Critics say Red Square project will alter character, endanger St. Basil's





Repairs to Stalin's depot threaten St Basil's

By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
Last Updated: 2:06am GMT 16/02/2007

Like any dictator fearful of his people, Joseph Stalin had a contingency plan to prevent a popular revolution.

Unknown to the Muscovites that shivered their way along the cobblestones above, he hid a unit of his best and most powerful tanks in the basement of the Lower Trading Rows on the eastern perimeter of Red Square.

If the huddled masses tried to storm the Kremlin, they were under orders to trundle up specially built ramps and come to Uncle Joe's rescue.

Stalin never had to give the order but talk today to some of Moscow's leading architects and you get the impression that it would have been better if he had. Last summer, the Kremlin's presidential properties department gave the order to turn the Lower Trading Rows into an upmarket hotel and auction house.

The scaffolding is now up and the bulldozers have moved in. Predictably perhaps, the defenders of Moscow's dwindling architectural heritage, wearily familiar with the city's post-perestroika credo of "restoration by means of demolition", are in uproar.

Not only, they say, does the construction work threaten to change the character of Red Square, a UNESCO-protected site, it also endangers the nearby onion domes of Russia's most famous cathedral, St Basil's. Even Stalin, who revelled in destroying many of the country's churches, did not have the nerve to destroy it...


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