Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mystery Photo #24: The city is Moscow, Russia.

   Probably the distant church gave you the clue you needed with its "onion" domes. Yes the city is Moscow, Russia, and we are looking at the 350 feet high monument to Peter the Great which is set in the confluence of the Moscow River and the Vodootvodny Canal in the middle of Moscow. A Georgian designer by the name of Zurab Tsereteli erected it in 1997 to commemorate 300 years history of the Russian Navy, established by Peter the Great. It is the 8th tallest statue in the world, made of stainless steel, bronze and copper.
      And it is a source of great controversy in the city of Moscow. First it has been voted one of the 10 ugliest monuments in the world. Its base would seem to be a towering wave from which the bows of several smaller ships poke out. And riding the top of this wave is a lifesize sailing ship with the sails furled. Standing astride the bow is a giant Peter the Great holding a golden map up in his right hand. He is wearing clothes almost looking like a Roman soldier, and totally out of sync with his time period. The Moscovites wonder why in the world it would be mounted in Moscow when Peter the Great hated Moscow and moved his capitol to beautiful St. Petersburg.
The statue in the near distance, from a nearby park.

     And then there is the story of the designer. Apparently he was a favorite of the then Mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov who gave this artist several municipal commissions, among them the Cathedral of Christ the Savior which you see in the background of the photo of the Peter the Great statue, to the left. The story is that this statue is based on a design to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. Hence the ship is possibly the Nina, or the Pinta, or the Santa Maria. But no one in America would purchase and commission the statue. A similar Columbus statue was eventually sent to Puerto Rico but it was never assembled. Of course, designer Tsereteli denies that this was the Columbus statue that was repurposed to a Russian theme. It is a fact that as soon as Mayor Luzhkov left office, Moscow tried to send the statue to St. Petersburg, but that city also refused it. And so it still stands on the Moscow River.
     I recall when our guide in Moscow pulled up along the Moscow River to show us this statue close up. He made some slightly negative remark about this statue which I didn't understand at the time because I had not read of this controversy. I can only say that from close up and from the near distance it is impressive to the eye. But I can see some of the issues. It might be like the blue working man's shirt sculpture, designed by conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim, that was supposed to be mounted on the corner of a parking lot down at our airport, Mitchell Field, in Milwaukee. Some thought that this huge translucent shirt denigrated the city's labor worker past. However, the artist insists that was never his intention. He had many other successful artistic installations that especially in his later years championed the human figure. But in Milwaukee, this particular design was so controversial that it never made it. But apparently neither did this Peter the Great (Columbus) statue at several places.
The model for the proposed Mitchel Field parking lot "blue shirt" sculpture.

     Near the area of the Peter the Great Statue, between the Moscow River and the .... Canal, and south of the Kremlin, is a small pedestrian park called Bolotnoya Square. Along with a fountain and a typical 'man on a horse' statue, there is a famous sculpture group placed in the square in 2001 called The Sin Monument, or Children Are the Victims of Adult Vices by Mikhail Chemiakin. In the center of the grouping are two children covered with gold tone foil, and around them are aligned fairly large sort of scary statues depicting various adult "sins." The children have no where to turn because every adult figure is guilty of some flaw. And in addition, they are playing "blind man's bluff" , ie blind folded so they will not be able to see the obvious signs in the adults that show their flaws. When we visited in .... there were still a lot of people visiting this sculpture grouping. I have a photo of the whole grouping below. Here is a link of a site that shows each individual statue with great detail.
Broad view of "The Sins Monument", Bolotnoya Square

A closer view of the center of the grouping with the children with blindfolds.
Ludzhou Bridge "padlock" tree.
     When we visited Moscow, we noticed all the wedding parties at almost every tourist site: the Kremlin, St. Basil Cathedral on the Red Square, the nearby Church of Christ the Holy Savior, the view over the city, from the University of Moscow, and last but not least, Ludzhov Bridge across the Moskva River. For many decades, newly wed couples came here and put a padlock on the rails of the bridge, possibly recalling a past custom where newlyweds were locked into the parents' barn to provide privacy on the wedding night. These padlocks were meant to show the total locking commitment of the new couple. Once the padlock was placed on the rails, the key was thrown into the canal water and the union could only supposedly be dissolved by one of the party diving to the bottom of the cold polluted Moskva River to retrieve the key to their own lock, of course, next to impossible. Over the decades, so many rusted old locked appeared on the bridge that it looked like a junkyard. Therefore city authorities cut the locks off the bridge rails and erected "padlock" trees on the bridge and later as the need arose, along the promenade along the River. These padlocks have appeared elsewhere as well, for example on other bridges, and on the railing surrounding the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, but at many of these other sites, the locks are cut off as soon as they are placed. It is rumored that so many keys have been thrown into the River here along with champagne bottles and glasses, the river needs to be dredged regularly to provide passage for the river tour boats that pass here. To the left is one of the Ludzhov Bridge "padlock trees."

