Myths surround this luxury accommodation and its peculiar story. For 4000 euros a night you can now stay right next to Red Square where the first Stalinist-style building once stood – it looked exactly the same.
Text: Damien Leaf
Foto: © depositphotos (skaliger)
On a booking platform, a German tourist praises the ‘great view of the Kremlin’ and an Italian extols the wellness area with its large pool. Judging by the reviews, the Four Seasons Moscow has satisfied customers. However, a one-night stay costs at least 800 euros and it can be 4,000 euros for the Premium Suite. The hotel with 180 rooms and suites is located between Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre and is one of the largest and most exclusive in Russia’s capital – and it has an incredible history.
The latter began in the early 1930s when the Hotel Moskva was built on the same site – it was one of the first new hotel buildings in the Soviet Union. Architecturally, under Joseph Stalin, who had been sole ruler since 1927, the country was undergoing a shift from the avant-garde to neoclassical eclecticism. Part of the shell construction was already in place when the original constructivist plans for the building by Leonid Savelyev and Oswald Stapran were abandoned. ‘Stalin wanted a monumental, rather classical and richly decorated building,’ says architectural historian Dmitrij Chmelnizki. The task of adapting the design to the dictator’s taste was given to Alexey Shchusev. ‘He created what can be considered the first Stalinist-style building’: an eight-column, six-storey portico with an open terrace, generous arcaded loggias in the centre of the main façade, and numerous balconies. The corners were accentuated with turrets. Bruno Taut, who was also involved in the designs, later wrote in a letter that Shchusev had taken over his floor plans, but in a distorted form.
Alexey Shchusev, born in 1873, was a special case in that he was one of the very few who had managed to rise to the top of the architectural hierarchy under the tsars and then repeat this success under Soviet rule. His name is associated with a wide variety of styles. He designed churches and the Kazan railway station in Moscow, but also constructivist buildings. He is probably best known for the Lenin Mausoleum of 1924. ‘Under Stalin, Shchusev was one of the country’s most important architects. That was cynicism, he adapted,’ says Chmelnizki, who recently published a critical monograph, Alexey Shchusev. Architect of Stalin’s Empire Style, on the architect. There were many myths surrounding the Moskva, the interior of which was furnished with works by the Soviet Union's most respected artists. No wonder: ‘The secret service was involved and everything was top secret. It was a hotel for foreigners and cadres, no normal Muscovite could enter.’
To this day, the legend circulates that the façade was asymmetrical because Stalin put his signature between two different designs and no one dared to ask. ‘In truth, it was just a matter of statics.’ The hotel was expanded in the 1970s, but it came to an end in the turmoil of the post-communist period. In 2002 the building was demolished for obscure reasons and against an initiative of the then Minister of Culture. Ironically, it was rebuilt almost immediately afterwards – with an asymmetrical façade true to the original.