Seven Sisters and their Secrets
This Soviet tour is the most scenic. We will explore 7 Soviet skysrapers from Stalin era, all spread out around the city center of Moscow, and almost all visible on a Moscow river boat tour or Sparrow Hills observation deck.
“… what did Comrade Stalin say? He said: “ people go to the USA, and then come back and keep gasping at American huge houses.
Let them come to Moscow, let them see what huge houses we have and let them gasp at them.”
History of Seven Sisters
The idea of building Stalin Skyscrapers in Moscow was first discussed at the meeting of Moscow City Commetee of the Communist Party on 20 January, 1947. The construction of several high rise buildings was high on the agenda and the issue was discussed in detail. 7 months later, on 7 September 1947, only one hour after the statue of Moscow founder Yury Dolgoruky was opened on Tverskaya street, the foundations of 8 skyscrapers were laid, commemorating the 800th anniversary of Moscow, which, after 800 years of great history, would flourish and rise up to the sky.
Stalin skyscrapers are known as the Seven Sisters, although this term is nor used neither understood by the locals. Muscovites usually refer to them as “vysotki” or “Stalinskie vysotki”, which means high-rise or Stalin skyscrapers. They were built in an elaborate combination of different architectural solutions, the style which was later named Soviet Monumental Classiсism or Stalinist Empire Style. Although Soviet architects tried their best to create something truly unique, they could not avoid fractional adoptions of technology used in the construction of some American skyscrapers. However, it would be wrong to concider them a forefather of Stalinist high-rises, for exampe, the Manhattan Municipal Building, built in the style of neoclassicism, resembles just a tiny bit the architectural trends of that time.
The Seven Sisters are: Moscow State University (the Main Building), Hotel Ukraina, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Buiding, Kudrinskaya Square Building, Red Gates Administrative Building. There supposed to be the the 8th skyscraper – Zaryadie Administrative Building, which was never built.
Moscow State University
The main building of MSU (students often call it GZ – Glavnoye Zdanie – “Main Building”) is located near Universitet metro station. It is home to Faculties of Mechanics and Mathematics, Geology and Geography, the administration office, the research library, the swimming-pool and the museum. Side wings of it are halls of residence, where students, doctoral candidates and professors live. Like the other skysrapers of residential character, the Main Building has a closed-loop community infrastructure.
Initially it was meant to be built with a statue of the 18th-century scholar and founder of the university Mikhail Lomonosov at its peak, but on behest of Stalin the statue was changed with a spire. The Main Building is the tallest of all Stalinist Skyscraper: it has 36 floors, and is 240 metres in height. It had been the tallest building in Europe until Messe Turm in Frankfurt on the Main was built in 1990.
It is also one of the most mystical ones. Rumors go round that there is an underground shelter comparable in size with the skyscraper itself and a secret metro line, which leads from the Kremlin directly to Vnukovo airport. The building was constructed in part by several thousand Gulag inmates. When the construction was nearing completion, some inmates were housed on the 24th and 25th floors to reduce transportation costs and the number of guards required. However, the workers were underestimated.
The legend says there was a man who made something like an aeroplane out of plywood and wire, and… there are different versions about what happened next. One version says he managed to escape, the other one doesn’t happy a happy end: the man was shot down straight after the jump.
Among the most famous alumni Nobel laureats of MSU are the first and only president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Andrey Sakharov, poets Mikhail Lermontov and Konstantin Balmont, designer Artemy Lebedev and rock singer Zemfira.
As with all skyscrapers, MSU is magically lit at night and we recommend you to explore Stalin skyscrapers on our Moscow Night tour.
It is the second tallest of the “sisters” (198 metres, 34 floors). It was the tallest hotel in the world from the time of its construction until the Peach Tree Plaza Hotel opened in Atlanta, Georgia in 1975.
According to Stalin’s initial plan it should have been named “Hotel in Dragomilovo”, but, as it was being constructed when Nikita Khruschev came to power, it acquired the name of Khruschev’s motherland, Ukraine.
Nowadays the central part of the building is still a hotel, and in the side wings there are private apartments.
Since 2005 till 2010 the building was under repairs; after that the new owners renamed it to Radisson Royal Hotel. It also should be mentioned that the hotel is one of the largest in Europe with more than 500 rooms and 50 meter long swimming pool.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located near Smolenskaya metro station. It was the first of the “vysotkas” to be completed, in 1953. This 172 metres building currently houses the offices for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Russian Federation. The national emblem of the USSR, sickle and hammer, on the main facade looks austere and statuesque.
Initially, the high rise should have been completed with a flat roof. It was Stalin’s idea to crown it with the spire. However, the brick spire could have broken the roof, so the architects made the spire of light weight steel construction and painted it sienna. That is why the colour of the most part of the building and the color of the spire are different.
Another distinctive feature of this high-rise is that the ruby star at the peak is missing. After Stalin’s death the architect Vladimir Gelfreih suggested taking down the spire, but Nikita Khruschev was against it: “Let it be the monument to Comrade Stalin’s thoughtlessness”, he said.
Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel
This is a relatively small (136 meters, 26 floors, only 19 of which are in use) building decorated with pseudo-Russian ornaments mimicking Alexey Shchusev’s Kazansky Rail Terminal.
Inside, it was inefficiently planned. In his 1955 decree “On liquidation of excesses…”, Khruschev asserted that at least 1000 rooms could be built for the cost of Leningradskaya’s 354, that only 22% of the total space was rentable, and that the costs per bed were 50% higher than in Moskva Hotel.
After a multi-million dollar renovation ending in 2008, the hotel re-opened as the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya. It’s worth mentioning that despite the full repair, the interior and the initial image remained uchanged and the facade became even more splendid.
Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building
The Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building was strategically placed at the confluence of the Moskva River and Yauza River. It was intended as an elite Apartment Building.
However, soon after construction the units were converted to “kommunalka” (communal apartments). It is said that this high rise was also built by inmates and German war prisoners. The legend has it that some unfortunate foreman was mured in the wall by the workers. Since then foremen didn’t go higher that the 5th floor, scared of being thrown down.
There are shops, cafes, beauty salons, and post office in the building. On the ground floor there is the cinema “Illuzion” where Soviet and foreign classical films are always on screen.
Kudrinskaya Square Building
The building is located on the end of Krasnaya Presnya street, facing the Sadovoye Koltso and was primary built with high-end apartments for Soviet cultural leaders. It is a scene of action for the Soviet film Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, although the heroines open the door of this building and go inside the one on Kotelnicheskaya embankment.
This vysotka acquired the name “Airmen’s House”, because many apartments were given to the families of air industry workers.
On the top floors there was the special equipment of KGB, used for surveillance of the American embassy.
Red Gates Administrative Building
The construction of the tower was complicated by its location near the Moscow Metro tunnels and the Krasnye Vorota station. A second entrance to the station into the ground floor of the tower was built, which opened on 31 July 1954.
The main tower has 24 levels and is 133 metres tall. It is built on the highest point of Sadovoe Koltso (Garden Ring, the border between the city center and outskirts of Moscow), that’s why despite its rather small size it still looks quite massive.
Before the skyscraper was built there used to be the house where famous Russian poet, Mikhail Lermontov, was born.
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