Discuss the changing fortunes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century in the following periods: before 1917, during the Soviet period, and after 1991. Why is the Russian Orthodox Church one of the most respected institutions in Russia nowadays?National Monumentalization and the
Politics of Scale: The Resurrections of the
Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow
Department of Geography, University of South Carolina
This paper analyzes the link between the changing geographical scale of dominant ideologies in
Russian society and the architectural scales of different versions of the preeminent national monument, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The history of this process of national monumentalization in Russia is profiled by focusing on mutual influences between processes at these two
scales, and the interplay between the state, society, and the Russian Orthodox Church. Within
the context of the new Cathedral, ongoing but nevertheless underestimated pre-Soviet and postSoviet antireligious practices are revealed through an analysis of the politics of scale that shaped
the monument’s meanings at different historical periods. Thus, the paper also attempts to contribute to the understanding of the importance of scale in politicogeographical studies. Key
Words: Russia, Soviet Union, post-Soviet politics, Moscow, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Russian
Orthodox Church, geographical scale, national monuments.
I am sure that no church was closed without God’s
will. . . . Certainly, we feel pity for the Cathedral of
Christ the Savior which was demolished. Yet we
understand that there was something in our Christian life that allowed it to be ruined (f. Alexandr
´ prominent Russian Orthodox priest, in Krotov 1995: 21–22).
visible phenomenon has altered the cityscape of Moscow. In the very heart of
the city, two blocks southwest of the
Kremlin (Figure 1), on a high curved bank of
the Moscow River, a 103-m-high church has
been reconstructed in only a year (Figure 2). Officially opened in September 1997, the Cathedral1
of Christ the Savior (hereafter the Cathedral) two
years later remained only partially accessible to
the public due to continuing interior work, yet
the Cathedral’s immense scale already had established its presence in the cityscape.
As with many preeminent national monuments, scale has always been an essential element of the Cathedral’s story (Table 1). The initial plan, later abandoned, was to create the
world’s largest church to commemorate victory
in the 1812 war with Napoleon. As eventually
constructed over several decades (1831–1881),
the first Cathedral on this site was Russia’s larg-
est church. This building was demolished by the
Bolsheviks in 1931 to clear space for a new monument, the 415-m Palace of the Soviets, but this
structure was never completed, and the foundation pit later became one of the world’s largest
outdoor swimming pools (1960–1993). In recent years, this pit has become, arguably, Russia’s most famous geographical symbol for the
failed Communist endeavor. The new Cathedral has replaced the pit.
This architectural reversion corresponds to
the intended symbolism of the project. The new
Cathedral is publicized as a reversal of the Communist practice of eradicating religion (and traditional national consciousness in general) through
such place-specific actions as the nationalization, closure, demolition, and juridical transfers
of churches (Sidorov 2000). Thus, the reemergent
Cathedral is a powerful symbol of the presumed
break with the Soviet past and the beginning of
yet another epoch for Russian society.
One way to explain the remarkably changing
forms of national monumentalization in this
place is to look at the corresponding spatial and
social changes of the nation. It is an irony of history (and geography) that, coincident with the
Cathedral’s reconstruction, the territorial scale
of the country it used to represent has shrunk
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 90(3), 2000, p. 548–572
© 2000 by Association of American Geographers
Published by Blackwell Publishers, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1JF, UK.
Figure 1. Locations in contemporary Moscow of the areas discussed. Vitberg’s construction site, near modern Moscow
State University: 2; the original Cathedral: 1, and its other proposed sites: 3, 4; The convent of Alexius the Man
of God: 1, 5, 6; open-air swimming pool Moskva: 1; major contemporary cathedral construction projects: 1, 8.
Figure 2. Reconstruction of the Cathedral of Christ
the Savior: A. 1995, B. 1997 (photos by author).
dramatically. The Russian Empire as a cultural
realm finally ceased to exist in 1991, with the
dismantling of its territorial successor, the Soviet Union, and the formation of the independent Russian Federation and other republics. As
will be shown, the Cathedral’s design, especially
its architectural scale, reflects shifts in the scale
of Russian national identity.
The social changes in the nation also affected the project that was to represent it. This
paper treats nation as a three-fold, politicosocio-religious construct. In addition to considerations of the state and society, Russian national identity has been shaped by the Russian
Orthodox Church (hereafter the Church) or,
paradoxically, the rejection of it. For example, it
was a common belief in the prerevolutionary
Russian Empire that the key elements of the
country’s identity were its Orthodox religion, its
autocratic state system, and its distinctively unselfish compliant society. Russia was said to be
“Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality.”2 The ab-
sence of “and” between the last two words was
not accidental: this formula reflected not so
much a set of “ingredients” as their extreme interconnectedness. The key ingredients of Russian national identity were the tsarist state, the
Russian Orthodox Church, and society. To convert to Orthodoxy meant to become Russian. As
the history of the Cathedral attests, the relative
importance of these three entities as well as
their spatialities, were fluctuating. The interplay
between the politically and spatially changing
state, society, and Church can explain the often
peculiar forms and ways of Russian national
This paper has a threefold agenda. First, it examines the evolving process of national monumentalization as a result of conflicting political
interaction and spatial noncorrespondence between the state, society, and Church. Their interplay in each historical period produced the
different forms that the national monument
took. The second goal is to demonstrate, within
the context of the new Cathedral, that the underestimated pre-Soviet and post-Soviet practices
of place manipulation are continuing. Third, by
examining the politics of scale that shaped the
monument’s meanings at different historical periods, including the current phase, the paper
contributes to an understanding of the importance of scale in politico-geographical studies.
Following a conceptual introduction, the
body of the paper is organized chronologically.
The first chronological section describes five
predecessors of the restored Cathedral: the first
unrealized project, the convent of St. Alexius
the Man of God in the area of the later Cathedral (Volkhonka); the Cathedral as originally
built; the unfinished Stalin’s Palace of the Soviets; and the pit/swimming pool left after its
failure. The second examines the current restoration of the Cathedral: the relative roles of society, the Church, and the state, the project’s
scale and funding, public perceptions, and the
meaning of the added underground basement.
The conclusion discusses the role of geographical scale in the project and its implications for
Geographical Study of Religious/
Many analysts have seen the current renaissance of the Russian Orthodox Church, after
years of harsh Communist rule when literally
recovery of the USSR
global communist union
spiritual leadership in
Mayor of Moscow strong position of
Moscow power group
in post-Soviet Russia
Stalin (early) Leader of
Palace of the Soviets 1937–1941
Convent of Alexius
the Man of God
weakened by Soviet
on state support
marginalized; subject to
subject to harsh
department of the State
department of the State
primary political power
Position of the Russian
a major cathedral;
Table 1. Summary of Uses and Historical Context of the Sites of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior
thousands of church buildings were closed,
priests were killed or imprisoned, and the Church
was brought close to extinction (Pospielovsky
1984; Davis 1995), as a sign of long-awaited religious freedom in the country (e.g., Hill 1991).
Indeed, many nationalized churches were returned to believers, religious presses are now
booming, and the denominational landscape is
increasingly diversified. In this view, the restoration of the Cathedral, Russia’s preeminent Orthodox church, is a sign of the final dismantling
of the antireligious Soviet system. At the same
time, the Cathedral is a major national monument, and its reconstruction signifies the beginning of a new epoch in Russian history. This
coupling of secular and Christian dimensions is
very typical of Eastern Orthodoxy. From the very
beginning, the Cathedral had a complicated
double symbolism. It was built as a national war
memorial, yet designed in religious form. The
Russian Orthodox Church throughout its history has had very close ties with the state (e.g.,
Ware 1963): the Communist policies of manipulating religious monuments have roots in earlier tsarist practices.3
Outside Russia, geographers have examined
the meaning of prominent monuments. Harvey
(1979), for example, revealed the symbolism
and politics involved in the construction of the
Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris; Duncan
(1990) studied the politics of landscape in the
Kandyan kingdom; Peet (1996) explained the political significance of Daniel Shay’s Memorial in
Petersham, Massachusetts; Loukaki (1997) contrasted interpretations of the Sacred Rock of the
Acropolis; and Atkinson and Cosgrove (1998)
examined various attempts by the Italian state to
define national identity through the Vittorio
Emanuele II Monument in Rome. These studies
demonstrate that the construction of religious/
national monuments typically involves political
manipulations of their meanings.
