A Skyview of Moscow

Surveying the city from atop the TV tower.

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

The old and the new of today's Russia.
Ostankinskaya Bashnia is a large television and communications tower located in Moscow. It is possible to go up inside the tower as a tourist, there's even a restaurant up there, and get an amazing view of the city.

This shot to the right shows the classic Russian dichotomy of the new and the old. On the way to the tower we passed this old church, so here once again we see old Russian tradition mixing with modern technology and the brave new world. This blending of ages becomes such a common occurance as you travel Russia, soon it really becomes the norm and not the exception.

We set out about noon to head for the tower, and the journey turned out to be our longest trek inside the city of Moscow. Having just returned from Petersburg two days before, I noticed how much warmer Moscow was. The trolley ride to Ostankonskaya was very hot, and long, and hot, and long. Crowded into the trolley, I watched more people get on and always wondered how they would fit. I soon learned that they would fit by simply pushing me against the door; oh well, at least there was a window to stick my face against and gasp for fresh air.

We bounced and swayed our way through town, and as we headed toward the northwest side of the city, where the tower is, our trolley got less and less crowded until we were able to sit back down in relative comfort.

Once off the trolley, at the very end of the line, we found ourselves near the church pictured above and decided to take a longer walk to the tower so we could explore this new place as well. Like so many of the historic sites of Russia, it was going through a fast paced renovation process; workmen bustled inside and out, and machines could be heard across the grounds grinding and drilling the old place back into shape.

"Roger and out, Boris, ready for takeoff."
Heading towards the tower I started to feel like a Russian cosmonaut about to be launched into space. The thing really did look like a big rocket, sort of like the old American Apollo ships. It was a strange feeling, though. I mean, here I was in Russia, remember what this whole trip is like for an American to begin with, and I'm going to a communications tower to go up inside the thing. I wasn't sure this was even allowed! Is the cold war truly over? Will they want to hold on to my camera while I'm inside?

These feelings were not put to rest, in fact quite the contrary, when Nino went to the ticket window only to be turned back. "Do they know I'm a spy?" I whispered, not sure if I should even be joking around.

"They need your passport," she answered.

I gave the photocopy of my visa and passport to the young woman behind a desk and she gave me some forms to fill out, where I was from, where I was staying in Russia, how long did I plan on being here, security clearance, last time I sold nuclear secrets to a KGB agent... After filling out the forms we were on our way to the entrance of the tower. We passed one last security check where the guard looked inside by bag, inspected my camera, and then let us on in.

Inside the base of the tower, you only have to wait a minute or two before an elevator comes to take you the 328 meters up to the circular viewing area. As you ascend, the elevator's display ticks off the meters towards your destination, and it's a fast ride. The elevator has the look and feel of a high-tech station, brushed aluminum and digital displays surround you.

The infamous and huge Russian apartment blocks.
Once in the viewing area, we grabbed a couple of cokes and bags of chips, and sat down at a table to look out over Moscow. The room rotates slowly around the tower, so in time you get a complete view of the city. From here you can really get a perspective on the size of Moscow. It looks quite a bit less cramped from up here, and you notice there really is a great deal of greenery around the city.

Of course, the single most dominating feature of the landscape is the huge apartment blocks that line streets and define the whole look and feel of most parts of Moscow. I must admit that these buildings left a rather negative impression on me. When I first saw them at night, with dimly glowing lights against the gray Russian summer sky, it truly felt like something out of a science fiction movie, like some other planet. There truly is an other-worldliness about them. They have a feeling of people just stacked up on top of one another, like people wharehouses, impersonal and utilitarian. For me, they are the very definition of Sovietness.

Stairwells and hallways inside the buildings were always dark and unkept. The elevators seemed more like something that should be hauling grain than people, and quite frankly, I was a bit concerned the first few times I rode in them.

I often wondered if the general state of disrepair to the infrastructure of these apartments is not going to be a huge problem for the Moscow city government in a few years. While the people do a wonderful and even inspiring job of making the apartments cozy, clean and quite inviting inside, the city has failed at basic maintenance and upkeep of these residential behomoths.

Someone told me this hotel was built by Americans. Anyone got any info? Please email me!
I was never quite able to ascertain whether or not the government still owns the apartments, or if ownership has shifted to private hands. I got the impression that ownership is probably still in the hands of the government. If anyone has any information on this I would greatly appreciate some email.

I often wondered if privitization wouldn't provide some remedy for the problem. I pondered a scenario whereby the government sells off the apartments to individuals at a discounted price, but mandates that the discounted amount must be used to make repairs inside the apartments. The government could then use the money raised from the sales of apartments for upgrading the condition of the buildings themselves. Hmmm... maybe I should run for Mayor of Moscow. Just kidding.

