The State Historical Museum (Russian Name – Государственный исторический музей) is located in the heart of Moscow between the two popular tourist landmarks, Red Square and Manege Square. Also, a less popular landmark with tourists, the Marshal Zhukhov monument is located at the exit of the museum on the northwest side of the building. The entrance to the building is located on the southeast side of the museum within Red Square.
On the north west side of Red Square, there is a building so impressive and different, that you could not possibly miss it. The grand and red brick colored, jagged facade building of the State Historical Museum appears nothing short of a castle. The museum is home to Russia’s ancient cultural and historical artifacts and some of them are over 10,000 years old.
Current Information – The Structure
State Historical Museum houses a staggering four and a half million items and fourteen million sheets of documents. These items form a part of the permanent exposition of the museum. Apart from this, the museum also displays a rotating roster of temporary exhibitions. A grand edifice specially designed to exhibit the treasures and possessions of Russia, houses millions of items and documents in the museum. The museum’s exposition covers a thousand years of Russian history as well as those of Eurasia civilizations from as early as the early Paleolithic Age.
The structure of the museum has a unique design and layout, and the Items of historical significance are arranged in a very systematic and orderly manner. State Historical Museum’s building also acts as a large scientific and educational center. Over a million people visit the museum annually with a majority of them falling under the age of 18!
A little known fact about the State Historical Museum is that it has a few branches and affiliated monuments under it in Moscow. The Romanov Chambers Zaryadye and Saint Basil’s Cathedral are branches of the museum. Saint Basil’s Cathedral located in Red Square, houses a collection of old Russian paintings and applied arts – woodwork, manuscripts, metal works and printed books. Chambers in Zaryadye is a cathedral near the Kremlin which has ancient chambers. These are shaped in gilded cupolas (dome like structures) and were a part of the battlement of Kitai-Gorod.
Another museum -Museum of Women’s Emancipation at the Novodevichy Convent, within the Kremlin became a part of the State Historical Museum in 1934. In 1943 the Museum of Woman’s Emancipation was closed and turned into apartments that different people have lived in over the years. Now nuns for the church live in them.
A glance at the collection
Museum’s collections are stored in 40 rooms that are housed on two floors of the building. Each room has been dedicated to a particular era in history and the corresponding exhibits are displayed. For example, room number 1 contains items from the early Paleolithic Age, which dates back to as early as 2.5 million years to more recent 12,000 years ago. Room number 37 exhibits about the epoch of reforms that Russia had undergone in the early 1860 to 1880.
The exhibits have been divided into two sections with the first floor ( Room 1- 21) housing artifacts and documents that are dated from the primitive times of human civilization, up to the 17th century which tell about the phase of reforms that Russia had undergone through. Second floor holds items that are a part of the more recent history (17th – 20th century).
Some notable items in the museum’s collection include Russian folk ceramics, gold artifacts of Scythians, longboat excavated from the banks of the river Volga. Museum’s library has a collection of manuscripts Halych Gospel (created 1144 CE), Mstislav Gospel (created 1117 CE) and Chludov Psalter(created in the 860s CE). It has the largest collection of coins in Russia, having around 1.7 million coins.
The museum was founded in 1872 by Ivan Zabelin, Aleksey Uvarov and few other Slavophiles, who had an urge to promote and preserve Russian history. There was a prolonged competition which was held to decide about the design of the museum. It was Vladimir Sherwood who was handed over the job of constructing the building. Vladimir’s idea about the structure of the museum was based on neo-Russian design of 1875 to 1881.
The first 11 rooms were opened in the year 1883 during a visit by the Tsar and his wife to mark Alexander III’s coronation. For the period between 1894 – 1917, the museum was renamed the Tsar Alexander III Imperial Museum in Tsar’s honor. During the Soviet period the structure of the museum was labelled gaudy and modifications were made with plaster, to the original design. In the recent past, for the period 1986 – 1997 the museum went through a painstaking process of restoration to its original appearance.
Misc Important Facts
- It is highly recommended that you get the personal audio guide unless you can read Russian. Most exhibits only have written descriptions in Russian. Unfortunately even the audio guide doesn’t work for a large portion of the exhibits. The Google translate app does work on most of the descriptions.
- Before the museum was founded, it was a Principal Medicine Store which was built by order of Peter the Great.
- A portion of the building also used to house the Moscow State University.
- There is a small restaurant and a cafe inside the State Historical Museum, which is located near the cloak room.
- These eateries were constructed to commemorate Peter the Great, who used to stay at the small inn that used to be there before the eateries came up.
- The museum offers free entry to families with children on the last Sunday of each month.
- Most of the signs on the walls and exhibits inside the museum are still in Russian and have not been translated.
- When the museum was founded large donations and valuables came from merchants and rich businessmen.
- Out of the million people who visit the museum annually, over 50% are under the age of 18.