The case of the new Cathedral is, however,
unusual in three respects. First, this reconstruction, being a “second take,” self-consciously addresses the politics (i.e., the Soviet ideology) involved in a prominent landscape. At least
superficially, the project is driven by critical and
ethical motivations (to restore justice to the
place). It will be argued here, however, that this
process is only partially successful: not all historical injustices have been addressed, and some
new ones have been added. Second, the Cathedral has been shaped by unusually dramatic so-
ciospatial transformations of the state, society,
and, especially, the Church. The result was that,
in addition to the monument itself, the vacant
space left after its demolition and the process of
reconstruction are equally important for national identity. Third, while most monuments
experience changes at different scales, the story
of the Cathedral is unusually representative of
the fact that scales themselves change, especially
the national scale.
The traditional fixity of scale in human geography has been challenged recently by the socalled constructionist approach to scale advanced
by Herod (1991, 1997), Smith (1992, 1993,
1994), Swyngedouw (1992), Meyer (1992),
Jonas (1994), Leitner (1997), and Delaney and
Leitner (1997). The common ground of this body
of research is the assertion that geographic scale
is socially constructed rather than ontologically
predetermined, and that geographic scales are
themselves implicated in the construction of social, economic, and political processes (Leitner
1997). The traditional understanding of scale as
“neutral,” “objective,” and “fixed” is therefore
challenged (Smith 1992; Agnew 1993; Agnew
and Corbridge 1995), and there is a growing understanding that the concept is period-specific
(Smith and Dennis 1987; Herod 1991) and
political (Taylor 1982; Staeheli 1994). Some
scholars have focused on examples of “jumping
scales,” breaking imposed scales as part of social
movements’ resistance to “scalar territoriality”
(Smith 1992, 1993, 1994; Staeheli 1994; Miller
1994; Adams 1996). Since scale is socially produced, there is politics in its production (Herod
1991: 82), many facets of which are increasingly
attracting the attention of scholars. For example, geographers have addressed the implications
of a scale dissonance between globalized economic processes and the still primarily national
forms of organization of political and social life
(e.g., Cox 1997). Similarly, scholars have become more aware of cultural globalization and
its discontents (e.g., Appadurai 1996), although
the connection between political and cultural
spheres in scalar processes needs more attention.
This paper studies mismatches in the extent
of scales of the state, society, and the Church in
the case of the Cathedral. For instance, the cultural and political domains of the Russian national state had a different territorial extent
(e.g., European, Russian, international, local) in
different historical periods, and the Cathedral’s
evolving design reflects these shifts, despite be-
ing still formally considered as national monument. Initially a monument for the whole Russian Empire, the Cathedral reemerges today as a
local endeavor. The effects of this “localization”
of the national monument would arguably not
be clear without incorporating the construction
of scale into the analysis. Although nominally
the intended scope of ideological influence (“ideological scale”) of the Russian state remained “national,” history shows that its effective borders
have varied dramatically. The changing architectural scale of the “national” monument not
only helps to reveal the significance of variations in ideological scale, it affects processes at
the “national” scale, as has happened, for instance,
in the current phase of the Cathedral’s reconstruction. By focusing on the link between the
architectural scale of a monument and the ideological scale of the state, the following analysis
of the Cathedral as monument also draws attention to themes that have been omitted from the
current debates about geographical scale.
The Original Cathedral
The 1812 Patriotic War and
In the short night of June 12, 1812, troops of
the world’s mightiest power of the time, Napoleon’s Europe, entered the territory of the Russian Empire without a formal proclamation of
war and started a long march in a seemingly irrational direction. They were heading not, as one
would expect, toward the splendid, Europeanized St. Petersburg, the official capital city of the
Empire for the century since Peter the Great.
Their goal, instead, was the old capital, the more
Asiatic, unruly, and traditional city of Moscow.
Napoleon explained his logic the following way:
“If I occupy Kiev, I would embrace Russia’s legs,
if I conquer St. Petersburg, I would grasp its
head, but having taken Moscow I would strike
its very heart” (Kirichenko 1992: 7).
The three-times smaller Russian army, scattered along the extensive western border of the
empire, could not immediately consolidate forces
and engage in a major fight with the invaders, so
it instead allowed them to march into the seemingly endless interior of the country. One month
after the invasion, in a manifesto to the nation,
Tsar Alexander I had to appeal for popular support, although the formation of people’s militias
and guerrilla warfare were nevertheless underway. Still, the boldness of the Tsar’s step cannot
be minimized, for at that time, Russia was
largely a feudal country. A similar bold step was
Army Chief M. Kutuzov’s decision, after the exhaustive battle of Borodino, not to fight further
for Moscow but instead to keep consolidating
the Russian army forces nearby. When in September, 1812, Napoleon entered undefended
Moscow, most of its 270,000 residents had left
the city. The capture of Moscow eventually
turned into a failure for the victorious emperor:
the army, demoralized by sacking, purposelessness, and drinking, was trapped in a desolate city
almost completely surrounded by regular Russian troops and the people’s militia. In addition,
Moscow was devastated by the greatest fire in its
history, perhaps as a result of both guerrilla actions by remaining residents and the invaders’
barbarism. The fire ruined more than two-thirds
of Moscow’s buildings, especially in the city center. A month after entering it, Napoleon had to
leave Moscow, retreating along the only road
not blocked by Russians. In 1813–1814, Russian troops liberated Europe from Napoleon and
All commentators, from the Tsar himself to
Leo Tolstoy in his monumental novel War and
Peace, agreed that the Russian success was
largely a result of popular resistance. The name
of the 1812 campaign, the Patriotic War, is thus
very appropriate. Judging by the scale of general
destruction, the role of civilian heroism, and the
consequences for Russia’s national consciousness, the war could be compared to only one
other milestone period in Russian and European
history, the events following the Nazi invasion
on the night of June 22, 1941, known in the
former Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War.
The first Patriotic War was also perceived as a
holy war. The disaster of 1812 was considered by
many in Russia not accidental. For the deeply religious majority of the country, the invasion was
God’s punishment for Peter the Great’s policy of
westernization in the eighteenth century, and
for the consequent betrayal of national values,
crystallized in Orthodoxy. Accordingly, the
spectacular victory in the war also was largely received as divine salvation. In short, the victory
was associated less with the state than with the
people themselves and their religion. To immortalize both the nation’s “unprecedented zeal, loyalty to and love of the faith and Fatherland” and
“to commemorate Our gratitude for God’s Prov-
idence” (Butorov 1992: 4), on Christmas Day
1813, Tsar Alexander I issued a decree to construct a cathedral-monument to Christ, the Savior of Russia. It is noteworthy that it was to be
erected not in the official capital of the empire,
but rather in Moscow, the traditional Orthodox
core of society. Moscow sacrificed most for the
victory, literally burning itself, and its postwar
reconstruction was a major patriotic effort.
