Travel Guide to the Romanov’s Russia: Significant Sites of Russian Royalty
In 1913, Russia marked the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty with lavish celebrations in St. Petersburg and Moscow, gatherings of European nobility and Orthodox clergy, processions, and extravagant balls led by Czar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. Five years later, in 1918, they were dead, ignominiously executed with their children and retainers in the basement of a merchant’s house in Ekaterinburg. The ruling dynasty had come to an end.
That tercentennial year, as they attempted to convince the populace that the “Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias” played a vital and God-given role in current affairs, Nicholas and his retinue ceremoniously retraced the road taken by the first Romanov czar, Mikhail. They began in Kostroma, where Mikhail learned he’d been elected czar, and continued to Moscow, where he was triumphantly crowned.
For 305 years, the powerful Romanov dynasty ruled the empire, first from Moscow, then from St. Petersburg. Their history is an important piece of the history of Russia and its imperial subjects. The panorama of Russia’s pre-revolutionary past is a real-life Game of Thrones, filled with intrigue and high-minded reform, betrayal and murder, golden years and a tragic ending.
More photos and info:Follow along as we stop at significant sites of the Romanov Dynasty with this free, full-color PDF of the Romanov Ruler’s Family Tree and a handy guide of 5 Remarkable Romanov Rulers.
Immerse yourself in some of the most important landmarks along the timeline of the Romanov rulers with our Travel Guide to the Romanov’s Russia.
Kostroma, “Cradle of the Romanov Dynasty”
The royal Romanov saga begins in the Golden Ring, a circle of ancient towns northeast of Moscow. Kostroma, a 12th century Golden Ring town established by the founder of Moscow, was the home base of the Romanov family.
In 1613, 16-year-old Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov, the brother of Ivan the Terrible’s first wife, was living at Kostroma’s Ipatievsky Monastery, when a messenger arrived with news. The Zemskii Sobor, or Land Assembly, had elected him Czar of Russia, putting an end to the Time of Troubles and beginning the Romanov dynasty. Mikhail was reportedly horrified to learn that he would be required to ascend to the throne.
Romanov Sites in Kostroma
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Mikhail Romanov and his entourage made their way to Moscow, the royal capital (until Peter the Great moved it to St. Petersburg) where Mikhail was crowned at the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin.
Romanov Sites in Moscow
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St. Petersburg is a Romanov city, built by Peter the Great, the fifth Romanov czar.
The Romanovs lived and ruled here from 1703 until just after the revolution, when the Bolsheviks moved the capital back to Moscow. Everything built before 1917 is technically a Romanov site.
Romanov Sites around St. Petersburg
The interior walls and cupolas are covered in fine mosaics of Biblical scenes, and four jasper columns mark the spot where the czar fell.
The museum, originally a small private palace gallery begun by Catherine the Great with a purchase of 255 paintings from Berlin, today houses one of the largest and finest museum collections in the world.
After Nicholas II abdicated his throne in the spring of 1917, the Provisional Government set up shop in the Winter Palace. Later that year, in October, the Cruiser Aurora, anchored outside on the Neva, fired the shot that signaled the storming of the Winter Palace and the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution.
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If you have time: Under-the-Radar Romanov Sites around St. Petersburg
The story of Rasputin is one of an illiterate Siberian villager who resolved to become a strannik, a pilgrim or holy wanderer, after a pilgrimage brought him renewed faith in God. Arriving in St. Petersburg sometime around 1903, his mystical style and riveting personality soon won him followers among the nobility. He won over Empress Alexandra’s lady-in-waiting and confidante, who introduced him to the Empress.
Rasputin became indispensable to the Empress, who was convinced that he could heal her son Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia.
Rumors and whisperings about Rasputin, however, turned much of the populace against him. Suspicion toward Rasputin and the German-born Empress intensified as Czar Nicholas left the capital to command the troops fighting the Germans in WWI, and a group of the czar’s supporters came up with a plot to kill him.
Felix Yusupov, the young heir to the Yusupov fortune, and several of his friends invited Rasputin to an evening party at the Yusupov Palace on December 30, 1916, and after serving him wine in the basement room, shot him three times. They drove the body to the Petrovsky Bridge and threw it over.
