CHRIST THE SAVIOR
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
The Cathedral is rebuilt now in a rush to show the power of the Mayor of
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