The Embassy of the Russian Federation is rightfully considered to be one of the biggest and the most beautiful in Washington D.C. area. “Mount Alto” on Wisconsin Avenue, where the Embassy complex is situated, was leased to the Soviet government for 85 years on the basis of the agreement between the USSR and the U.S., concluded in 1969. Under the agreement of 1972 the same territory in Moscow was leased to the U.S. for a new Embassy on the same conditions. The second agreement also stated that both sides should start using their new buildings simultaneously.
“Mount Alto” is the third tallest hill in Washington (107 meters above the sea level) with a view of the Capitol, the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. Earlier, Veteran’s Hospital occupied this place.
The complex of the Embassy was designed by a well-known Soviet architect Michael Posokhin, who designed the State Kremlin Palace and a number of other monumental constructions in the Russian capital. The residential building, the school, the kindergarten and sports grounds were all complete in 1979. Administrative and ceremonial buildings were finished in 1985. The total cost of construction exceeded 62 million dollars.
In September 1994, during his visit to the U.S. the Russian President Boris Yeltsin together with the U.S. President Bill Clinton inaugurated the new ceremonial building of the Russian Embassy (its total area is over 6 thousand square meters).
The premises are used for protocol events, receptions, conferences and press conferences, seminars, concerts and working meetings. All basic materials used in the construction of the building have Russian origin. Only some furniture and lighting fixtures are made by foreign craftsmen. White Russian marble, which prevails in the finishing, is accentuated by the dark Italian and Greek types, which imparts special solemnity to the building.
In the lobby visitors can have a look at the list of the ambassadors of the Russian Empire to the U.S. from 1807 to 1917, and the portraits of the Soviet and Russian ambassadors to the U.S. from 1933 to 2008. To the right there are portraits of the President of the Russian Federation and Prime-Minister.
Two small rooms on the first floor are used for day-to-day meetings of diplomats. The Northern hall pays tribute to the history and the cultural heritage of Belarus. The basic decorative element of the room is the gobelin by V. Tkachev (1988), which depicts a girl in the national costume holding bread and salt – the symbol of the hospitality of the Slavic peoples. The interior is organically supplemented with the graphics which show the variety and the beauty of the landscapes in Russia and Belarus.
More spacious adjacent Southern hall is dedicated to Ukraine. Therefore yellow and blue colors are dominant there. There are gobelins – images of fairy tales characters of Russia and Ukraine on the wall.
The corridor leading to the lobby is decorated with the work of the artist Dmitry V. Merinov (1896-1971) – one of the founders of the Russian avant-garde, who emigrated to France in 1920, and later – to the U.S.
Splendid marble stair leads to the second floor – into the most beautiful and elegant part of the building. The upstairs lobby is decorated with three artistic panels by the honored Russian artist Sergey Aleksandrov (2005). The central panel titled “The symbols of the Russian State” unites four main elements, linked in the mind of every Russian with Motherland: the state emblem, the national flag, and the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation – Senate Palace of the Moscow Kremlin and Spasskaya tower.
The side elements of the triptych showcase the evolution of Russian orders and banners – from the earliest pieces (the banner of the Kulikovo battle, 1380) to the contemporary standards of the Russian President and Defense Minister.
The panel “Orders and medals of Russia” illustrates the development of Russian state decorations – from the oldest order of Andrey Pervozvanny (Andrew the First Called) instituted by Peter the Great in 1699 and restored in 1998 by President’s Decree, to the modern Russian decorations (the order “For services to the Fatherland,” the order “For distinguished military service,” the order of Honor and others).
The big ballroom also known as “The golden hall” logically occupies the central place in the architectural ensemble. It is used for big receptions and concerts. Two lateral walls are covered with the enamel painting, made in mid eighties by a group of artists headed by a well-known Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli.
The composition on the left wall includes the images of the ancient Russian cities, many of which are located on the “Golden ring” tourist route. On the opposite wall there are contemporary images of the 15 capitals of the former Soviet republics. Moscow occupies central place on both panels.
