The imposing building that stands to your right if you enter Red Square through the Resurrection Gate is the State Historical Museum. The museum was opened in 1894, to mark the coronation of Aleksander III, and was the result of a 20-year-long project to consolidate various archaeological and anthropological collections into a single museum that told the story of the history of Russia according to the latest scientific methodology.
The building, which prompts mixed aesthetic reactions, is undeniably impressive. A mass of jagged towers and cornices, it is a typical example of Russian Revivalism, the Eastern equivalent of the Neo-Gothic movement. It was built by architect Vladimir Sherwood (whose father was an English engineer, hence the very un-Russian surname) on the site of the old Pharmacy Building, which was the original home of the Moscow University.
The museum holds a supremely rich collection of artifacts that tell the history of the Russian lands from the Paleolithic period to the present day. Each hall of the museum is designed to correspond to the era from which the exhibits are taken. The wide variety of the ancient cultures that developed on the territory of modern Russia is well represented, with highlights including Scythian gold figures, funerary masks from the Altai and the Turmanskiy Sarcophagus, a unique mixture of Hellenic architecture and Chinese decoration.
Later displays focus on the history of Russia's rulers, with a number of historical paintings, court costumes, thrones and Carlo Rastrelli's silver death mask of Peter the Great. Many of the museum's halls are still closed for restoration work, but the museum is still well worth visiting, and makes for an excellent introduction to the history of Russia. Unfortunately, the exhibits are not labeled in English, although there are English-language guide books and videos available in the lobby.
The building also contains a restaurant, Red Square No. 1, and the Red Square Jazz Cafs. You can either see this as unchecked commercialism, or as a tribute to the inn that used to stand here, and was frequented by Peter the Great.
Opening hours: Daily from 11.00 to 19.00, closed on Tuesdays.