05 February 2019

Hotel National Moscow: Tsarist, Soviet and modern Russian refinement

The pre-revolutionary Hotel National Moscow was financed by The Var­v­arinskoe Joint-Stock Company of Householders and designed by arch­it­ect Alexander Ivanov. Construct­ion began in 1901 and the 160-room hotel opened in January 1903. It was located in the immediate vic­in­ity of Moscow’s major historical venues: Red Square, the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and Bolshoi Theatre. The nearby Alexandrovsky Gardens, founded by architect Osip Bove in 1821, commemorated the Russians' victories over Napol­eon with gorgeous plants, imposing cast iron gates and a tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Hotel National Moscow
mosaic atop the corner

Established to attract important foreign guests, royal families, State Duma deputies, tsarist ministers and rich merchants, the exterior architecture comb­ined Renais­sance and opulent Art Nouveau styles with modern trappings, so fashionable in the new cent­ury. The int­erior focused on the main stair-case, made of white marble with gilt plas­tered décor­at­ions and metal barr­iers. In the lobby, you can still see the stained glass windows, mosaic floors and full sized caryatids on the col­umns near the lifts. The most luxurious, royal rooms were sit­uat­ed on the third floor for people of high rank, and were equipped with safes. The building had the most up-to-date central heating and telephone systems, signs of luxury in those years.

There were also libraries, restaurant, shops, baker and wine-cellar in National Hotel. Among these businesses was a shop belong­ing to the Krestovnikov brothers, owners of the most influential trading company in Russia at the time.

In 1915 the hotel planned to add two floors on top of the 6-storey struc­t­ure, but WW1 shortages meant the work was never begun. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the capital of Russia was moved to Moscow. After the Bolsheviks' victory, all Moscow hotels were nationalised and by March 1918, the hotel had become the home of Soviet Central Executive Committee.

While the Kremlin had been damaged during fighting in Oct 1917 and was under repair, Lenin made his home in room 107 at the Hotel Nat­ional with his wife. The hotel is today marked with a plaque noting this event. The hotel also accommodated other Soviet leaders, including Trotsky and the head of the secret police. The building continued to be used by the Soviet government afterwards as a hostel for official party delegates, and was renamed First House of Soviets in 1919.

The Soviets were building modern hotels to imp­ress vis­it­ing foreign delegations across Moscow, and in the pro­cess tore down entire blocks, drained swamps and built new bridges. Thus the new hotels helped change the city's skyline.

The Alexandrovsky Bar
winter garden setting with an overhead atrium

Piazza Rossa Restaurant with a unique Moscow view

Caryatids in the lobby
staircase with gilt plas­tered décor­at­ions 

By 1931 Hotel National was in need of repair and was given a comp­lete renovation. It was redecorated with furn­iture and artefacts from Tsars’ palaces and aristocrats' est­at­es, including Tsarskoye Selo and the Anichkov Palaces in St Peter­sburg. The pieces remain in the hotel's collection to this day. The huge external mosaic on the hotel's upper corner (top photo) was replaced by socialist realist artwork, displaying the industrial might of the Soviet economy. The National Hotel joined the state-run Intourist, in 1933.

The National Hotel's guests in the 1930s included political figures, but also scientists, businessmen, writ­ers, act­ors and musicians. In 1933, it served as the temporary home of the first American Ambassador to the Sov­iet until the proper embas­sy was renov­ated. Composer Ser­gei Prokofiev lived at the hotel in 1933 on his return to the Soviet Union from abroad. Author Mik­hail Shol­ok­hov stayed at the hotel often. Dur­ing WW2, many Allied delegations met here, including British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden in 1941.

In the late 1960s the Hotel Intourist, a towering, modern glass st­ructure, was built next to the National Hotel. The two hotels merged in 1983 and op­erated for a time under joint management.

Grand hotels in Moscow, renewed since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, are the heart of the city’s luxury hotel ind­ustry. The Hotel National was renovated from 1991-5; the 202 new bed­rooms were fitted with new furnishings and decor that were styled with classic Italian furnishings. But the 55 Kremlin suites were still as they had been designed in 1903, still decorated with their Russian antiques, Bohemian glass chandeliers, antique furnishings and original and rare artworks including vases, paintings and statues.

