State Historical Museum: Architecture

State Historical Museum: Architecture


  • The 19th-century museum building reflects national architectural traditions.
  • Thirty-nine exhibition halls dedicated tothe history of Russian art are masterpieces in their own right.
  • The museum interiors are reminiscent of Russian churches and princely courts.
  • The Genealogical Tree of Russian Monarchs, painted by F. Toropov in 1883, depicts 68 Russian sovereigns since the 10th century.
  • The museum was restored to its original majestic appearancein the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Visitor information and audio guides are available in English.

The building of the State Historical MuseumRussian: Istoricheskiy musey or Исторический музей in Moscow is one of the 19th century Russian landmarks and a unique example of the way the national architectural traditions are followed. The foundation of the building was laid in Red Square in 1875. Emperor Alexander IIthe Emperor of Russia from 1855 until 1881 took part in the event. The majestically gorgeous building of the museum with its tall spires and merlons blends well into the architectural ensemble of Red Square. Its exterior decoration integrates the Russian medieval architectural style, which echoes St. Basil’s CathedralRussian: Sobor Vasiliya Blazhennogo, or Собор Василия Блаженного across the square. The museum’s 39 halls boast unique interiors where different periods of the history of Russian peoples’ art can be traced.

Each room is a small masterpiece created with participation of outstanding artists: a panorama of the Strait of Kerch by I. Aivazovsky (Hall “B”), “The Stone Age” by V. Vasnetsov (Hall No. 2), “Night Sacrifices” by G. Semiradsky (Room No. 8). V. Serov, S. Korovin, I. RepinRussian famous artists and others participated in designing other halls.

The main entrance to the museum is situated on the Red Square side. The façade is decorated by elements typical of old Russian architecture. The building is marked with Kremlin-style towers on its four sides as well as merlons and loopholes. Besides, some features of Saint Basil’s Cathedral with its domes and tent-roofed bell tower as well as the design of 17th century Russian chambers with their ornate window surrounds are easily recognised in the building exterior. The old Rus’ architecture is echoed in the tall pediment-like roofs, turrets, and weather vanes.

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 about it on our website pages about Kremlin Russia: “Kremlin and Red square” and “History and Architecture”.


Academic advising was conducted by two prominent scientists of the time: Count A. Uvarova Russian archaeologist and historian I. ZabelinRussian archaeologist and historian, expert on the history of Moscow. They also gave structure to the display and designed the halls. The museum interiors are themed on the styles of churches and princely courts of different time periods.

110_image5_sThe museum opens up with the Front Senia kind of entrance hall in old Russian houses – an enormous hall covered in gold and profusely painted. Its central vault features Russian artist F. Toropov’s painting “Genealogical Tree of Russian Monarchs” created in 1883. It presents the Russian rulers’ history personified – 68 personalities in total, starting with Princess [1] Olgaa ruler of Kievan Rus' as regent (945 – c. 960) and Saint Vladimirhe converted the entire nation to Christianity. The painting reproduces a fresco in the Novospassky ConventRussian: Новоспасский монастырь. The side vaults show the coats of arms of the parts of the Russian Empire listed in the Emperor’s title. The ceiling and the walls are decorated with a 16-17th century style ‘grassy’ pattern. The motif was borrowed from the painting on the monarch’s seat in the Cathedral of St. SophiaRussian: Sophiysky sobor or Софийский собор in Novgorodduring the 14th century, the city was the capital of the Novgorod Republic and one of Europe's largest cities. The pylons of the marble staircase are guarded by lions patterned after the figures in front of the Palace of the FacetsRussian: Granovitaya Palata or Грановитая палата in the Moscow Kremlin.

The Hall “A” – Byzantine

From the seni the visitor moves into the Byzantine Hall (Hall “A”). It is built like a Byzantine cathedral and resemble111_image7_ss the Hagia Sophia in miniature. The year when the museum was opened – 7391 since the creation of the world (1883 Anno Domini) – is inscribed in the centre of the arch. A very beautiful door leading to the hall is decorated with a platband which resembles the door of the Church of St. NicetasRussian: khram Nikity za Uauzoy or храм Никиты Мученика за Яузой behind Yauzaa tributary of the Moskva River in Moscow. The door is covered with metal décor imitating the decoration of the doors in the Annunciation CathedralRussian: Blagoveshchensky sobor, or Благовещенский собор in Gorokhovetsa town and the administrative center of Gorokhovetsky District in Vladimir Oblast, Russia. The floor of the hall is decorated with mosaic reproducing the one of St. Helena’s catacombs in Rome. If you take a look at the vault, you can see images of Orpheus, some scenes from the Biblical parable about Jonah and other Biblical stories. These images are borrowed from the paintings in the Christian constructions in Ravenna.

The Halls “B” and “C”

In the next halls (“B”, “C”) reproductions of some antique constructions are used for interior decor, e.g., columns in Corinthian style and those of Panticapaeum (Kercha city on the Kerch Peninsula in the east of the Crimea). Crimea and the Caucasus also have their representation including decorative elements of ancient Armenian and Georgian buildings. The décor of the doors is adopted from the Kutaisi Cathedral, the window – from the Church of Pantocrator in Constantinople, the ceiling reproduces the vault of the Cathedral in Montreal (Palermo), the mosaics on the floor mirror the pattern in the Church of the Saviour in Constantinople. The fifth hall is decorated in Scythian style which is characterised by an abundance of animalistic images. The sixth hall resembles an antique construction: storylines from the Greek vases with everyday scenes are easily recognised in its wall paintings. The floor of the seventh hall reproduces the images of the floor mosaic in the altar of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev; there are also miniature images of ancient manuscripts (11th century “AnthologyOld Russian manuscript compiled for the Grand Prince Svyatoslav Yaroslavich” and “Ostromir’s Evangeliumthe oldest dated East Slavic book”).

