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What Russia is Known For & Famous For

Russia is a hot topic these days and comes up in conversation practically daily. So it’s important to take the time to brush up on your knowledge about this massive country.

Russia is known for being the former Soviet Union as well as its rich history including the autocratic Tsars and the Romanov family. Its also known for its roles in WWI, WWII, and the Cold War as well as its current conflict with Ukraine. Russia is known for its oil industry, vodka, caviar, and for being the world’s largest country.

Read on to learn in more detail what Russia is known for.

The Russian Federation

The official name of Russia is known as the Russian Federation and became such in 1991, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was dissolved.

 

The Autocratic Tsars & House Romanov

The Romanovs were the ruling family of Russia for 300 years, from 1613 to 1917. The rulers of Russia were called tsars and tsarinas and ruled by an autocratic system, meaning they were in control of everything; they had absolute power. The tsars and tsarinas believed that they had been chosen by God to rule and it was God that gave them autocratic power, allowing them to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted without consequence.

During their 300 year reign, there were a handful of tsars and tsarinas that stood out over the rest.

Ivan the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible was the first tsar of Russia and ruled from 1547 to 1584. He was not a Romanov by blood, but married into the house through Anastasia Romanavna. Anastasia was aunt to Micheal Romanov, first tsar of the Romanov dynasty. 

His nickname, Ivan the Terrible, was not what you may first think. The word “terrible” in our modern day English doesn’t quite give the proper image of how he was as a ruler. He was not a terrible leader, in fact, he was a powerful and formidable leader who instilled fear in his people and demanded respect. Other words used to describe him have been “courageous, magnificent, magisterial, and keeping enemies in fear, but people in obedience.”

Peter the Great

Peter the Great ruled from 1682 until his death in 1725. Saint Petersburg, Russia is named after Peter after he founded it in 1703. Peter earned his nickname “the Great” by taking Russia from its humble kingdom and turning it into European power by importing European culture into the country through his Petrine reforms.

Catherine the Great

Catherine was German born and was married to Peter III (Peter the Great’s son) in 1745. She was born as Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst and was given the name Catherine in 1744 as she was to be wed to Peter III. Caterine overthrew her husband in 1762 and was crowned Empress of Russia, leading the country for 34 years. She continued the work of Peter the Great by continuing to westernize Russia. She also conquered a significant amount of land, expanding Russia further. 

Nicholas the Bloody

Nicholas the Bloody was the last tsar of Russia reigning from 1894 to 1917 when he abdicated the throne, ending the 300 year autocratic reign of Russia by the Romanov House. Since his reign, Nicholas has been deemed fairly incompetant at ruling over a country. In 1918, Nicholas, his wife, and their five children were all assassinated after spending almost a year in hiding. 

Nicholas received his name “the Bloody” for the Khodynka Tragedy in 1894 as well as Bloody Sunday in 1905. 

The Khodynka Tragedy

The Khodynka Tragedy saw over 1,300 deaths in a stampede a few days after Nicholas’ coronation. The people had gathered to receive gifts of bread and oher goodies in celebration of the new tsar of Russia. It was not a good start to Nicholas’ reign and to make matter worse, after the incident, rather than being with his people to mourn the deaths he decided instead to attend a party.

Bloody Sunday & The Russian Revolution

Bloody Sunday is widely seen as what started off the Russian Revolution. The emancipation of serfdom in 1861 and the assimilation into the working class was not going smoothly and the Tsars were not helping the situation. There had been many strikes ad demonstrations leading up to the events of 1905. 

On Sunday, January 22, 1905, aka Bloody Sunday, striking workers and citizens took to St. Petersburg to protest. Nicholas’ government then shot and killed over 100 civilians, sealing the fate of the First Russian Revolution, which lasted almost 2.5 years. 

