Memorial city

One of the most terrible events of the twentieth century, the Battle of Stalingrad lasted from 17 July 1942 to 2 February 1943 and effectively determined the outcome of the Second World War. Following these tragic but victorious events, Stalingrad was left all but destroyed. The city was rebuilt from the ground up and today is not just a memorial of the Great Patriotic War, but also a living masterpiece of Soviet architecture.

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After the war, Stalingrad was rebuilt practically from scratch and is one of the few cities built according to a single plan. The plan had to take into account both the needs of the inhabitants and the glory of the city that stopped the Nazis in their tracks.

The design of post-war Stalingrad was the work of the best Soviet architects: Karo Alabyan, Vasily Simbirtsev and Yefim Levitan. The city was ideologically extremely important. The architects therefore adopted the concept of a monument city with Roman triumphal motifs and large architectural forms.

Stalingrad had been a feature of urban planning textbooks even before the war for being the place where the concept of a linear city was first implemented. The new city plan of 1945 ensured that Stalingrad preserved this linear system of planning: all eight districts of the 65-km (40 mi) city are connected by several lengthwise main roads that run parallel to the Volga. The city was given austere squares and blocks, wide streets and perpendicular intersections, monumental buildings that remind us of the solemn victory, and so-called “city palaces” with classical architectural elements.
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The Square of Fallen Fighters (ploschad Pavshikh Bortsov) is the very heart of the city, and one of the few places with a pre-war history. In the nineteenth century, Alexandrovskaya Square (as it was then called) was located outside the Tsaritsyn fortress. Tsaritsyn being the city's first name and was used for trade. It was given the name of Fallen Fighters in 1920, after 55 Red Army soldiers who died fighting against General Vrangel’s army were buried here. In 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, tens of thousands of soviet soldiers died defending this relatively small area.

The Square of Fallen Fighters is one of the best view points from which to appreciate the scale and monumentalism of the post-war reconstruction. Before the war, the shape of the square was irregular. Today it has a symmetrical trapezoidal shape with its widest side opening towards the Volga and Alley of Heroes. Around the square you’ll see the buildings of the regional Communist Party school, which today houses the Volgograd Medical University (architects Vasily Simbirtsev and Yefim Levitan), the Volgograd Hotel (architect Alexander Kurovsky), the Intourist Hotel (architect Boris Goldman) and the Gidrostroy/Hydro Construction building (architect Yefim Levitan). The latter two buildings frame the reconstructed Central Department Store.

The buildings share the same design: with rusticated lower walls, at the third-floor level there is a “wreath” of evenly-spaced Corinthian wall piers that give the architectural ensemble a solemn emphasis and memorial feel. The area was designed as a garden square to frame the common graves of the fallen heroes of Tsaritsyn and Stalingrad located at the axis of the esplanade. The graves are marked with a massive sarcophagus made of red polished granite, on top of which rests a bronze wreath and a bronze star with an Eternal Flame that was lit on 1 February 1963. The ensemble is crowned with a 50-metre high granite obelisk.

In 1965, guard post #1 was established near the Eternal Flame and an honour guard was organised by local schoolchildren. Each change of the guard included four children. Even today the local youth continue to hold vigils near the Eternal Flame.
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There are two more important buildings on the square. The first is occupied by the New Experimental Theatre headed by People’s Artist of Russia Otar Dzhangisherashvili, famous for his non-traditional approach to classical theatre.

The theatre was built in 1915 by merchant Alexander Repnikov and was first known as the House of Science and Arts. The reconstruction completed in 1952 turned this building into one of Volgograd’s first “city palaces”. If you look beyond the sculptured colonnade, you’ll see the restored pre-war facade. Until 1989 the building was home to the Volgograd Gorky Drama Theatre.
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The second building, also restored after the war, is the Central Department Store. Originally opened in 1938, it was considered to be one of the Soviet Union’s most beautiful department store buildings. After the war, all that remained of the building were the basement and lower walls. In 2003, the Memorial Museum was opened in the basement of the store with an exhibition that tells the story of the Battle of Stalingrad.
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The Alley of Heroes runs from the Square of Fallen Fighters down to the Volga. It features a stone monument on which are inscribed the names of the 127 Heroes of the Soviet Union who gained the title while defending Stalingrad. The architecture of the residential buildings lining the Alley of Heroes is a continuation of the style evident on the Square of Fallen Heroes: the seven-storey buildings are split into three parts with horizontal lines. The lower sections are solid, rusticated walls with large embrasures. Above them are three floors of smooth walls with symmetrical windows and balconies, before the final sections with their rows of wall piers. This makes the buildings look as if their facades are decorated with victory flags. The architects envisioned the Alley of Heroes as the grand entrance to the city from the Volga River for the many visitors who arrive by boat.
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After the Alley of Heroes you can walk down to the Embankment via the granite steps, whose upper terrace is adorned with symmetrical eight-column classical-style entrances. The staircase goes down to the central part of the embankment. The embankment is another viewing point that helps the visitor to appreciate the splendour of Stalinist architecture and the beauty of Volgograd city centre. In designing the embankment, the architects kept in mind the need to create an expressive panorama of the city when looking back from the Volga River. The embankment was built in 1952-1953 using the designs of architect Vasily Simbirtsev. At the upper level you are treated to a breathtaking view of the river, its banks and the river port. The embankment itself has two terraces, upper and lower. The upper terrace is adjoined by residential blocks, public offices, parks and garden squares. The lower terrace is located 15-20 metres (45-60 ft) below, almost at water level. The terraces are connected by staircases and ramps.