Although the winning project (selected in a
competition in 1816) was never fully realized in
its original form, the architectural competition
was a critical first stage in the creation of this
church-monument (Figure 3). This project was
designed by a young architect of Swedish Lutheran descent, Alexander Vitberg, a deeply religious idealist. Being close to Russian Free Mason circles (which, in the local context, meant
being sympathetic to westernization), Vitberg
intended to interpret the monument beyond
“exclusively the canons of the Greek-Russian
Church . . . since its very dedication to Christ
shows its belonging to all Christianity” (Kirichenko 1992: 29). Vitberg’s understanding of
Christianity was within the philosophical tradition of romanticism. His project emphasized
freedom of personality and people as creators of
history. Vitberg proposed commemorating the
names of every dead soldier, which, in a serfdombased class society, was a revolutionary idea. His
project venerated the individual over the state.
It is also remarkable how little the winning
project’s design and location in the city had to
do with the nation. For instance, the project’s
location on the Vorob’evy Hills, at that time,
the extreme southwest margin of Moscow beyond the river (Figure 1), did not pretend to establish symbolic links with the historical center
of Moscow or with the city as a whole. The location lay, instead, between the two roads Napoleon’s troops used to enter and leave the city
(Kirichenko 1992: 33). Since most Muscovites
were pedestrians and no bridge existed nearby
at that time, the large, distant building would
most likely have been occupied only a few times
a year, as historian N. M. Karamzin and others
feared (Kirichenko 1992: 43).
Architecturally, the project had few distinc-
Figure 3. Architect’s drawing of the proposed cathedral-monument for Victory in the Patriotic War of 1812
(never built). General view from the river, Vorob’evy Hills, 1825. Architect A. Vitberg. Source: Kirichenko
(1992: 28), used by permission.
tive Russian influences, because it combined elements of internationally popular classicism and
romanticism (Figure 3). The architect himself
summarized his ideas on the project: “[f]irst, its
colossal scale should reflect Russia’s grandeur,
second, . . . it must have in character . . . [a]
strictly original architectural style, third, its
parts should reflect the spiritual idea of a living
church—man in body, soul and spirit” (quoted
in Kirichenko 1992: 29). Accordingly, ideas of
the Trinity dominated the project, which consisted of three churches: an underground church
dedicated to Christ’s birth, a ground-level
church to the Transfiguration, and the upper
church to the Resurrection. This Trinitarian
symbolism also was intended to emphasize an
ecumenical, European meaning of the monument; the three main branches of Christianity
would unite here (Sirotkin 1995).
The total projected height of the structure
was 237 m, 170 of them above the ground. Further elevated by the hill on which it was to be
built, this edifice would compete with St. Peter’s
in Rome. In short, the architectural scale of the
project was to signify the spiritual leadership of
Russia in the post-Napoleonic world. At the
same time, it was perhaps the first attempt to
build a national cathedral-monument: through
the added functions of national museum and
monument, the church expressed the new national values of the nineteenth century earlier
than other architectural forms (Kirichenko 1992:
29). Vitberg was fascinated by the breadth of the
idea of the cathedral.
Realization of the project began in 1817 with
a foundation ceremony, which turned into popular festivity. By 1821 the Commission for the Cathedral’s Construction had acquired 11,275 serfs
and started foundation work (Kirichenko 1992:
37). The sudden death of Alexander I in 1825
interrupted construction, which was finally discontinued three years later by the new tsar,
Nicholas I, at least partly due to Vitberg’s amateurish management and consequent financial
corruption. Doubts also existed about the durability of such a large construction on the sloping
terrain. Yet the primary reason for the failure of
Vitberg’s project was a profound ideological shift
personified by the new tsar’s perception that the
cathedral-monument could be meaningful only
if built according to national (traditional Russian) architectural forms (Kirichenko 1992: 38).
This meant that the focus of the Cathedral’s
meaning should be directed to the Russian state
rather than to the European world.
Figure 4. The northern façade of the original Cathedral of Christ the Savior, 1890s. Source: Kirichenko
(1992: 146), used by permission.
The winner of the second design competition,
in 1829, was Konstantin Ton, who stood in direct
opposition to Alexander Vitberg’s amateurism,
idealism, and cosmopolitanism. A pedantic architect, tough manager, and widely experienced
builder, Ton was able to anticipate the new ideological hegemony determining the Cathedral’s
meaning. While Vitberg’s project was influenced
by international Greek and Roman classicism,
Ton’s inspiration came from Byzantium and the
ancient Russian church tradition (Figure 4). Ton
called his style “Byzantine, which has been related since ancient times to elements of our nationality” (Butorov 1992: 11), and these national
architectural forms were to become dominant in
his lifetime. But before we discuss these themes
in some detail, it is important to look at the new
location chosen for the Cathedral.
Locating the Cathedral, and
the Convent of St. Alexius
the Man of God
To stress its link with the state (as well as to
the historical past), the new Cathedral was to be
relocated in the center of the city, near the
Kremlin (Figure 1). Ton suggested sites already
occupied by churches or monasteries, offering
Nicholas I, besides Volkhonka, the place of the
martyr Nikita’s church, on the Moscow River
southeast of the Kremlin, or the monastery of
Holy Week (Strastnoi) on modern Pushkin
Square, northwest along Tverskaia Street (Figure 1) (Kirichenko 1992: 44). Ton’s persistence
in recycling sites already occupied by churches
was probably not a geographical attempt to
stress continuity with the ancient past, but
rather was a response to the fact that the center
of Moscow was already built over. It was also important for him to ensure the perceptual linkage
between the new cathedral and the Kremlin. In
any event, the tsar chose Volkhonka, which required demolition of an important Orthodox
The Convent of St. Alexius the Man of God
was the oldest of Moscow’s convents, founded
around 1360 by the Metropolitan Alexii, initially on the site of an ancient church of Alexius
the Man of God, slightly southwest of Volkhonka.
The Metropolitan (formerly, the title for the
head of the Russian Church) was canonized
after his death and became a divine protector of
both the convent and the city. After a disastrous
fire in 1514, the convent was moved into the
walled “White City” in Moscow’s southwestern
area of Volkhonka, on one of the city’s seven
The convent’s demolition to clear space for
the Cathedral provides an example of preSoviet manipulation of sacred places. Despite
the historical significance of its location, the
convent was moved to Krasnoe Selo on the opposite, northeast edge of the city in 1837.4 The
removal of the convent entailed sacrifice of
some of its place-attached religiogeographical
meanings. The convent’s main Cathedral of the
Transfiguration, built in 1634 by the first Romanov tsar, Mikhail Fedorovich, with its threehipped roof design (Figure 5), was a rare and
prominent monument of Russian seventeenthcentury church architecture.5 The destruction
of this and other convent buildings to clear a
place for a new state monument injured public
consciousness. According to persistent legend,
the senior nun, offended by the demolition, pronounced a curse that nothing would stay firmly
at this place. Soon thereafter, a worker who was
removing the convent church’s crosses fell and
died in front of a large crowd of onlookers (Butorov 1992: 9). The demolition represented the
Figure 5. The Cathedral of the Transfiguration of
the Convent of Alexius the Man of God. Reconstructed image by M. P. Kudriavtsev. Source: Moscow
Patriarchate’s “Arkhkhram” (1995: 121).
first major injustice in the history of the Cathedral,6 one which is acknowledged today by the
Russian Orthodox Church’s executives: “[p]erhaps, in the good deed of the erection of the new
Russian sacred place this was the main, spiritually never solved contradiction” (Moscow Patriarchate’s “Arkhkhram” 1995: 122). In contrast,
current Moscow city authorities engaged in reconstruction of the Cathedral prefer to minimize the importance of pre-Soviet manipulation
The convent exemplifies the traditional
universal-local domain of typical Orthodox
churches. Unlike Vitberg’s cathedral, the convent of St. Alexius the Man of God had not only
a universal appeal but also local significance for
Moscow. The convent in Volkhonka embodied
the idea of “Moscow as the Third Rome,” or the
Orthodox capital of the world, after the fall of
Byzantium in the fifteenth century. It was highly
important for its connection to Moscow’s divine
protector Metropolitan Alexii (Moscow Patriarchate’s “Arkhkhram” 1995: 119).7 In short,
the convent reflected what some observers described as the vagueness and weakness of the national consciousness of the Orthodox majority
within the tsarist Russian Empire (Pospielovsky
1989): it was both local (provincial) and international (universal Christian). This spatiality
of Russian identity was to change with the
invented national tradition (Hobsbawm and
Ranger 1983; Anderson 1983) and its propagation through national monumentalization. The
role of the Cathedral in the latter should not
Construction and Design
of Ton’s Cathedral
Despite the persistent popular distrust caused
by the 1837 demolition of the convent, the construction of Ton’s Cathedral began in 1838–1839.