The Tsar Kolokol Bell

Also known as the Royal Bell, the Tsar Kolokol Bell is the third generation Royal Bell and is located on the ground of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. The bell has in fact, never been rung, as it was cracked during a fire right before its completion. A fire had broken out and guards threw cold water on the bell, causing it to crack in multiple places and a large piece to break off completely. The bell remains at the Kremlin as an installation and attraction for visitors to admire. 

Rasputin

Grigori Rasputin is perhaps one of the more well known figures in Russian history with many stories and mysteries surrounding his time spent with the last Tsars of Russia. Many stories will tell how Rasputin was a mystic and magical man, but in fact this is not really true. He grew up in a small Siberian village, he was a drunk and was cast out of the village, sent on a pilgrimage. He found god in an unconventional manner on his pilgrimage, his motto of sorts was, you must sin in order to repent and be accepted by god. 

He later was introduced to the Romanov family and helped with their son Alexei, as he suffered from hemophilia, which was passed down through the Romanov line. Rasputin told Empress Alexandra, Alexei’s mother, to stop giving Alexei aspirin, a blood thinner, which helped the boy tremendously. Alexei’s mother became very reliant one Rasputin to the point she was taking political advice from him, which only made the people of Russia question the Romanov family’s rule even more.

The Soviet Union

A big thing Russia is known for is its history and the fact that it used to be the Soviet Union.

 

The Soviet Union was a country that was divided into several republics. It was founded in 1922 and lasted until 1991. The Soviet Union had a variety of different languages and dialects, although the official language was Russian. The Soviet Union was based on communism, which is a type of socialism where the government owns all the property and businesses. The Soviet Union was a dictatorship, and the government was controlled by the Communist Party. 

WWI

The role of Russia was hugely important during the First World War, although Russia did not stay for the entirety of the war, due to the communists revolution which saw the removal of the royal family and their execution. The role Russia played in the war helped them win the war in favor of the triple entente (France, Britain, and Russia) without the help and the forces that Russia provided the war could have ended in a very different way. The German army was the best in the world at this time but could not stay up to the force of multiple powers pressing them. 

WWII

Russia is known for the role it played in World War II against Nazi Germany as part of the Allies. Russia, at the time, the Soviet Union, lost the most troops to combat fighting than all other countries combined. They lost a total of 24 million civilian and military people compared to Germany who lost almost 6.5-9 million people total. 

Russia lost so many men to the war that if you were a male born in 1923 you only had a 20% chance at survival.  

The Cold War

Russia is known for its participation in the Cold War with the United States. The Cold War lasted from 1947 to 1989, just after World War II to just before the Soviet Union’s collapse. The war was a political battle between the Soviet Union (Russia) and the United States. Neither countries ever officially declared war on one another, giving it the name the Cold War instead. One of the main contributing factors to this war was the difference in ideologies between the two countries, with the US using a democratic system and the Soviet Union sticking to a dictatorship.  

The KGB

Russia is known for its security agency the KGD from 1954 to 1991, while it was the Soviet Union. The KGB stands for Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, which, i English, translates to “Committee for State Security.”The KGB was responsible for many things including, protection of the political leadership, the security of the Soviet Union’s frontiers, technical intelligence, foreign intelligence, and domestic counterintelligence.

Vladimir Putin

A conversation about present day Russia rarely doesn’t include the mention of Vladimir Putin. A former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin has been the president of Russia from 2000-2008 and again in 2012 to present day. He is, at the time of writing this, 69 years old and there is no sign of him giving up his role as president. 

Putin seems to be on a mission to spread his authoritarian dictatorship and to silence the West. He has even gone so far as to ban western media in his country and Russians can face hefty fines or up to 15 years in prison if they counter or discredit him and the Russian army in any way. 

Siberia

Siberia is a huge region of Russia that is well known across the globe. Siberia makes up for the eastern part of Russia and covers 13.1 million square kilometres, 57% of Russia, and 9% of the earth’s total surface. Siberia is known for its vast wilderness and rugged conditions with less than 30% of Russia’s population lives in this region. It is home to many beautiful sites including the world’s deepest lake and the Trans-Siberian Railway. 

