Moscow's Famous Buildings

With their spookily lit cornices dominating the skyline since the mid-20th century, the "Seven Sisters" (also known as the "Stalin Gothics") are as much a part of the Moscow experience as the Empire State Building is in New York. The neo-Gothic buildings are often called "wedding cake" skyscrapers because their tiered construction creates a sense of upward movement and grandeur, like a rocket on standby.

The seven buildings—the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ukraina and Leningradskaya hotels; the residential buildings at ploshchad Kudrinskaya (Kudrinsky Square), naberezhnaya Kotelnicheskaya (Kotelnicheskaya Embankment), and Krasniye Vorota; and the imposing Moscow State University on Sparrow Hills—were constructed when the country lay in ruins, just after World War II. Stalin ordered the skyscrapers to be built in 1947, on the 800th anniversary of Moscow's founding, as a symbol of Soviet power. German prisoners of war were forced to work on several of the buildings.

An eighth skyscraper was planned (before the others were started) but never built: this was the grandiose Palace of Soviets, which was meant to replace the Kremlin as the seat of government power. It was intended to be the tallest building in the world, with a height of 1,378 feet topped by a 300-foot statue of Lenin. The site of the Cathedral of Christ Our Savior on the Moskva River was chosen, and the church was demolished in 1931. Only later did builders realize that the ground was too wet to support such an enormous structure. The plans were abandoned, and the area was turned into a swimming pool until the cathedral was rebuilt in 1997.

According to the Soviet propaganda of the time, most of the new buildings were part of the government's drive to replace slums with better housing. In truth, residents were mainly party members, actors, writers, and other members of the elite. With few ordinary people living in or having access to the buildings, legendary stories developed around the Seven Sisters. The Ukraina's spire was said to hide a nuclear-rocket launcher, while Moscow State University was rumored to have a secret tunnel leading to Stalin's dacha. The university was also said to run as deep underground as it did above, concealing secret study centers and a metro connection. The building at ploshchad Kudrinskaya overlooks the U.S. embassy. It was said that KGB spies kept an eye on the embassy compound from certain windows.

Today you can easily visit most of the skyscrapers, particularly the Ukraina and Leningradskaya hotels, now the Radisson Royal and Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya hotels, respectively.

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