Just as a mix of Native Americans, early European explorers and eventually settlers from Spain, England and France, shaped the United States, Russia shares a similar history in that people groups from all over the supercontinent of Eurasia found their way to this region [source: Crozier].
Slavic tribes, nomads that made their territory the eastern part of the country near what would eventually become Poland, are some of the first permanent settlers in the area [source: Britannica]. Though the Slavs were never permanently forced from this land, they were often overtaken by invading groups that included the Khazars and Scandinavian Vikings [source: Britannica].
In the 13th century Russia was in the hands of the Mongols, a powerful invading force that significantly altered the country's history. And even though this "Golden Horde" was eventually defeated, they never fully disappeared and managed to maintain a presence in Russia for nearly a century [Source: Crozier].
From these early and violent origins, a fantastically diverse Russia was born. But the loss of the Russian Empire in World War I, the rise to power of Joseph Stalin and his harsh authority stunted the cultural development of the country until 1991 when communism lost its hold and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was dissolved.
While the collapse of the Soviet Union created hardships including the loss of some basic social services, it also gave birth to an environment of cultural freedom that didn't exist before. But for all of its struggles, Russia has some of the most colorful ways to express itself. Its iconic, onion-domed architecture and Soviet Realistic artwork, which the oppressive Communist party championed because it felt art belonged to the people and should focus on education and inspiration, are just a couple of examples.
Culture and education are two additional areas in which Russia has left an indelible impression. Catherine the Great first introduced ballet in an effort to emphasize culture and education, and this art form blossomed with the influences of Italian and French dance companies in the 19th and 20th centuries [source: Hosking]. Today Russian ballet is considered among the purest expression of the art. And Russia's emphasis on science and education date all the way back to Peter the Great, who instituted reforms that focused on higher education in order to carry out his vision for modernization [Source: Hosking].
Such an interesting culture must have something to offer in the kitchen, right? Check out the next section and learn about some traditional Russian cuisine.