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?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015