Red Square, Moscow, Russia

Red Square remains, as it has been for centuries, the heart and soul of Russia. Its origins date to the late 15th century, when the Muscovite Prince Ivan III (Ivan the Great) expanded The Kremlin to reflect Moscow's growing power and influence, and made this area an important public market and meeting place. Over the years, it has acted as Moscow's equivalent to ancient Rome Forum - a vast meeting place for the people, a place for celebrating religious festivals, for public gatherings, for listening to Government announcements or Tsars' addresses, and as a showcase for military parades from 1919 onward.

Few places in the World bear the weight of history to the extent that Moscow's central square does. From the 16th century Saint Basil's Cathedral - one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the World - to the constructivist pyramid of Lenin's Mausoleum, Red Square is rich in symbols of Russia's turbulent and intriguing past.

The State Historical Museum, built between 1875 and 1883, stands at the northern end of the square. Directly opposite, at its southern end, is the 9-towered Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed (originally The Church of The Intercession), built from 1555 to 1561 to commemorate the defeat of the Tatars (Mongols) of Kazan and Astrakhan by Ivan IV (the Terrible). Nearby is a white stone platform (Lobnoye Mesto) dating from the 16th century. From there, edicts and decrees were read to the assembled masses, and once a year The Tsar (emperor) would present himself to the people. GUM, the former State Department Store and Russia's most famous shopping mall (built 1889-1893; privatized 1993), is on the east side, and Lenin's tomb, designed by Alexei Shchusev and completed in 1930, is on the west. Other graves near Lenin's tomb flank the spruce-lined wall of The Kremlin.

In 1930 the cobblestone paving of Red Square was replaced with granite paving stones, and a monument to Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky (leaders of the army that forced the surrender of Polish invaders in 1612) was moved from the center of the square to its present location in front of Saint Basil's in order to facilitate parades and demonstrations. During the Soviet era the annual May Day and October Revolution (November 7 Day) military parades were probably the best-known celebrations held in Red Square. Although they were discontinued after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, they were revived in 2008 by President Vladimir Putin.

Saint Basil's Cathedral

At the southern end of Moscow's Red Square stands the icon of Russia and its most famous tourist attraction, The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, commonly known as Saint Basil's Cathedral or Pokrovsky Cathedral and officially known as The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat.

This Russian Orthodox church, which is now a museum and temple, looks more like a cluster of brightly colored hot air balloons than a cathedral. It was built during the period from 1555 to 1561 on orders from Prince Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) to commemorates his capture of Kazan and Astrakhan after defeating the Tatars (Mongols). The original building, known as Trinity Church and later Trinity Cathedral contained 8 side churches arranged around the 9th Central Church of Intercession; the 10th church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local Saint Vasily (Basil) The Blessed.

For about 40 years, this world-famous landmark was the city's tallest building until the completion of Prince Ivan III (Ivan the Great) Bell Tower inside The Kremlin in 1600. Tradition held that the church was built by two architects, Barma and Postnik Yakovlev. Researchers proposed that both names refer to the same person, Postnik Yakovlev or, alternatively, Ivan Yakovlevich Barma. Legend has it that Ivan IV (the Terrible) had the architects blinded so that they could never build anything comparable. This is a myth, however, as records show that they were employed a quarter of a century later.

The State Historical Museum

Located at the northern end of Red Square, The State Historical Museum is the largest Russian museum, established by the emperor Alexander II of Russia, between 1875 and 1883. The collection of the museum completely reflects Russian centuries-old history and culture from ancient times to the present day. It consists of the main building which is a UNISCO World Heritage Site, exhibition center with the Museum of Patriotic War of 1812, and the Museums "Pokrovsky Cathedral" and "House of Romanov Boyars". Great Russian artists such as Aivazovsky, Vasnetsov and Serov filled its interiors with magnificent wall paintings. Nowadays, the museum displays and exhibitions have become an integral part of Russia's cultural life.

Lobnoye Mesto, The Statue of Kuzma Minin, and Dmitry Pozharsky

The only sculptured monument on the square is a bronze statue of Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who helped to clear Moscow from the Polish invaders in 1612. Nearby is the so called Lobnoye Mesto, a circular platform where public ceremonies used to take place. Both the Minin and Pozharskiy statue and the Lobnoye Mesto were once located more centrally in Red Square but were moved to their current location in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral to facilitate the large military parades of the Soviet era.

Kazan Cathedral

Upon recovering Moscow from the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1612, Prince Dmitry Pozharsky attributed his success to the divine help of the icon Theotokos of Kazan, to whom he had prayed on several occasions. From his private funds, he financed the construction of Kazan Cathedral, also known as the "Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan", on Red Square in Moscow, which was first mentioned in historical records in 1625. The church was destroyed and rebuilt many times.

In 1936, when Red Square was being prepared for holding the military parades of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin ordered the square cleared of churches (Saint Basil's Cathedral was saved from destruction). After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Kazan Cathedral was the first church to be completely rebuilt. The cathedral's restoration during 1990-1993 was based on the detailed measurements and photographs of the original church. However, the icon of the Kazan Virgin in the restored cathedral is a copy; the original is now in the Yelokhovo Cathedral.

Lenin's Mausoleum

Lenin's Mausoleum also known as Lenin's Tomb, located on Red Square at the Kremlin walls, is a mausoleum that currently serves as the resting place of Vladimir Lenin, the communist revolutionary and founding father of the Soviet Union. His preserved body has been on public display there since shortly after his death in 1924, with rare exceptions in wartimes. The mausoleum was designed by Alexei Shchusev and completed in 1930.

Shchusev's diminutive but monumental three-tiered dark red pyramid on top of black structure was made of reinforced concrete with brick walls, a granite lining, and a finish of marble, labradorite and raspberry quartzite, and incorporates some elements from ancient mausoleums, such as The Step Pyramid in Egypt, The Tomb of Cyrus the Great in Iran and, The Temple of the Inscriptions in Mexico.