like the sun itself, with stars and constellations sparkling around it far and wide. From this point the advanced guard of Napoleon’s army first saw Moscow—a vast, silent, glittering city, fired by the sunset, and with the seeds of a more awful splendor in its heart. No wonder that the soldiers stood still, by a spontaneous impulse, grounded their arms, and exclaimed, as one man : “Moscow ! Moscow!”