Monasteries and Churches of Moscow

Moscow is a city that draws in flocks of visitors each year with its culture, its history, and its beauty. The best of Moscow‘s beauty can be seen in the stunning churches and graceful cathedrals that are dotted among modern skyscrapers and apartment blocks in the city’s iconic skyline. There are so many different churches in Moscow that you could visit one each day and not have seen them all within 3 years. Walking along the  Moskva River there are a couple of monasteries, nunneries and churches that were part of the cities outer defenses.

The architecture of these religious buildings exhibits a variety of styles: from traditional Russian, to lavish Italian Renaissance, to Moscow’s own take on Baroque.

Some of these structures date back to 1645 and sadly is in chronic need of restoration. But they are still beautiful, each with its own charm. Even though they are in need of repair, most of these buildings are still being used, and are slowly being restored to their former glory.

Visiting the Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastery of Lantau Island, Hong Kong.

Sitting in our Glass Bottom Cable car!!
Sitting in our Glass Bottom Cable car!!

Having only one day to explore Hong Kong before we leave on our month long China adventure, my mother and I took the metro to Tung Chung on Lantau Island in order to go to Ngong Ping 360. This is a tourism experience which combines a 5.7 km cable car journey to a cultural themed village, the Tian Tan Buddha Statue and Po Lin Monastery. The two of us stood in line for almost an hour in the heat before we got on to the cable car but it was definitely worth the wait. Our cable car for the 25 minute ride from Tung Chung to the Ngong Ping Plateau had a glass bottom. It was an amazing scene getting to look down onto the tree tops that we were traveling over to get to the “Giant Buddha”.

Ngong Ping 360 is situated on Lantau Island, the largest island in Hong Kong, almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island. Lantau Island is often referred to as “the lungs of Hong Kong”, because of its abundance of indigenous forest and relative scarcity of high-rise residential developments which characterize Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

Our Cable car ride from Tung Chung to the Ngong Ping Plateau
Our Cable car ride from Tung Chung to the Ngong Ping Plateau
Arriving at Ngong Ping 360
Arriving at Ngong Ping 360

Before we climbed into our glass bottom cable car we were informed that a Typhoon warning level 1 had been announced, which could increase later.  This meant that they would then have to close the cable cars but there were busses that we could then take to get back. Neither one of us had ever been close to a Typhoon so this news did make us a bit shaky and we promised ourselves that we would head back before the weather turned for the worse.

Every now and again there was a light drizzle but this was actually a lovely relief as it was a hot and humid day.

We walked through rows of little shops and tea houses to get to the Tian Tan Buddha (or “Giant Buddha”) statue.

The Giant Buddha!!
The Giant Buddha!!

What a magnificent sight!
What a magnificent sight!

This statue was completed in 1993 and named Tian Tan Buddha because its base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It is one of the five large Buddha statues in China. The Buddha is 34 meters tall, and was the world’s tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha prior to 2007.

It reputedly can even be seen from as far away as Macau on a clear day and held our attention as we were approaching in the cable car!

The Tian Tan Buddha appears serene and dignified with his right hand raised as if in greeting. The Buddha faces North, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face South. You have to climb a steep stairway consisting of 240 steps in order to reach this Giant Buddha.

240 steps in order to reach this Giant Buddha
240 steps in order to reach this Giant Buddha!
Greeting the world, Buddha style
Greeting the world, Buddha style

My mom and I looked at all the stairs and at each other and both decided that going all the way up wasn’t necessary. My mom was dreading walking up the stairs as her knee was already in a knee brace nursing an old sports injury and I was dreading walking them down as my knee is also giving me some problems. We were both quite content with admiring this magnificent statue from a distance saving ourselves for our backpacking adventure that would start the next day.

The Buddha is 34 meters tall
The Giant Buddha is 34 meters tall
Entering the beautiful monastery
Entering the beautiful monastery

Nearby is Po Lin Monastery, known as the “Buddhist Kingdom in the South”. It serves as an international Buddhist retreat, and is one of the largest and most well known in Hong Kong. This monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu and was initially known simply as “The Big Hut”. The main temples have painted vermilion interiors with dragons and many other different Chinese mythical figures on the walls and ceilings. The main temple houses three bronze statues of the Buddha – representing his past, present and future lives – as well as many Buddhist scriptures.

The main temples is decorated with dragons and many other different Chinese mythical figures
The main temples is decorated with dragons and many other different Chinese mythical figures

The Po Lin Monastery was quite lovely to walk around in and after exploring the colourful monastery we sat outside at the tea garden having a much needed ice-coffee!

The whole monastery is filled with the fragrance of incense
The whole monastery is filled with the fragrance of incense

On our way back in the cable car it started to rain again, bringing with it a much needed breeze to cool us down. We sat down enjoying the beauty of the lush green hills in the rain and glad that we got the cable car back before it closed due to the bad weather.

A last glimpse of the Giant Buddha from the monastery balcony
A last glimpse of the Giant Buddha from the monastery balcony

Moscow’s Donskoy Monastery a bit of a disappointment.