Muzeon Park of the Arts: central statue of Lenin, surrounding busts of Stalin,
and  symbols of Russia in the background.
     Also in this downtown area is a very interesting park. Our guides told us that in English it is known alternatively as the Park of Fallen Heroes, or the Park of Fallen Monuments. In the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, there were many movements in  Moscow to remove statues of Lenin, Stalin and other Communist leaders from parks, square, and traffic circles in the city. Interestingly even recently there was a proposal in front of the Russian legislature to remove all these statues throughout the country. There are a lot of Stalin and Lenin statues still around the country and the proposal said the cost to keep these statues up could be spent on parks and other amenities for the people. Of course, the Communist party did not like this and so far no law has been passed. This Park is really called Muzeon Park of the Arts and is on property adjoining the Krymsky Val building shared by the Tretyakov Museum of Modern Arts division, and the Central House of Artists. Below are some other photos from Muzeon Park.

Krymsky Val building of the Tretyakov Art Museum, adjacent to Muzeon Park.

Lenin in the center, small Stalin bust to left, Lenin bust to right, and Russian
emblems to the far left, in Muzeon Park.

In the center is a wall created by placing heads of fallen statues in a wire cage
to create a wall. There are several walls like this in Muzeon Park.
Statue of Stalin without its pedestal in Muzeon Park.

     There is also quite a story about this now famous church, across the Moscow River and a few blocks southwest of the Kremlin. It is the modern church called the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, building initiated in 1992 and consecrated in 2000. At 338 feet high, it is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the world. Initiated in 1812 by Alexander I, whose architect patterned it after Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and further changed and commissioned by his successor brother, Nicholas I, it was finally finished and consecrated in 1883. It was reportedly a remarkable structure with huge marble freezes which commemorated the defeat of Napolean and other historical events in the Tsarist Russian history. However when the Communists took over, it was regarded as a waste. The government needed the value of the gold which covered its domes, which was first harvested. The Cathedral itself was dynamited to rubble in 1931 at Stalin's order. At least many of the detailed marble freezes were removed and are now in a museum. Stalin intended to build the Palace of the Soviets on the site, as a monument to socialism. However, World War II interfered and that building was never erected. Instead the large hole left by the demolition was turned into an the largest outdoor swimming pool in the world. Our guide could remember swimming there in the 1960s and 1970s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church sought and won permission to rebuild the Cathedral of Christ the Savior based on the original church. Funds were collected from the people all over Russia with 1,000,000 Muscovites contributing. The first architect, Denisov, however, was relieved of his duties and replaced by Zurab Tsereteli, a familiar name to you readers, as he is the designer of the Peter the Great statue which was the mystery Photo. True to his nature, Tsereteli made several modifications to Denisov's design, which included replacing the marble freezes with modern bronze ones. This Cathedral now has the only such bronze interior elements like it in any Eastern Orthodox Church. Truly this Cathedral is magnificent and remarkably suitable as the national Russian church and now centerpiece of the Russian Orthodox sect.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Gives you an idea about the massive nature of this church.

The Kremlin Wall from outside Red Square
Famous Saint Basil's Cathedral, now a museum.

Clock tower of the Kremlin

St. Basil's Cathedral from inside Red Square

Kremlin wall from inside Red Square; Lenin's tomb to the right in mid distance.
      We made another stop while in Moscow, not quite downtown, but still worth a stop. This is the grounds of the All Russia Exhibition Center. This site was a gorgeous Exposition in 1939 with magnificent buildings showing off what Bolshevik Russia and the Soviets had accomplished by this time. It fell into disrepair but in 1992 at least some of it was resurrected. The grounds now house an amusement park. But some of the old architecture still shines through.

The huge gates of the 1939 Exposition Grounds.
A wonderful fountain showing peasant women in native costume. It was not
running when we were there but apparently runs in the summer.

       All in all, I found the city of Moscow very unique, and really quite beautiful in many areas. Of course, some of the interest remains historical when the Kremlin was the center of government of our Cold War Enemies at the time. Now it is clear that Moscow has joined the world of fashion, modern architecture and great restaurants, unfortunately catering to very expensive tastes. But I would go back. It was in many ways a magnificent trip, both to Moscow and to the reset of Russia that we visited: Volga River cruise, Yaraslavl, Kitzi, and St. Peterburg.

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