Moscow changes its guard and goes back to the Tsarist model

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The Independent Online

Almost 90 years after it was killed off - along with the Romanov dynasty and the country's last tsar - savvy Moscow tourist chiefs have revived one of imperial Russia's most impressive military spectacles: the changing of the guard.

Almost 90 years after it was killed off - along with the Romanov dynasty and the country's last tsar - savvy Moscow tourist chiefs have revived one of imperial Russia's most impressive military spectacles: the changing of the guard.

A phalanx of infantrymen and cavalrymen gave their first performance last Saturday on the Kremlin's beautiful Cathedral Square.

The ceremony, which includes elaborate co-ordinated horseback movements and an intricate presentation of arms, will be repeated every Saturday at midday from April to September.

It is hoped the half-hour ritual will become as well-known as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

The idea is strongly supported by the government, and is designed to boost the Russian army's prestige, attract more tourists and show Russia has consigned Communism to the past.

In Soviet times, foreign visitors looked on in a mixture of fear and awe as goose-stepping soldiers performed an elaborate change of guard in front of Lenin's tomb on Red Square.

It was known, symbolically, as Post Number One.

But, in keeping with changing political tastes, the Communist shrine is bereft of an honour guard- now at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a Second World War memorial at the foot of a Kremlin wall.

But that is thought to be too low key and members of the Federal Guard Service, the body tasked with protecting Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, were apparently driven to institute the tsarist-style ceremony after a jokey slight from their French counterparts during Queen Elizabeth's visit to Paris last year.

The new ceremony will differ from its Soviet-era equivalent in one important aspect befitting of a country where the dollar is king: it will not be free.

Although a price has yet to be fixed, the Russian media says spectators are likely to be asked to pay 1,000 roubles (£20) for a ticket that would also afford them entry to the Kremlin itself and its churches.

In style and content, the ceremony is a historical fusion rather than a carbon copy of a tradition that was first started by Peter the Great and the real thing would usually have taken place in St Petersburg, the imperial capital, rather than Moscow.

Accompanied by drums and flutes, the infantrymen goose-step across the square with fixed bayonets and flying the Russian tricolour while horsemen circle round in an elaborate display of dressage with sabres drawn.

The uniforms are closely based on those worn by soldiers in the period before 1913, the tricentennial of the Romanov dynasty.

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