The building was finally freed from scaffoldings
in 1858, and its scale became prominent in the
cityscape. Construction was completed in 1882,
and it was officially consecrated the following
year. Thus, construction required about 45 years
for completion. A persistent legend attributes
this to the fact that the project was funded by
the Russian people, and it took time to collect
money in the vast country. In reality, although
popular support of the project was strong, the
expensive construction was mostly funded by
the state, which altogether provided 15,123,163
rubles and 89 kopeks (Kirichenko 1992: 130).
The Cathedral’s final form in the 1890s (Figure 5) was smaller than Vitberg’s design, yet still
enormous compared to the churches in the
Kremlin, and it would tower over the surrounding five or six-story buildings erected in the
nineteenth century (Figure 6). The superhuman
scale of the building was its most visible feature,
serving at the time of its completion as a monument to Nicholas I’s authoritarianism: the monstrous cubic shape of the church was not in
keeping with Moscow’s traditionally modest
scale (Smolkin 1994). This scalar arrogance of
the building within its setting, the cost and length
of construction, and the grandeur of its interior
help account for why the Cathedral captured
The Cathedral was in the center of a square,
allowing observers to appreciate such external
features as its traditional white and golden colors and sculptural compositions. Their themes
were in part determined by the direction of the
Figure 6. Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the eve of its demolition in 1931. Source: Khram Khrista Spasitelia
1993 (1891, 1918).
Cathedral’s façades. The sculpture of the main
western façade symbolically depicted Russian
troops under protection of heavenly forces. The
southern façade, facing the direction of the decisive battles of 1812, depicted events of direct
relevance to that war. The eastern façade, facing
the Kremlin, showed Russian national saintsprotectors of the country, while saints who
spread Christianity were dominant in the northern façade (Kirichenko 1992: 74–75). The cathedral was an unprecedented synthesis of religious and national-historical themes, and of
architecture, sculpture, and paintings.
The interior grandeur of the Cathedral was
marked by an impressive iconostasis in the form
of a chapel (Figure 7), the scale of which was
comparable to that of the main Uspenskii Cathedral of the Kremlin. The most renowned
Russian artists, mostly academicians, participated in painting the interior. The historical
character of the Cathedral was reflected in the
large number of paintings portraying lives and
Figure 7. Interior of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Late nineteenth-century Christmas postcard.
Source: Kirichenko (1992: 178), used by permission.
deeds of Russian saints (Kirichenko 1992: 100).
Like the external sculpture, the internal paintings were thematized according to the direction
of their walls. For example, since Christianity
came to Russia from the south, the southern
wall paintings depicted the events before and
after Russia’s 988 conversion to Christianity
(Kirichenko 1992: 122–23).
It is noteworthy that the Cathedral became
the most popular church in Russia in the collective imagination, although, among the educated
elite, there was strong criticism of Ton. As
quoted in Butorov (1992: 12), for critic Vladimir
Stasov, Ton’s projects were “drawings of a writerclerk from talented pictures”; aesthete observers
such as Igor Grabar saw in the Cathedral “an example of pseudo-national style” and the “beginning of the final vulgarization and barbarization
of tastes”; poet Taras Shevchenko described the
Cathedral as a “fat merchant’s wife in povoinik”8;
and Vitberg called it a “simple village church.”
The building’s minor towers were judged too
small and distant from the main one, as some
modern critics have noted (Butorov 1992: 12).
In any event, it changed Russian architectural
thinking. Eighteenth-century European influences were replaced by a new ideology of national regeneration, understood largely as a return to ancient Russian architecture. The new
project fully embodied Nicholas I’s ideas of
filling the historical gap created by Peter the
Great’s reforms. In contrast to Vitberg’s design,
Ton’s venerated the state rather than the individual: his project commemorated only the names
of officers killed in the war.
It is important to stress that, contrary to common perception, the Cathedral was not the
official church in the empire, nor was it the
most expensive (the forty-year construction of
101.5-m St. Isaac cathedral in St. Petersburg cost
23 million rubles [Antonov and Kobak 1994:
105–6]), nor was it the only cathedral-monument
to the Patriotic War (St. Virgin’s Kazan Icon
[Kazanskii] cathedral in St. Petersburg is another major example). Even in Moscow, the
most respected cathedral was the oldest, Dormition of St. Virgin (Uspenskii) cathedral of the
Kremlin, where enthronement of patriarchs of
the Church and tsars traditionally occurred.9 It
was popular support that elevated the Cathedral
to a unique position in Russian national consciousness. This same popularity, as will be
shown, was the eventual reason for its demolition fifty years after its construction.
Destruction of the Cathedral
and the Palace of the Soviets
When Bolsheviks took power in October
1917, they immediately issued a series of decrees
targeting the Russian Orthodox Church. Lenin’s decree of November 8, 1917, nationalizing
all land, made it illegal for the Church or parish
priests to own land. The decree of December 11
confiscated all of the Church’s educational institutions; those of December 17 and 18 denied the
legality of Church marriages; that of January 16,
1918 expelled the clergy from the army forces,10
and that of January 20 canceled state subsidies
to the Church. Finally, a decree published on
January 23 separated Church and state and nationalized all Church property (Mitrofanov
Although these legal provisions formally separated religious and civil matters, the state continued its assault on the Church. In 1922 the state
staged a schism within the Church, transferring
about seventy percent of all Orthodox churches,
including the Cathedral, to the unpopular Renovationists. In a series of campaigns, the Communist state succeeded, by 1927, in demolishing,
closing, or converting to other uses forty-eight
percent of all prerevolutionary Orthodox church
buildings in the territory of the former empire
(Sidorov 2000). The majority of Orthodox priests
were killed or imprisoned. In 1927, to save the
Church from total extinction, Metropolitan
Sergii signed a declaration of loyalty to the new
Communist authorities, thus formally ending resistance. After this milestone event, the perceived threat of the Church as a rival to the state
diminished in importance, and there was a concomitant decline in state support for the Renovationist schism, which became insignificant.
While other major cathedrals survived as
museums, in the case of the Cathedral, the nun’s
curse proved to be true. It met the same destiny
as the earlier convent only forty-eight years after
its consecration, for superficially similar reasons:
the site was cleared for a different sort of “cathedral,” the Palace of the Soviets. A major puzzle
is why the Cathedral was so special that its demolition was as important for the new Soviet national identity as the construction of the Palace
itself. The victory of the new state over the
Church as an institution did not bring about
much change in the general religiosity of society. Some believers went into external or internal exile after 1927, forming the Russian Ortho-
dox Church Abroad and the Underground
Catacomb Church. Others kept their religiosity
alive through personal practice: twenty years
after the revolution, the 1937 population census
indicated that 42.3 percent of the population
still considered themselves Orthodox (41,621,572
out of 98,411,132 respondents) (Vsesoiuznaia
Perepis’ 1991, 106–7).11 The Communist authorities wanted therefore to strike into the very heart
of Orthodox religiosity by demolishing what the
people regarded as their main cathedral.
