Red Square: The Heart of Russia
The monument to Marshal Zhukov
Welcome to the heart of Moscow – where every square kilometer is precious because it's full of history. You're facing a tall, red building with statue of a man riding a horse in front of it. This is Manege Square. It has been filled with public shops and taverns since it was formed in 1798. It's even been nicknamed "Moscow's belly".
My name is Ekaterina and I will be your guide. If you only had one hour in Moscow to explore the history of Russia, the best thing to do is come here. This is going to be a truly exciting journey through time!
Before we go, have a look at the statue in front of you. That's the monument to Marshal Georgy Zhukov. He was one of the most famous commanders in the history of the Soviet Union. He was glorified as "The Marshall of Victory".
Under his command, The Red Army defeated the Nazi enemy. Here Zhukov is depicted at the height of his glory — he's supposed to be reviewing the Victory Parade of June 24, 1945. His horse is standing on the Nazi Eagle. This monument was originally set up here in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.
Since then the perception of the monument remains controversial, as the Marshall's horse doesn't look proportional. Apparently, the Soviet commander was an unusually tall guy, so it was quite a challenge to find him a good horse. The one he was riding at the parade was picked from hundreds of other horses that were prepared for the event. The sculptor tried to make the horse's body fit with the real size body figure of Zhukov. That might be why its body is so long and one of the legs is a bit fatter than the others.
Let's walk to the left now, to go between the two large, red-coloured buildings. The one on the right is the State Historical Museum. I'll tell you more about it in a bit.
I'll explain how VoiceMap works as we walk. It uses your location to play commentary automatically, so you can just put your phone away and focus on your surroundings. I'll give you directions to keep you on track. There might be a bit of silence now and again, but you can just keep walking and my voice will kick in at each location.
Now, stop and look down at the ground. The bronze plaque on the pathway is "Kilometer Zero". It's often invisible under all the shoes treading over it.
It's symbolic and world-known despite its unimpressive size. It marks the point where, traditionally, all distance measurements in Russia began. A sign in Russian says "Zero Kilometer Road of the Russian Federation".
It's also a good place to make wishes... so take your time here! You can also throw a coin in its centre. But let me warn you, it might be picked up by somebody in a second! When you ready, walk through the archways ahead.
The State Historical Museum
Let's walk through the archways to enter the red square. In 1872, an all-Russian interdisciplinary exhibition of science, education and technology was held in Moscow. Why am I telling you about it now? Because it was the reason that Moscow's world-famous State Historical Museum, the big, red building on your right, was founded.
The exhibition consisted of 25 departments as well as a number of private expositions, and a special theatre was built for the occasion. The event was grandiose, to say the least.
The museum itself is enormous too. There are millions of items, symbolising centuries of Russian history.
The Kazan Cathedral
Let's stop here for again. There's a church on your left. It's a cube-topped building with a cluster of domes surrounded by a gallery. On the left, you'll see a bell-tower and on the right, there's a chapel. This is the Kazan Cathedral.
The current building only appeared here in 1993. It's a reconstruction of the original old church, which was built here in the beginning of the seventeenth century. It was destroyed under the command of the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Joseph Stalin, in 1936. He wanted to clear the square to use the entire area for large-scale military parades.
Before the reconstruction of the church was started after the fall of the Soviet Union, offices for the Communist International were erected here in a temporary building.
Now it looks the same as it did four hundred years ago. There is a copy of the legendary icon of that time — the Kazan Virgin — treasured inside.
Let's continue walking straight on towards the colourful St. Basil's Cathedral on the big, open square now. We're going to walk alongside the long, beige building on the left side of the square.
Keep going straight past GUM
Let's continue walking straight alongside the long, beige building on your left. I'll tell you more about it as we walk. That's The Gum Department Store. Its main distinctive features are the prices, I would say. It stocks mostly luxury goods and brands, and it is considered to be the toniest store in the city since the seventies. It's not only a luxury shopping centre -- inside, there is a small park with its own beautiful alleys, a fountain and fashionable Bosco Café on the second floor.
It's also a dignified follower of the Russian merchant traditions. The store used to be known as The Upper Trading Rows, and it played a great role in the city centres trade economy.
During Soviet times, the store was nationalised. In 1953, after it re-opened as a department store, it attracted long queues of shoppers. It was one of the few stores in the Soviet Union that didn’t run out of consumer goods. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it was first partly and then fully privatised.
Some people come to the square just to have lunch. Exhibitions, festivals, balls and shows are often held here. At the end of our tour, it might be worth taking a walk inside the complex. Let's keep walking straight now.
To Lenin's Mausoleum
Take a look to your right. In the middle of the long red wall on the other side of the square is a little tower. That's where Lenin's mausoleum is. Let's cross the square to walk towards it.
As you probably know, Vladimir Lenin was a Russian revolutionary. Under his command, the Russian Empire was dissolved and replaced by the Soviet Union.
In the Soviet Union's history his figure remained controversial but important. After Lenin's death, his body became a relic of the socialist religion. His body is 145 years old now. You may wonder why I'm talking about its age, right? I'll tell you more when we get to the mausoleum.
