Russia has, through the ages, been at the forefront of cultural revolutions that have shaped the world and guided its people through various political ideologies. It comes as no surprise that much time, effort, and money was plunged into creating monuments to remind its people of their past, present, and expected future.
True to Russian form, many of these monuments dispense with any idea of a subtle aesthetic. Some are overwhelmingly grand. Some are sad. Some evoke a sense of pride. And some are designed to show the spirit of compassion.
Here are 7 of the most iconic Russian monuments.
The Motherland Calls
The Battle of Stalingrad was the bloodiest battle in human history and a great victory for the Soviet people. It turned the tide of World War II and paved the way for a final Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. As such, it is fitting that Russia has many monuments and memorials to this great event. The most awe-inspiring of them all is the tallest statue in Europe which stands 279 feet (85 meters) tall.
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This Russian monument is a woman in motion. Her right arm holds a sword aloft, and with her head turned, looking behind her, she holds her left arm out, beckoning others to follow. It is a clear message for the sons and daughters of the Soviet Union to surge forward to defeat their enemies.
The Motherland Calls is situated on a hill called Mamayev Kurgan, upon which 100 steps are located, creating a pathway to the base of the statue.
Designed by sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich and engineer Nikolai Nikitin, work started on the statue in 1959 and finished in 1967, and when it was completed, it was the tallest statue in the world.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
One of the most iconic monuments in Russia, the nine domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral have graced millions of postcards and proved to be the most common accompaniment to any mention of Russia.
Commissioned by Tsar Ivan the Terrible and also known as Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, and officially as Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat or Pokrovsky Cathedral, work started on the building in 1555 and was completed in 1561. The inside of the building is maze-like and contains ten chapels.
The identity of the architect is unknown, but according to legend, upon completion of the project, Ivan the Terrible had him blinded so that he may never again achieve the heights of majesty that is Saint Basil’s.
The church faced destruction in 1933, and under the rule of the Bolsheviks, the building was struck from the register of heritage and was slated for demolition. It was saved by preservationist Pyotr Baranovsky, an architect tasked with surveying the building for demolition. He objected to the destruction and spent time in a gulag for his opinion. The situation was, however, reassessed, and planners decided to keep the building.
Sitting on the southern end of Red Square, the building still adds a monumental and distinctively Russian flavor to the center of Moscow.
Monument to Yuri Gagarin
Towering above Leninskiy Prospekt in Moscow, a statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, sits high atop a pedestal designed to represent the blast of a rocket heading up into space.
Constructed out of titanium, an alloy used in spacecraft construction, the pedestal and the statue stand 139 feet (42.5 meters) tall. It was created for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and was constructed out of 238 cast segments connected with bolts and welding.
At the top of the monument, Yuri Gagarin gazes towards the sky, while at the base of the monument is a copy of the Vostok descent vehicle which brought Yuri Gagarin safely back to the ground, and a plinth that reads:
On April 12, 1961, the Soviet spaceship Vostok with a man on board flew around the globe. The first person to penetrate into space is a citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Yuri Gagarin.
While it might not be on a grandiose scale, there is a Russian monument to a dog in Mendeleevskaya Station in Moscow. The iconic love that Russians have for animals is encapsulated perfectly in this piece of art.
Malchik (Little Boy) was a black mongrel stray dog, one of many of his kind, living in the streets of Moscow. He frequented Mendeleevskaya Station, where he won over the hearts of many residents, commuters, and railway staff.
In December 2001, he was stabbed to death by 22-year-old Yulia Romanova. The killer was later arrested, tried and convicted, and sentenced to a year of psychiatric treatment. She had a history of cruelty to animals. Malchik was around six years old at the time of his death.
The incident sparked an outcry from the public, who demanded stricter measures for dealing with animal abuse. A public-funded bronze statue entitled Compassion was erected depicting the dog and has become one of Moscow’s most loved monuments. Passersby rub his nose for good luck, and fresh flowers are laid at his paws on an almost daily basis.
The Winter Palace
The former residence of Russia’s Romanov Dynasty, the Winter Palace and its adjoining precincts in Saint Petersburg now houses the main collection of the Hermitage Museum.
With a 705-foot (215-meter) long façade, the Winter Palace was built to represent the might of Imperial Russia on a stupendous scale.
The palace began as a building project of Peter the Great after he was inspired by Western European culture, especially France. As a result, many features of the palace are reminiscent of the features of the Palace of Versailles. From the late 1730s to 1837, the palace was continually altered, and in 1837, it was severely damaged by fire and rebuilt.
Its purpose as the royal residence came to an end in 1917 when it was stormed by the Bolsheviks, and the Tsar was deposed. The palace thus signifies the end of the monarchy and the beginning of communism in Russia.
In Russian, kremlin means “citadel.” There are many kremlins scattered across the vast territories of Russia, but in the minds of foreigners, only one matters: the Moscow Kremlin. This place signifies the power of the Russian state and all its political will.
A vast complex of buildings, the Kremlin lies to the south and the west of Red Square in the center of Moscow. It is the largest fortress in Europe, and it is still in use. Behind the 7,332 feet (2235 meters) of crenelated walls and star-tipped towers, the Kremlin houses 18 buildings that serve purposes of government residences, administration, and museums.
Not only is the Kremlin a monument on its own, but it also functions as a museum for other monuments. Directly outside the walls are monuments to all the battles of World War II, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Stalin’s grave, and Lenin’s Mausoleum. Inside the Kremlin is the largest bell, the Tsar Kolokol, which never rang; it broke during the casting process. Nearby is the Tsar Pushka, the largest cannon by caliber, and like the bell, it was never used.
Worker and Kolkhoz Woman
Standing 78 feet (24.4 meters) high, the statue of the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman is a work of art perfectly symbolizing the Soviet dream. The stainless steel structure was created by Vera Mukhina and first displayed at the 1937 World Fair in Paris, where it was placed directly opposite the display for Nazi Germany. After the Fair, it was dismantled and erected in Moscow, where it stands today.
The statue comprises a man and a woman striding forward in unison. Above them, the man holds a hammer to the sky, while the woman holds a sickle next to it, creating the symbol of communism and the Soviet Union.
Russia is a vast country with a long and rich history. Standing aside this history is the evidence of the past, immortalized in monuments, some small and unassuming, while others towel over the landscape, keeping their gaze over the surrounding territory.
For tourists, these monuments are beautiful attractions that display the deep culture and history of the country. For Russians, these monuments remind them of their history and generate a sense of cultural pride and purpose.