The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed
The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

On the northern side of the Moskwa River, near the Kremlin, there stands the world's tallest Orthodox Christian Church, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It looks centuries old, but it was just built in 2000. For the second time. Here's how it happened.

Adolph Norten: Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, 1851

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

December 14 in 1812 was a really significant day in Russia: Napoleon Bonaparte and his 600,000 soldiers left Moscow. On 25 December Emperor Alexander I signed a manifest, declaring his purpose to build a cathedral in honor of Christ the Savior for saving Russia. It took a very long time to begin the actual work. Its design was finally approved twenty years later, by the new Tsar, Nicholas I. The architect was his favourite, Konstantin Thon. The Tzar chose a new site in 1837, near the Kremlin, where the first cornerstone was finally laid in 1839.

via Wikimedia Commons


The construction plan, by K.A.Ton

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

via the Cathedral's Official Homepage


Building the Cathedral (on the background), 1852

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The place was consecrated 44 years later, on May 26. 1883, the same day Alexander III was crowned.

Photo: Roger Fenton, via Wikipedia Commons


An american photograph from the 1890s

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

via OldMoscow


Inside, in the 1920s

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

There were more than a thousand square meters of Carrara marble, lots of paintings from the best Russian painters including Vasily Surikov and Vasily Vereshchagin, who was quite famous abroad.

via OldMoscow


Removing the Golden Dome, 1931

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

In the 1920s, because of Soviet state atheism (and the good view from the Kremlin), Joseph Stalin wanted to demolish the Church. His idea was to build a huge monument (The Palace of Soviets) in its place. On February 1930, the OGPU asked the Central Executive Committee to remove the golden domes from the top of the building.

via OldMoscow


Removing the other valuable parts: marble stairs and walls, altairs, paintings, gold and sculptures, 1930-1931

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The other valuable parts of the Cathedral were removed later in 1930 and 1931 (you can see it in this video). These sculptures and other remnants from the destroyed Soviet monasteries were moved to the Donskoy Monastery. The marble walls were used in nearby Moscow Metro stations.

via OldMoscow


Demolition, December 5, 1931

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

via OldMoscow


The Palace Of The Soviets

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The neoclassical concept was created by Boris Iofan, Vladimir Gelfreikh and Vladmir Shchuko.


The steel frame on the contruction plans

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed


The building site

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The construction started before WWII in 1937, but stopped four years later because of the Nazi invasion. The used steel frame was already cut, but was repurposed for use in bridges and significant buildings. If the Palace had been built, it would have become the tallest building in the world with an awesome, 415 m high roof, (495 m with the antenna spire). It would only have been surpassed by the 442 meter high Willis Tower's (formerly Sears Tower) completion in 1973.

via OldMoscow


The Moskva Pool

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The abandoned site of the Palace was empty for almost two decades, but in the '50s, the Soviets converted it to the world's largest open-air swimming pool. It existed from 1958 to 1995, and was open all year long.

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

via Wikipedia and Architip


Rebuilding the Old Cathedral

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

In 1990, the Russian Orthodox Church wanted to rebuild the old Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They received permission from the government, and in 1992 a construction fund was started. More than one million Russians donated money, so in 1995 the Moskva Pool was destroyed, and they started to build the new Cathedral.

(via Travelavenue.fr)


The construction began, 1995

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

The architect was Aleksey Denisov, but he was replaced by Zurab Tsereteli, who changed the marble reliefs to bronze ones. The complete Cathedral of Christ the Savior was consecrated on Transfiguration Day, 19 August 2000.

via OldMoscow


Outside and inside, in the 2000s

The Strange History of the Moscow Cathedral That Couldn't Be Destroyed

via OldMoscow and Flickr/Tony Abramov