Palace of the Soviets – Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Crossing Mongolia and Russia on the Trans-Mongolian train last month we came across a checklist of buildings which were knocked down by Stalin in the 1930s and rebuilt since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Think of all the trouble Joseph could have saved if he’d had them meticulously documented before he destroyed them? One of the most impressive of the recent reconstructions has to be the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, just along the river from the Kremlin in the centre of Moscow.

Palace of the Soviets 271◄ In 1931 the original cathedral, the largest orthodox church in the world, was dynamited. The replacement was to be the Palace of the Soviets (image from Wikipedia), a congress hall for the Soviet government which would then be topped by the world’s tallest skyscraper and in turn by a gigantic statue of Lenin. We also came across quite a few Lenin statues on our train trip.

Boris Iofan was the principle architect responsible for the concept and the original design and there’s an exhibition of his drawings at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London at the moment. Plenty of architect’s around the world thought the whole concept was bloody awful, but construction started in 1937 and ground to a halt when Germany invaded Russia in 1941.

The completed work was disassembled during the war and afterwards construction never recommenced. In 1957 the circular foundations were turned into the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool. I visited Moscow in February 1972, the weather was freezing cold and I can’t claim I saw the pool, but I did see a very large cloud of steam as our bus drove by.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour by Zurab Tsereteli, on the banks of the Moscow River, replaces earlier cathedral of the same name destroyed by Stalin.
▲ Construction of a new version of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour kicked off in 1995, supported by contributions from the public. It reopened in 2000. Tough luck Joseph Stalin.