• Slovakia!

    Slovakia: Tatra Mountains. Go Now!

    Slovakia
    The Tatra Mountains (pictured) form the backdrop of this rural country, whose culture is rooted in this beautiful landscape. Go Now!

  • Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Portugal!

    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Armenia!

    Armenia: Noravank Monastery. Go Now!

    Armenia
    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

  • Finland!

    Finland: Finnish Sauna. Go Now!

    Finland
    Unlike its neighbors, the Finns are unique ethnically & linguistically, but are wholly European in many other ways. Begin Your Journey!

History of Russia

WARNING: Russia's border with Ukraine is unstable and tensions are high, read this travel warning before going!

Russia's history is vast and varied, with ancient Asiatic people in Siberia to the Russians, who are descended of the Slavs, a group that, in its modern form, developed as recently as the 1100s. For most of Russian history the land was occupied by various people, some of whom communicated with each other and some of whom didn't, however few were unified under one rule until the Mongols in the 1200s.

The Slavs emerged in Kyiv (in modern-day Ukraine) in the 800s from a group of people who were Vikings and explorers from the Baltic Sea area. This Slavic state grew and expanded rapidly and by the 1000s was a large kingdom that had adopted Orthodox Christianity from Constantinople (Istanbul). Over time however this group weakened and, to maintain power, shifted north to modern-day western Russia and Belarus.

The end of the Kyivian Rus's power came with the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. This invasion has left a substantial mark on Russia and there are still pockets of Mongol influence as some regions boast large Tatar populations (the Tatars are related to the Mongols).

After the Mongols, the Slavic people divided and created differing ethnicities and rules. The two major groups formed what later became Eastern and Western Slavic, the prior being the founding of the Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian states. By the late 1200s - early 1300s the Slavs were nearly free from Mongol rule and the Duchy of Moscow began to grow, but not without frequent Tatar raids.

In the mid-1500s the Russians finally rid themselves of the Tatars. Then, with the fall of the Byzantium Empire in 1453, the Russians claimed themselves as the legitimate successor to the thrown and solidified this claim by Ivan the Great's marriage to the niece of the last Byzantium Emperor. The remnants of this are still visible today as Russia's coat of arms, the double-headed eagle was taken from Byzantium. After Ivan the Great came Ivan the Terrible, who was the first to use the title "Tsar" from the word "Caesar," again claiming the Byzantium thrown, which was established from the historic Roman Empire.

The late 1500s saw a rapidly expanding Russian Empire as they pushed east into Siberia. This push also began the rule of the Russians over multiple minorities, particularly the Tatars and small Asiatic groups who were scattered everywhere throughout Siberia and just west of the Ural Mountains. This strong rule was short lived at first as the Tatars in the south, Poles in the west, and Swedes in the north began to encroach on Russia, getting so far as briefly taking Moscow in the early 1600s. However the Russians quickly retaliated and in the late 1600s took much of present-day Ukraine as those people rebelled against Polish rule and were swallowed up by Russia. Meanwhile, there was little resistance or organization among Russia's neighbors to the east so their push towards the Pacific Ocean continued; in 1648 the Russians reached Alaska via the Bering Strait.

The 1700s saw more prosperous efforts by the Russians (particularly under the rules of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great) as they defeated the Swedes, founded St. Petersburg as a large Baltic Sea port city, and defeated the Poles and took about a third of their former country. The 1800s was much of the same as Russia continued to expand and was famed throughout Europe for defeating Napoleon's forces.

In 1905 revolution broke out in Russia, then the country was thrust into World War I, but faced another revolution in 1917 before war's end. This revolution established the Soviet Union in 1922, which grew over time, but Russia remained the dominant republic in the union throughout its history.

In 1939 World War II (WWII) broke out with the agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to divide Poland amongst themselves. After a German attack on the Soviets, the Soviets eventually fought back and reached Berlin in 1945 to end the War in Europe.

WWII solidly placed the Soviet Union on the international stage as a world power and thus began the Cold War. While this period is known as a buildup of arms, it also improved industrialization, communication, education, healthcare, and infrastructure, although it was also riddled with deportations, starvations, accusations of genocides, and suppression.

In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia again emerged as an independent country. Since this time, Russian relations with much of the world have been inconsistent as they have suppressed domestic independence movements, most notably from the Chechens and many former Soviet countries view Russia as the legitimate and enemy successor to the Soviet Union.

This page was last updated: March, 2013