Moscow: New Landmarks and a Monument to Kitsch
In 1995, Moscow felt like the one place in Russia where money was absolutely pouring in. Post-Soviet capitalism was born here, and a flashy, in-your-face upper class had turned the city into a moneyed playground. Fancy restaurants had blossomed, purring Mercedes roamed the streets and high-end fashion stores were already commonplace.
Ten years later, other cities are slowly following suit -- but Moscow is still the king of the money hill. Part of that is due to Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a bald, compact fireplug of a man whose goal is to make Moscow into the envy of the world. One way he aims to do this is by funneling cash into gigantic new landmarks, a few of which David and I checked out on a recent stroll around the city.
First, we came across the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a sprawling Russian Orthodox church on the northwest bank of the Moscow River. This is an exact reproduction of the original 19th-century cathedral, which was dynamited by Stalin in the 1930s to make way for the biggest skyscraper in the world. Unfortunately, the land was too unstable to support the skyscraper, so a giant outdoor swimming pool was built there instead.
As the joke goes, generations of grandmothers used to tell their grandkids, "Oh, children, there used to be a beautiful church here, but now there's just this awful swimming pool." Now, grandmothers tell their grandkids, "Oh, children, there used to be a beautiful swimming pool here..." More seriously, some have criticized the rebuilding effort as spending too much money -- reportedly $360 million -- on building one new church, when thousands of smaller historic churches across Russia are in need of renovation.
Whatever one's point of view on the matter, there's no denying that the cathedral itself is gorgeous, with its gleaming gold cupolas, white marble exterior and massive bronze doors. The interior, with its riot of gold leaf, marble and exquisitely painted domed ceilings, is also stunningly beautiful.
The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for another new landmark, just across the river. I'd heard about the new monument to Peter the Great, and heard it was an absolute monstrosity, but I wanted to reserve judgment until I saw it for myself.
Readers, it is an abomination.
I first saw it from a distance, while gazing idly to the south from the cathedral. It's so monstrously outsized, it looked surreal. Towering more than 300 feet into the air, the monument is comprised of an apparently life-sized sailing ship, perched on a column of stylized waves and ship prows that resembles nothing so much as the stem of a giant mushroom cloud. Bestriding it all at the very top is a colossal Peter the Great, dressed in a Roman toga and clutching a golden scroll.
As a monument to Peter the Great, the statue is of, shall we say, questionable merit. As a monument to kitsch, it is picture-perfect -- especially with the karaoke party boat that's docked right in front of it. But one thing is certain: it's something people talk about when they come to Moscow.
Tomorrow: We track down MC Pavlov, the "Godfather of Russian Rap," to find out what he's been up to since 1995.
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