I did get to experience another facet of life all over the former Soviet Union, the traditional cutting off of the hot water. Upon our return to Moscow from Petersburg we discoverd that the hot water had been shut off. From what I understand, this is done every year to different regions all over the country during the summer. I heard two different explanations for this: one, to save energy, two, to allow for the cleaning of the hot water pipes. Again, anybody having any information on this one, I'd appreciate some email.

Classic Soviet architecture.
Anyway, it wasn't really all that bad. Of course, showering was the most inconvenient, but even that was managable. My hosts, having experienced this for a long time, had a system that made a morning shower quite tolerable. First, you heat up an ample supply of near boiling water on the stove. Then, you bring this into the bathroom and dilute it into a large bucket with cold water from the tap, until you have enough water at just the right temperature for a shower. Finally, you just poured the water over you with a pot until you were squeeky clean. In the states, we have an expression for this kind of bathing; we call it taking a bird bath.

From inside the tower you could see the many patches of trees that compete for space with apartment buildings. In fact, many of the apartments I visited had lush, dense miniature forests in their courtyards. These areas provided shaded and pleasant places for children to play and adults to stroll.

Also from the 328 meters in the air I could see several relatively large parks that I had not visited, but could not quite locate them in relation to more familiar parts of the city. We viewed all of this as the tower slowly turned, offering more of Moscow's landscape to our eyes.

Shot with a 300mm lens, sheer density.
I watched a train come into the city from the distance, stop at a station and then proceed on, with a new load of passengers, possibly heading for Petersburg.

The shot on the right was taken with a 300mm zoom lens, and shows the density of a large apartment building. You can spot a couple of the satellite dishes located at various places on the outside of the building. These dishes are quite popular in Moscow, and are often bolted to balconies, pointing off over the horizon capturing television images from all over the world.

From atop the tower I gazed out over Moscow and compared the view with my own city, Atlanta. In the building where I work, it is possible to take a break or have lunch up on the 36th floor and look out over the city.

Atlanta has two distinct and rather separate areas. The downtown and midtown areas are located inside the city, and the sprawling suburbs that begin out near the parameter extend far out of the city. This sprawl is common to many American cities, with people living out in the suburbs and commuting by car to work in the city. This is largely responsible for the massive traffic jams and pollution experienced by many of our cities, and is a growing problem in need of a solution.

A nearby palace is renovated.
Though there are a great deal more cars in Moscow that just a few years ago, getting around Moscow doesn't seem to be a major problem, like in many US cities at certain times of the day. Our view from the tower showed an expansive city, spread out over the landscape, rather than concentrating certain activities to congested areas.

From our vantage point it was easy to see why Moscow is not a difficult city to get around in. First of all, the extensive subway system, hidden from our view here, provides a way for the vast majority of people to travel. And we watched buses and trolleys going in all directions of the city, while the cars sped around them.

I contemplated how the landscape of Moscow will change over the next few years. I had already seen the first couple of western style office buildings, with their glass exteriors, take their place among the traditional Russian style architecture. They struck me as very odd, among the gray concrete structures, and I staired at them and wondered if this was the future look of Moscow. I imagine Russian architects will experience a sort of creative renaissance, as they are commissioned to design more buildings and allowed license to borrow from different styles, shaping a new look for Moscow.

An exapansive view of Moscow, a very big city!
>From 328 meters up, you can get a real feel for the size and density of Moscow. It is no mystery where its eight million plus residents live, as you see the apartment blocks covering so much land, and expanding off towards the horizon as far as your eye can follow.

The roads cut in all directions, teeming with traffic, and underneath the subway trains move millions of people daily. Even from this distance above the city, the constant activity and bustle of Moscow is clearly visible. New construction cranes dot the landscape, each one promising to add its own contribution to the new Russia.

Moscow, to me, looks like a city lurching out of a stagnant past into its future. Somewhat reluctantly perhaps, like a heavy train that requires a great deal of energy to pull out of the station, Moscow is beginning a journey that will be fascinating to follow.

As you travel the city, you see all around you older ways of doing things, and older structures, giving way to the new. From Ostankinskaya Bashnia these changes are less apparent, the old buildings still looming large, clinging to their foundations. And I'm sure they'll be there for a long time. But I also think as the new century approaches, Moscow's landscape will continue to change. As I am sure I will return to Moscow in the future, probably sometime soon after the year 2000, I'll be making a point to return to Ostankinskaya, and compare my old pictures with the changing Moscow landscape.

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