Seven Sisters

The Council of Ministers of the USSR issued its decision to build "multi-storey buildings in Moscow" in the winter of 1947. It was Joseph Stalin's personal idea to build eight towers in Moscow to mark the city's 800th anniversary. They ended up building seven. Later on, Rossiya Hotel was built and now Zaryadye park is being laid out where the eighth tower should have been. In Stalin's vision, most of the towers were to stand on the riverbanks to underscore the bends of the Moskva River and the hills. The construction proved extremely challenging. Soviet engineers had to think creatively. They had to freeze the ground underneath one tower and keep it frozen while the construction lasted to make sure the building stood firmly and did not slide into a nearby pit. The beautiful indoor bas-reliefs, had they been made in stone, could have collapsed under their own weight. For fear of that happening, the bas-reliefs were made from papier-mâché, and then gold-plated or painted bronze. This was a widespread technique in Moscow, used on the Bolshoi Theatre interiors to achieve the desired acoustic effect, and on numerous palaces and manors as well.

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Leningradskaya was meant as a hotel for tourists and business travellers arriving at one of the three nearby railway stations: Kazansky, Leningradsky or Yaroslavsky. But in reality few could afford to stay at Hotel Leningradskaya. This 136-metre (446-feet) tall tower, dominating Komsomolskaya Ploschad (Komsomolskaya Square), was designed by Leonid Polyakov and Alexander Boretsky and built in 1954. The walls in the lobby are faced with a rare finishing material and adorned with a bas-relief depicting Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy. The imposing bronze chandelier lights five stories at the same time. Due to its luxurious decorations, Hotel Leningradskaya had cost more than any other tower to build. Leningradskaya is now a Hilton.
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This 26-storey tower in the mouth of the Yauza was built in 1952 to the design of well-known Moscow architects Dmitry Chechulin and Andrei Rostkovsky. The building was meant as housing for Soviet dignitaries and celebrities, so Lavrentiy Beria personally supervised the construction. The building with the annexes has some 700 apartments, ranging in comfort level from modest single-rooms to sumptuous four-rooms. Most of the people who lived here were cultural figures in the Soviet Union. The poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, film director Yuri Lyubimov, actress Faina Ranevskaya, writer Konstantin Paustovsky, and one of the architects of the building, Dmitry Chechulin, lived here at different times. The tower on Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya (Kotelnicheskaya Embankment) has appeared in a number of films, most notably, the Soviet classic Pokrovsky Gate, and more recently, Stilyagi and Brigada. The Illuzion Cinema, which has occupied the ground floor of the building since Soviet years, shows films from archives and festivals, as well as regular movies.
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The 156-metre (512-feet) tall tower at Kudrinskaya Ploschad (Kudrinskaya Square), built in 1954, was conceived as a housing block, and remains one to this day. The building was designed by famous Soviet architects Mikhail Posokhin (the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, Prospekt Kalinina (Kalinin Avenue) (presently New Arbat), and the Olympic National Sports Complex) and Ashot Mndoyants. Soviet officials and test pilots were among the people who moved into the 450 plus apartments in this building. The building at Kudrinskaya Ploschad is one of the finest of the seven. It has more bas-reliefs and sculptures on its facade than any other Stalin's tower. The entrance and floor lobbies are decorated with beautiful chandeliers and mirrors. The building was designed with the option to seal every floor completely from unauthorized entry. So make sure you have friends inside before you go on a tour. The Moscow Zoo is right next door. When plastic windows were not available, residents were often disturbed by the noises of the animals that woke up early.
 Natalia Garnelis/TASS
Of all the Stalin's towers, this is one of the stateliest. This 27-storey, 172-metre (564-feet) tall tower, designed by Vladimir Gelfreikh and Mikhail Minkus, was built in 1953. The tower, which for many years has remained the home of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, has spawned countless urban legends about spies, intelligence agents, secret tunnels and diplomatic dramas. The Ministry building is the only tower that has no customary five-pronged star on its spire.
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Hotel Ukraina, the latest of Moscow's seven towers to be built, is perhaps the best-known. The 34-storey building was the tallest hotel in Europe when it opened in May 1957. In addition to the apparent merits of its design, credit for which goes to the architect, Arkady Mordvinov, the building benefits from its advantageous location, standing at a the Moskva River bend, right where Kutuzovsky Prospekt (Kutuzovsky Avenue) begins. Hotel Ukraina is visible from practically any spot in the centre of Moscow. It is the perfect illustration of Joseph Stalin's plan, which was to build the seven towers close to the river so that they are visible from afar, shaping the look of the city's embankments and its skyline. At different times, Hotel Ukraina welcomed such distinguished guests as actors Marcello Mastroianni and Robert de Niro, composer Michel Legrand, singers Cesaria Evora and Patricia Kaas, and artist Herluf Bidstrup. It is not necessary to stay at Hotel Ukraina to appreciate its interiors or see Moscow from high up. Visit one of its many bars or restaurants instead, some of which are open 24/7.
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The Moscow State University (MSU) building at Vorobyovy Gory is as much a symbol of Russia as the Bolshoi Theatre, the Volga River or Lake Baikal. The 240-metre (787-feet) tall main building of MSU, the tallest tower of the seven, was designed by a team of architects temporarily led by Boris Iofan (who also designed the House on the Embankment), and built in 1953. The building, which houses several MSU departments and its administrative offices, was originally designed with apartments for university staff. They say that the sculptor Vera Mukhina had proposed to the architects and personally Lavrentiy Beria, who supervised the construction, to place her famous Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture in the middle of the plaza outside the main entrance, but Beria declined. Nowadays the MSU main building is frequently used as an arena for 3D laser shows. You cannot just walk into the building, but you can sign up for an excursion to the Earth Science Museum, which occupies several floors in the building.
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Tall enough as it is, at 138 metres (453 feet), the tower at Ploschad Krasnye Vorota (Krasnye Vorota Square) looks even taller as it stands at the highest point of Sadovoye Koltso. This administrative and residential building, designed by Alexey Dushkin and Boris Mezentsev, was constructed in adverse conditions concurrently with the construction of Krasnye Vorota Metro station. The tower constantly threatened to collapse into the Metro pit. To make sure that never happened, the tower was built on pre-frozen ground and at an incline. Some of the best engineering talent was recruited to design the tower and calculate the incline. The same trick with the freezing of the ground was used when they built the Moscow Metro. The tower replaced an old neighbourhood. Poet Mikhail Lermontov was born in one of the houses there.