Though I’ve since returned to Yaroslavl, I’ve still been thinking a lot about Moscow while sorting through the hundreds of photos I took there. A few places in particular stand out to me, both in terms of their brilliant colors and designs, and also their rich history. These two buildings, located diagonally from each other on the Red Square, represent very different institutions and very different eras but are equally beautiful (if a little strange).
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
St. Basil’s is probably the most iconic image of Russia. You can’t leave without getting a picture of yourself standing in front of it, and half the souvenirs sold outside the square have its image plastered on them somewhere.
I always found it ironic that such a bright and seemingly joyful cathedral was constructed under the orders of Ivan the Terrible. It puts a damper on the whole “Candyland” theme. The cathedral was constructed in the late 16th century to commemorate the final battles of the Russo-Kazan War, when the Russians captured Kazan and Astrakhan.
Today the cathedral serves as a museum (which you can pay approximately $8 to walk through), having been confiscated from the Orthodox church and secularized during the Soviet era. Walking around within it, I felt like I was in a labyrinth of Meghan-sized corridors. Every bit of the walls and arched ceilings seemed to be painted with colorful designs, even the interior of the onion domes.
Pronounced like “goom”, not like chewing gum, the State Department Store (Государственный универсальный магазин) is today a shopping mall that stetches along one side of the Red Square. GUM was constructed in the 1890s, though before the 1920s it was known as the Upper Trading Rows. What makes it so spectacular is the glass-ceiling design, which you can see in the photos below.
GUM has an interesting history (more of which you can read about here), particularly how it evolved during and after Soviet times. After being privatized after the end of the Soviet Union, the name was changed slightly (Gosudarstvennyi (‘state’) to Glavnyi (‘main’)), so that the same abbreviation could still be used.
Today, GUM houses designer boutiques, cafes, and stunning displays. I strolled along the main corridor for an hour, staring longingly at shoes in bubbles and soda fountains and ice creams stands and strange floating bicycles and balloons. To me, it seems like a strong declaration of “don’t worry, we’ve got this capitalist thing down pat,” with names like Cartier, La Perla, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Salvatore Ferragamo lining the walls.
* Bonus creepy fact I learned from Wikipedia: “After the suicide of Stalin’s wife Nadezhda in 1932, the GUM was used briefly to display her body.”
More photos of Moscow here.