At the Mausoleum
This is the mausoleum where Lenin's body is on display, right here in the heart of Moscow.
Let's stop for a bit.
As you may know, the tradition of mummifying bodies was common in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians believed that if the body decayed, so did the soul. So it had to be preserved.
The idea of mummification in the Soviet Union was different. Not only was the body of Lenin preserved, but so was the cult of the socialist movement. The Soviet leaders loved this idea. Although in the beginning, when Lenin died, they opposed the idea of preserving his body beyond a temporary period of public display.
But for two months, the crowds kept coming to the first wooden mausoleum to pay their respects, even during the night. Back then, the cold Russian winter helped to maintain the body of Lenin. Seven years later a whole scientific team — the so-called "Lenin Lab" — was responsible for preserving it. And it still exists. Anatomists, biochemists and surgeons are part of the team. You might be surprised, but the body is not technically mummified any more. This is because some parts of its skin are substituted by plastic, but that's hardly visible. The body is 145 years old already, so it's inevitable that some parts would have to be patched up.
The mausoleum is open 5 days a week from Tuesday to Thursday and on Saturdays and Sundays. It opens at 10 am, and closes at 1 pm. If you're lucky enough to be here at the right time, you can go inside now to have a look at the body.
But first, let me tell you where to meet me. Look to your left. Can you see the clock tower? When you're ready, go towards it and I'll see you there, just near the pedestrian crossing.
Turn right to Lobnoye Mesto
Okay, welcome back! Now, look to your left, across the square, and you should see a round stone platform. It's about 18 feet, or 5 metres, high. Head straight to it.
That’s the Lobnoye Mesto. Loosely translated its name means "The Place of Skulls" – an expression to describe a place for punishment. It’s a common misconception that the platform was used for public executions, but this is not completely true. I'll tell you more when you get to it.
The Lobnoye Mesto
Let's stop here for a moment to have a look at the Lobnoye Mesto. I'll tell you a bit more about what used to happen here.
The Lobnoye Mesto was mainly used for the tsar's announcements. Special criers came here to read them out loudly in front of the public. Some people were executed here, but that was rare. Public executions generally happened nearby at Vasilevsky Spusk behind St. Basil's Cathedral.
It was custom to present heirs to the throne to the people here on their fourteenth birthdays. And on religious holidays, the entire red square turned into an open-air church as the pastor would read from the stone platform while people gathered around it.
Locals were always waiting here for another spectacle to begin – official announcements, religious ceremonies or, quite famously, pleas for grace. In 1547, Ivan the Terrible publicly asked Muscovites for forgiveness after a fire almost destroyed the entire city. The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church insisted it was a punishment for Ivan’s cruel actions.
The platform could be described as the main "bread and circuses" stage, as it was a place for leaders to appeal to the masses.
Now, let's follow the marked pedestrian crossing towards St. Basil’s Cathedral.
The monument to Minin and Pozharsky
You're now in front of the monument to Minin and Pozharsky. Walk through the gate, and stand in front of it while I tell you about it.
It was one of the first monumental sculptures in Russia. The funny thing is that not many Russians remember who these guys really were.
Let's go back in time a bit. In short, the beginning of the seventeenth century could be called: The Time of Troubles. The Polish invasion was an important event back then. Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and the butcher Kuzma Minin were the leaders of the militia that repelled the forces of the Polish Commonwealth. Together they gathered an all-Russian volunteer army.
In the nineteenth century the monument was placed right in the centre of Red Square. It looked like Minin was pointing his hand towards Lenin's mausoleum. So the monument was moved to its current position in 1930.
Behind the monument is the brightly coloured St. Basil's Cathedral. That's our last site on our walk. You can go have acloser look while I tell you about it.
The architects of the cathedral were Barma and Postnik Yakovlev. Nothing is known about them. A world known Russian writer Dostoevskiy wrote that beauty will save the world. But in this place the beauty literally took the lives of its creators. At least many people believe in this legend. It says that the tsar Ivan the Terrible had Barma and Postnik blinded, to make sure they could never create anything to compare.
The cathedral was built in the middle of the sixteenth century. Back then it was all white and its so called onion domes were not colored; they were golden. The building encompasses eight side churches, the ninth is the central one.
You can also see the Spasskaya Tower on your right side. A famous Italian architect Pietro Antonio Solari created it at the end of the fifteenth century. At that time, the gates of the Spasskaya Tower were the main entrance to the Kremlin. They were regarded as holy, and men had to take off their hats when walking through the gates. Foreign ambassadors were greeted here also. A two-headed eagle was placed on top of the Spasskaya Tower first. But later the Soviet government installed there a red star.
Now all the Russians greet a new year here, listening to its legendary clock tune.
If it's open, you should go inside and have a look around.
This is where I will leave you. Thanks for joining me today. If you're up for more activity, you can join me for another VoiceMap walk around the VDNKh Exhibition Centre: The Mysterious Solar City.
I hope you enjoyed the walk! Thank you for joining me.