A History of Moscow

By Tim Lambert

Early Moscow

The great city of Moscow was first mentioned in writing in 1147. At that time it was a small settlement but it soon grew larger. In 1156 wooden walls were built around the Kremlin. However, they did not stop the Mongols. In 1237 they burned Moscow. However, Moscow was rebuilt and it grew more prosperous and more important. Yet the Mongols returned in 1382 and they burned Moscow again.

Moscow soon recovered and by the 15th century, it probably had a population of about 50,000. However, Crimean Tatars burned Moscow again in 1571. Yet by the early 17th century, Moscow had a population of about 200,000. By the standards of the time, it was a very large city.

However, in 1712 Tsar Peter the Great moved his capital from Moscow to St Petersburg. As a result, Moscow entered a period of decline. Worse in the 1770s Moscow suffered an outbreak of bubonic plague. Nevertheless, Moscow University was founded in 1755, and by the beginning of the 19th century, Moscow was flourishing again.

However, in 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia. The retreating Muscovites set their own city on fire. But Moscow was soon rebuilt and in the late 19th century the Industrial Revolution began to transform Russia.

Modern Moscow

In 1917 the Communists staged a revolution and they imposed a totalitarian regime in Russia. In 1918 Lenin moved his government to Moscow. Lenin was followed by the tyrant Josef Stalin. Under Stalin, many historic buildings in the city were demolished. However, the first line of the Metro opened in 1935.

In 1941 the Germans invaded Russia. They reached the outskirts of Moscow at the beginning of December but they were then driven back. After the Second World War Moscow continued to grow although many nations boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

St Basil’s Cathedral

Fortunately, Communism collapsed in Russia in 1991, and in 1997 Moscow celebrated its 850th anniversary. In 2024 the population of Moscow was 13 million.

Last revised 2024