Micha Jelisavcic
John Sloan

In 1839, Nicholas I laid the cornerstone of the new Cathedral of Christ the Savior. He chose the location himself, about a quarter of a mile up the river Moskva from the Kremlin, where the Alexeyevskii Convent stood until then. (see photo) The Cathedral was built in the form of a Greek cross, was about 330 feet high, and covered an area of over 73,000 square feet. The five traditional cupolas decorated the top; the central one was 98 feet in diameter. A large staircase of granite descended towards the Moskva river, where a special pool was built for celebrating the Epiphany. Inside, four gigantic columns supported the roof structure and the cupolas. Nicholas and Thon mobilized the best Russian artists to decorate the Cathedral, but the subjects were chosen by the Moscow Metropolitan Filaret, the famous preacher and authority in religious matters, also remembered as a reactionary. It was Filaret whom Alexander II picked to draw up the final text of the manifesto of 1861 that emancipated the serfs. Part of the outside walls were decorated with 48 high-reliefs, sculptured by Ramazonov, Loghinovskii and Klodtpjugensburg, while Count Fedor Petrovich Tolstoy made the twelve impressive bronze doors, each with a bas-relief of a saint. The inside walls were covered with labradorite, porphyry and marble brought from Italy. Most of the known Russian contemporary painters, such as Markov, Vereshchaghin, Makovskii, Sedov, Shamshin, Semiradskii, Kosheliev, Bruni, Sorokin, Neff, Prianishnikov and others took part in the decoration of the altar, iconostasis, cupolas, columns, chapels and the galleries. All this was quite impressive, particularly the size of the Cathedral, but as a whole it was not of much artistic or aesthetic quality. It was for this reason that defenders of the Cathedral often measure its value in terms of the money spent for its construction. Obviously Thon's conception of architecture was superficial. He was unable to escape western influence and he failed to create an architectural monument that should bring back traditional Russian forms. He lacked a feeling for proportion and the picturesque, so often found in ancient Russian architecture, and his imitations were not neat.
The construction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior dragged on a long time. It was dedicated in 1883 in the presence only of Alexander III and of very few veterans who, seventy years before, took part in the war against Napoleon. The Cathedral survived for less time than it had taken to build it. After the revolution its site was chosen by the Bolshevik rulers for their Palace of the Soviets, and the Cathedral was demolished.
In quest of grandeur, top Soviet architects were mobilized to build the highest and the biggest edifice in the world, to make any member of any communist party proud. The palace was supposed to be over 1,200 feet high, and strong enough to support, on its roof a 300 foot tall standing figure of Lenin that should be visible miles from Moscow. Ground work was begun in the thirties, but after thousands of tons of concrete and steel had been poured for the foundation, the whole structure started to slide towards the river Moskva. Hundreds of enormous pillars were driven into the ground and many more thousands of tons of construction material used to prevent the sliding. British and German specialists were invited for consultation, but there was mo way to stop the sliding and the entire project had to be abandoned. Believers saw in this God's punishment for destroying his house and intending to replace it with an atheistic palace. They were even more convinced in their beliefs when the sliding completely stopped the moment the construction was discontinued. To recoup some of their lossess, the Soviet government decided to use the foundation of the unsuccessful palace for building a swimming pool, the Moscow Lido, said to be the largest in Europe. For years the largest heated outdoor pool in the world was an attraction for many domestic and foreign tourists visiting Moscow.
The Cathedral is rebuilt now in a rush to show the power of the Mayor of Moscow.

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