Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I had another rather startling insight on this trip:

Red Square is not red, and it isn't square.

However, there are three red buildings on one end of Red Square:
State Historical Museum, constructed in 1881
We never could figure out what this building is.  If you know, comment on this post!
Voskresensky (Resurrection) Gate, the main gate at one end through which visitors can enter Red Square.  It looks like it is straight out of a fairy tale, doesn't it?

And of course one side of Red Square is bordered by the RED Kremlin Wall:

But hey, the Russians say that all of these red buildings have nothing to do with this being "Red" Square, nor does "Red Square" refer in any way to communism.  Apparently the Russian word for "red" also means "beautiful."  While I have to question that the color red has no significance here, I can't argue that this is a very beautiful place.

As for its shape, rather than being square, Red Square is a very long rectangle.  Like me, you may have associated it with military parades, and it would be good for that (and was used for that).  It's really a very, very wide street.
View of Red Square from the end opposite the State Historical Museum and Resurrection Gate
Like the Kremlin, Red Square was absolutely NOT what we expected.  (How many times have I said that about Moscow so far?)  It is graceful and elegantly beautiful and decidedly non-military.

As mentioned previously, one long side of Red Square is bordered by part of the wall encircling the Kremlin complex. Another side is a huge, fancy, very expensive shopping mall known as the GUM Department Store
In front of GUM

GUM interior.  (Photo by fellow traveler Scott Zimmerman)

The week we were in Moscow, a stage was being set up in Red Square for a massive production in honor of Russia Day (which is what Russians consider their Independence Day), commemorating 20 years since the first free election.  By the way, that seems like a pretty significant anniversary, don't you think?  Did we hear anything about it in the US?

Rehearsal.  The production included 20,000 children and Russia's most popular pop stars.
I would have liked to see the square without all this stage material in it, but it was interesting to think of such a large, happy gathering in a place I have always associated with war.

There is one piece of communism still very present in Red Square: Vladimir Lenin.  Yes, he is still there, his body still on display in his own dark, creepy mausoleum:
Of all the places we visited in Russia, Lenin's Tomb was by far the most tightly controlled.  We queued up first thing in the morning about a half hour before the doors opened.  We couldn't take anything inside with us, so our tour guide gathered all of our bags, cameras, etc. and returned them to us after we exited the mausoleum.  The line wound past some outdoor crypts, including that of Yuri Gagarin, the world's first man in space and a huge national hero, and that of Josef Stalin, who used to lie in state next to Lenin but was moved to his crypt in 1961 as part of Khruschev's de-Stalinization program. At the door, visitors were checked over by armed guards.  Photography inside was strictly forbidden, as was talking.  Men had to remove their hats.  Bob was bothered by what he felt was reverence for this despot, but I felt it all added to the sense of evil I associate with Lenin.  To help preserve the body, the room is rather dimly lit.  Lenin himself is lying in a glass enclosure.  His body is small and unremarkable.  There are plenty of pictures of him on the Internet (I myself would never have had the courage to try to sneak a photo, even in the "new and improved" Russia), and if you are interested, take a look here. There has been a lot of controversy over this monument, and many are calling for Lenin to be buried in St. Petersburg next to his mother, which is what he wanted.  Yeltsin was ready to do that, but then Putin came to power and refused, saying it would undermine the 70 years of "Russian values" represented by Lenin.  Go figure.  In any case, it is getting increasingly difficult to preserve the body (he died in 1924), if in fact that IS his body. Supposedly they have a hard time controlling the mold on his skin.  (They actually change his clothes periodically.  Now that would be a creepy job.)  Biology + public sentiment may force Lenin to finally be buried.

In contrast to that dark and dreary tomb are the two churches in Red Square.  The first is Kazan Cathedral:
The shapes and layers and colors are fantastic.  It looks a lot like a very fancy cake.  I love the Russian Orthodox cross, seen here.  It has two extra horizontal bars, one on top representing the plaque on Christ's cross that read "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," and one on bottom (often slanted rather than straight as it is here) representing the balance of justice.

The original Kazan Cathedral was erected in 1630 to commemorate the city's triumph over Polish aggressors.  However, in 1936 Stalin decided that Red Square would make an excellent military parade ground, and he ordered all churches removed.  The Russian architect Pyotr Baranovsky was able to save just one church in Red Square, and it wasn't this one, which was demolished.  However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Kazan Cathedral was the first church to be completely rebuilt.  Meticulous measurements and photographs taken by Baranovsky (Did he foresee its reconstruction?) were used, and the building was completed in 1993.  This church illustrates one thing that really stood out for me on this trip: how fast things changed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The single church Baranovsky was able to save was the iconic St. Basil's Cathedral, perhaps as closely identified with Moscow as the Eiffel Tower is with Paris or the Statue of Liberty is with New York City:

 Next: More about St. Basil's


  1. Ah, St. Basil's, one of my other favorite churches. It is easy to imagine military reviews next to Lenin's tomb, but not next to GUM Department store or St. Basil's. I'm grateful for the reformed Russia.

  2. Stunningly beautiful buildings. I absolutely love the elaborate use of color.

    That Lenin burial information is creepy stuff.