Moscow

Moscow is the capital of Russia and is home to over 12 million people making it Russia’s most populated city as well. Moscow is home to the Kremlin, the Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the State Historical Museum, and St Basil Cathedral. The city is almost 900 years old, being founded in 1147, Moscow is known for its rich history. 

Moscow also claims to be home to the most billionaires in the world.

The Kremlin

The Moscow Kremlin is well known and recognized for being the official residents of the Russian president and served as the residence of the Tsars when they ruled. The Kremlin translated, in English, to “fortress inside a city” as it is a fortified complex in the center of Moscow. The Kremlin includes five palaces and four cathedrals as well as a museum that saw almost 3 million visitors in 2017 alone.

The Kremlin is open to the public and even offers guided tours to those who are interested.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

Located in the Red Square of Moscow, St Basil’s Cathedral was opened in 1561 and has been recognized as a national monument ever since and is now one of the most recognized cultural symbols of Russia. 

The Cathedral is easily recognized by its 10 unique domes. It runs as a Russian Orthodox church as well as a State Historical Museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro is special as it was the first metro system in Russia and a symbol of the Soviet’s technological progress. Today, it is known for being one of the busiest metros in the world. The metro is also famous for its extravagant interior design and is sometimes referred to as the “Palace of the People.”

Saint Petersburg

St Petersburg is known for being the 2nd largest city and the cultural capital of Russia. Home to the Hermitage, listed below, and to the tallest skyscraper in Europe, the Lakhta Center. The city was founded in 1703 and is just over 300 years old, it was founded by and named after Peter the Great. 

Located on the Baltic Sea, it operates as a port city, and a very important city for Russia as it is Russia’s “window to Europe.” St Petersburg is also known for being Russia’s most European city. 

The Hermitage 

The Hermitage Museum is known for being the largest art museum in the world by gallery space. It was founded in the time of Catherine the great, in 1764, when she acquired a grand collection from a Berlin merchant. Located in the city of St Petersburg, the museum opened to the public and 1852 and in 2020 was among the top 20 most visited museums worldwide, and was the 11th most visited art museum in the world with just under one million visitors, which was an 80% drop since 2019’s pre-COVID numbers.

Land Mass

Russia is the largest country in the world with over 16 million km² of land, making up 11% of the world’s total landmass. Much of this can be attributed to the Tsars of Russia as it is said their two main duties were to breed an heir and conquer more land. 

Unforgiving Climate

Three quarters of Russia’s land is located in the subarctic region of Siberia. It is a cold and dry climate with an annual acreage temperature of -5 °C (23 °F). For more context, the average temperature in January is −25 °C (−13 °F) and in July it is +17 °C (63 °F). Winters in Russia are long with short summers. 

However, climates range by region, on the easternmost corner, by the Black Sea, it is much warmer with average January temperatures of +6 °C (45 °F).

Only about 50% of Russia’s land is suitable for human settlement due to the frigid climate. Though climate change may make much of Russia’s land an ideal place to relocate to in the future.

Oymyakon 

Speaking of unforgiving climates, Oymyakon, located in northeastern Siberia, is the coldest permanently inhabited place in the world. There are approximately 500 residents in this small village and life here is rugged. Written words don’t quite do it justice, so watch this short two minute video to really see just how harsh life in this northern town truly is. 

The Zapovednik

Zapovednik is translated to “nature sanctuary.” Russia is known for having the most protected wilderness areas in the world listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN.) There are 101 zapovedniks in Russia covering approximately 1.4% of the country’s surface. These lands are strictly protected and not open to the public, as they are meant to remain “forever wild.” However, these sites are also used as research and education sites.

