Cathedral rises on site of Stalin's Palace site

Steve Crawshaw in Moscow sees Russian history turn full circle with the rebuilding of Christ the Saviour, destroyed in 1931

Many strange things can be seen in Moscow these days. But one of the strangest is a building site on Volkhonka Street, opposite the Pushkin Museum, in the city centre. First, a cathedral stood here. Then half a Stalinist skyscraper. Then a swimming pool. And now, the beginnings of a cathedral again. Architectural life-cycles do not come much odder than that.

An enormous building is rising, day by day. The site is filled with huge cranes. Hundreds of helmeted workers scurry around mixing cement, welding, bricklaying. It looks like the scene in one of those heroic old Stalinist paintings, with titles like Building Socialism. This extraordinary endeavour is, however, a search for the old Russia, not a search for the new. Lenin statues, toppled across Eastern Europe, still stand proudly in Moscow. But the Muscovites have started rebuilding the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - six decades after Stalin's men destroyed it for ever one December day in 1931.

The plans for this site have always been on an epic scale. The cathedral was originally built to commemorate the Russian defeat of Napoleon in 1812. It took half a century to complete, and was eventually consecrated in 1883. Its epic qualities annoyed Stalin, who was in any case an enthusiast of destroying churches. The cathedral was duly blown up - though not without difficulty. The engineers had to be threatened with dire punishment before they finally succeeded in collapsing the building.

Once the cathedral was gone, a giant Palace of the Soviets was to go up in its place. The Kremlin announced an international competition - even Le Corbusier put in a bid. Eventually, however, a home-grown design received Stalin's approval, for this, the biggest building in the world. The statue of Lenin alone, standing on the top of the building, was to be 100m high (his index finger was to be 6m long). The whole building, including Lenin, was to be 415m high - three times as high as the cathedral had been. One hall alone was to hold 15,000 people; the "small" hall could hold a paltry 6,000. Big, bigger, biggest.

But Stalin's dreams, too, were doomed. Building was cut short by the Second World War. Then the site became waterlogged. Further construction was impossible. Change of plan: the site became an outdoor swimming pool, in use all the year round. Emerging through heavy curtains, one could swim in the huge, steaming pool, surrounded by ice and snow. Now the pool too has vanished as everything in Russia goes into reverse.

Around pounds 15m has already been donated for the cathedral to be rebuilt just as it was - at a total cost of pounds 150m or more.

Near the cathedral, few seem to find the project inappropriate, even at a time of such poverty. Natasha Morozova, a concierge, said: "This is not just a cathedral. It's a memorial, to our Russian heroes." In the visitors' book, in the little museum that has opened up beside the building site, the messages declare: "Russia is freeing itself from evil. Good is triumphing!", "We must rebuild churches! We must redeem our sins!" and "Thank you for restoring the pride and glory of the Russian people".

Such sentiments are not confined to older generations. This weekend, several of Russia's most popular rock bands will give their services free at a huge concert to raise funds for the rebuilding of the cathedral. The daily Moskovski Komsomolets noted: "Good actions have always brought people together in Russia."

The rebuilding of Christ the Saviour is, perhaps, the most obviously extraordinary of the projects now under way in Moscow. But it is not the only project which would, presumably, make Lenin turn in his mausoleum.

Traffic in central Moscow now regularly comes to a standstill because of a giant building site in Manege Square, close to the Lenin Museum: just beneath the walls of the Kremlin, a huge shopping mall is being built. This is much less popular than the cathedral among ordinary Muscovites. "If the Americans have malls, then we must have them, too. Isn't that right?" said one bystander in Manege Square, with heavy sarcasm. "If you ask me, it is just ridiculous."

All across Moscow, fancy new foreign-funded projects are popping up, as the Russian phrase has it, like mushrooms after rain.

Meanwhile, not everybody is thrilled about the rebuilding of the cathedral, despite its impeccably Russian credentials. One woman declared: "They shouldn't have knocked it down, that's certain. But there's no point trying to rebuild it now. It won't be the same. It'll just look like an imitation, a fake. What are they thinking of?"

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
i100
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

Mandarin Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you qualified Mandarin Teache...

Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teacher required with Early Years...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?