Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#8 - JRL 7263
The Guardian (UK)
July 24, 2003
Gamblers and pop music rock Russian landmark
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow

It is one of Moscow's most enduring landmarks. St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square survived Napoleon, the Nazis, and the rise and fall of the Soviet empire. But decades of military parades, and in more recent years, rock concerts, have all taken their toll on the 450-year-old cathedral. A report commissioned by the government from the architectural firm Kreal said that unless the cathedral's foundations were reinforced soon, "the cathedral will gradually fall into ruin". Natalia Almazova, head of Kreal, said: "It won't fall down tomorrow, but if we don't take these measures, in 100 years we could lose it."

Many see the Putin administration's plans for the square as key to this threat. The Kremlin has approved plans for a large hotel, casino and underground parking complex nearby. Number 5 Red Square was home to Leon Trotsky's Military Revolutionary Committee after the 1917 revolution.

A Spanish-led consortium was granted permission in March to convert it into "a five-star luxury hotel with a view of the Kremlin for VIPs", said Viktor Khrekov, spokesman for the presidential logistics directorate which now owns the building. "There would also be exhibition halls, and an auction house."

The announcement raised concerns that the 600-capacity car park intended to serve the hotel complex might damage the square's foundations.

The Ministry of Culture declined to comment before its official response to the Kreal report in September. If they agree to urgent repairs to the found-ations, work may begin next spring, perhaps using a German product to solidify the surrounding soil.

But Lyubov Uspenskaya, the curator of St Basil's, told the Guardian: "Everything is stable, everything is normal." She said that construction of a nearby metro station could be the cause of subsidence around the building's foundations, first built by serfs in the 16th century.

"Everything goes according to plan with the [restoration] programme," she added, referring to the four-year refurbishment and repainting of the cathedral's multi-coloured domes which will end when the green mesh covering the cathedral is stripped away on August 17.

Restoration was interrupted by a recent Red Square concert by Paul McCartney. The ex-Beatle's entourage apparently insisted the cathedral be stripped of the mesh so the historic monument could provide a better backdrop.

"If they make a garage beneath the cathedral," said Ms Uspenskaya, "then maybe people will have to talk about the threat, but for the moment there is no catastrophe, and St Basil's will live its own life. Our great grandsons will also get to see it."

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