Lost architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin

During the Soviet years, numerous architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin were lost. Churches, monasteries, and palaces were destroyed because they reminded the Soviet regime under Stalin of Holy Russia and the glorious history of the Russian Empire.

The early 20th century postcard (above) reflects some of the greatest architectural losses in the Moscow Kremlin during the late 1920s to early 1930s – please refer to the numbers and the accompanying images below for additional information about each respective monument . .

1 – The Maly Nikolayevsky Palace or Small Nicholas Palace was a three-storey building located in the Kremlin on the corner of Ivanovskaya Square. Originally built in 1775, it served as the official Moscow residence of Imperial Family up until the construction of the Grand Kremlin Palace in 1838-1849. The palace was a favourite residence of Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich (future Emperor Nicholas I). On 29th (O.S. 17th) April 1818, his son, the future Alexander II, was born in the palace, who considered it the home of his childhood. Between 1891 and 1905, the palace became a residence of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich during his years as Governor-General of Moscow.

During the October armed uprising of 1917 in Moscow, the Small Nicholas Palace became the headquarters of the Junkers [a military rank in the Russian Guard and Army, until 1918] who were supporting the Committee of Public Security. As a result, the building served as a target for the Red Guards and suffered more than other Kremlin buildings.

According to Metropolitan Nestor (1885-1962): “The Small Nicholas Palace… suffered greatly from gunfire. Huge holes in the building’s’ façade are visible from the outside. Inside, too, everything is destroyed, and when I walked around the rooms, I saw a picture of complete destruction. Huge mirrors and other furnishings were barbarously broken and destroyed. The cabinets are broken, books, files and papers are scattered throughout the rooms… The palace church was hit by a shell and destroyed. The iconostasis was broken, the royal gates were forced open by explosions, and the veil of the church was torn in two. Hence, many valuable icons were stolen.”

In 1929, the palace was demolished together with the adjacent Chudov and Ascension monasteries. In 1932-1934 the Kremlin Presidium (aka Building No. 14) was built on the site. It housed, first, the Supreme Soviet, i. e. the supreme legislative body of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, and, second, the offices of the Presidential Administration of Russia until 2011. The Kremlin Presidium was demolished in 2016.

PHOTO: Small Nicholas Palace after the shelling of the Kremlin, 1917

2 – The first Monument to Emperor Alexander II stood above the Kremlin’s Taynitsky Gardens facing the Moskva River. Work on the monuments was begun under Emperor Alexander III in 1893, and was completed five years later under Emperor Nicholas II in 1898.

The monument was the work of sculptor Alexander Opekushin (1838-1923), artist Peter Zhukovsky (1845-1912) and architect Nicholas V. Sultanov (1850-1908). The memorial consisted of a life-size bronze sculpture of Alexander II, set on a square pedestal with the words “To Emperor Alexander II by the love of the people” engraved on it. The sculpture was shaded by a canopy of polished dark red Karelian granite. The top of the canopy was made of specially fitted gilded bronze sheets with green enamel. On three sides, the monument was surrounded by a gallery with arches and openwork. Thirty-three mosaic portraits of Russia’s rulers from Prince Vladimir to Emperor Nicholas II based on sketches by artist Peter Zhukovsky were placed in the gallery’s vaults.

The solemn opening and consecration of the Monument to Emperor Alexander II took place on 16th August 1898. At eight in the morning, five cannon shots were fired from the Tainitskaya Tower. The opening ceremony began at two o’clock in the afternoon with a procession from the Chudov Monastery. After Metropolitan Vladimir of Moscow served a prayer service, the “Transfiguration March” was played and cannons were fired 360 times. The ceremony was closed by a parade of troops commanded by Emperor Nicholas II..

2a –  The decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic [supported by Lenin] dated 12th April 1918 called for all monuments of Russia’s monarchs to be demolished and replaced with statues honouring the leaders of the revolution. The monument of Alexander II was to be one of the first monuments destroyed in this campaign. Lenin planned to install a monument to the writer Leo Tolstoy on the site, however, his plan never came to fruition.

The monument to Alexander II was demolished by the Bolsheviks in the summer of 1918. In June 1918, Russian art historian Nikolai Okunev described this event in his diary: “I saw in the cinema a newsreel on the removal of the monument to Alexander II in the Kremlin. It was terrible to watch! It’s as if they were cutting a living person into pieces, and saying “Look, this is is how it’s done!” It’s not enough to show the shootings on the cinema screen.” The remaining columns and gallery were demolished in 1928.

PHOTO: the dismantled fragments of the monument to Alexander II in the Kremlin after its destruction in 1918. To the left of the Spassky Tower is the Church of St. Catherine of the Ascension Monastery, blown up in 1929

3 – The Voznesensky (Ascension) Convent known as the Starodevichy Convent or Old Maidens’ Convent until 1817, was an Orthodox nunnery in the Moscow Kremlin which contained the tombs of grand princesses, tsarinas, and other noble ladies from the Muscovite royal court. The convent was founded at the beginning of the 15th century near the Kremlin’s Spassky (Saviour’s) Gate.