The perimeter of the ceiling is adorned with the emblems of different subjects of the Russian Federation. The personified images of four different professions – a worker, a peasant, an artist, and a cosmonaut echo Soviet traditions in art. It is remarkable, that Moscow and St.Petersburg are located on the opposite sides of the ceiling. This symbolizes centuries-long rivalry between the historical and the “northern” capital.
Bohemian crystal used in the chandeliers and the numerous wall fixtures, imparts luxury and sublimity to the hall. The artistic ensemble is supplemented by the parquet floor with incrustations of different types of wood.
In the far right corner there is one of the most valuable exhibits of the Embassy – a gilded icon, the image of Our Lady of Kazan, donated to the Embassy by His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexis II.
Four smaller adjacent rooms are used for receptions as well. All together they may host up to 2000 guests simultaneously.
The Petrovskiy (Blue) hall is dedicated to the best-known Russian emperor Peter I. One of accomplishments consists in the creation of the Russian fleet, and the turquoise color is meant to symbolically invoke the image of the sea water in the upholstery. It is remarkable, that the blue color is repeated in the carpets and the elements of the chandeliers as well, which gives stylistic integrity to the whole room.
The portrait of Peter, placed in the center of the wall facing the entrance, is a replica of an engraving by a Dutch artist Jakob Houbraken (1718), who copied the drawing by a German artist Carl Moore (1717). The reproduction was donated to the Embassy by the Russian-speaking compatriots, currently residing in the U.S.
The Red hall, which is next to the Petrovskiy hall, is an ideal place for cozy tea and coffee parties, as well as lunches and small receptions. The pictures by the Soviet and contemporary Russian artists are the main point of interest here. The work by Boris Yakovlev “Moscow, 1933” is a remarkable part of the decoration. On the canvass one can see the destroyed section of the Moscow river bank, where the rebuilt Cathedral Christ the Savior is located at present.
The Fireplace hall is an imposing and at the same time comfortable place, which is used for talks, seated receptions and small press conferences. The polished table made of the Russian carved oak with incrustations of Karelian birch, is repeatedly used during important bilateral events involving the signing of documents. The President of Russia and the U.S. Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton were sitting at this very table during the summit of September 1994 (the table was moved to the Golden hall then).
Apart from a refined fireplace, which is a replica of a traditional fireplace of the early 18th century, room has two paintings by a Russian artist Valery Lashin “Moscow in the evening – 1” and “Moscow in the evening – 2” (1999). On the walls there are two large gobelins from Ivanovo facing each other. They are put strategically on the opposing walls to emphasize the contrast between a more aristocratic European Russia (the Summer Garden in St.Petersburg) and ancient Russia lands (the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl River in the Vladimir region).
The Conference hall of the Embassy is equipped with contemporary video and audio devices for simultaneous translation. Its capacity is 150 seats, and it is regularly used for conferences, seminars, and meetings with students.
The Palekh (Green) hall pays tribute to the centuries-old traditions of the Russian crafts. The paintings were made with the use of egg tempera and gold in 1999 by the laureates of the State Prize of Russia, the artists from the “Paleshane” workshop (B.Kukuliev, S.Adeyanov and V.Bushkov). The subjects are derived from Russian legend and fairy tales. The shaded interior of the room is accentuated by the white concert piano “Moskva”, which remembers many well-known Russian and American pianists, including Van Cliburn.
The Yellow hall has several exhibits on display – the works of the Russian-speaking U.S. sculptor Peter Shapiro. One of the most known works represented here – is the portrait of academician Andrei Sakharov (1989). Other exhibits include smaller copies of the original busts of Dmitri Shostakovic (1973), Ludwig van Beethoven (1960), and also the portrait of the sculptor’s wife (1994). The author called this work “The Golden Autumn”. The theme of the autumn is emphasized by the yellow tones of the room. Similar to the Petrovskiy hall, the prevailing color (yellow this time) is present in the carpets and chandeliers.
The embassy is always open to receiving guests. In addition to the protocol events, regular tours are held for organized groups to the Ceremonial Building of the Russian Embassy. High ranking American officials, foreign diplomats and ordinary visitors are very often fascinated by the beauty and grandeur of the Ceremonial Building of the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
You can see more pictures of the Ceremonial Building in the Gallery Section of the website.