Built directly east of the Kremlin, the Red Square, the largest and most famous square in Moscow, is the home to the ornate 16th-century St. Basil’s Cathedral, commissioned by Ivan IV, the first Tsar of Russia and infamously known as Ivan the Terrible, the State Historical Museum, founded in 1872, and the huge GUM Departmental Store, along with the mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin, the famous revolutionary leader of Russia.
The name Red Square has nothing to do with the crimson colour of the numerous buildings around the area, or the attachment of the colour with the Communist Party of Soviet Russia. Initially, it was named the Trinity Square, dedicated in honor of the Trinity Cathedral, which stood at the southern end of the square during the rule of Ivan III. Subsequently, it was renamed Krasnaya Ploshchad, or the beautiful Square, like the main square of the other cities. Later, the word Krasnyi, which meant beautiful in Old Russian, transformed to mean red. However, originally Red Square included a small area between the Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the Spasskaya Tower, the main tower on the eastern wall of the Kremlin, and the Lobnoye mestro, a long stone platform on the front of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Subsequently, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich extended its area to include the Pozhar, or the burnt-out-place, the burnt down previous buildings occupying the site.
Red Square has its history dates back to the 1490s when a new red-brick Kremlin was built in Moscow. However, the east side of the fortification was vulnerable as it was not protected by any natural barriers.
This area outside the walls was cleared to create a field of fire for shooting, which ultimately became the Red Square. Gradually, it became the trading centre of Moscow, and the permanent market buildings began appearing on the square. Later, after a fire in 1547, the wooden shops that lined its eastern side were reorganized by Ivan the Terrible.
But the first building which gave the square its present-day characteristic look is the Cathedral of the intercession of the Holy Virgin, popularly known as the Saint Basil’s Cathedral, constructed from 1555 to 1561 on the moat under the rule of Ivan IV. Although the wooden market lines were replaced with stone in 1595, by that time a brick platform for the proclamation of the tsar's edicts, known as Lobnoye Mestro, had also been constructed. The platform, made of white stone, witnessed countless gatherings, numerous demonstrations, thousands of speeches, and several parades, centered around it.
While the Tsars used to take the platform to deliver their annual message to the people of Russia, the disloyal were executed in the square in front of the people. However, on days of great church festivals, there were religious processions here, turning the square into an open-air church.
The construction of Red Square, measuring around 800,000 square feet (73,000 sq m), was finished by the late 19th century. The moat that separates the square from the Kremlin was paved in 1812. The Imperial Historic Museum, subsequently renamed the State Historical Museum, standing at the northern end of Red Square and wedged between Red Square and Manege Square, was built between 1875 and 1883. The massive building of GUM, known as the State Department Store during the Soviet era, and privatized in 1993, was built between 1889 and 1893 on the eastern side of the square.
During the Soviet era, the Red Square became the place to display the strength of Soviet armed forces in the parades, especially for the celebration of the annual May Day, and the day of November Revolution on the 7th day of November, which consisted of marching troops exhibiting heavy tanks and missiles. Since 1995, parades were also held to celebrate the annual Moscow Victory Day on May 9, marking the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. To make room for the heavy military vehicles driving through the square, the Kazan Cathedral and the Iverskaya Chapel with the Resurrection Gates were demolished in the 1930s, which were later rebuilt in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. During that time, there was also a plan to demolish the Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the State Historical Museum, the two iconic building buildings of Moscow, to make way for a larger Red Square. Fortunately, the plan never materialized.
Designed by Alexi Shchusev, the granite mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the architect of the Soviet Union, was completed on 10 November 1930, built on the western edge of the Red Square. In the same year, a monument dedicated to Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, whose forces defeated a Polish invasion in 1612, was shifted from the front side of the St Basil’s Cathedral to the centre of the square.
During the Soviet era, the Beatles were banned in the country, even the sales of their records were also banned. However, after its fall in 1991, the Red Square served as a venue for high-profile concerts, which included, among others, the performance of Paul McCartney, a member of the erstwhile group of the Beatles. The huge Red Square, decorated with several iconic buildings on its edge, is reckoned an important centre of Russia’s cultural life and one of the top tourist destinations in Moscow. In 1990, along with the Kremlin, it was enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.