Most people could probably tell you that the capital of Russia is Moscow. But far fewer people would be able to tell you why that is. Russia is the largest nation in the world by area, a transcontinental country that spans across Eastern Europe and North Asia. Given this size, there were surely no shortages of possible cities to choose from. So why is Moscow the capital of Russia, and not another city, like Saint Petersburg?
The Capital of Russia
Moscow is located on the Moskva River near the Moscow Canal junction. It is Russia’s largest city, with a population just over 12 million people. It is also the leading cultural, industrial, scientific, educational, and economic center of the country.
The city is divided into twelve administrative divisions called okrugs. The Central Administrative Okrug has many large and important businesses, and it is where you will find city hall and other governmental buildings, like the Moscow Kremlin.
Moscow is connected to the rest of the country by railroad, and the city is the hub of the Russian railroad network. The city is also an inland port and has multiple military and civilian airports. The major industries in the city are diverse and varied and include machine building, soft drinks, aircraft, chemicals, precision instruments, filmmaking, brewing, and wood and paper products, among many others.
Why Is Moscow the Capital of Russia?
Moscow has clearly been an important city in Russia for a long time. And much of the reasoning for why Moscow is the capital of Russia comes down to history and tradition.
Moscow was first mentioned as a city in 1147. In the late 13th century, it became capital of the medieval Grand Duchy of Moscow, also called Muscovy. Muscovy was the predecessor state of the Tsardom of Russia, which was established in 1547 when Ivan IV worked to centralize a Russian state and assumed the title of “Tsar”. In the centuries to follow, Russia would expand its territory greatly. All the while, Moscow, the city from which this kingdom grew, remained capital.
In 1682, Peter, the 10-year-old son of Tsar Alexis I, became Tsar of Russia with his mother as regent. As he grew, Peter the Great (as he would come to be known) would implement many drastic reforms. He was heavily influenced by advisors in Western Europe, and he sought to turn Russia into a global power.
Russia’s Capital Moves to Saint Petersburg
In 1703, Peter the Great founded the city of Saint Petersburg on land won from Sweden during the Great Northern War. Despite tough weather and geographical conditions, Peter exploited the labor of thousands of peasants to build his city. He would officially move the capital of Russia to Saint Petersburg in 1712. Being a sea port, the city was ideal for the powerful navy Peter hoped to build. It also allowed for easier access to the rest of Europe, and turning Russia into a European power was always one of Peter’s goals.
The Great Northern War ended in 1721, and shortly after this peace with Sweden, Peter the Great was proclaimed Emperor of Russia, thus beginning the Russian Empire. Moscow, meanwhile, was struggling. The city was hit with numerous fires and the plague would decimate the population. Saint Petersburg would remain capital of Russia for over 200 years (with the exception of a brief period between 1728-1732).
In 1917, the Russian Revolution brought an end to the Russian Empire, and the establishment of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Lenin, the new Head of Government, was fearful of a possible foreign invasion. He moved the capital of Russia from Saint Petersburg back to Moscow on March 5, 1918. The Kremlin was reestablished as the political center of the new nation. And Moscow has been Russia’s capital ever since.
Moscow remains the political, economic, and cultural center of Russia. The city has also been the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church for over 600 years. It is the country’s hub for art and art history, and there are numerous galleries and exhibits to explore. Moscow also has a rich literary tradition, with many well-known writers hailing from the city.
Russia has many great cities, but given the long and important history of Moscow, it becomes pretty clear why it is the capital of Russia today.
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