In the centre of the upper terrace is the Art Fountain, which the locals call the “friendship fountain”. This is a traditional meeting place for old friends from school and university. The fountain was created in 1957 by sculptor Sergei Aleshin as per the design of architect Vasily Shalashov. In 2012, following reconstruction, the fountain was “animated” and given light and music accompaniment.

For the locals, the embankment is a favourite spot for leisurely walks. On national holidays or for concerts a stage is erected on the lower terrace, turning the embankment into an open-air concert venue for several hundred thousand people.
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The River Port was built in 1980, much later than the main Embankment ensemble. Today it is Europe’s largest riverboat terminal (length 296 m/917 ft, width 36 m/111 ft and height 47 m/146 ft), catering for river traffic including cruise ships and cargo boats.
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At the end of the 1980's, the second phase of the riverboat terminal was completed: a concert hall (Volgograd Regional Philharmonic Hall) with a 1040-person capacity and a Rieger-Kloss organ that was built in Czechoslovakia in 1982. This is a unique concert space, particularly because of its location near the water. In order to guarantee the organ’s safety in such conditions, the builders used specially designed solutions in the process of construction and subsequent operation of the concert hall.
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Getting back to the port, you can walk along the lower terrace towards the Tsaritsyn pumping station that was built at the end of the nineteenth century according to designs by engineer Nikolai Zimin. This was the spot where the eastern corner of the Tsaritsyn fortress wall came to an end at the entrance to a steep ravine. The buildings in which the pumping station is housed are an example of the industrial architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is a brick building with decorative elements characteristic of the Lower Volga towns. The pumping station was reconstructed after the war. Its main building is an integral part of the central embankment’s architectural ensemble and was restored using certain elements of 1950s neoclassicism. Neoclassical elements were also used in the design of the fencing, which includes interesting arch forms with cast-iron lattices. Today this building is occupied by the management of the municipal water works and a museum that relates the history of local water services.

The Stalingrad Musical Comedy Theatre had its first premiere in the former building of Tsaritsin’s Concordia Theatre, on the bank of the Tsaritsa River, in 1932. It was the operetta The Bondwoman by Nikolai Strelnikov. The company rolled out 13 premieres its first year, touring Moscow, Kiev and Kharkov. The subsequent seasons were just as successfUlitsa The company staged the works of such operetta classics as Carl Zeller, Robert Planquette, Franz Lehar, Imre Kalman, and Johann Strauss, as well as the operettas of modern composers: Sorochintsi Fair by Aleksey Ryabov, Wedding at Malinovka by Boris Aleksandrov, Golden Valley by Isaac Dunayevsky, and others. Then came the war. Everything the company had – props, costumes, even the building – was destroyed in the Battle of Stalingrad. Evacuating to Kazan and Omsk, the Stalingrad Musical Company Theatre continued to rehearse and perform. When Stalingrad was liberated, the company returned to the city intact. The Tractor Factory gave the company its recently renovated club building. The place was not very comfortable to work in. There was no heating, but the house was always packed for the company’s performances. The Stalingrad Musical Company Theatre was allotted a beautiful historical building on the embankment in 1952. The company’s repertoire continued to expand. The staged the operas The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana and Sorochintsi Fair by Modest Mussorgsky, the ballets The Red Poppy by Reinhold Gliere and Esmeralda by Cesare Pugni, and many other works. Several great composers collaborated with the Stalingrad Musical Company Theatre in the 1960s and 1970s: Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi, Vladimir Semyonov, Nikolai Minh, and Konstantin Listov. The company won a USSR National Award for its production of the operetta The Snow Mountaintops Tune by Georgy Tsabadze in 1972, and won the same award again a few years later for the play Girl Hero Wanted by Veniambin Basner. The company’s musicians manned Volgograd’s first symphony orchestra.  

The company’s building was closed for renovation in the early 1990s, which took five years. The Volgograd Musical Theatre had to perform on other people’s stages in the meantime, but its creative process continued nonstop. The company staged new productions and played concerts. The company officially became a “musical” theatre in 1995. In 2003, it won a Volgograd City Award for its musical The Great Heroism of Stalingrad, timed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Victory in the Battle of Stalingrad.

The Volgograd Musical Theatre has hosted the Interregional Christmas Festival of Young Musicians since the early 2000s. In 2001, it hosted the premiere of the Autumnal Volga opera festival, featuring opera soloists from Russia and the newly independent states. The first operetta festival named in honour of the People’s Artist of Russia Tamara Papina, an Honorary Citizen of the Hero City Volgograd, also took place at the Volgograd Musical Theatre in 2004. The Volgograd Musical Theatre has staged more than 400 shows in its lifetime, raising several generations of talented actors and musicians. The Volgograd Musical Theatre is currently led by head director Alexander Kutyavin, Merited Artist of Russia, and head conductor Vadim Venediktov, also a Merited Artist of Russia, who faithfully uphold the company’s high artistic standards.  

