Holy Mary in Moscow

Last week, a group of sleepy year 12 and 13 historians met early in Barajas airport ready to start our Russian adventure. Before most of us had woken up properly we had arrived in Moscow, Russia.

After what seemed like an eternity, we all successfully passed through the visa and passport control, and met our guide, ready to take us to the city.  Here is where we had our first experience of the Moscow traffic – huge 5-6 lane motorways packed with vehicles. We finally arrived at our hotel, Gamma Izamailvo, a huge Soviet era hotel complex, slightly faded but non the less impressively huge! The hotel complex had been built to house the many visitors to the 1980 Olympic Games.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and although Year 12 and 13s wanted snow, we were accompanied by single figure digits, which we were told was a great luxury in Moscow at these dates, and made all of our visits more manageable!

We headed to Red Square, framed by the impressive Kremlin walls, GUM department store, St Basil’s Cathedral and visited Lenin in his famous mausoleum which has been his home since 1924. We found out why Red Square is called “Red” Square (nothing to do with the colour!) and explored the significance of this spectacular Square in representing the nature of government in Russia and the impact of war. We imagined the Square in use in November 1941 with tanks heading off to the front line in WW2 and also in 1945 for the victory parade with Nazi flags being trampled underfoot.  

We then visited the spectacular Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which is undergoing reconstructed after originally being converted into a swimming pool for 40 years, all the while keeping an eye out for Stalin’s “Seven Sisters” skyscrapers on the horizon. We feel we are now experts in Soviet architecture, and year 12s and 13s can identify and describe the differences between Stalin and Khrushchev built buildings. Fernanda in Y13 was so overwhelmed by the Stalinist constructions and commented throughout the trip has spectacular they were – where the socialist idea of “equal but some more equal” was evidently seen.  

We also visited the Gulag Museum and experienced the chill of life in the Gulags in this informative and hands on museum reflecting particularly on the politically repressive Stalin period of the 1930s to the 1950s.

We also had the chance to visit the Cosmonautics Museum, shadowed by a 100 metre sculpture of a sputnik. The museum allowed us to full experience the Soviet and now Russia drive to be the first in outer space – really interesting.

The Soviet influence was evident everywhere in Moscow, huge statues, sculptures and monuments, and nothing more impressive than the Moscow Metro, where we stepped back in time to Soviet days, stopping at a series of underground palaces resplendent with chandeliers, marble, granite and mosaics, a Communist showpiece. Much of the system was designed in the 1920s and 1930s by engineers from the London Underground, who were subsequently deported in 1933 for “espionage”, ending all business relationships between the UK and the USSR.

The trip made the A Level course come alive, and allowed students to fully engage and better understand the Soviet Union. The behaviour of all students was outstanding, and Mrs Montoro felt like the students all gained a great deal from the visit!