It was our last full day in Russia and Moscow so we wanted to make the most of it and got up early, had a quick breakfast and then made our way to the Metro station where we took the line to the centre of the city and arrived at Novokuznetskaya which was opened in 1943 and honours the Soviet Armed Forces.
At street level we were unsure exactly where we were so we had to ask for directions several times before we were completely confident that we were walking towards the Moskva River and The Kremlin but we knew we were walking in the right direction when we saw the Peter The Great Statue which commemorates three hundred years of the Russian Navy. I thought it looked good but perhaps a little unfairly this statue has been included in a list of the World’s top ten ugliest statues and no doubt embarrassed by this, in 2010, Moscow offered the statue to Saint-Petersburg – who promptly turned it down!
Our first destination was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour which was first built on this site in the nineteenth century. When Napoleon Bonaparte retreated from Moscow, Emperor Alexander I signed a manifest on 25th December 1812 declaring his intention to build a cathedral in honour of Christ the Saviour “to signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her” and as a memorial to the sacrifices of the Russian people.
As we approached it towered above us and blocked out the sun because with an overall height of one hundred and five metres to the top of its central golden dome it is the tallest Orthodox Church in the world and even though the guide in Saint-Petersburg had previously told us St. Isaac’s was the biggest I was prepared to believe anything now. This isn’t the original building however because after the Revolution and during the dictatorship of Stalin, the prominent site of the cathedral was chosen as the location for a monument to socialism to be constructed which was to be known as the Palace of the Soviets.
On December 5th 1931 on the orders of Stalin the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than a year to clear the debris from the site and some of the marble from the walls and marble benches from the cathedral were used in the construction of nearby Moscow Metro stations.
Approaching the Cathedral now and finding it difficult to understand how it could have been destroyed this was the time to think about Stalin the man, the monster and the visionary who created modern Moscow. It is now generally agreed amongst historians that he was responsible for the deaths of at least twenty-million people, perhaps as many as fifty-million depending on the calculation criteria or almost twice as many as Adolf Hitler.
During World-War-Two he encouraged tactics which led to the deaths of about eight-million of his own soldiers. Additionally about three-million German, Hungarian, Romanian, and Finnish troops were killed by the Red Army. Stalin’s policies meant no mercy to prisoners, and huge numbers died after being taken captive during the war. Following the war Stalin instigated a policy of terror on the German people. This led to about two-million German civilians being murdered outright and thousands more committing suicide. Stalin enforced brutal police states on all the peoples of Eastern Europe which he overran with his armies. Tens of thousands died in these takeovers. German prisoners were kept in horrible conditions for as long as ten years after the war, leading to the deaths of at least another million.
In Russia Stalin caused the deaths of people of certain races and nationalities -Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, etc. people of certain economic status such as the wealthy farm owners called “kulaks” by relocating them to the gulags or concentration camps in Siberia where they died of malnutrition, overwork and exposure. He murdered political opponents, actual and suspected, in the thousands usually by a single gunshot to the back of the head. He forced the repatriation of all Russian soldiers taken prisoner during World-War-Two and treated them as virtual traitors, sending many of them to the gulags.
I think it is probably safe to say that he was not a pleasant man!
But he was also a man of vision who planned to make Moscow a modern twentieth-century city to rival anything in the USA, especially New York. The Palace of the Soviets was conceived as a Communist Party administrative centre and congress hall and when built was intended to be the tallest building in the World, which would rise in modernistic buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin perched on top of a dome with his arm raised triumphantly in the air. This all proved a bit too ambitious however and construction was interrupted due to lack of funds, problems with flooding from the nearby Moskva River, and the outbreak of war. The flooded foundation hole remained on the site until in 1958, under Nikita Khrushchev, it was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool, named, not very originally, Moskva Pool.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt to its original design in 1995–2000 and after walking around the exterior we prepared to go inside.