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A half-hour walk along the embankment will bring you to another memorial ensemble dedicated to WWII events, the Battle of Stalingrad panorama museum. This unique building was designed by Volgograd’s chief architect Vadim Maslyaev at the end of 1970s. The architect wanted to create an open-air museum dedicated to the great battle, with the ruins of the mill and other buildings, with communication trenches, firing positions, shell craters and obstacles. The panorama museum, encased in light stone panels is located on a platform and seems to float against this backdrop.

The complex is made up of two principal installations rising above the platform: the hyperboloid shape of the panorama and the obelisk that symbolises a four-sided Russian bayonet. Additional installations can be found at the four corners of the platform: a banner draped around a bayonet with bas-relief, the star of the Hero City, the entrance pavilion from Sovetskaya Street and a pillar with inscribed orders from the Soviet commander-in-chief.

The complex was built in two stages. In July 1982, the “Defeat of the German Fascists at Stalingrad” panorama was unveiled. The 16x120 m (50x372 ft) painting was created at the end of 1940s by the Mitrofan Grekov Studio of War Artists and was initially stored at Mamayev Kurgan.

In May 1985, a museum was opened on the first floor of the Panorama. It consists of eight rooms exhibiting the photographs, documents and personal belongings of soldiers and officers, weapons (including the rifle of the famous sniper Vasily Zaitsev), and gifts to Stalingrad from foreign countries, including the bejewelled ceremonial sword specially forged and inscribed by command of George VI of the United Kingdom.

The museum complex includes the ruins of the Gerhardt Mill, which was built by the industrialist Gerhardt in 1908, which operated up until the war.
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Across the street is Pavlov’s House. Across the street is Pavlov’s House. During the Battle of Stalingrad a unit of Soviet soldiers used this building as a defensive perimeter. Historians believe they were led by sergeant Yakov Pavlov. This house is a true symbol of wartime courage, endurance and the solidarity of the Soviet people. The special memorial sidewall is dedicated to the twenty three soldiers of eleven nationalities who defended the house for 58 days. Two more names belong two soldiers who helped capture the building.
From Pavlov’s House you can walk up the street to Lenin Square and go to the underground Metrotram station. A high-speed tram ride is a must for all visitors to the city.
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You can take the Metrotram to Mamayev Kurgan station and get off at the foot of the biggest monument that has ever been built in memory of WWII soldiers. There are 200 steps up to the top  the same as the number of days that the Battle of Stalingrad lasted.

“Height 102” or Mamayev Kurgan was extremely important during the Battle of Stalingrad. Whoever controlled the hill controlled the city. Of the 200 days that the battle lasted, 135 were spent fighting for this hill. The Soviet army finally entrenched itself at Mamayev Kurgan on 25 January 1943.

Construction of the monument began in 1958 and lasted until 1967 under the guidance of sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich. The route to the top takes in the Alley of Lombardy Poplars, Last Stand Square, the ruined walls that recreate scenes of the fighting, and Heroes Square that ends with a support wall. In the 1970s, the builders entombed a capsule in the wall with a message to future generations that cannot be opened until 9 May 2045.
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The next point on the route is the Hall of Military Fame with its Eternal Flame, a pantheon of grief for the victims of the Battle of Stalingrad.
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After that comes the Square of Grief with its “Grieving Mother” monument. Visitors will pass thirty-seven granite tombstones of defenders of Stalingrad. The Commander of the 62nd Army, Vasily Chuikov, is also buried here.
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At the top is the 85-metre high "The Motherland Calls" sculpture. The sword that it wields connects the figure with two other monuments: “From the home front to the front” in Magnitogorsk, where a worker passes the sword to a soldier, and “Liberator” in Berlin’s Treptower Park, where a soldier holds the sword pointed towards the ground..

The hollow statue of the Motherland is made with reinforced concrete walls, weighs around 8,000 tons and stands on a pedestal that goes 16 metres (50 ft) underground. The reinforced concrete frame is made up of separate cells connected by wire ropes that are placed inside the sculpture and weigh 60 tons each. Special holes were made in the sword to decrease the wind pressure. Maintenance on the statue is carried out by industrial climbers. The highest view point available to people excluding service personnel (for example, photographers) is the outstretched arm of the statue.
After leaving Mamayev Kurgan you can take the Metrotram back to the city. Get off at Komsomolskaya station in the very centre of the city and see another “city palace”, the monumental State Bank building (now Central Bank), reminiscent of a massive, four-storey arcade.
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After going one block up Komsomolskaya Street you’ll get to Ulitsa Mira. At the end of this street is the Planetarium, which is visible from many parts of the city. It is another “city palace” and looks like a cathedral, its dome crowned by Vera Mukhina’s sculpture, Peace.