Why Is The Red Square The Heart of Moscow?

Why Is The Red Square The Heart of Moscow?
22 October 2014

Red Square (Красная площадь) is a place of enormous significance to Russian history, and also to Western perception of Russia. For instance, the most commonly held beliefs on the origin of Red Square’s name are either associated with Communism, or alleged massacres which took place there under Ivan the Terrible. The reality however, is far less ideological, or grim. If you have or are currently studying Russian language, chances are you have noticed similarities between the words for “red”, Красная and beautiful, прекрасная. So in truth, all the name alludes to is the beauty of the square, not the blood of victims of a massacre, or the red banner of  Communism.


Red Square is located near the highest wall of the Kremlin (Кремль), and the area where it now stands was originally created to be a field of fire in the event of an attack by a military force against the Kremlin, as this was the one side of the Kremlin most exposed, with no natural barriers preventing an invading body from approaching. However, the area was quickly transformed into an area where all sorts of social events such as balls, market exchanges, and general town meetings could take place. Over time, the square was gradually built up and modified, around it a series of markets sprung up, which stood in the place of the modern day GUM, or Main Universal Store (Главный универсальный магазин), and St. Basil’s Cathedral (Храм Василия Блаженного), perhaps the most famous building in Russia, which finished construction in 1561. The area was first paved to please the merchants in 1804.

Timeless Monuments

Following the Napoleonic War and the large scale, though not complete, destruction of the Kremlin in 1812, the area was reconstructed, and the now famous Monument to Minin and Pozharsky (Па́мятник Ми́нину и Пожа́рскому) was installed in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. The two men had once gathered a massive volunteer army and expelled the Polish military occupiers from Russia, ending the time of troubles. The construction of the monument and its central placement served as a testament to the growing sense of patriotism in Russia.

Though always an important area, the place took on new political significance under Soviet rule, and after Lenin’s death and the construction of his mausoleum in 1924, Soviet leadership would always make appearances standing atop the mausoleum for important parades and events such as May Day, Victory Day, and the anniversary of the October Revolution. These events were often filmed and gave western experts a rare glimpse into the internal politics of the Soviet Union, with the positioning of important members of the government on the mausoleum serving as shorthand for political status. Those closest to the leader of the time were believed to be those in favor, and those on the outskirts those who had fallen from the good graces of the party leadership.

Red Square Today

Today, Red Square, coupled with the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral, is without a doubt the most famous landmark in all of the Russian Federation and a huge source of tourism for the country. Although the Soviet regime has fallen, Lenin’s Mausoleum still serves as the grandstand for the Russian heads of state during important ceremonies, and military processions still occur on May 9th, Victory Day, every year. This historic and beautiful square captures the minds of many, and I must admit that when I first arrived in Moscow, I could barely contain my excitement over finally coming to the place where so many important people in Russian history had stood before me.

Whether it is the spectacle of a military parade, the beauty of the surrounding buildings, or the rich history of the place, Red Square has something to offer everyone!


This post was brought to you by Ryan, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz

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