The last Romanov interred here, in 2006, was Nicholas’ mother, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, 78 years after her death. Rescued from Crimea on a warship sent by her nephew, King George V, she lived out her life in her native Denmark. The bodies of Czarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria, discovered in a field away from where the rest of the family was found, are still being examined by the Russian Orthodox authorities, and remain unburied, though confirmed by DNA testing.
Ekaterinburg, founded in 1721 and named after Catherine I, sits at the border of Western Russia and Siberia, in the eastern foothills of the Ural Mountains. The city grew up around the Plotinka Dam, which harnessed the water in the Iset River for the town’s earliest ironworks.
Ekaterinburg is best known as the place where the last czar, Nicholas II, and his family were imprisoned and executed by the Bolsheviks. The royal family was first exiled farther east to Tobolsk, where they spent six months living in the governor’s house. They had been in Ekaterinburg for only three months before their murder. Strangely, they met their end in a merchant’s house called Ipatiev House, mirroring the name of the place where the dynasty began, the Ipatievsky Monastery.
Romanov Sites in Ekaterinburg
The Orthodox Church has declared Nicholas II to be a martyr-saint, saying that a czar’s coronation is sanctioned by God. The members of his family who died with him are also martyr-saints. On the grounds of the new monastery, named the Holy Monastery of the Royal Martyrs Czar Nicholas and Family, are six wooden churches made without the use of nails, in the old-fashioned Russian way, to honor Nicholas and his family.
In the years after the revolution, there was a wholesale slaughter of dynastic Romanovs in Russia, although the number of dead and of surviving émigrés varies. The New York Times estimates that only 35 Romanovs escaped death in the year or two after the Bolshevik’s seized power, out of 53 living at the time. Some were rescued by the aforementioned warship sent to Crimea from England; others made their way overland to safety.
Today, the arcane rules of royal Romanov succession have yielded several different claimants to a throne that no longer exists, as well as an official Romanov Family Association. Formed in 1979, its members include only legitimate male-line descendants of Emperor Nicholas I, not all Romanov descendants. There are some 20 members, as well as associate members and honorary members.
One of these honorary members is England’s Prince Michael of Kent; three of his grandparents were first cousins of Nicholas II, so a certain amount of royal Romanov blood flows in his veins.
In 2006, on one of his many trips to Russia, Prince Michael traveled to Kostroma to donate an engraved 17,600-lb bell to Trinity Cathedral. The deep bass note of the Czar’s Bell rings out from the 17th century bell tower in the “Cradle of the Romanov Dynasty,” Kostroma’s Ipatievsky Monastery.
Travel with MIR to Romanov Sites
The Romanov dynasty continues to fascinate people all over the world. When you visit Western Russia, you are bound to encounter the remnants of the legacy of this royal family.
MIR offers a variety of travel itineraries to Western Russia that include a variety of these recommended Romanov sites:
Russia’s Imperial Capitals & Ancient VillagesOn this small group tour, visit the “Cradle of the Romanov Dynasty,” Kostroma. Discover where Russian art, architecture and culture began. In between the urban centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, experience the Golden Ring countryside (more info about this small group tour). Insider’s Russia: Moscow & St. Petersburg RediscoveredGet to know Western Russia from the inside out on this small group tour. Enter into medieval Moscow and imperial St. Petersburg and follow them through the cataclysm of revolution and war, then perestroika, collapse and rebirth. Enjoy intimate conversations with local people, insider perks like a ballet master class and dinner at a private dacha; and soak up the absolute best of Russian culture at superb museums and theaters (more info about this small group tour). Russian Winter Wonderland: New Year’s in St. PetersburgNobody loves New Year’s Eve like the Russians do – it’s the most festive holiday of the year, with parties, presents, and champagne toasts. This celebratory tour revolves around New Year’s in glorious St. Petersburg, with Moscow merrymaking and a visit to 12th century Suzdal to round out the festivities, admiring ancient churches and enjoying a traditional sleigh ride (more info about this small group tour). The Trans-Siberian RailwayYou can find Romanov sites on most of our many rail journeys throughout Russia and along the Trans-Siberian. Most of them explore Moscow and/or St. Petersburg, and have a stop in Ekaterinburg, where the last czar and his family perished (more info about Trans-Siberian Railway travel). A Custom, Private TourYou can also book a custom private journey – handcrafted to your interests, pace and dates (more info about a personalized tour).
MIR has over 30 years of travel experience in Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Top photo: Catherine’s Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo credit: Jonathan Irish
PUBLISHED: March 7, 2018