The convent was also used as a residence for royal fiancée’s prior to their wedding. In 1721, the convent was renovated on behest of Peter the Great. In 1808, by order of Emperor Alexander I, the famous Italian architect Carlo Rossi (1775-1849) began construction of the Church of Saint Catherine, built in the Neo-Gothic design. During Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow in 1812, the French army looted the monastery and expelled the nuns. Most of the property was preserved thanks to Abbess Athanasia, who managed to take the wealth from the sacristy to Vologda. 

By 1907, the monastery had a mother superior, 62 nuns and 45 lay sisters. It was also in 1907, that the monastery celebrated the 500th anniversary of the death of the founder of the monastery St. Euphrosyne of Moscow (1353–1407). After the service, a procession took place, in which Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna participated, and placed a golden lamp and flower garlands on the founder’s tomb.

During the October 1917 Revolution, the ancient buildings were damaged by artillery fire. In 1929, the convent complex – including the majestic 16th-century cathedral – was demolished by the Soviets in order to make room for the Red Commanders School, named after the All-Russian Central Executive Committee.

Some of the icons of Ascension Convent were transferred to the State Tretyakov Gallery and State museums of the Moscow Kremlin. The iconostasis of the Ascension Cathedral (see below) was moved into the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles (also in the Kremlin), while the tombs of the Muscovite royalty were transferred into an annex of the Archangel Cathedral, where they reside to this day.

PHOTO: in 1930 the iconostasis of the Ascension Cathedral was moved into the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles (also in the Kremlin), where it remains to this day

4 – The two chapels at the Spassky Gates (facing Red Square) were built in the “Russian style” in 1866. Both belonged to St Basil’s Cathedral. The left houses the sacred image of Our Lady of Smolensk as a reminder of the city’s return to the Russian lands in the 16th century. The right is renowned for its sacred image of Christ the Saviour, an exact replica of the icon over Spassky Gates. They were both demolished in 1929.

The 16th-century icon was bricked over during the 1930s, and restored to its original in 2010.

5 – The Church of Konstantin and Elena in the lower section of the Kremlin Garden was built in 1692 by Tsarina Natalia Naryshkina, mother of Peter I. It was demolished in 1928. It became the first church demolished on the territory of the Kremlin since the Bolsheviks came to power and the first in a large series of losses of architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin in 1928-1930. Today the site is home to government buildings and a helipad for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In addition, were the Chudov Monastery and the Monument to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich:

6 – The Chudov Monastery (more formally known as Alexius’ Archangel Michael Monastery) was founded in 1358 by Metropolitan Alexius of Moscow. The monastery was dedicated to the miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae on 19th September (O.S. 6th September). It was traditionally used for baptising the royal children, including future Tsars Feodor I, Aleksey I and Peter the Great.

The Chudov Monastery was demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1928, and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was built on the site. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich’s body was buried in a crypt of the Chudov Monastery. The burial crypt was located underneath a courtyard of that building, which was later used as a parking lot during the Soviet years. In 1990, building workers in the Kremlin discovered the blocked up entrance of the burial vault. The coffin was examined and found to contain the Grand Duke’s remains, covered with the military greatcoat of the Kiev regiment, decorations, and an icon. He had left written instructions that he was to be buried in the Preobrazhensky Lifeguard regiment uniform, but as his body was so badly mutilated this proved impossible.

In 1995, the coffin was officially exhumed, and after a Panikhida in the Kremlin Cathedral of the Archangel, it was reburied in a vault of the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow on 17 September 1995.

7 – The Memorial Cross to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was consecrated on 2nd April 1908 on the spot where Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was assassinated. The original bronze monument, set on a stepped pedestal of dark green labrador marble, was an example of ‘Church Art Nouveau’. After the October 1917 Revolution, the cross was destroyed on 1st May 1918 by Bolshevik thugs with the personal participation of Vladimir Lenin.

On 4th May 2017, the memorial cross was restored in a ceremony that was attended by President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

8 – The Church of the Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour on Boru was located in the courtyard of the Grand Kremlin Palace [seen in behind the church in the photo above]. The name “on Boru” came from the coniferous forests which once surrounded the church, that once stood on Borovitsky Hill.

In 1767, when Catherine II began the reconstruction of the Kremlin, the church was revived in brick and required major repairs.

The Church of the Savior-on-Boru was demolished on 1st May 1933 by order of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU, despite the protests of prominent restorers. The church’s ancient bells were transferred to the funds of the Moscow Kremlin Museums. Upon demolition of the church, a 5-storey service building was built on the site of the cathedral. Plans to restore one of the oldest churches in Moscow have not yet been considered.

In 2014 President Vladimir Putin proposed the restoration of the former Chudov Monastery, Ascension Convent, and Small Nicholas Palace. Opposition from UNESCO ended any hope of reconstructing these architectural gems. The proposal, had it been approved, would have restored the historical vista of Ivanovskaya Square. Instead, it has become park space for tourists visiting the Kremlin museums and churches.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2023