On the frosty morning of December 5, 1931,
after several powerful explosions, the original
Cathedral ceased to exist (Figure 8; details in
Kozlov 1991). The most important sculptural
ornaments and precious metals had been removed beforehand, and the marble exterior was
preserved for new government buildings and the
subway. The real treasure of the Cathedral
shared the building’s fate, however: its wall
paintings by Russia’s best nineteenth-century
Figure 8. Demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the
Savior, 1931, shown in two stills (A, B) from a documentary film by V. Mikosha. Source: Kirichenko
(1992: 262), used by permission.
artists were destroyed. Tsarist place manipulation practices thus continued in the Soviet period. The emptied place was to be occupied by a
new “cathedral,” which would also emphasize a
new ideological scale for the state. Although,
territorially, the Soviet Union looked like a reconstruction of the previous Russian Empire, it
was intending to become a global union-state. A
new ideological scale required a new monumentalizing embodiment.
The history of Stalin’s proposed Palace of the
Soviets began, perhaps, on December 31, 1922,
in the Bolshoi Opera Theater, at the congress
announcing the foundation of the Soviet Union.
Party leader Sergei Kirov suggested the construction of a building as a monument to the
young country, which would accommodate
the growing number of delegates joining the
Union and serve as a symbol of Communist global
hegemony (Palamarchuk 1994: 174). Thus, the
scale of meaning of the Palace was to be global.
In this sense, the Communist replacement for
the Cathedral was a return to Vitberg’s project
of global inclusiveness (although at the time of
Vitberg, “global” meant merely a European
Although the new state’s ideas of the Union’s
prime monument exceeded those of the tsars,
the Palace’s final design of the early 1930s
shared a number of features with the original
Cathedral (Figure 9). First, both buildings served
the double purpose of gathering place and monument (see note 1). Second, the Palace continued the original Cathedral’s stress on immense
architectural scale; it should not only dominate
the city, but also become the highest building in
the world (Figure 9): this monument, with Lenin’s statue on top, would outstrip the heights
of the Empire State Building and the Eiffel
Tower. Third, it was located on the same site as
the Cathedral, and it was to change the dominant architectural style in the country by
substituting a new international modernist architecture for the traditional Russian one.
Construction of the Palace was delayed until
1937, after the debris had been removed and
a foundation laid, and by 1939, the walls had
been raised to a level slightly above the ground.
The beginning of the second Patriotic War
(World War II) in 1941 changed priorities,
however, and its steel foundation was reclaimed for the war effort. With that, the
hoped-for global hegemony it was to represent
died as well.
Figure 9. Architect’s drawing of the Palace of the
Soviets, topped by statue of Lenin (final design),
never built. Sources: Scientific Publishing Institute of
Pictorial Statistics (1938); the author’s compilation,
based on Kondrat’ev (1995), and Kirichenko (1992:
235). Architectural scale of the proposed Palace is
compared with the Empire State Building, New York;
the Eiffel Tower, Paris; and the Cathedral of Christ
Postwar Pit and the Swimming Pool
In the immediate postwar period, the ideological scale of the state nominally remained
global, yet, unlike the prewar period, was directed primarily towards the Soviet Union itself.
Limited by postwar shortages, the Iron Curtain,
and a general loss of the revolutionary impetus
of the early Soviet period, the state could only
declare global intentions. The process of creating a national monument reflected this uncertainty. A new design competition for the
Palace took place in 1957 – 1959, this time for
the Vorob’evy Hills site, but eventually the entire project was dropped. The sacred place of
Volkhonka was abandoned, as was the very idea
of a “cathedral.” Some of the Palace’s architectural ideas were eventually used in the design of
Moscow State University (MSU) (1947–49),
successfully completed as the highest building in
the Soviet Union almost on the original proposed
site of Vitberg’s cathedral, the Vorob’evy Hills.
Although MSU was the last attempt to combine architectural, communal, and spiritual symbols in major building projects, the grand scale
of meaning of major architectural projects still
fascinated Soviet authorities in the postwar era.
The “world’s highest” construction, a TV tower,
was built in one area of the city, and the party’s
new gathering place—the Palace of Congresses
in the Kremlin—in another.12 Lacking both a
spiritual dimension and a prominent location,
the TV tower remained primarily a technical
construction and a tourist site, while the Palace,
which lacked conventional architectural value,
was not a landmark. Eventually, the long-term
construction and design of another war memorial,
for the Great Patriotic War, on Poklonnaia Hill,
also distracted attention away from Volkhonka.
Why did the place of Volkhonka lose its importance to the postwar state? First, perhaps, the
rulers did not want to be associated with the unsuccessful construction of the Palace of the Soviets or, after Khrushchev, with Stalin himself.
Second, as a new generation of Soviet people came
of age, the urgency of fighting popular religiosity
diminished, thereby reducing the need to replace
the Cathedral. Finally, the new projects were
very different from the Palace of the Soviets and
the Cathedral, and required other locations.
The original foundation of the Palace of the
Soviet—the “pit”—was satirized by Andrei Platonov, Russia’s most prominent contemporary
writer, in his novel of the same title. The timing
of Platonov’s writing is significant (Pavlovskii
1991). Written in late 1929 and early 1930, on
the very eve of attempts to build the Palace of
the Soviets, the novel describes construction
of a pit for a giant building for a “new world”
which was to replace the traditional city. The
novel’s pit is endless and seemingly purposeless,
yet ever-accelerating because of random decisions to enlarge it so that the building would accommodate the growing number of ever-more
contented future citizens. First published in Russia in 1987, Platonov’s novel became a bestseller
under perestroika. Thus, the place’s very emptiness acquired a new meaning, as an influential
geographic symbol for the failed Communist endeavor; a pit serving ironically as the “highest”
and “biggest” achievement of the “new society.”
In 1960 the pit was recycled as an outdoor
steam-heated winter swimming pool, one of the
world’s largest, in the shape of a 100-m wide cir-
cle (Figure 10). The swimming pool, which continued to carry the popular name of the “pit,”
was closed in 1993 in anticipation of reconstructing the Cathedral. There was no support
group for the popular pool, yet its sudden closure
in 1993 was not universally welcomed (Kolpakov 1994b).13 For years, the pool was the largest
in Europe and, as such, its scale of meaning was
significant. In 1993, 207 Moscow churches were
attended by 500,000 people, but, beginning in
1960, more than five million people used the
pool annually (Baskov 1994). Only three other
outdoor pools existed in Moscow, a city of nine
million residents with mostly polluted rivers,
and this was the only outdoor pool the public
could easily use. Nevertheless, no attempts were
made to discuss publicly the pool’s destiny.14
The Post-Soviet Cathedral
Public Perception of the Cathedral’s
As soon as Gorbachev’s new policy of openness in the late 1980s allowed some religious
freedom, the idea of restoring the lost Cathedral
began to gain popularity. Very much like the
Cathedral itself and the empty pit left in its
place, the idea was to reconstruct a new nationalidentity symbol. Three initial groups of supporters can be identified in the period before the reconstruction idea became widespread and was
monopolized by the state.
The intelligentsia of the country was at the
forefront. Using various media, prominent artists and writers criticized the Communist regime
and campaigned for restoration of the Cathedral. The artist Seliverstov offered the most notable design (Figure 11). Arguing that exact reconstruction of the Cathedral would recall only
one period of the place’s history, he suggested an
original way to invoke the past through the
erection of a steel-contour outline of the lost
building, with just the original chapel-altar inside. This inexpensive project had the advantage of restoring the architectural scale of the
original Cathedral, arguably its most famous feature, and leaving empty space for broader interpretations that would also have allowed thousands to gather and pray (Palamarchuk 1994;
Pozdniaev 1994). There also was a proposal to
leave the site empty for occasional holographic
restorations of the Cathedral (Opolznev 1994;
Figure 10. Model of open-air swimming pool Moskva, a fragment of a three-dimensional model of Moscow
(photo by author).