As it was the middle of autumn the days were getting shorter and opportunities to walk around without freezing were getting fewer and fewer.  I have been exploring some of the churches and monasteries while living in Moscow but there are still many left that I haven’t seen. I went for a walk to Donskoy Monastery which is in the south of Moscow.
This small monastery was founded in 1591 to commemorate Boris Godunov’s repulsion of a Tartar invasion under Khan Kazy-Girey. The Donskoy Monastery is one of the most impressively fortified in Moscow but is not nearly as impressive on the inside.
The big Cathedral in side Donskoy Monastery
Godunov roused his troops on the eve of battle by parading the icon Our Lady of the Don, which legend claimed had been carried by Dmitry Donskoy at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. When the Tartar forces fled after a brief skirmish, the decision was made to build a church to house the icon on the site and a monastery around it, which would also serve to protect the main highway from Moscow to the Crimea.
Little church inside the monastery complex
Bell tower of the small church
According to Ukranian custom, the five domes of the cathedral are positioned to represent the four corners of the earth, a design which scandalized Old Believers, who gave it the name “The Antichrist’s Altar”.The most impressive part about this monastery was its history.
White walls surrounding the monastery

Monasteries, art museums and avoiding security guards in Moscow

Upper Monastery of St Peter which was once part of Moscow’s outer defenses.
The entrance to the monastery

One of my favourite things to do is walking around Moscow during spring time. The weather is lovely and the whole city is filled with flowers and people enjoying the sunshine. It just feels so good finally being able to walk outside without being wrapped up in layers and layers of clothes. After being cooped up inside for most of the long cold winter in Moscow I grabbed at every opportunity to walk around outside and soak up the sunshine.

Love the red brick wall and towers
Before entering I had to cover my hair with a scarf as a sign of respect
Inside the Monastery grounds

 I walked up Tverskaya Street and down Petrovskiy where on the corner crossing with Petrovka is a small monastery hidden away between all the office buildings. From outside it didn’t look like much but I love exploring the monasteries and churches dotted around Moscow so went in for a look. There I found the 14th century Upper Monastery of St Peter which was once part of Moscow’s outer defenses.

Looking back at the entrance from inside the Monastery grounds

It was extremely peaceful inside the monastery grounds and nearly deserted, which is a bit unusual for Moscow.

Cathedral of Metropolitan Pyotr
The beautiful onion domed towers of the Cathedral
The entrance to the Cathedral

The main Cathedral was built by Sofia, Peter the Great’s mother in 1690. This red brick Cathedral is called the Cathedral of Metropolitan Pyotr. In the entrance of the cathedral there was a small shop where you can buy candles, incense and icons. The inside of the Cathedral was filled with icons and decorated with red flowers painted on the walls and ceiling.

The back of the Cathedral

The monastery grounds are quite neglected and I don’t think that it is in use much any more which is a pity.

Another small church on the Monastery grounds

Right across from it is the Museum of Modern Art, which is definitely worth a visit.

Museum of Modern Art
Entrance into the main building

It has a huge selection of modern sculptures and paintings and a lot of interactive exhibitions inside. This museum has no English descriptions or explanations but it was loads of fun to walk through, and most of the time you don’t need any explanations.

The courtyard of the Museum is filled with sculptures
This sculpture is right at the entrance of the courtyard

One of the first rooms I entered was pitch black and there was a sign before entering telling you to get your phone out. This must be the first museum I have ever been in where they expect you to have a mobile phone and actually want you to use it. The walls were pitch black, the ceiling and even the floor was black and there was no source of light once you stepped inside. You had to walk through this dark room and then had to use the light from your mobile phone to have a look at the paintings. I didn’t get to see the painting as a whole by doing this, I only got fragments and had fun trying to piece it together and figure out what the painting was of. I have never experienced anything like this ever.

Some sculpture by the artist Tsereteli

One of the little old ladies in one of the rooms tried to explain to me what to do at one of the exhibitions and when she realized I didn’t actually understand her she took me by the hand and proceeded to walk through the whole gallery with me. We stopped in each room and she would show me what to do to get the full effect of the exhibits and still continued to explain everything to me in Russian. I really wished that I could actually understand what she was saying to me as she was lovely and explained everything with so much passion.

 In one of the more peaceful rooms I got to sit on a swing while watching a film just showing a field while listening to the wind blow.

Love the bronze sculpture in the courtyard 

I definitely LOVED this gallery!!

The entrance of the monastery I happened to find by accident
The bright yellow entrance and the red walls surrounding the monastery
A shot of one of the churches in this monastery complex

 I continued walking down Rozhdestvenskiy Bulvar where I went into another monastery. It was quite big but I didn’t have enough time to find out what the name was.  I walked through the monastery gates after covering my hair with a scarf and was greeted by 3 small churches right by the entrance. I always walk around with my camera around my neck and take pictures of everything interesting I come across. Just as I took a photo inside the monastery complex I spotted 2 security guards running towards me. I was not going to wait and find out what they wanted as I was sure they just wanted to delete my photo or give me a fine for taking photos without permission. I just turned around and got out of there as fats as I could with the security guards shouting something after me. This was the first monastery I had to run out of and away from before a security guard caught up with me!

I had the chance to take 3 pictures before I was spotted!
Didn’t even have a chance to have a look inside

I had no desire to try and talk to them as I was sure they wouldn’t be able to speak any English and it’s always a scary prospect getting into trouble in a foreign country.

I just decided to look out for security guards next time before I take any pictures.

A small church on the corner before I got to a metro station