The Lenin Mausoleum: seventh wonder of the world?

25/ 10/ 2006

Moscow. (Anatoly Korolev, RIA Novosti commentator)

Bernard Weber's New 7 Wonders (N7W) Foundation has called for the list of
the Seven Wonders of the World to be updated, as only one, the Giza
pyramids, has survived to the present day. His idea has met with enthusiasm
around the globe, and there are more than a hundred tourist attractions on
the list of contenders. The Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, India, and Machu
Picchu, the fortress city of the Incas in Peru, top the list, which also
includes two gems of Moscow-Red Square and its Cathedral of St. Basil the
Blessed. Another Red Square edifice, the Lenin Mausoleum, was left off the
list of wonders-a pity, to my mind. It is unique in Soviet history, and it
is high time to intercede on behalf of the mausoleum now that calls to pull
it down are not so insistent as before.

Red Square was a shopping area before the 1917 October Revolution. It hosted
huge Palm Sunday bazaars and Easter festivals. A boulevard with stores and
market stalls stretched along the Kremlin wall, and tramway tracks crossed
the square in 1910.

After the street fighting of October 1917, the victorious Bolsheviks buried
238 victims in Red Square, turning it into a revolutionary necropolis.
Public rallies and demonstrations were held near the common grave as mass
pledges of allegiance to the new social system.

When the Bolshevik government transferred the Russian capital to Moscow, the
square became Soviet Russia's principal cemetery. Prominent Bolshevik Yakov
Sverdlov was the first communist leader to be buried there in 1919. The
grave of American journalist John Reed appeared next to his in 1920. When
Lenin died in 1924, there was not even the slightest doubt of where to bury
him. The death of the global proletarian leader demanded a mourning with
unprecedented pomp. Architect Alexei Shchusev designed a wooden mausoleum,
which was quickly built and completed on January 27. Lenin lay in state in
the new structure, while the frost preserved his body for many days.

At first, it did not occur to the Bolshevik Party Central Committee to have
the body embalmed. Yet mourners were coming to see it from every part of
Russia, and worker activists showered the government with telegrams
demanding that they show the dead Lenin to the whole world. That was when
the idea appeared to mummify his body and never bury it-much to the shocked
indignation of his widow and sisters. The Bolshevik rulers turned a deaf ear
to their entreaties: the allure of the propaganda impact the eternalized
remains would have was stronger than tact and common sense.

Soviet physicians did an excellent job. A Red pharaoh appeared in Moscow
several thousand years after the Egyptians had mummified their pharaohs.

No displays of reverence for the body were too great for the Bolshevik
rulers. They ordered Shchusev to build another mausoleum, this time of
marble and granite. It was to have a rostrum from which the government would
inspect military and athletic parades, regularly held in Red Square.

The present-day stone mausoleum rose on the site of the original wooden
structure in 1930. A majestic edifice shaped like a Babylonian ziggurat was
faced with granite and Labrador spar. A wide stairway inside it led to the
Memorial Chamber, where Lenin lay in an open coffin. The government rostrum
crowned the mausoleum, with side rostrums for guests of honor.

That was how the strange symbiosis of a mummy and living leaders emerged.
Ceremonial processions marched past the towering structure to declare
loyalty to the dead leader and his doctrine-a graveside triumph bringing
death and immortality together, making the necropolis the most colorful and
cheerful ritual spot in the Soviet Union.

A top-secret research institute dedicated all of its labor to conserving the
mummy. A bizarre newspaper account appeared soon after World War II,
reporting "Lenin's body currently in a better state of preservation than on
his funeral day."

Seventy years of Soviet rule brought the mausoleum more notoriety than
reverence. That era is now over, and Russia has returned to the community of
civilized countries. The appropriate thing to do seemed to be to pull the
ziggurat down and bury Lenin next to his mother's grave in the Volkov
cemetery in St. Petersburg. In addition, another, closely related idea was
put forth-to remove the burial place of Communist Party and government
leaders, cosmonauts, researchers, generals and other Soviet celebrities from
Moscow's heart.

If you ask me, it's not worth the trouble. It is too late to take such
radical measures now. Red Square, complete with its necropolis and the Red
pharaoh's mausoleum, is now nothing more than a tourist attraction,
epitomizing the Soviet way of life. The mausoleum is an architectural
masterpiece. Comparatively small, it appears majestic and blends into the
ensemble of buildings around Red Square.

The Bulgarians were too quick to bury the remains of Georgi Dimitrov and
pull down his mausoleum, robbing the center of Sofia, their capital, of its
dominant architectural element. The Chinese exhibited far greater wisdom
when the last abode of Emperor Qin Shi Huang was excavated with its
terracotta warriors. Now it is China's largest on-site museum, drawing
swarms of sightseers from every part of the world. Surrounded by hotels and
restaurants, the place brings in fabulous profits.

As I see it, the Lenin Mausoleum-mummy and all-and the satellite Kremlin
wall necropolis fully deserve to appear on the N7W list.