The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Twenty-One, St. Petersburg, Russia — Moscow and St. Petersburg

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Twenty-One, St. Petersburg, Russia — Moscow and St. Petersburg

By Marin Ekstrom, Week 5: Moscow and St. Petersburg

Despite Russia’s enormous size, and the multitude of interesting cities within its confines, most discussions about the country boil down to just two cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg.
These cities have been endlessly compared and contrasted for centuries: Moscow, the truly “Russian” political and economic megalopolis, versus St. Petersburg, the Western European literary and cultural center. As I signed up for a weekend excursion to Moscow, I decided to use this opportunity to learn more about Russia’s capital, and to analyze how it aligns with my impressions of St. Petersburg and Russia as a whole.


My group mates and I summed up the Moscow trip in a single word: “weird.” First of all, the city is laid out in a jumbled heap. Moscow, unlike St. Petersburg, did not have an organized plan of layout. Therefore, settlements just keep building up haphazardly at any patch of empty space. In addition, an estimated 11 million people, and perhaps an additional 2 million undocumented immigrants, live in Moscow (for a sense of comparison, New York City has 8 million residents), and the city features an extensive metro system with over 200 stations. Therefore, it is little wonder why Moscow poses such an intimidating presence, especially for a navigationally challenged small town girl such as myself.

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Secondly, the city has a grittier flavor to it, in comparison to St. Petersburg. While Moscow still offers spectacular views, I noticed much more gray-brown concrete slabs, graffiti, dump yards, aged Soviet monuments, and devastated beggars. These elements have molded Moscow into a rough-and-tumble concrete jungle, which very much juxtaposes the illusion of royal grandeur in St. Petersburg.


Lastly, the city compresses a hodge-podge of buildings and monuments together. On the outskirts of Red Square, the medieval Kremlin, St. Petersburg-esque tsarist palaces, towering Stalinist Gothic towers, sleek, contemporary skyscrapers, and gold-domed Orthodox churches are all located within close vicinity of one another. While this makes for impressive views, it also has a slightly schizophrenic quality, making it difficult to access an identity for Moscow.


And yet…despite the oddness I encountered, I found myself inexplicably drawn to Moscow. I feel that it represents a more historically rich, diverse, and complete picture of Russia, as it embraces elements of Kievan Rus, Mongol Russia, the Rurik and Romanov dynasties, the Soviet Union, and modern capitalist Russia into its identity. Whereas St. Petersburg occasionally feels like a tsarist simulacrum of Western Europe, Moscow, in all of its intoxicating chaos, presents a grander, more authentic perspective of Russia.


Granted, I only visited Moscow for three days, which is not nearly enough time to familiarize oneself with the megalopolis. Nevertheless, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore it, compare it with St. Petersburg, and use both experiences to further immerse myself with the Russian psyche.

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

1 Comment

Filed under Marin Ekstrom, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

One response to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Twenty-One, St. Petersburg, Russia — Moscow and St. Petersburg

  1. Eleni

    You have made some interesting comparisons between the two most famous cities of Russia. Moscow does seem to be quite an intimidating place. I understand how you could feel like it paints a more accurate picture of Russia, at least the one we think we are most familiar with. I wonder how the image of the millions of Russians that live in the enormous country differs from the image the rest of the world places on it?

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