The Byzantine Empire affected Russian architecture and culture from the Rus' period. After the advent of Christianity in 988, the enormous churches of Kievan Rus were the earliest instances of monumental architecture in the East Slavic area. During the 13th century, new styles appeared with the introduction of French and Italian ideas.
The Renaissance brought new technologies and ideas that spread throughout Europe and the world. In Russia, it resulted in a number of large country houses built by wealthy merchants for themselves or their friends. These buildings display an abundance of marble and other fine materials then available in the empire.
The Baroque style arrived in Russia during the 17th century, when the Romanovs built many spectacularly decorated rooms in their capital city of St. Petersburg. This style was influenced by the great artists who came to Russia at this time, including Raphael and Michelangelo.
The Neoclassical style became popular after the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812. It was used to describe any building constructed following the Greek and Roman orders between approximately 1750 and 1850. Many government institutions were built in this style during this time.
The Romantic era began in Russia in the late 1820s. It was marked by a return to classical themes in art, which had been abandoned since the early 17th century.
Russia's Nomadic Architecture During the Kievan Rus Period (988–1230), Russian architecture flourished. The Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir (1186–1189) The Church of the Tithes in Kiev was the earliest stone-built church, and early buildings were embellished with Byzantine-style murals and mosaics.
However, during the 13th century, Russia's main cities lost much of their former glory due to wars and plagues. Moscow became the capital of Russia in 1283, but its central location made it vulnerable to invasion from the north and west. In addition, most government institutions moved away from Moscow to other towns or even single dwellings built around a courtyard, which proved difficult to defend. By the 15th century, most major cities were deserted. Only Pskov, Novgorod, and Vladimir remained important centers of culture and commerce.
Novgorod's economy was based on trade; its merchants traded with England, France, and Germany. The city was also famous for its large merchant ships, some of which were said to be able to hold 500 people. Pskov was an important religious center; it has been suggested that it may have had as many as 50,000 residents when Europe's largest cathedral was built there in the 14th century. Vladimir was the capital of the Kievan Rus' until 1161 and again from 1208 to 1225. The old town is surrounded by high walls with more than 100 towers, some of which still stand today.
Russian architecture is a hybrid of Byzantine and Pagan elements. Exterior galleries and a plethora of towers are two features borrowed from Slavic pagan temples. Byzantine styles such as domes and mosaics can also be found in many Russian buildings of that era.
The classical period of Russian architecture starts with the reign of Peter the Great in 1698. During this time, European architects came to Russia to teach them new techniques and technologies which led to the creation of many spectacular buildings. The most famous of these architects was Gian Lorenzo Bernini who designed the Borghese Palace for Pope Paul III and the Trevi Fountain in Rome. In Russia, he was taught the methods used by Roman builders and applied them to various projects throughout the country. His most important project was the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow which still stands today. Another prominent architect of this time was Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli who built several government buildings in St. Petersburg including the Hermitage Museum and the Summer Palace.
The early 19th century was a time of political upheaval in Russia followed by a period of economic decline. These events had an adverse effect on the development of Russian architecture.
The centers of medieval church architecture followed the fluctuating prominence of old Russia's cities—from Kiev through Novgorod and Pskov, and, beginning in the late 15th century, Moscow. Foreign architecture began to appear in Russia with the foundation of a unified Russian state under Ivan III. But since most foreign architects worked within the traditional styles of their countries, they didn't affect the development of Russian church design much beyond introducing new elements (such as domes) that eventually became standard.
During the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), a new capital was planned and built far from any existing town or village. The city was called St. Petersburg and its location was determined by royal decree to be on "a lake which is connected to the sea by the Gulf of Finland." This site selection meant that buildings in St. Petersburg would have to be constructed of materials that were both durable and affordable. Stone was available in large quantities, but most structures were made of wood, which is more fragile than stone and costs less per square foot.
As part of his plan to make his new country strong, wealthy, and independent, Peter the Great ordered the construction of forts along Russia's borders to protect it from invasion by neighboring states. These fortifications required a huge amount of labor - many prisoners were used as forced labor - and so they also served as places of punishment for high treason.