MOSCOW — MOSCOW is undergoing a slow face-lift, designed to bring the gray Russian capital from the drab aesthetics of the Soviet era into the 21st century.
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, the controversial ''czar'' presiding over the transformation, is doing all he can to encourage both Russian and foreign investment -- and leave his own personal mark on the city.
His two widely publicized pet projects, embracing the once taboo concepts of religion and consumerism, include rebuilding the demolished Christ the Saviour Cathedral and constructing an underground shopping complex opposite the Kremlin on Manezh Square.
He has also allowed new shops, discos, and restaurants to decorate the cityscape, alongside Russian Orthodox churches that in some cases are being rebuilt from ruins.
Wealthy investors -- especially banks -- are reconstructing many turn-of-the-century buildings in the city center and turning them into sleek new offices. Last year, Russians and foreigners invested $2 billion, says Leonid Bibin, head of renovation of old buildings in Moscow.
Roughly 7,000 Moscow structures are classified as historical monuments, which means their facades have to remain intact. So crumbling mansions -- once the homes of Moscow's aristocracy and merchant class -- are becoming the scene of high-powered business dealings.
One such monument is the historic National Hotel opposite Red Square. Built in 1903, it went for 90 years without any renovations. In 1987 it closed for remodeling, reopening last month with a largely unchanged exterior -- but with a new business center, health club, and winter garden inside.
''We're not going to fall down in the next 200 years, I'm sure of that,'' jokes Vitaly Bogov, the hotel's head of marketing.