One of the most imposing and controversial buildings in Russia, the resurrected Cathedral of Christ the Saviour has had a short but turbulent history. It was originally commissioned after the defeat of Napoleon, but work did not begin on its construction until 1839. Designed by the great St. Petersburg architect Konstantin Ton, who was also responsible for the Grand Kremlin Palace and the Kremlin Armoury and whose church designs pioneered the Byzantine-revival style, the cathedral was erected, for maximum effect, on the embankment only a few minutes' walk from the Kremlin. Sadly, this entailed the destruction of the medieval Alekseevskiy Convent, a course of events which lends an intriguing irony to the cathedral's own fate.
The enormous - and extremely expensive - cathedral was eventually consecrated in 1883, and its vast copper domes dominated the Moscow skyline. However, the cathedral had taken almost as much time to build and to decorate as it would remain standing in its original incarnation. For fairly obvious reasons, it was singled out by the Soviet government for destruction and, in 1931, blown to pieces to make way for a proposed Palace of Soviets, one of the most influential pieces of architecture never to be built. The design approved by Stalin would have stood over 400 meters high, with a vast statue of Lenin at its peak, and, although it was never built, the blueprint was nonetheless the forefather of the Seven Sisters, the magnificent Stalinist skyscrapers that lower over central Moscow. Only the foundations had been laid when the Second World War brought an abrupt end to such an ambitious project, and Stalin's successor, Nikita Khruschev, had no stomach for such grandiose displays of hubris. The project was abandoned, and the site turned over to become an open-air swimming pool, the largest in the world, which was kept at a temperature of 27°C all year round. The result was a thick covering of fog that shrouded a number of gruesome deaths (and murders) among the swimmers.
The symbolic significance of the site was reaffirmed after the fall of the Soviet Union, when ambitious Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov joined forces with the Orthodox Church to resurrect the cathedral in a $360-million reconstruction project. Completed in 2000, the new cathedral is loosely based on Ton's original designs, but constructed with modern building materials and fitted out with all mod-cons including air conditioning, telecommunications facilities, elevators and underground parking. Visitors can only see the cathedral as part of an organized tour, one of the highlights of which is the panoramic view from the 40-meter-high observation platform.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.