Vecherniaia Moskva 1994), so that an even greater
number of people could gather there.
The second group interested in the Cathedral’s resurrection was the Russian Orthodox
Church. Cautious too about simply replicating
the lost monument, the Church planned to indirectly revive the idea of the Cathedral. During
perestroika, to celebrate the 1988 millennium of
the Russian conversion to Christianity, the state
agreed to allow construction of a new Trinity
Cathedral in Tsaritsyno (Figure 12). Designed as
a reminder of the lost Cathedral, the project nevertheless was to signify the new policy of separation of Church and state, and therefore to be
located not in the center but rather in the residential outskirts of the city (Figure 1). This project
has not yet been realized because the Church
has characteristically lacked sufficient resources.
What united these two groups was the shared
belief that a mere replica of the Cathedral was
not only unnecessary but also unwanted. They
argued for reviving the spirit of the Cathedral
rather than its physical restoration. In contrast,
the third group, consisting of lay believers, ar-
gued for replacing the lost Cathedral, creating a
parish community for this nonexistent church,
and they began discrete fund raising in public
places. Once reconstruction started and became
politically important, this community was eventually dismissed by the Church.
Eventually, the local Moscow authorities monopolized decision-making. The Russian Ministry of Culture was totally ignored (Segodnia
1994), and even the role of the Russian Orthodox Church was minimized. As in tsarist times,
the Cathedral’s construction was paid for by the
state, with the Church’s role being merely to receive the building and legitimize the work. The
public was left to debate only the narrow topics
of the Cathedral’s de facto reconstruction.
There were several important omissions from
the public discussions surrounding the project.
First, the location of the Cathedral was not publicly discussed. The authorities rushed to capture the site of Volkhonka, even though other
locations, such as the site of the Millennium
Trinity cathedral in Tsaritsyno, were available.
Second, interdenominational justice had been
Figure 11. A proposal for reconstruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, not built. Artist Yu. I.
Seliverstov. Source: Rodina (1995: 16).
dealt a blow by the privileged positioning of
the Russian Orthodox Church. There are now
forty-five different denominations in Moscow,
half of which are popular enough to be considered major (Grigor’eva 1994), with several being
historically significant. Third, the goal of this
reconstruction was not debated but officially
proclaimed: to break with the Soviet past, with
its antireligious and antinational practices, and
to reestablish connection with the lost cultural
heritage of the country. Therefore, the campaign for the project highlights the faithfulness
to the design of the demolished original Cathedral, symbolizing a supposed end to the manipulation of place. As will be argued below, however, manipulation persists despite the abolition
of the pit, the most notorious of the Soviet
In addition, the scale and design of the reconstructed Cathedral were not publicly debated.
While Seliverstov’s arch project and the Millennium Cathedral in Tsaritsyno responded to the
Figure 12. Architect’s model of the Trinity Cathedral of the Millennium of the Orthodox Baptizing in
Tsaritsyno, not yet built (photo by the author).
growing criticism of “grand scale” architectural
thinking, the state-led restoration was to continue
the tsarist and Soviet tastes for grandiose structures
(Malinin 1994, 1995). This continuation of past
monumentalism not only would leave smaller, yet
important churches neglected, but it would also
prioritize size over symbolic significance (Smolkin
1996). Finally, it was argued that the urban space
of Moscow had changed considerably since the
construction of the first Cathedral, making questionable the appropriateness of the new Cathedral
to its place (Shimanskii 1994b).
The interior of the original Cathedral was
painted by the best Russian artists of that time,
but with that artistic tradition interrupted, there
is no one today capable of reproducing it (Krotov 1994). As a result of the high cost and rapid
pace of the process, the Cathedral is being built
of ferroconcrete, an unsuitable surface for such
paintings. An additional internal facing of the
concrete walls by some other material is required
(Krolenko 1994). The use of cheap, brick-faced
ferroconcrete walls, as well as structural changes
made to accommodate modern conveniences,
has caused criticism from the Church. The walls
of the Cathedral will have elevators carrying
spectators to a viewing platform and the belfry.
As one commentator notes: “The pillars of the
Cathedral, hollowed out by elevators, staircases
and ventilation shafts, yet simulating massiveness and firmness [is] the start of the lie in the revival of churches, both in a constructive and
spiritual sense. May God save us from that!”
(Moscow Patriarchate’s “Arkhkhram” 1995: 117).
Given the sad financial fate of the first Cathedral construction (and the secrecy behind the current one), the possibility of corruption cannot be
dismissed. One author compared the idea of restoring the Cathedral to the tricks of the hero of
the popular Russian satirical novel Twelve Chairs,
who was successful in collecting money for the
“complete reconstruction of an abyss” (Shalaev
1993). To improve the image of the whole enterprise, a large-scale public relations campaign has
been launched under the supervision of a former
advertising agency director (Popov 1994).
One Orthodox priest conducted an unofficial
opinion poll and was surprised, not that different
people were against restoration, but that their
arguments were based on the Bible, Russian history, and current realities: that to waste millions
of dollars in a country with millions of homeless
is a sin; that church construction in Russia always is associated with corruption, and that the
Patriarch’s current Cathedral of Epiphany is semiempty even on important holidays. The priest
himself is in favor of the reconstruction, but not
at this “Bolshevik pace” (Pavlov 1994).15
It would not be an exaggeration to conclude,
after surveying press accounts, that the reconstruction has been largely irrelevant to regions
other than Moscow, and that the limited public
discussions (in Moscow) were dominated by local concerns. The national monumentalization
process is therefore revealed to be highly localized. In this sense, the project is a failure, since
it has not become, as expected, an act of societal repentance for what was done during the
Scales of the Politics
The new Cathedral’s characteristics must be
understood in the context of changes in the
scale of the Russian state. The breakup of the
Soviet Union and the crises caused by the polit-
ico-economic transformation of Russia, have
significantly weakened the state. Not only were
its global ambitions relinquished, but its domestic role was fragmented. Since the 1990s, the
new Russian national state has largely been unable to fulfill the primary responsibilities of any
state, such as the provision of economic, political, and cultural security to its citizens. Tax evasions, unpaid state employees, violent regional
conflicts, the criminalization of society, and the
proliferation of foreign cultural products have
all become characteristics of post-Soviet Russian society. In most instances, the local state is
expected to take care of these “national” problems. It is only a slight exaggeration to conclude
that, in many respects, the scale of the national
state has become local.
Moscow provides an especially noteworthy
case. The city became the undisputed financial
and resource-exporting center in Russia in the
1990s, in relatively good economic health and
with a balanced city budget. In contrast to the
country as a whole, wealth rose in the capital
city. For example, in July of 1995, the average
earnings of Muscovites were 3.2 times higher
than the Russian average, while the cost of a
“consumer basket” was only 1.3 times higher.
The level of officially registered unemployment
in Moscow was one-fifth the Russian average
(Savel’ev 1996). The Moscow concentration of
wealth has been strongest in the city’s construction industry, which is patronized by Moscow
Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, currently one of Russia’s
most influential politicians.16
By localizing a national monument, the
builders enlarge the political scope of the local
Moscow state, as the political context of the
project attests. The early start and rapid pace of
the current reconstruction came as a surprise
not only to its critics, but even to those who
deeply believed in the rebirth of the Cathedral.
At the time there were several reasons for
urgency. First, the 850th anniversary of the
founding of Moscow was to be celebrated in
September 1997 “as a nationwide holiday,” providing Moscow authorities with a chance to display their achievements, of which the crowning
one was to be the restored Cathedral. Second,
the Parliamentary and Presidential elections in
1995 and 1996 were seen as likely to result in
political destabilization, and personal attachment to this significant construction project
would allow Luzhkov to stabilize his position.
