The State Historical MuseumRussian: Gosudarstvennyi istoricheskiy muzey or Государственный исторический музей of Russia on the Red Square is one of Russia’s largest museums. Its 150-year-old collection covers every period of Russian history. The exhibition comprises over 20,000 items, including ancient decorations, pagan sculptures, manuscripts, weapons and clothing worn by people from different social classes and periods, the personal belongings of emperors and a multitude of other rare exhibits. In just a few hours, visitors will traverse many millennia, from the first people on Earth, to the Bronze and Iron Age, the nomads and Ancient Russia to mediaeval Muscovy, the reforms of Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725, the grand age of Empress Catherine the GreatEmpress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, the country's longest-ruling female leader and its most renowned and, finally, into early 20th-century Russia. If you would like to see the whole exhibition, you will need to walk more up to three kilometres!
On display at the Historical Museum is one of the three oldest Russian manuscripts, Izbornik of SviatoslavRussian: Izbornik Svyatoslava or Изборник Святослава (1073), as well as Ivan Fedorovthe first known Russian printer ’s ApostleRussian: Apostol or Апостол (1564), the first book printed in Russia. The exhibition also features a 5-ton ritual dolmen dating back to the Bronze Age, a huge globe measuring almost two meters in diameter that once belonged to Peter the Great and a sword which belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. The extent and diversity of the museum’s collection is truly impressive. If you are particularly interested in the academic side of the display, there are often concise descriptions which go along with items stored in the glass cases.
The building itself is a fine example of the New Russian architectural style. Each room is devoted to a specific period, the characteristic features of which are reflected in the interior’s design. The total area of the exhibition comprises some 4,000 sq.m.
The journey begins
The museum was commissioned by Emperor Alexander IIthe Emperor of Russia from 1855 until his assassination in 1881, but it was only opened to the public in 1883, during the reign of his son, Emperor Alexander IIIthe Emperor of Russia from 1881 until his death in 1894. Building a museum like this was quite an ambitious undertaking, so a special building was needed. The redbrick structure designed by V. Shervud and A. Semyonov was in perfect congruence with the Red Square, the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s CathedralRussian: sobor Vasiliya Blazhennogo or собор Василия Блаженного. Every room was specifically designed, taking into consideration the exhibits that were to be displayed there. Great Russian painters, such and I. Aivazovsky, V. Vasnetsov, V. Serov and K. Korovin, contributed to the museum’s interior design.
Not only the State, but also ordinary people contributed greatly to the collection by donating their icons, fabrics, pieces of furniture and household items to the museum. The merchant Pyotr Shchukin, the founder of the private Russian Antiquities MuseumRussian: Muzey «Rossiyskikh drevnostey» or Музей «Российских древностей», made one of the most significant contributions to the museum’s collection.
Today, the collection occupies thirty-nine rooms in the Historical Museum building, which was renovated in 2006. It covers every period of Russian history from ancient times through to the early 20th century. One cannot help but admire the level of understanding displayed by late 19th-century scholars of Russian history. The themes and exhibits, selected over 150 years ago, are still relevant and are carefully preserved by museum staff.
If the Russian history is a subject of your interest and you want to know, for example, what is the oldest church in Moscow, what are the famous monasteries around Moscow, which style of Moscow architecture you can see only in this town, you can read on our website pages about Red square in Moscow and “History and Architecture”.
The first rooms focus on pre-historic, primitive societies. Among the most notable exhibits is a small female statue from MaltaRussian: Мальта, an archaeological site in Siberia. The woman is depicted wearing clothing and her face features individual traits. In the centre of the room devoted to Neolithic art is a giant boat, dug out in the Don River area, a rare 3,000-year-old artifact. The museum boasts an exceptionally rich collection of items dating back to the Bronze Age, including weapons, jewelry and ceramics. The highlight of the collection is the Borodino treasure troveRussian: Borodinskiy klad or Бородинский клад, a set of weapons that once belonged to a noble warrior. On display in the museum’s first rooms is a dolmen from the North Caucasus. A dolmen is a family burial chamber widely used throughout Europe during the Bronze Age. This tomb contained the remains of 70 people and was in use for 500 years.
Artifacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages represent the peoples that inhabited the territory of present-day Russia in ancient times. Ritual ‘deer stones’ – symbols of ancient beliefs – stand proudly in the middle of the room. Back in the Iron Age, such stones marked burial places or shrines, as well as road intersections in the steppes. According to nomadic beliefs, these stones symbolized the world’s axis that linked all tiers of the universe.
An important section with many gold artifacts on display is devoted to the Scythians, the most well-known group of people alive at the time. Many gold objects in the ‘animal style’ are available to be viewed here.
The gem of the museum’s collection is a marble sarcophagus from the Bosporan Kingdom, founded by the Greeks in the 5th century BC on the Taman and Kerch PeninsulasRussian: Tamanskiy i Kerchenskiy poluostrova or Таманский и Керченский полуострова. The sarcophagus became known globally as one of the best examples of ancient Greek art.
