If monuments can provide clues to how a nation values its history, then big monuments say something about history’s biggest moments.
In a previous post, we gave you Russia’s alternative history through 13 unusual monuments. Now, we give you Russia’s most usual history – as demonstrated by 13 massive monuments.
The building of huge memorials on Russian territory reached its height during the Soviet period, although some have also been built since the collapse of the USSR. While Russians have been into celebrating their history in a big way for quite a while – the pedestal of the Bronze Horseman in St. Petersburg is the largest rock humans have ever moved – most imperial monuments were destroyed when the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917.
1. Peter the Great’s most famous statue may be in St. Petersburg, but his largest statue – and the largest monument including a person in Russia at 98 meters– is actually in Moscow. Built in 1997 for the 300th anniversary of the Russian navy, its biggest claim to fame is not its literal size, but the size of public hatred that has been directed at it. Peter the Great was never a great fan of Moscow, hence abandoning it to build a new capital, but that’s not the only problem with it. Even St. Petersburg declined to take the eyesore off Moscow’s hands.
2. A 30-meter monument to Alexander Nevsky, who won some technically minor but morally important battles against Catholic (the Orthodox Church liked him, and made him a Saint), Northern (the St. Petersburg imperial elite liked him), Germanic (Stalin liked him) invaders in the thirteenth century, was erected near Pskov. He overlooks the sight of his famous Battle on the Ice from the top of a hill. Invading Russia is certainly a slippery slope.
3. The largest statue in the world of a historical figure (not including pedestal) is of Vladimir Lenin in Volgograd.
4. However, who really cares about the pedestal and the body? Wasn’t the most important part of Lenin his mind? Ulan-Ude sure thought so when it erected the world’s largest Lenin head at 14 meters tall.
5. Volgograd also erected the world’s tallest statue, “The Motherland Calls,” in 1967 to honor those who died fighting Nazi Germany, particularly in the Battle of Stalingrad (modern day Volgograd), one of the largest, bloodiest, and longest battles in modern history (the subject of an amazing, newly translated novel by Vasily Grossman) that was the a first step toward the Allied victory. Since then, other statues have been erected that surpass its 85 meters, but it is hard to imagine any of them surpassing its majesty and patriotism.
6. An entirely different expression – colder and calmer, perhaps, but emanating no less strength – can be found at the Memorial to the Defenders of the Arctic, a stoic 35-meter man looking over the port of Murmansk from a hill 173 meters high, popularly called Alyosha.
7. A male worker with a hammer and a female collective farm worker with a sickle, even at 23.5 meters (58 with the pedestal), managed to grow into something larger – in fact quite a lot larger than itself: one of the primary symbols of the Soviet Union.
8. The Soviet Union had many monuments celebrating the friendship of nations, but the largest one at 46 meters is in Izhevsk, the capital of Udmurtia, the home of the Udmurt people. The reality of Soviet ethnic policy, however, may not have been quite as simple as the open book design of the monument would imply.
9. The Soviets had to make plenty of space in their monument building for achievements in space. The Conquerors of the Cosmos monument in Moscow is 107 meters tall, beaten only by the Monument of Victory (Great Patriotic, naturally), which is 141.8 meters in memory of the 1418 days of war.
10. What makes a better monument than the thing itself? Samara made a memorial out of a 49-meter tall rocket that was actually launched into space.
11. The largest globe in Europe, and the second largest in the world, is located in Smolensk. No, they did not flip it around to put Russia closer to eye level.
12. Making monuments is certainly in Russia’s DNA, so much so that they even put up a giant monument to DNA, the only one like it in the world.
13. It was a native of Yekaterinburg, Boris Yeltsin, who dissolved the Soviet Union, so perhaps it is appropriate that the fashion for huge Soviet monuments shrunk there, down to nearly nothing. Yekaterinburg has the world’s largest (and only) monument to an invisible man.
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