This book surveys two centuries of Russian history through a succession of ambitious architectural projects designed for a single construction site in central Moscow. Czars, Bolshevik rulers, and contemporary Russian leaders alike have dreamed of glorious monuments to themselves and their ideologies on this site. The history of their efforts reflects the story of the nation itself and its repeated attempts to construct or reconstruct its identity and to repudiate or resuscitate emblems of the past.
In the nineteenth century Czar Alexander I began to construct the largest cathedral (and the largest building) in the world at the time. His successor, Nicholas I, changed both the site and the project. Completed by Alexander III, the cathedral was demolished by Stalin in the 1930s to make way for the tallest building in the world, the Palace of Soviets, but that project was ended by the war. During the Khrushchev years the excavation pit was transformed into an outdoor heated swimming pool—the world’s largest, of course—and under Yeltsin’s direction the pool was replaced with a reconstruction of the destroyed cathedral. The book explores each project intended for this ideologically-charged site and documents with 60 illustrations the grand projects that were built as well as those that were only dreamed.