Today Russian President Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin became the first Russian head of state to have a church service for his burial since Tsar Alexander III in 1894. The funeral was held at the gold domed Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and was attended by an endless list of dignitaries including Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush Sr., and Bill Clinton. Stalin hoped to build a skyscraper on this same lot to rival the Empire State Building Like many places in Moscow, it seems hard to escape history, even for the funeral of Russia’s first elected president. On this very spot in 1931, Josef Stalin sought to outdo the arrogant hubris and engineering marvel that he saw as a challenge when the Americans completed the Empire State Building in New York, and ordered in that the beautiful 19th-century cathedral be dynamited in order to construct his grand vision: The Palace of the Soviets, the grandest of all monuments to socialism, was an elaborate building designed by Boris Iovan which would dwarf the Empire State Building and place a statue of Lenin on top of the tallest structure raised by the hand of man. However, after blowing the Cathedral to smithereens in a historically unprecedented blunder, Stalin discovered that the soil on this plot of land could in no way support such a structure, and the project had to be scrapped decades later to build a swimming pool. Thanks to the push from Moscow’s aggressively pro-development Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, the reconstruction of the cathedral was completed in August of 2000.
I imagine it would give Boris Nikolayevich a big smile to know his funeral was conducted on such a symbolic site of Soviet incompetence.