Four rooms are focused on the history of Kievan Rus. Founded in 862 AD, Ancient Russia soon became a major state in Eastern Europe. The first Slavs that lived on the territory of ancient Rus were pagans, as evidenced by the Zbruch IdolRussian: Zbruchskiy idol or Збручский идол, a symbol of heathen beliefs. Other interesting artifacts on display include a pair of auroch’s horns from the Black GraveRussian: Chyornaya mogila or Чёрная могила, once owned by a Slavic chieftain, weapons, jewelry and ceramics. Another important exhibit is the Korsun GateRussian: Korsunskie vrata or Корсунские врата from St. Sophia CathedralRussian: Sobor sv. Sofii or Собор св. Софии (12th c.) in Novgorodduring the 14th century, the city was the capital of the Novgorod Republic and one of Europe's largest cities; the gate was purchased by Novgorodians from Sweden as a war trophy. A stone sculpture representing a Cuman warrior, the so-called ‘Kurgan stela’, is also on display in one of the rooms. 12th-century earrings of breathtaking beauty always captures visitors’ attention.
One of the collection’s most rare and unique items is the Izbornik of Sviatoslav, the third oldest Russian manuscript. It is a compilation of articles on various topics translated from the Bulgarian language for Sviatoslav II Yaroslavich (1027–1076). The author of the Izbornik urges people to be virtuous, conscientious, compassionate and observe moderation in everything.
A large section of the exhibition focuses on the development of Muscovy and its fight against foreign invaders. On display are weapons of nomadic people as well as a rare artifact: a paiza, or ‘passport’ of a 14th-century Mongolian official.
The following four halls on the first floor cover every aspect of Muscovy’s life in the 16th and 17th centuries. Weapons, icons, books, household items and tools are displayed in sumptuously decorated rooms. Room 18 features an exact replica of the tsar’s throne from the Moscow Kremlin’s Dormition CathedralRussian: Uspenskiy sobor or Успенский собор. The throne is adorned with carved illustrations of The Tale of the Princes of VladimirRussian: Skazaniya o knyazyakh Vladimirskikh or Сказания о князьях Владимирских, a book narrating the origins of state power in Russia. Unique exhibits encrusted with gold and gems are representative of the history of the Orthodox Church.
From Peter i the Great to Alexander iii
One of the highlights of the collection is the Globe of GottorfRussian: Gottorpskiy globus or Готторпский глобус that Peter the Great brought to Russia in the late 17th century. This 2-meter-high masterpiece of cartography and painting was made in Amsterdam at the workshop of the cartographer Joan Blaeu and shows all the geographical locations that had been discovered at the time. In the same room are intricate exhibits adorned with Usol enamela technique mastered by craftsmen from the town of Solvychegodsk, a kind of enamel painting on a metal surface.
The third floor contains so many exhibits that it is impossible to see them all in detail, so our advice is to focus on the true rarities, such as the military uniform and camisole of Peter the Great and the wooden sleigh in which, as legend has it, the tsar travelled from Moscow to Arkhangelska city in the north of European Russia. Other items on display include portraits of Peter the Great and those of his successors and associates, state documents and awards, model battle ships and authentic 18th-century weapons.
Of great interest is the collection covering Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially the room dedicated to Catherine the Great. On view is a dessert service gifted to her by Frederick II of Prussia. Composed of multiple pieces, the service is stunningly exquisite in its detail. Russian peasant clothing, including traditional women’s garments from the first half of the 19th century and a kosovorotkaa Russian skewed-collared shirt shirt are also displayed here. Several glass cases contain exhibits from the French Revolution, an event of major concern for both Russian society and Catherine the Great herself. The collection also includes a cup that once belonged to Count A. Arakcheev, one of the closest associates of Emperor Pavel I, a Maltese cross and other items. The museum boasts varied and rich collections covering 19th century Russia. The 25-year-long reign of Emperor Alexander I is represented by numerous exhibits ranging from the emperor’s throne to Karl Kollman’s painting entitled The Decembrist Uprising on Senate Squarean unsuccessful revolt against Tsar Nicholas I in 1825. In this watercolor painting, Kollman recreated the events of 14 December from memory. The painting serves as the only illustration of the revolt in existence today. Visitors will also see Admiral Kornilova Russian naval officer who took part in the Crimean War’s overcoat, weapons and cannonballs dating back to the Crimean Warwar fought mainly on the Crimean Peninsula between the Russians and the British, French, and Ottoman Turkish.
One of the museum’s key exhibits is the goose-quill of Emperor Alexander II. It is with this quill that he signed the resolution on abolishing serfdom in Russia. Visitors can also fabrics that were sold at famous fairs and other common goods. Of particular interest is the well-preserved clothing of a worker from the Ural mountains, complete with a felt hat, a cotton shirt, a vest, a pair of trousers and a pair of wooden shoes. Masterpieces by the Russian painter M. Vrubel, such as the ‘Sadkohe was an adventurer, merchant, and gusli musician in a Russian medieval epic Bylina’ ceramic plate, a maiolica panel and a tiled bench, among others, are illustrative of late 19th-century Russia.© 2016-2018 moscovery.com