This Saturday is "Defender of the Fatherland Day," the male equivalent of next month's International Women's Day. In honour of this celebration, this week's walk visits Park Pobedy ("Victory Park") where a huge memorial complex commemorates the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known here. The scale of the buildings and memorials is commensurate with the scale of casualties (more than 26 million Soviet people died during the war) and whether or not you like the style, the effect is overwhelming. The park is laid out on the Poklonnaya Gora ("Greeting hill"), where Napoleon waited with his troops in 1812 and looked down on the "cupolas glittering like stars in the sunlight," as Tolstoy imagines it in War and Peace, before marching on up Kutozovsky Prospekt. Today, there is a Soviet-era panoramic display of the Battle of Borodino on nearby Kutozovsky Prospekt, while inside the monumental museum to the Great Patriotic War, there are artistic dioramas of major battles.
Although it has such a Soviet feel to it, the memorial complex was only completed in 1994 and the accompanying metro station (1) dates from 2003 and is full of gleaming marble and heroic murals. Follow the signs to the War Museum and approach the domed colonnade along a walkway between bronze pillars with military emblems and a row of marble troughs for summer fountains. On a rise to the left, is the small 1990s Church of St Geor ge the Victor, which features typical patterns of an orthodox church, but with innovative bronze reliefs outside and natural light inside. In the cause of ecumenical harmony, there are also a memorial mosque and synagogue in the park, but their positions hidden away in the woods behind the museum make them slightly less than equal.
Similarly, the "Tragedy of the Peoples" memorial, with a dwindling line of wasted and suffering figures, has been moved out of sight on the grounds that it was too depressing. Mayor Luzhkov fa vored instead Zurab Tsereteli's more up-beat sky-scraping obelisk (2), covered in carvings and topped by two angels with trumpets and the winged nike of Victory.
The monument's 142 meters represent ten centimeters for every day of the war (which Russians calculate from 1941) and is so tall it needs lights at the top to warn passing aircraft. At the foot, a mounted St George deca pi tates a clunky swastika-covered dragon; in all, an ensemble that critics of Tsereteli (who is also responsible for the monster monument to Peter the Great on the Moscow River) will love to hate.
Entering the museum building (3), you go down into the basement to begin a tour of the inside which continues in a similar vein. A model of the burning Reichstag puts visitors in the mood, after which you reach the "Hall of Memory and Sorrow" where crystal teardrops hang above books of the dead, lining the view of a pieta-like statue of mother Russia mourning her lost children. Behind the statue, a semi-circle of rooms contain colorful dioramas of crucial episodes from the war such as the siege of Leningrad or the fall of Berlin. A wide ceremonial stairway leads up to the "Hall of Glory" where the "hero cities" are de picted round a huge wreathed dome. Stained glass and huge chandeliers complete the effect.
Around this hall, two thirds of the much-improved permanent exhibition has re-opened, documenting the earlier stages of the war and the Holocaust. The last part, dealing with the end of the war and the victory celebrations is due to open in May. Upstairs, there is an art gallery which complements the doom and gloom of the military historical exhibits by displaying mostly Russian landscapes and domestic scenes. When you leave the museum, take a moment to admire the views over Moscow from the terrace before walking down through more memorials and snowy woodlands to the cube-like synagogue (4) hidden in the trees to the right. The accompanying museum is only open sporadically, but you can usually go into the central hall.
From here, you can walk back up the wedding road, marked out by painted rings and roses, parallel to a row of tanks, and lined at the weekend by a queue of stretch limousines with wedding parties coming to pay their respects in the traditional manner. If it is a weekend, you will almost certainly see a large number of elaborately-dressed brides, brass bands and drunken guests. This is also the time to visit the Borodino Panorama, complete with sound effects, which is open for individual visitors from 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
If you want to do this, the best plan is probably to catch any bus from the Park Pobedy bus stop (5) to the stop called "Panorama ‘Borodinskaya bitva'" and cross under the perekhod to come up by the equestrian statue of Kutozov. The battle is inside the winged circular pavilion. Afterwards, you can walk back past the Triumphal Arch, another memorial to Russia's victory over Napoleon. The Corinthian columns and classical statues, topped by a winged figure of Glory riding a chariot out of town, make a suitably grandiose end to this victory lap. N
Family friendly features
Kids, especially boys, perhaps, might like this trip. The dramatic dioramas are a particular highlight, full of detail and action. The size of the complex makes it impressive and there is also plenty of scope for snow ball battle re-enactments in the surrounding park. If you haven‘t bought defender-of-the-fatherland day presents for the men in your life, you could also visit the nearby Gorbushka electronics market, famous for its cheap DVDs, less than a kilometer north of the metro station.