The Hall of Novgorod

In the hall dedicated to Novgorod Russian: Новгородyou will see a replica of the western gates of St Sophia Cathedral. On the454_image10_s vaults there are reproductions of the frescoes of the Church of the Saviour on NereditsaRussian: tserkov Spasa na Nereditse, or Церковь Спаса на Нередице. The wall paintings are themed on the icon “Battle of the Novgorodians with the Suzdaliansan episode which took place in 1169”. The hall dedicated to VladimirRussian: Владимир (#10) features reproductions of white stone chiselling of one of the most famous cathedrals of ancient Vladimir, the Cathedral of Saint DemetriuDmitrievsky sobor, or Дмитриевский собор. Parts of chiselled decorative band decorating the cathedral are reproduced on the walls of the hall in their full size. The next hall (#11) dedicated to SuzdalRussian: Суздаль reproduces the décor of the famous masterpiece of Ancient Rus’, the 13th century Cathedral of Saint GeorgeRussian: Georgievsky sobor, or Георгиевский собор in Yuriev-PolskyRussian: Yuriev-Polsky or Юрьев–Польский[6].

The Hall of Rostov and Yaroslavl principalities

Hall #12 initially represented Rostov and Yaroslavl principalitiesRussian: Rostovskoe knyazhestvo, or Ростовское княжество; Yaroslavskoe knyazhestvo, or Ярославское княжество. For this reason its décor features wall paintings reproducing105_image13_s the ancient paintings of these lands. The wall paintings are themed on the 17th century frescoes in Rostov.

The decoration of the hall dedicated to Moscow (#13) is a true masterpiece of architecture: a huge painted vault which resembles the Monomakh’s Capa symbol-crown of the Russian autocracy, mosaic on the floor, a frieze along the walls – all this complies with the canons of the 14-16th century Moscow style of art. You will see the panel-painting “Morning on the River Moskva” (by Smolyak and Sigorsky, 1947) depicting the ancient Kremlin in Moscow. The other halls on the ground and first floors are dedicated to the Moscow Tsardom of the 16-17th centuries and the Russian Empire. Their decoration is less sophisticated.


The building of the museum was constructed to the design of architect V. Sherwood and engineer A. Semenov. They had to develop a few projects before the architectural concept of the museum emerged and was approved. While working on the project under the working title “Fatherland”, they were guided by ancient Russian architectural landmarks of the 16-17th centuries such as a wooden palace in Kolomenskoyea former royal estate situated several kilometers to the southeast of the city center of Moscow, churches in Vologdaa city and the administrative, cultural, and scientific center of Vologda Oblast, Russia and Yaroslavla city and the administrative center of Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, located 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow, etc. Particular attention was paid to the motives of the Cathedral of IntercessionRussian: Pokrovsky Sobor or Покровский собор on Red Square as the museum was meant to form a unified ensemble with it.

Музей до революции117 m long and 52 m wide, the museum building is lined up along Borovitsky HillRussian: Borovitsky holm or Боровицкий холм, at whose foot the Neglinnaya Rivera 7.5-km long underground river in the central part of Moscow ran until 1818. The latest materials and technical developments were used to construct it: brickwork on cement mortar, ventilation and heating wall ducts, and metal floor slabs. The work on the brickwork décor of the outer walls and tent towers was particularly complex and subtle. Records say that in 1876-1877 260 masons and several hundred builder’s handyman were involved in the work simultaneously.

In 1880 architect A. Popov joined the project team. Drawings of window frames were made. On the tents and roof heraldic sculptures with swivel mechanisms were erected: two-headed eagles as seen on Tsar Alexei Mikhailovichruled from 1645 until 1676’s coat of arms and the Kremlin, lions and unicorns from an ancient seal of the Moscow Printing Court. Over the entrance the dates 1875 and 1883 were to appear, referring to the years of laying the foundation of the building and opening the museum, respectively.

In 1914 a small-scale remodelling was carried out, adding a library, an archive, and a department of manuscripts and early printed books to the museum. During the Stalin era the museum building was vandalised: the interiors of the halls linked to tsardom were destroyed, the frescoes were painted over, the moulding was hammered down, and the gilding was removed. The bronze lions and the board with the date of the museum foundation were taken away. The heraldic eagles, lions, and unicorn disappeared from the weather vanes. The museum was closed down for 15 years.

The Museum in nowadays

Nowadays after the restoration of the 1980-90s the museum saw a revival of its initial majestic look. In 1997 the first eleven halls were reopened, and today there are 39 exhibition halls in the museum in total. In 2003 duplicates of gold double-headed eagles, lions, and unicorns were placed back onto the towers of the Historical Museum.

© 2016-2023
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Architectural details
Building of the State Historical Museum. Photo: V. Kruglova
Building of the State Historical Museum. Photo: V. Kruglova
The facade of the State Historical Museum decorated to mark Moscow's 800th anniversary. An old photo
Museum before the Russian Revolution
V. Serov. Portrait of Konstantin Korovin
Ivan Aivazovsky
Vladimir Sherwood
Viktor Vasnetsov
Valentin Serov
Entrance to the museum. Photo: V. Kruglova
Building of the State Historical Museum. Details. Photo: V. Kruglova
Building of the State Historical Museum. Photo: V. Kruglova
Pyotr Ivanovich Shchyukin
Historical Museum and Monument to Minin and Pozharsky
Mikhail Vrubel
Alexander III of Russia
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