Home to some of the most famous landmarks in Russia such as the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Lenin Mausoleum, the Krasnaya ploshchaAd, or as we know in English, the Red Square has a rich history that spans over five centuries.
Originally serving as the main marketplace of Moscow, the Red Square appeared at around the same period the modern Kremlin did. Tsar Ivan the Great commissioned fortified stone walls with deep moats from Italian architects, and the area outside one of these walls became the “great market” of Moscow.
At that time, the Red Square was considered a holy place, with many religious festivities happening there. For example, a famous East Orthodox Christian tradition in which the patriarch parades on a donkey accompanied by the tsar during Palm Sunday across the Red Square.
The Red Square has its denomination not because of its bloodshed history or soviet influence, instead the word “Krasnaya” which originally meant beautiful in old Russian, came to mean red, therefore from the 17th century onwards the Russians named the square the way we know.
During the 18th century, Catherine the Great renovated the square, by building limestone market lines and reconstructed the Lobnoye mesto, which is a platform in which the tsar gave his speeches. Other public buildings, such as the town hall and the first public theater were also built around the Red Square during that period.
In the early 1800’s, the entire square was paved in stone, and a new improvement phase began after the Napoleonic invasion of 1812. The old moats were filled and turned into gardens, and older buildings were demolished and replaced by modern buildings, such as the contemporary GUM building. At the end of the century, the entire square was illuminated by electricity, with a tramway service appearing a decade later.
After the Russian Revolution, the square began a strategic location for the soviet government, where many military parades and political speeches were held. In 1924, shortly after Lenin’s death, a mausoleum was erected in his homage. Two churches were demolished at that time, the Kazan Cathedral and the Iverskaya Chapel, in order to make way for military vehicles. There were also plans of removing the renowned Saint Basil’s Cathedral to increase the square size, but legend says this was vetoed by Stalin himself by ordering the architect to put it back in the scale model project.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Red Square became the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the region, and since the early 2000’s it served as one of the main concert venues in Russia. Also, during the Christmas holidays, an ice-skating rink has been built there.
Since 2008, military parades have resumed in the Red Square, especially its Victory day parade in what the Russians call “The Great Patriotic War”. In 2010, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Allied victory over Germany in 1945, there for the first time in history a joint military parade comprised of French, British, American and Russian soldiers. There you have it! A brief history of The Red Square in Moscow, did you learn something new?