Other factors operating at both the local and
national scales may have helped Luzhkov. A
costly construction of sacred significance could
demonstrate the power of Moscow authorities
and allow the city’s government to secure control of some of the federal funds made available
for the monument. Finally, there is the symbolism of the second millennium of Christianity in
In addition to shifts in the balance of power,
one of the main, if little-known, results of political dramas in Moscow in the early 1990s, such
as the 1991 military coup and the October 1993
assault on the White House, was competition
among power groups for local office space. The
Mayoral Office, the Parliament, and the Federal
Government all have changed their locations,
and some other office complexes have been
erected, such as the gas industry skyscraper and
the City complex.17 This boom in new headquarters, although imprudent in times of general
social unrest, nonetheless may have required legitimation by including provision for the holy
authority of the Church. The top authorities of
the Russian Orthodox Church had been presented by the Soviet government with a new
headquarters complex in the Danilov monastery
in 1985, which might have been taken as a challenge by the new Moscow government. Why
could not post-Soviet authorities make a similar
gift? This project would make its major agents
look less “Soviet,” a politically important goal
since most of them were powerful insiders in the
The current phase of national monumentalization has become largely an endeavor of the
local state. It was this governing body that completed the long-term construction of the Russian Victory Memorial in 1995 at Poklonnaia
Hill. Similarly, although Boris Yel’tsin signed
the July 1992 decree, “On the creation of a
Foundation for Moscow’s Rebirth,” in which
restoration of the Cathedral was listed as the
very first project (Nikol’skaia 1994), real restoration first began two years later, in May 1994,
after the City of Moscow declared its decision
to construct the Cathedral (Vestnik Merii Moskvy
1994). Six months later the process was in
full force despite, or perhaps because of, an absence of debate about its location and general
Secrecy surrounds the level and sources of
funding for the Cathedral’s reconstruction
(Barry 1995). At the beginning, the Patriarch of
Moscow and All Russia and the Mayor of Mos-
cow announced that it would cost US$150 million (Kuranty 1994). This approximates two
percent of the Moscow budget (Bossart 1995),
and six times the budget of Russia’s Federal Program of monument restoration.18 The director of
the Foundation of Financial Support of the Cathedral’s Reconstruction believed, as early as
1994, that the final cost would be $300 million
(Popov 1994), a figure also mentioned the next
year (M. 1995), but the actual construction cost
remains hidden from the public. In 1999, a representative of the Foundation estimated the cost
as already US$500 million with collected funds
at US$320 million (Korneeva 1999).
Initial stages of reconstruction almost certainly were financed from the Moscow City budget, in the form of an interest-free loan to be
repaid once necessary donations have been collected (Pokrovskii 1994). Project officials insist
that the Cathedral will not be built using money
from the federal budget or tax revenue. They argue that financing will come from the Russian
Orthodox Church, the Russian diaspora abroad,
and donations from Russian citizens and commercial organizations (Popov 1994). Thus far,
however, this order has seemingly been reversed; Moscow banks and companies are the
main source of finance (Friland 1995). Finally,
special memorial plaques for sponsors’ names
were proposed for the Cathedral (Kuranty 1994).
This amounts to a listing of the rich “new Russians,” replacing the listing of the 1812 heroes to
whom the original Cathedral was devoted (Krolenko 1994).
The Cathedral as a Localized
The localization of the national monument
has affected not only the social and political
outcomes of this reconstruction, but also the
Cathedral itself, despite the insistence of the authorities to the contrary. However accurate the
current restoration could be (criticism is already
growing; see Shimanskii 1994b), a complex of
new functions has been built into the basement
of the Cathedral, in the 8–15 m vertical space
between the ground and the Palace floor. In fact,
the former Palace’s pit has been recycled and
filled by a three-story steelwork basement, which,
because of the sloping terrain, is only partly below ground.
The significance of this underground com-
Figure 13. Proposed designs for the basement of the restored Cathedral. A. “Modest,” and B. “Extended” proposals by the Moscow Patriarchate; C. Implemented design. Features: 1. the low church of the Transfiguration of the
Convent of Alexius the Man of God; 2. the Holy Synod’s Hall; 3. the Church Council’s Hall; 4. dining halls; 5.
systems of technical support; 6. garage for the Cathedral; 7. municipal garage; 8. theological center; 9. halls for exhibitions and book sale; 10. the Convent of Alexius the Man of God; 11. toilets. Source: author; based on Moscow
Patriarchate’s “Arkhkhram” (1995), Posokhin (1995) and Lutskii (1995).
plex goes far beyond a mere basement appendix
to the restored Cathedral. It has changed its
physical scale. While the total floor area of the
Cathedral is only 3,980 m2, the three-level basement has floorspace of 66,000 m2 (Dmitriev
1994; Shimanskii 1994b), more than fifteen
times the upper level. The new functions added
in this space are even more significant. A com-
parison of the various proposals for using the underground space, provided by the Moscow Mayoral Office and the Russian Orthodox Church’s
Moscow Patriarchate (MP), shows that the basement reflects a political compromise between
them (Figure 13). The MP had two proposals for
the basement (Moscow Patriarchate’s “Arkhkhram” 1995: 117; Figures 13A and 13B). The
more “modest” included the restored Convent of
Alexius the Man of God , with its Church of
the Transfiguration and halls for the Church’s
Councils, Figure 13A. The design of the basement in this variant included also a dining hall
, and a 100-car garage . The MP’s second,
expanded, variant for the basement space (Figure 13B) proposed greatly increasing the seating
capacity for the conference-hall and dining
rooms [3, 4]. Major additions in this variant include a theological center  and spacious lobby
halls  for exhibitions and book sales. It is understandable that the MP attempted to take this
unique chance to remedy the results of both
Communist and tsarist manipulation of the
place. Those implementing the project were,
however, more selective in their historical scope.
According to the restoration’s former director and leading architect, the city authorities
initially wanted only the garages and the Church
of the Transfiguration in the basement (Sokolov
1994): the underground parking garage alone
was regarded as worth the effort (Semenov 1994).
The struggle between these two parties had its
victims: the director’s resignation was forced following the submission of the MP’s expanded
version to the Mayoral Office without prior approval from the Mayor (Sokolov 1994). This
was not the last politically motivated resignation. M. Yuvenaly, the chair of the interior decoration commission, resigned in 1999 for similar
reasons (Revzin 1999).
The proposal that was finally accepted, and
now implemented, was a compromise between
the second, “expanded” proposal of the MP and
the “utilitarian” aspirations of the city authorities (Figure 13C), but was still under constant
modification; 700 designers were struggling
to keep pace with the construction workers
(Dmitriev 1994). In 1995, plans for the basement include the underground church of the
convent , the Holy Synod’s Hall , a 1,200seat conference hall for the Church’s Councils
, the Patriarch’s office and a dining hall for
800 guests , recreational “chambers,” and the
premises of ecclesiastical educational establishments (M. 1995). A TV center will be located
there as well (Shimanskii 1994a). The rest of
the space will be devoted to engineering facilities  and the much-expanded garages [6, 7],
their capacity grown to six times the original
proposal (Dmitriev 1994), because they are intended to serve the city’s needs as well .
The most striking absence in the final project
is the convent; with all the added functions, no
place has been found at the Moscow Patriarchate’s center for even a modest female convent.
Only the convent’s Church of the Transfiguration will be restored in a limited “catacomb”
version . Church canons prevent the space
immediately under a church from being used for
any functions not in some way related to the service. The initial idea of locating the garage
there (Krolenko 1994) has been dismissed.
