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Cathedral of Christ the Savior

The life of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Russia’s largest Orthodox cathedral is striking, impetuous and dramatic. The magnificence of the building mixed with its turbulent history makes it a must see.

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The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world, located on the northern bank of the Moskva River, a few hundred meters southwest of the Kremlin. Designed by the great St. Petersburg architect Konstantin Ton, who was also responsible for the Grand Kremlin Palace and the Kremlin Armoury. It was originally commissioned after the defeat of Napoleon, but construction did not begin until 1839 and took over 40 years to complete. The enormous and extremely expensive cathedral with its vast copper domes dominated the Moscow skyline. However, the cathedral had taken almost as much time to build and to decorate as it would remain standing in its original incarnation.

It was destroyed in 1931 on the order of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The demolition was supposed to make way for a colossal Palace of the Soviets to house the country’s legislature, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. One of the most influential pieces of architecture never to be built. The design would have stood over 400 meters high, and although it was never built, the blueprint was nonetheless the forefather of the Seven Sisters, the magnificent Stalinist skyscrapers that tower over central Moscow.

Only the foundations had been laid when the Second World War brought an abrupt end to the project, and Nikita Khruschev, Stalin’s successor had no stomach for the ostentatious palace. The project was abandoned, and the late 1950s the site became an open-air swimming pool, the largest in the world, which was kept at a temperature of 27°C all year round.

The symbolic significance of the site was reaffirmed after the fall of the Soviet Union when Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov joined forces with the Orthodox Church to resurrect the cathedral in a $360-million reconstruction project. Completed in 2000, the new cathedral is loosely based on Ton’s original designs, but constructed with modern building materials and fitted out with air conditioning, telecommunications facilities, elevators, and underground parking. Visitors can only see the cathedral as part of an organized tour, one of the highlights of which is the panoramic view from the 40-meter-high observation platform.

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