This elegant hotel was transferred by the Russian govern­ment to the City of Moscow in 1992.

The Kremlin Suite has two rooms, elegant antique furniture and original works of art.
The bedroom overlooks Red Square and the Kremlin
Looking across Red Square to the State History Museum

The hotel’s 110-year-history has thus been closely entwined with the turbulent events of C20th, starting from the days of the last Tsar Nicholas II, to the years of the Soviet Union, and the rise of the Russian state as it is today. Privatisation came in 2011 when the National Hotel, which had previously been owned by the City of Moscow, was sold to a business man for squillions. It was probably a good decision - tourists love the location! Right across Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral, the State History Museum and the walls and towers of the Kremlin can be seen from many guest rooms.

The photos are credited to The Telegraph.
The notes came from my late mother's travel reports and were updated by Moscow-Hotels.com.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I'm glad to see that such an historic hotel has been given a quality renovation, especially considering its position among other monuments. Too often the decision is to tear down and replace with a modern building that will either "update" "complement" or "contrast" with its surroundings. Or worse yet, build a fake-historical Disney-type fantasy building.

By the way, caryatids are usually female; the male form is called a telamon or atlas, although there are several variations on these names, showing that they never became 100% standard.
p.s. This site has a photo of the hotel from 1895. You can faintly see the original mosaic, but mostly it is interesting to compare with the current restoration:

Deb said...

The collection of all the original Russian paintings and other art forms must be very pleasing. Most hotels have cheap and nasty stuff. Or no decoration at all.

Hels said...


I was asking myself why so many Europeans moved to Chinese Harbin in the first half of the 20th century. And amongst other reasons, newcomers loved the atmosphere created by the Russian architects and builders. That lovely atmosphere still largely exists today.

You are absolutely right about the misery caused when traditional Russian architecture is pulled down or updated unsympathetically. Imagine if Moscow lost its loveliest buildings!

Thanks for the url.

Hels said...


you are spot on with the multiple art forms - art nouveau architecture, decorative reliefs, intricate ironwork, marble work, paintings, elaborate light fixtures, stained glass work and sculptures. Too much for some modernists, but worth preserving every single art item.

bazza said...

Oddly, the photo in Jim's link is captioned as 1895 but the text agrees with your dates of 1901 to 1903. Either way it's a magnificent building more so on the interior, I think. From the UK St Petersburg is a more popular destination than Moscow these days probably due to the extensive number of Baltic cruises.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s excessively effulgent Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...


agreed about St Petersburg being popular. But I would argue that it was always thus, ever since Peter the Great supported much more interesting architecture, music, literature, town planning, transport etc.

When my late father retired and bought a travel agency, he got the best deals of all from Russian airlines and Russian hotels. Even when mum's elderly relations in Russia died and there were no more relatives left there to visit, my parents still went every year and loved it.

Fun60 said...

Really interesting post. So glad that it has been restored to its former splendour. I will be in Moscow later this year (not staying here unfortunately) and will look out for this building.

CherryPie said...

It all looks very opulent inside. It would be a fascinating place to stay.

Hels said...


Joe and I used to travel every winter holiday (late June and all of July) to the northern hemisphere until a couple of years ago. But money problems put proper hotels out of our reach. So we stayed in youth hostels or university residential colleges. However in most cities we did organised tours with historian or art historian guides, and saw how the other half lived.

The problem with modern architecture is not always in the modernity itself. It is in what was destroyed to build the modern facilities.

Hels said...


the cheapest price I found was AUS$ 236 = £ 132, out of a lot of peoples' budgets.
However it would be perfectly appropriate to go in for afternoon tea and check out the art and architecture :)

Andrew said...

It looks wonderful and certainly has history, but I get very annoyed at paying such high prices for accommodation in low wage and low cost countries.

Hels said...

Sorry Andrew
you are right.

I almost never pay attention to costs and especially not to advertising in the blog. But now that the City of Moscow sold the hotel to a business man for untold amounts of money, it is going to be out of the reach of ordinary people who are just interested in Russian culture and architecture. This happens in Australia and Britain etc all the time, but I expected Russia would be better than that.