On December 5, 1931, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, one of Moscow major spiritual strongholds, erected to hail the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812, was demolished per Stalin’s order. The location, one of the most picturesque in Moscow, was allocated to a new, Communist stronghold – the Palace of Soviets – a 415-meter-tall building with Lenin’s statue on top - a project destined never to be realized.
Originally, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was meant to commemorate “unparalleled diligence, loyalty, as well as love and faith for the country, which was displayed by the Russian people in the time of trouble,” as was stated in a proclamation by Emperor Alexander I. Already under Emperor Nicholas I, the construction of the Cathedral started in 1839 and finished in 1881 - over 40 years of hard work until completion. The Cathedral was built solely on the donations made by the Russian people, from wealthy merchants to poor peasants.
For the Soviet authorities, the existence of such a religious symbol was an outrage, and the fate of the Cathedral was officially sealed on June 2, 1931 by Stalin’s personal decree, as he approved the demolition and further construction of the Palace of Soviets. This decision was dictated purely by ideology, and, like many of the decisions made in compliance with ideology, it demanded the sacrifice not only of a valuable architectural piece, but a historical monument marking an important feat of the Russian people.
Ordered to complete the dismantling in the shortest time possible, workers didn’t focus much on preserving pieces of art with which the Cathedral was adorned, both inside and out. As a result of such negligence, a lot of valuables were either stolen or lost.
To destroy the church, entire battalions were summoned, yet neither sledgehammers nor crowbars or chisels could overpower the strength of the walls, which were made out of huge sandstone blocks instead of concrete, and bound with melted lead. The entire month of November was wasted on fruitless efforts – the walls would not surrender. Then Stalin, outraged by the helplessness of the demolition crew, ordered the church be blown up, despite its location in the historical center of Moscow.
On December 5, at noon, the first explosion was detonated, only tearing down one of the Cathedral’s towers. The entire building only collapsed after the third explosion; the whole operation only lasting 45 minutes. Marble from the Cathedral was used to lay several Metro stations in Moscow, while parts of the memorial board featuring names of the heroes of the Napoleonic war were crushed and used to lay pavements in Moscow parks.
Project of Palace of Soviet
The explosion was filmed, but the newsreel was immediately classified and only revealed under Mikhail Gorbachev, instantly becoming sensational. Many of the Muscovites who witnessed the heinous act recalled that, despite the violent media campaign against the so-called “religious tumor on the body of the capital”, all of them saw the destruction of the Cathedral as a true disaster.
The opening of the Palace of Soviet was scheduled for 1933, but construction was halted due to the prolonged mop-up of the rubble from the demolished Cathedral: it lasted a year and a half instead of the planned two months. Construction began as late as 1937, and by the time World War II started in 1941, only the basement was fully finished. Besides this, all of the raw materials that had been in store for the unprecedented scale of the construction were later used for military needs: the iron went to make anti-tank hedgehogs for the battle of Moscow; the steel was used
Open air swimming pool «Moscow»
to build bridges and railroads to supply coal to the central parts of the country. After WWII was over, the project of the Palace of Soviets lingered for a while, but eventually the general shift of values after the war rendered the project redundant.
For many years, a huge pit gaped in one of Moscow’s best locations until a huge open swimming pool was opened in 1960 per the order of Nikita Khrushchev, and stayed there till 1994. The biggest incongruity in the entire Moscow architecture, not only was it an architectural outrage and a blemish on the face of the capital, but it also negatively affected the nearby historical buildings and paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts located in its vicinity.
After the collapse of Communism, the ideas about reconstruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior were voiced more and more often, becoming reality in 2000, when the All-Russia Patriarch consecrated the newly-built version of the Cathedral and opened it to congregation.