As a response to Europe’s “Seven Wonders of the World” list, which didn’t include any Russian sights, Russia organized a national contest to select the seven most beautiful destinations the country has to offer. Almost 26 million people went online and voted for their favorites since the contest started in autumn 2007 and the final results were revealed on June 12 of this year.
The “Seven Wonders of Russia” contest had several stages, after the first one 49 national locations were chosen and after the second one only 14 remained. Finally the people chose the places they thought best represented their country’s beauty. Officials say they hope this event raises attention to the need of protecting the country’s historical, natural and cultural treasures.
Here are the Seven Wonders of Russia:
Often referred to as “the Russian Versailles” the palace and park of Peterhof are one of Saint Petersburg’s most popular attractions. Versailles was indeed Peter the Great’s inspiration when he decided to build an imperial palace and many say Peterhof (“Peter’s Court” in German) is even more beautiful than the famous French complex.
Peterhof is an immense, luxurious estate, known as the “capital of Russian fountains”; the Grand Cascade, built in front of the Grand Palace, is one of the largest fountain ensembles in the world. The Upper Garden and Lower Park are also cultural masterpieces and the magnificent Grand Palace was remodeled by the famous architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
The Valley of Geysers
This six kilometers basin is the only geyser field in all of Eurasia and second largest in the world. It is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has about ninety geysers and many other thermal springs. It was discovered by Tatiana Ustinova, a local scientist, in 1941 but serious exploration of the area began in 1972. In the 1980s The Valley of Geysers was presented as one of the main attractions of the Kamchatka peninsula, in an attempt to raise tourist awareness. Foreign tourists were allowed access to the valley in 1991.
The Valley of Geysers suffered some modifications, due to a massive mud flow that covered a part of the basin in the summer of 2007. However in recent months the waters have receded exposing some of the submerged areas. The largest geyser, Velikan, able to shoot jets of water 40 meters high, was not affected by the landslide.
Just a strange name to most of us, Mamayev Kurgan is a place of great significance for the Russian people. This dominant hill, overlooking the city of Volgograd (former Stalingrad) saw some of the fiercest combat of all World War II, as it had immense strategic importance. It changed hands several times during the Stalingrad offensive, but the soviets held their positions heroically on the hill slopes until the German forces were finally surrounded and annihilated.
After the battle ended the hill was plowed and mixed with metal fragments, between 500 and 1,250 fragments per square meter. The hill remained black during the conflict because the snow melted constantly due to bombing and it remained this way in the spring after the battle, because nothing would grow. Even today it’s possible to dig up metal and bone fragments buried on the hill.
The huge memorial statue of the Motherland, known as “The Motherland Calls!” was the largest free-standing sculpture in the world when it was built on top of Mamayev Kurgan, in 1967.
Standing at 5,642 meters, Mount Elbrus is the highest mountain in the Caucasus and the highest point in Russia. It is a stratovolcano that has lain dormant for the last 2,000 years. Set near the border with Georgia, Mount Elbrus is a popular tourist destination and many attempt to climb it, especially during the summer. A special cable-car system was created during the 70s that takes people up to 3,800m up the mountain. Up to 100 people try to reach Elbrus peak every day.
In the winter time, attempts are very scarce and only professionals venture up the mountain. It’s harsh winter weather and strong winds are notorious and it claims 15-30 lives every year, mostly poorly equipped dare-devils trying to reach the top.
Saint Basil cathedral
Also known as The Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat is considered the most beautiful cathedral in Russia and one of Europe’s most beautiful holy places. It was constructed during the reign of Ivan the Terrible and a legend says the architect was blinded after finishing his creation, so he couldn’t build anything as beautiful again.
Built in the middle of the Red Square, in Moscow, St. Basil’s Cathedral commemorated Ivan IV’s victory over the Kazan Khanate. It is said that the cathedral features many elements of Timurid culture, resembling the old Kazan Qolsharif Mosque. These are just speculations however as the exact look of the mosque is unknown.
Declared a World heritage Site by UNESCO, in 1996, Lake Baikal is truly a lake of records. It is the deepest lake in the world, going as deep as 1,637 meters and it holds almost 20% of the world’s fresh-water supply, making it the largest supply by volume on the planet. Research has shown Lake Baikal is more than 25 million years old, which makes it the oldest lake in the world.
Over 1,085 species of plants and 1,550 species of animals live in Baikal Lake and between 80-90 percent of them are endemic to this place. In July of this year Russia has announced it is sending two small submersibles to descend to the bottom of the lake and conduct geological and biological tests.