Well, there goes another assumption. The Red Square is not designated ‘red’ because of the communists nor because of these blokes who had flocked there the day The BB and I arrived.
It was originally called Beautiful Square, красивая площадь. This looks and sounds like Red Square, красная площадь, (as you would know if you could hear me pronounce them in my newly-acquired, yet impeccable Russian accent) so the name changed.
It was not always so beautiful. In fact, it used to be a slum. At the end of the 1400s, Ivan III ordered it to be cleared. It turned later into a market area, giving it – you guessed it – the name Большой рынок, Great Market. (I don’t have my Russian-speaking child here to check whether this is the right part of speech but we’ll go with it). It had more name changes than you can poke a stick at, going through Trinity (the church before St Basil’s) and Fire and/or Burnt Square because of medieval invaders’ propensity for setting Mosacow aflame. The massings of the Soviet army during WWII echoed that medieval fighting but events in the square continue to move towards more socially cohesive activities such as concerts, fashion shows and celebratory fireworks.
The most eye-catching part of the square is the cathedral going by the popular name of St Basil’s. It is actually a cluster of churches that Ivan the Terrible had built to commemorate his military campaigns. The architecture was unique at the time. It was originally red and white brickwork with some green and blue ceramic inserts plus gilded domes but the increasing availability of bright paints in the 17th century allowed the Russians to go wild.
The square, or ‘rectangle’ as it would more accurately be named (330m x 70m), is bound on the east by Gum, a huge shopping centre. People used to come from afar to buy goods there because the shelves in their own cities were empty. Stalin planned to demolish it but the wives of politicians beseeched their husbands to change his mind – what could be easier than nipping across the square for a cup of tea or a new coat? The glass roof required 80 000kg of metal to cope with the snowfalls. The result is a light-filled, interior designer’s dream space.
Opposite, at the base of the Kremlin wall, is Lenin’s mausoleum. Stalin used to be in there too but Krushkev removed him as part of his de-Stalinization programme and relegated him to the Kremlin Wall Necropolis with the remains of notable politicians, military leaders, cosmonauts and scientists. The guards inside allow no time to linger as one passes the small and waxy Lenin. (The powers-that-be insist it really is him and not a model.) The mausoleum and necropolis are free to visit though there is a charge for storing phones and cameras which are forbidden in the area. It is open daily from 10am – 1pm except Mondays and Fridays.
Call it what you will, the Red Square is a must-see in Moscow.