On February 23, 1958, the memorial complex dedicated to the USSR’s victory in the Second World War was founded on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow.
Poklonnaya Hill, first mentioned in 16th century documents, played a noticeable part in Russian history. In 1812, Napoleon stood there waiting for the keys to Moscow, but his expectations were in vain. The name “Poklonnaya” literally means “a place to bow”. Possibly, the hill got such a name because travelers and ambassadors on their way in or out of Moscow bowed to the city from its top to show their respect.
The memorial complex project was developed in 1945, but then there was no opportunity to build it. The Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, had just ended, and the USSR had no resources for such an enormous construction project.
On February 23, 1958, a memorial sign with an inscription saying “Here, the monument for the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War 1941 – 1945 will be constructed” was placed on Poklonnaya Hill, and Victory Park was laid out around the sign. The actual construction of the site began only in 1983, and it took a decade to finish it. The complex opened only on May 9, 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the victory over the Nazi Germany.
The oldest building of the complex is the Great Patriotic War Museum. The architect Anatoly Polyansky built it in 1986. The museum’s collection of items relating to the war – weapons, orders, and medals, along with soldiers’ personal belongings such as letters – numbers around 50,000. The red banner planted by two Soviet soldiers on the roof of the Reichstag in Berlin on May 1, 1945, is among them. One of the strongest impressions, however, is produced by The Books of Memory – a collection of 385 volumes with all the names of the fallen listed in them. In the park around the exhibition hall there is an open-air exhibition of war-time tanks, armored vehicles and cannons open all year round and free of charge.
The centerpiece of the entire ensemble is a 141.8 meters (about 462.2 feet) high obelisk created by Zurab Tsereteli. The height is symbolic – the Soviet Union was fighting fascism for 1,418 days. Among other notable structures on the hill are an Orthodox church, a Mosque and a Synagogue which is also the biggest museum of Jewish history in Russia.
Nowadays celebrations of major Russian war-related anniversaries are held here. On May 9, WWII veterans gather there to celebrate Victory Day and to remember the war. People of the city greet them, handing them flowers to thank them for the victory. Victory Park is one of the most popular parks in Moscow. In summer, people enjoy picnicking and riding bicycles there, and in winter, many skiers appear. In addition, an exhibition of ice sculptures usually takes place in the park.