The 1990s was a difficult, turbulent and overall pretty strange period in Russia. In the middle of that decade the famous Georgian-Russian painter, sculptor and architect Zurab Tsereteli was put in charge of the complete overhaul of the central part of Manezhnaya Square (or Manege Square) in Moscow, right next to the world famous Red Square and the monuments to the Russian military glory in the Great Patriotic War dedicated to Marshal Zhukov and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Now, Tsereteli is known for large-scale and oftentimes controversial monuments, like the 1997 Peter the Great Statue in Moscow. The statue is allegedly based on a design originally intended to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1992. When an American customer for the project could not be found, it was repurposed with a Russian theme. Tsereteli denies this story, but a separate, equally colossal statue of Columbus, known as Birth of the New World, by the same designer eventually wound up in Puerto Rico after being rejected by various US cities. Since its inception, the Moscow statue has courted controversy. In November 2008, it was voted the tenth ugliest building in the world by Virtual Tourist. In 2010, it was included in a list of the world’s ugliest statues by Foreign Policy magazine. Lonely Planet commented: “Questions of taste aside, Muscovites were sceptical about the whole idea: why pay tribute to Peter the Great, who loathed Moscow and moved the capital to St Petersburg?“.
But I am digressing. Manezhnaya Square already had a complex history before Tsereteli. In 1967, the square was renamed after the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution. Furthermore, in order to commemorate that event, the Communist authorities laid a foundation stone for a grandiose sculptural monument, which failed to materialize. In August 1991, Manezhnaya Square (its name by then restored) became a venue for great demonstrations celebrating the fall of Communism after the abortive Soviet coup attempt of 1991. During the 1990s Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov had the square closed to traffic and substantially renovated. The centrepiece of the refurbished square is a four-story underground shopping mall and parking lot, surrounted by a rotating glass cupola, which forms a world clock of the Northern hemisphere with major cities marked and a scheme of lights below each panel to show the progression of the hour. The dome turns constantly, completing a full revolution every day.
And so we finally come to the subject of this post. Being tasked with the renovation of the central part of the square, Tsereteli supposedly wanted to create a kind of symbol of Moscow in the nineties, the exhibition of national traditions, Western ideas and the desire to combine, absorb everything. He started by recreating the old river-bed of the Neglinnaya River, which now really flows underground. For reason absolutely incomprehensible to me, he came up with an extremely Disneyesque rivulet with a mosaic bottom, bridges and fountains, dotted with and statues of Russian fairy-tale characters.
It must be said that, in spite of being completely dissonant to the surrounding and architecturally completely out of context, the place as become a popular attraction for Muscovites and tourists alike, especially on sultry summer days.
The New Neglinka river begins with a fountain, called “The Snail“, because the water coming from different directions combines into a spiral, making the stream look like a shell of a snail. The central fountain of the complex is called “Geyser” because of water jets that shoot water upward, vertically. Behind them you find “The Seasons“, a bronze statue of four horses, seemingly preparing to jump through water jets and symbolising the four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn (hence the name). All the other statues are of traditional European and Russian fairy tales, among which The Little Mermaid, The Firebird, Alenushka, The Frog Princess. In the early 2000s a waterfall fountain was even added to the complex.
The fountain complex on Manezhnaya Square is open 24 hours a day. In addition, they are kept operational after the working season of other Moscow fountains has already ended and they are switched off only when the average daily temperature drops below zero degrees.
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