Russia's Top UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Summer Palace in St. Petersburg | Courtesy of © Drew Finnis
Summer Palace in St. Petersburg | Courtesy of © Drew Finnis
Russia boasts some of the most dazzling cultural and natural sights in the world. From the world’s largest museum to its oldest and deepest lake, outrageously gilded palaces to elaborate timber monasteries, this country conjures up a special kind of magic. With 26 UNESCO World Heritage sites, of which 16 are cultural and 10 are natural, there is no shortage of wonders here. Let’s take a look at some of the most spectacular landmarks that Russia has to offer.

Moscow Kremlin and Red Square

Year of inscription: 1990

Why it qualified: “Inextricably linked to all the most important historical and political events in Russia since the 13th century, the Kremlin (built between the 14th and 17th centuries by outstanding Russian and foreign architects) was the residence of the Great Prince and also a religious centre. At the foot of its ramparts, on Red Square, St Basil’s Basilica is one of the most beautiful Russian Orthodox monuments.” – World Heritage Convention

Red Square, Moscow © Valerii Tkachenko/WikiCommons

Novodevichy Convent

Year of inscription: 2004

Why it qualified: “The Novodevichy Convent, in south-western Moscow, built in the 16th and 17th centuries in the so-called Moscow Baroque style, was part of a chain of monastic ensembles that were integrated into the defence system of the city. The convent was directly associated with the political, cultural and religious history of Russia, and closely linked to the Moscow Kremlin. It was used by women of the Tsar’s family and the aristocracy. Members of the Tsar’s family and entourage were also buried in its cemetery. The convent provides an example of the highest accomplishments of Russian architecture with rich interiors and an important collection of paintings and artifacts.” – World Heritage Convention

Novodevichy Convent © Владимир Дворцевой/Wikicommons

Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye

Year of inscription:1994

Why it qualified: “The Church of the Ascension was built in 1532 on the imperial estate of Kolomenskoye, near Moscow, to celebrate the birth of the prince who was to become Tsar Ivan IV (‘the Terrible’). One of the earliest examples of a traditional wooden tent-roofed church on a stone and brick substructure, it had a great influence on the development of Russian ecclesiastical architecture.” – World Heritage Convention

Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye Courtesy of © Drew Finnis

Historic Center of Saint Petersburg

Year of inscription: 1990

Why it qualified: “The ‘Venice of the North’, with its numerous canals and more than 400 bridges, is the result of a vast urban project begun in 1703 under Peter the Great. Later known as Leningrad (in the former USSR), the city is closely associated with the October Revolution. Its architectural heritage reconciles the very different Baroque and pure neoclassical styles, as can be seen in the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace and the Hermitage.” – World Heritage Convention

Saint Petersburg Courtesy of © Drew Finnis

Kizhi Pogost

Year of inscription: 1990

Why it qualified: “The pogost of Kizhi (i.e. the Kizhi enclosure) is located on one of the many islands in Lake Onega, in Karelia. Two 18th-century wooden churches, and an octagonal clock tower, also in wood and built in 1862, can be seen there. These unusual constructions, in which carpenters created a bold visionary architecture, perpetuate an ancient model of parish space and are in harmony with the surrounding landscape.” – World Heritage Convention

Kizhi Pogost © Laban66/WikiCommons

Solovetsky Islands

Year of inscription: 1992

Why it qualified: “The Solovetsky archipelago comprises six islands in the western part of the White Sea, covering 300 square kilometers. They have been inhabited since the 5th century B.C. and important traces of a human presence from as far back as the 5th millennium B.C. can be found there. The archipelago has been the site of fervent monastic activity since the 15th century, and there are several churches dating from the 16th to the 19th century.” – World Heritage Convention

Solovetsky Monastery © Алексей Задонский/WikiCommons

Ferapontov Monastery

Year of inscription: 2000

Why it qualified: “The Ferapontov Monastery, in the Vologda region in northern Russia, is an exceptionally well-preserved and complete example of a Russian Orthodox monastic complex of the 15th to 17th centuries, a period of great significance in the development of the unified Russian state and its culture. The architecture of the monastery is outstanding in its inventiveness and purity. The interior is graced by the magnificent wall paintings of Dionisy, the greatest Russian artist of the end of the 15th century.” –World Heritage Convention

Ferapontov Monastery © Сергей Свердлов/WikiCommons

Virgin Komi Forests

Year of inscription: 1995

Why it qualified: “The Virgin Komi Forests cover 3.28 million hectares of tundra and mountain tundra in the Urals, as well as one of the most extensive areas of virgin boreal forest remaining in Europe. This vast area of conifers, aspens, birches, peat bogs, rivers and natural lakes has been monitored and studied for over 50 years. It provides valuable evidence of the natural processes affecting biodiversity in the taiga.” – World Heritage Convention

Yugyd Va National Park, part of the Komi Forest © xndr/WikiCommons

Lake Baikal

Year of inscription: 1996

Why it qualified: “Situated in south-east Siberia, the 3.15-million-hectare Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world. It contains 20 per cent of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve. Known as the ‘Galapagos of Russia’, its age and isolation have produced one of the world’s richest and most unusual freshwater faunas, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science.” – World Heritage Convention

View from Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal © Délirante bestiole [la poésie des goupils]/Flickr

Wrangel Island

Year of inscription: 2004

Why it qualified: “Located well above the Arctic Circle, the site includes the mountainous Wrangel Island (7,608 square kilometers), Herald Island (11 square kilometers) and surrounding waters. Wrangel was not glaciated during the Quaternary Ice Age, resulting in exceptionally high levels of biodiversity for this region. The island boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. It is a major feeding ground for the grey whale migrating from Mexico and the northernmost nesting ground for 100 migratory bird species, many endangered. Currently, 417 species and subspecies of vascular plants have been identified on the island, double that of any other Arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island. Some species are derivative of widespread continental forms, others are the result of recent hybridization, and 23 are endemic.” – World Heritage Convention

Polar bear and cub, Wrangel Island © Programmes Putin

Western Caucasus

Year of inscription: 1999

Why it qualified: “The Western Caucasus, extending over 275,000 hectares of the extreme western end of the Caucasus mountains and located 50 kilometers north-east of the Black Sea, is one of the few large mountain areas of Europe that has not experienced significant human impact. Its subalpine and alpine pastures have only been grazed by wild animals, and its extensive tracts of undisturbed mountain forests, extending from the lowlands to the subalpine zone, are unique in Europe. The site has a great diversity of ecosystems, with important endemic plants and wildlife, and is the place of origin and reintroduction of the mountain subspecies of the European bison.” – World Heritage Convention

North Ossetia, Russian Caucasus © Sergey Norin/Flickr