With the dissolution of the Soviet Union there has been an enormous resurgence of interest in Russia’s pre-Soviet past, as well as a great deal of debate and reconsideration of the Soviet era itself. This shift has not resulted in a simple vilification of everything Soviet or a naive embrace of all that preceded it, but it has spurred an unprecedented effort to regain the ancient Russian national heritage. Churches are being restored all across the country, great Russian writers and artists whose works were banned are once again being honored, and the individual character of ancient cities and communities is once again becoming established. Next year, the city of Moscow is celebrating its 850th Anniversary, a celebration that will mark the recovery, as well as the commemoration, of its glorious past.
For most western visitors, the bulk of Russia’s history is nothing more than a compendium of hazy legends and sensationalist rumors–from scurrilous stories about Catherine the Great to tabloid television reports of the miraculous survival of the children of Nicholas II. However, the factual history of the country is no less compelling than its fabulous history, and even a brief introduction to the great and not-so-great figures of its past make a visit far more rewarding.