Can you think of any buildings that were demolished in order to build something instead and then were built anew some time later? Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow is probably the brightest example.
The cathedral was commissioned to commemorate the victory of Russian nation over Napoleon in 1812. It took more than 40 years to be built and became the most important Orthodox church of the Russian State. During the Soviet era, when hundreds of churches were destroyed to proclaim a new, atheist communist state, the Cathedral became no exception. Moreover, not only was it doomed to be demolished, but it was also to be replaced by the grand Palace of the Soviets. An old ideological symbol was to be replaced by the another symbol of the new utopia.
On the 5th of December 1931 two explosions destroyed the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. However, the beginning of the World War stopped the construction works and in 1956, when Stalin was already dead and the contextual frame totally changed, the idea of constructing the Palace of the Soviets was abolished. Instead, paradoxically, in 1960 a huge outdoors swimming pool ‘Moscow‘ was opened on the site of the cathedral. My grandmother told me they were going there every weekend. The view of it, all surrounded with the steam on a Sunday winter morning, must have been pretty surreal.
In 1991 the Soviet Union stopped to exist and, as a symbolic act of reincarnating Russia, the decision was made to restore the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Already in 1996 the first sermon was held in the cathedral and here it stood peacefully as a hundred years ago – as if nothing has happened.
It was, however, already charged with that energy of turmoil and ideological shifts. So probably it is no surprise that it was here that on the 21st of February 2012 the Pussy Riot group made an action called ‘Punk Prayer’ which led to their imprisonment and provoked wide resonance in Russia and abroad. Thus, the Cathedral acquired its new layer of history as it often today referred to among locals as ‘Pussy Riot Cathedral’ or the main Moscow dancefloor.
It is impressive how buildings can be wiped off or reconstructed so easily when big ideologies are at work. Who knows what will be on site of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in a hundred years time?..