The unique headstone of Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation.

Moscow From Above and Below Tour

Published: April 10, 2019

For an interesting take on the history and geography of Moscow, SRAS organized a “Moscow from Above and Below” tour. Both local Moscow students and students visiting for the weekend from SRAS programs in St. Petersburg joined. The tour consisted of a trip through the Novodevichy Cemetery followed by a gondola ride to the top of Sparrow Hill and then a walk-by tour of Moscow State University’s main building.

View down the rows of the cemetary.

Novodevichy Cemetery is one of the most famous cemeteries in Russia, and only Red Square is considered to be a more prestigious burial in the Russian capital. During the tour, our guide, a professional hired from SRAS partner Bridge to Moscow, was able to expertly highlight the graves of a wide variety of people who have shaped Russian history and culture in their own ways. These ranged from literary figures and artists to inventors and political figures.

Of course, we did not have enough time to stop at every grave, so it is important to know where the most notable graves are and to plan accordingly if one goes on one’s own. For me, the most interesting graves were those of Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, and Mikhail Bulgakov due to my own literary interests. Our guide pointed out that the stone used for Bulgakov’s grave was formerly used for that of Gogol—eternally connecting the two authors.

We also saw the graves of Boris Yeltsin, Vyacheslav Molotov (of the cocktail fame), theatre greats Stanislavsky and Mayakovsky, the wives of both Stalin and Gorbachev, and many, many other famous people. If you have a request for someone to see, you should tell the guide at the start as the possibilities are nearly endless.

The main sports arena that hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1980 Olympics.
The main building of Moscow State University.

After the cemetery, we walked the short distance to the newly-built gondola that spans the Moscow River, connecting the main complex that hosted the 1980 Olympic Games (and which is still mostly in use) to Sparrow Hills on the campus of Moscow State University. From the gondola one can see a beautiful panoramic view of the city, taking in most of its most famous landmarks at once. However, unfortunately, pictures don’t always turn out when taken through the glass.

From the top of the hill we were also able to see a beautiful panorama of the city—from the skyscrapers in the business center to the top of the Kremlin’s spires. We then walked to the main campus of Moscow StateUniversity. The centerpiece is the famous “Main Building,” housed in one of Moscow’s seven sisters (the gothic style skyscrapers built from 1947-1953). The building houses student dormitories, classrooms, as well as cafeterias, university administration, government offices – nearly an entire city within the massive structure.

Overall, this tour was a creative and unique way to get acquainted with the history and landscape of Moscow. The guided tour lasted approximately 3 hours, and could be done on your own—without some of the insider information of course. I would just recommend checking which parts of the graveyard you want to see ahead of time, as this is the most time consuming portion of the tour.

View of Moscow from the top of Sparrow Hill. (Photo credit Victoria Cashman)

About the author

Natasha Harwood

Natasha Harwood studied German, Russian, and Linguistics at the University of Montana. When writing for this site, she was a senior and studying Russian as a Second Language in St. Petersburg with SRAS. She chose to study in Russia in order to improve her abilities to speak and understand Russian, as well as her understanding of Russia as a whole. After her program, she planned to pursue a career as a high school foreign language teacher of either German or Russian, which would allow her to draw upon her experiences in St. Petersburg for the rest of her career.

Program attended: Challenge Grants

View all posts by: Natasha Harwood