The Seven Sisters: Shaping Moscow’s Skyline


Moscow is a city instantly recognizable by its architecture. From the facade of St. Basil’s Cathedral to the Kremlin, Moscow has a skyline that is unmistakably unique.

In addition to the much-photographed buildings on Red Square, a visit to Moscow may find you staying in one of the city’s famous Seven Sisters buildings, two of which function as modern hotels—Hotel Ukraina, co-owned by Russian business executive Zarakh Iliev and God Nisanov and marketed as the Radisson Royal Hotel, or Hotel Leningradskaya, now part of the Hilton Hotels chain.

The Seven Sisters have a fascinating history and an architectural signature that is quintessentially Russian. These buildings are affectionately referred to as “Stalinskie Vysotki” (Stalin’s High-Rises) by Muscovites in a nod to their storied past.

Moscow Rebuilds

Following the end of the Second World War, Europe and Russia entered a phase of vigorous rebuilding. Russia had suffered heavily during the war years and following the victory, all citizens were engaged in rebuilding the ravaged cities. Stalin held the strong position that Moscow needed to be on a par with other Western cities.

Stalin enlisted top architects under the auspices of the All-Union Academy of Architecture of the USSR to design buildings that would transform Russia’s capital city into one that could be viewed as a contemporary European city with skyscrapers that would rival the tall buildings that had recently been built in the USA and Europe.

The construction of the Seven Sisters began in 1947 on the Moscow’s 800th anniversary. The site of each future building was marked with the placement of a foundation stone, though actual construction did not commence until later that year. The final building was completed in 1957, four years after Stalin’s death.

Lomonosov Moscow State University
Lomonosov Moscow State University

The Eighth Sister

An eighth building had initially been planned but was canceled after the groundbreaking in part due to the challenges of completing a building of that size on the soft Moscow ground adjacent to the Moskva River. The building that was to be the Zaryadye Administrative Building near Red Square later became the Rossiya (Russian) Hotel. The Rossiya Hotel was architecturally nondescript and was demolished years later. Today, it is the site of the beautiful 32-acre Zaryadye Park, a landscaped urban park that was opened in 2017.

Stalinist Architecture

The Seven Sisters are beautiful examples of Stalinist architecture, the term that describes the style built between the years 1933-1955 when the All-Union Academy of Architecture of the USSR was disbanded. Stalinist architecture is known for a combination of Gothic and Russian Baroque styles.

Signature Design

The buildings feature strong base levels that rise in tiers with columns up to a sweeping crown with a central spire. It is told that only one of the original designs featured a spire, but that Stalin loved the design and required the architects to include spires in all of the finished buildings. This style came to set the Seven Sisters apart from other western-built skyscrapers, giving them an undeniably Russian signature.

The Seven Sisters

Moscow State University

Completed in 1957, this building stood as the tallest building in Europe until 1990. It is a monumental building, housing over 30,000 students, a concert hall, retail space, offices, and a swimming pool.

Hotel Ukraina, Moscow

Hotel Ukraina

The second largest of the Seven Sisters, this gorgeous building was completed in 1957 and was the largest hotel in Europe at the time. The hotel went through a meticulous renovation process and reopened in 2010. Hotel Ukraina has a stunning observation deck from which the entire city of Moscow may be seen.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building

Built between 1948 and 1953, the 172-meter, 27-story structure still houses the offices of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The building has a façade of stone with projecting pilasters and pylons while the inside is beautifully adorned with stones and metals.

The Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building

This statuesque building is found at the intersection of the Moskva and Yauza Rivers. Originally intended as housing for the Russian elite, it was turned into a multi-family living establishment. Today, it is used for meteorological observations in addition to residential units.

Hotel Leningradskaya

Completed in 1952, the Hotel Leningradskaya was intended to be the most opulent hotel in Europe. The opulence can be imagined today by looking at the chandelier that hangs in the hotel lobby and is the length of seven stories. Today, the building continues to function as a hotel with a conference center.

Red Gates Administrative Building

This is the smallest of the Seven Sisters buildings, completed in 1953. It is a mixed-use building with residential and commercial units in addition to the Ministry of Trade. The building also houses one of the two vestibules of Moscow’s metro station.

Kudrinskaya Square Building

The elegant Kudrinskaya Building was initially designated to offer residential space to Soviet cultural leaders with parts of the building open to all citizens. Today, the building is used for both residential and commercial endeavors and is slowly undergoing renovations to bring it back to its former splendor.

The Seven Sisters stand today as a beautiful and enduring expression of Soviet Russian innovation and style. All involved in the project from design to construction would be proud to see that their vision and effort remain a remarkable part of the atmosphere of modern Moscow.

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