Russian Literature

Russia is well known and recognized for it’s many famous writers and pieces of literary art. Some of the most well known authors and their most well known works include:

  • Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace & Anna Karenina
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment
  • Alexander Pushkin – Evgenyi Onegin
  • Nikolay Gogol – Dead Souls
  • Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita
  • Ivan Turgenev – Fathers and Sons

Oil

Russia is well known as a huge exporter of crude and refined petroleum oil, specifically to Germany and the rest of the EU. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC,) in 2019, Russia’s top industries were:

  • crude petrol industry worth $123 billion 
  • refined petrol worth over $66 billion
  • petrol gas worth $26.3 billion. 

Vodka

Russia is known for its vodka and it is a point of pride for the Russian people. In fact, if you meet a Russian at a bar there is a good chance that they will refuse to drink anything but vodka!

It is said that the use of vodka was popularized because it warmed the body against the harsh cold of the Russian climates.

Some of the most well known Russian vodka brands include: 

  • Russian Standard Vodka
  • Stolichnaya Vodka (commonly known as Stoli’s)
  • Green Mark Vodka
  • Beluga Vodka
  • Tsarskaya Vodka

Lake Baikal

Located just north of the Mongolian border within Siberia is Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal is known for being the oldest and deepest lake in the world. This lake is also known for having some of the purest water in the world. It is safe to swim in as long as temperatures are warm enough. 

The Russian Dolls

Also known as stacking dolls, babushka dolls, matryoshka dolls, Russian tea dolls, and nesting dolls, these well known dolls are recognized around the world. Their proper name is Matryoshka dolls as the word matryoshka translates to little matron. 

The dolls generally consist of wooden “little matrons” that can be pulled apart in the middle to find another, slightly smaller, “little matron” inside, which can be separated to find another inside and so on and so forth. 

Typically, the outside character is painted as a woman in standard peasant wear and the figures inside can be any gender until the last figure made of solid wood which is usually a baby. The way the dolls are painted usually follows some kind of theme, whether it is to represent a family, a fairytale, or a holiday theme such as Christmas or Easter. 

Kholodets 

Kholodets is a popular and well known food in Russia. The word Kholod translates to cold, so it stands to reason that it is an essential winter holiday meal that consists of jellied meat. It takes around 7 hours to make and is usually made with fresh meat from the farmers market. It is often served as an appetizer and/or with vodka.

Kholodets are a type of aspic, however the origins of this Russian dish are unknown, we can only make an educated guess and say it was invented in the earlier 19th century. It was commonly eaten only by peasants until French chefs came to Russia and started to dress up the French aspic dish to suit the high ups. 

The Sochi SkyBridge

The Sochi SkyBridge is a 439 meter footbridge 330 meters above sea level near the Black Sea. The bridge is actually part of the Sochi SkyPark located in the Sochi National Park. It is one of the longest pedestrian suspension bridges in the world with many lookout points where you can enjoy views of the Akhstyr Gorge, mountains, sea, and the Colchis forest. 

Transcontinental

Russia is the largest transcontinental country in the world, transcontinental meaning that it is in two continents. Russia is part of both Europe and Asia. Most of the countries population resides in the European portion of the country, even though there is more land in the Asian part of the country. 

Oligarchs

Russia is well known for its Oligarchs. The Oligarchs are a group of people that, when the Soviet Union fell, took positions of power. These people are not incredibly wealthy and well connected politically. Many of the Russian Oligarchs are connected to Putin as well.

Trans-Siberian Railway

The trans-Sierian railway is known for being the longest train trip you can take in the world. It is a seven day ride and takes you from Saint Petersburg, Russia all the way to Beijing, China. The ride boasts spectacular views and gives passengers the chance to meet new people from all over the world.

Soviet Space Program 

Russia’s Soviet Space Program has made huge leaps and strides in space exploration. Because of the space program, Russia was the first country to put an object in space, which was called Sputnik, as well as the first country to put a man in space. Russia continues to make big moves with their space program today. 

Final Thoughts

Russia is a country with many diverse features and one that anyone should be truly excited to explore. From the traditional Russian dolls and kholodets to their world-renowned space program and beautiful architecture, Russia has something for everyone!