Vodka and bears on the streets are what most people think when Russia comes to mind. But there are many more interesting facts about Russia that might challenge the more obvious associations. Here are 14 facts you might not – but should – know about Russia.
Although this game gained world popularity, the first edition of Tetris was invented in 1984 in the USSR by programmer and scientist Alexey Pazhitnov.
The famous Russian wooden doll, matryoshka, has a link to Japan. The story goes that Russian artist Sergey Malyutin, who was working on a design for a Russian wooden doll, was gifted a Japanese daruma doll, which had other dolls hidden inside it. The first-ever matryoshka, consisting of eight dolls, was made in the 1890s by wooden doll master Zvyozdochkin, who used Malyutin’s drawings.
Hermitage museum is a national treasure of Russia, and cats are a treasure of the Hermitage. These guardians protect priceless works of art from rats and are valued by the whole staff. Each cat even has a personal passport with a photo and receives a regular salary.
To survive the city’s harsh winters, Moscow’s dogs have had to develop street smarts. While exploring the city’s beautiful metro system, you might spot one of its clever canine residents hopping on and off the trains. They have learnt to identify metro stops by the tannoy announcements, while others have befriended security guards. And, like St Petersburg’s cats, they keep the rat population down.
Russian territory is huge, and the majority of it is Siberia. In other words, Russia is 60% forest. What’s more interesting, half of that forest is totally uninhabited by humans.
The town of Oymyakon, in the Yakutia region, Siberia, is considered to be one of the coldest inhabited towns on Earth. The coldest temperature was recorded in 1938 at a jaw-dropping -77.8°C (-108°F). The average temperature in December and January is not much warmer at -50°C (-58°F).
It might be hard to believe, but it is true. Sochi is on the same latitude line as hotspots such as Cannes and Nice. This city (often dubbed the ‘Russian Riviera’) has palm trees, humid summers and mild winter temperatures.
The Trans-Siberian Railroad is the longest in the world; its length is 9,289 kilometers (5,772 miles) and crosses eight time zones. To travel the whole railroad, you would need to spend around a week in a train.
Saransk’s most celebrated inhabitant is Gerard Depardieu, who, having left France due to new tax laws, was granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin himself in 2013. For reasons that he never revealed, he chose Saransk as his home address. He received a flat there as a gift from Russian actor Nikolay Borodachyov and has since refurbished a cinema and started a cultural foundation named after him. While Depardieu is not known for strolling down the streets of Saransk himself, you can go to see a film in the refurbished cinema.
The infamous Uralmash gang was founded by local mafiosos in search of financial gain. They initially began controlling small business Yekaterinburg, but quickly rose to power as the dissolution of the USSR led to widespread instability. Soon, the city was gripped by violent turf wars. The Uralmash gang’s arch enemies were the Central Gang. Each gang buried their deceased in separate cemeteries at different sides of the city. You can now visit the resting places of once-infamous mafia members, whose gravestones are engraved with hyper-realistic images and emblazoned with their defining qualities. One was ‘an expert in knife-throwing’ while another ‘possessed deadly fist-fighting skills.’ Today, some shopping malls, hotels and juice bars are still owned by former gang members.
During the Second World War, while St Petersburg was still known as Leningrad, German forces surrounded the city, cutting off entry and exit points. Hitler had planned to hold a celebratory banquet at the Astoria Hotel once he conquered the city. Despite the odds, he never succeeded. People were starving and surviving freezing temperatures without access to water or electricity, for almost 900 days. Millions of civilians died, but they were determined to protect their city until the end. Local radio stations played the sound of a ticking metronome so that locals knew that their city’s heart was still beating. Beneath The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad you can still hear the city’s beating heart.
Moscow’s Kremlin is the biggest active medieval fortress in the world. Its territory spans more than 27 hectares (67 acres). The walls are over 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) long. Twenty towers are sprinkled across the grounds, each with its own personal name (apart from two anonymous towers).
Petergof was created in the first half of eighteenth century by order of Peter the Great and was supposed to rival the famous Versailles in luxuriousness. Four gigantic cascades were constructed on site with over 150 fountains. The most remarkable of them is Bolshoy cascade, which is comprised of 64 fountains and 225 bronze sculptures.
In Moscow’s suburbs, you can participate in a curious and unique sport: helicopter golf. The idea of the game is close to traditional golf, although the scale is much bigger. Players guide the one meter (3 ft) in diameter ball through the snowy route, using a 10 kilogram (22 pound) stick. All the while, the players drive a helicopter, of course.