Paradoxically, the Cathedral might be seen
as standing on its head; as a reversed “pit,” because the lower MP headquarters and parking
garage have become the largest, most significant, and even the most politically contested
parts of the project. At the same time, the added
new functions could significantly constrain its
original gathering scale. The Cathedral most
likely will not be easily accessible to the public;
the Russian Orthodox Church headquarters will
require a security guard, and the monument
seems likely to be the target of terrorists of different kinds, given its specific history. It is expected to have “the most sophisticated” computerized security complex in Moscow with hidden
video surveillance, fire detectors, and about a
thousand technical specialists (Nikol’skaia 1999).
Even at the time of construction, security is
tighter than at Moscow’s banks (Vandenko 1996).
The localization of the national Cathedral
described here poses questions about its future
maintenance. The new Cathedral’s scale may be
too large even for the state to maintain it properly, let alone the city of Moscow (Kolpakov
1994a, 1994b). The desperate status of many active churches in Moscow also makes the new
construction ethically questionable. In 1993,
103 churches in Moscow were inactive, and
many active churches lacked staff: fifty churches
had no senior priests, and it was estimated that
the number of deacons should be doubled
and the number of priests tripled (Sluzhenie
Tserkvi 1994). The Cathedral is to accommodate 10,000 people, although services in other
downtown churches are less crowded than in
residential margins. Moscow’s downtown has
more than enough churches, whereas only onesixth of the 138 churches preserved outside the
central Garden Ring are active (Grigor’eva
1994). In addition, the nouveau riche presently
moving into the downtown may be even less
likely to attend services (Krotov 1994). All these
factors, paradoxically, have resurrected proposals to restore the convent. The giant Cathedral
will need nuns for its maintenance, and the City
Mayor and the Patriarch have agreed to build a
new complex for the sisterhood cloister (Pokrovskii 1994), for which land has been allocated
nearby (Vestnik Merii Moskvy 1994). Yet even if
the convent is reestablished, the long-standing
conflicts over the construction of this place
is nearly idle after the economic crisis of August
1998 (Trebuiutsia 2000). Yet the Moscow government has not officially cancelled the project
to build in this place the highest building in the
world, the 648-m office tower Rossiia (Russia)
(Nochuykina 2000). But this is a different
story—or the same?
Using the Cathedral of Christ the Savior as a
case study, the paper explores the uneasy process
of national monumentalization in Russia (Table
1). The first attempt to build the world’s largest
church as a monument to victory in the 1812
Napoleonic War failed. The smaller project that
was completed stretched through several decades (1831–1881), with a different design and
location. The importance of this Cathedral to
the national consciousness resulted in its 1931
demolition by the Bolsheviks, who attempted to
replace it, both ideologically and geographically,
with their own national monument, the giant
Palace of the Soviets. This attempt also failed,
and the foundation pit later became one of the
world’s largest swimming pools (1960–1993),
which in turn was replaced by the new Cathedral.
These changing forms of national monumentalization in Russia can be better understood if
the corresponding spatial and social changes
taking place in the nation are taken into account. Coincident with the monuments’ reconstruction, the territorial scale of the country
which they were to represent has changed dramatically. The Cathedral’s design, especially its
architectural scale, reflects shifts in the scale of
Russian national identity as well as the interplay
between the politically and spatially changing
state, society, and the Church. This paper argues
that the pre-, post- and Soviet religious practices should be examined more critically, as being affected by political motivations associated
with the national monumentalization process.
As a result, the emerging religious landscape is
an arena of ideological and political contestation. There is need for further research into scalar as opposed to territorial justice, and the role
of scale in social and political processes in general. Meanwhile the deepest construction pit in
Europe these days is in Moscow, on Krasnopresnenskaia Embankment, in the core of the
proposed office complex Moscow-City. The pit
The author acknowledges support of the University of Minnesota for field work in 1994–1995. The
author is especially grateful to Professor Eric Sheppard and Valentin Bogorov, and anonymous reviewers for critical comments on earlier drafts. Professors
John Archer, John Fraser Hart, John Rice, Theofanis
Stavrou, Trevor Barnes, and Barbara Van Drasek
greatly improved earlier versions of this paper. Those
attending presentations at the 1997 Association of
American Geographers (AAG) annual meeting and
the 1997 European Studies Conference are also
thanked for their criticism. I would also like to thank
Eric Stevens and Patricia Gilmartin for their help
1. Although Russians most often call the Cathedral
khram [temple], it is usually translated into English as cathedral, but does not necessarily imply
an administrative center for a diocese or the seat
of a bishop, as in English usage. The Russian
word sobor may be translated as cathedral—a
main or large church—but also as gathering or
council, very much like the word Soviet.
2. The “Orthodoxy-Autocracy-Nationality” formula was coined in the early 1830s by the Education Minister of the Russian state, Count
S. Uvarov (Godienko 1988: 181–82).
3. For example, Peter the Great ordered the closing
of thousands of chapels in 1722 (Palamarchuk
1992: 11) and prohibited stone church erection
to save stone resources for the construction of
St. Petersburg. The Church government was
changed to a state department (Synod) approved
by the tsar.
4. The convent complex was repeatedly restored
after various disasters. The Communist closure
in 1930 was only the final act of an ongoing injustice. In 1990, one of its two remaining churches
(two others having been demolished or absorbed
by new construction) was returned to believers
(Palamarchuk 1992: 343–49).
5. Hipped-roof churches at that time signified
prominent city complexes. The cathedral was
part of the hipped-roof church system along the
Moscow River, which served control purposes
(Moscow Patriarchate’s “Arkhkhram” 1995: 119).
6. Strictly speaking, the first injustice was the replacement of the original pagan shrine in the
area (“Strannoe Mesto” 1994).
7. Its location in southwest Moscow replicated that
of the St. Diomid monastery in Constantinople,
which also was known as “Jerusalem.” Therefore,
the new Moscow monastery signified continuity
with the Holy Land (Moscow Patriarchate’s
“Arkhkhram” 1995: 119).
8. A kind of kerchief worn by married Russian peasant women.
9. Ton’s design of the Cathedral had references to
the main competitors of the project. For example, the arcs of the façades were reminiscent of
the Uspenskii Cathedral of the Kremlin.
10. As in some other countries, the army of the Russian Empire had Orthodox chaplains.
11. The category “Orthodox” included Old Believers, Ukrainian and Georgian Orthodox Autocephalists, Ioannites, and others.
12. There are indications that Nikita Khrushchev
considered the Pit as a possible site for his projected television tower (Semenov 1994).
13. A Siberian suggested that the closed swimming
pool on the site of the Cathedral was a secret
monument to the chaotic and eventful Khrushchev period. While the Cathedral was a monument to bureaucratic Orthodoxy, the restored
Cathedral would paradoxically serve as a monument to Stalinism: “I would prefer a morose Moscow evening, clouds of steam over the pool. And
a secret sense of freedom,” the author states
(Poloznev 1994: 2).
14. The pool’s legacy may have a tangible manifestation. The swimming pool, along with postwar
subway construction, riverbed cleaning, and
groundwater, has further weakened the ground,
which already had a poor soil texture (“plyvun,”
or liquid mixture of clay and sand), making massive building construction at the site questionable (Shebanov 1995).
15. Arguments of the Church for the restoration can
be found in Kuraev (1995).
16. As Moscow’s mayor, Luzhkov has become a leading post-Soviet politician and businessman. In
1995 he was the third most significant politician
in Russia (Nezavisimaia Gazeta 1996), following
the President and Prime Minister.
17. The most dramatic project of this sort is the proposed City district, a business center on Krasnopresnenskaia Embankment that will include several Western-style skyscrapers.
18. This program has actually received only ten percent of the planned amount. In Moscow alone,
the current funding for restoration is three to
four times less than five years ago (Deich 1994).
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Correspondence: Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, email sidorov@
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