The Monument to Minin and PozharskyRussian: pamyatnik Mininu i Pozharskomu or памятник Минину и Пожарскому, two national heroes and liberators, is one of Moscow’s best known monuments and perhaps the most symbolic one. First of all, it stands in the very heart of Moscow, on the Red Square in front of St. Basil’s CathedralRussian: sobor Vasiliya Blazhennogo or собор Василия Блаженного. Secondly, it was paid for with people’s donations and not with state money. Thirdly, it is not a monument to a sovereign ruler, a poet or a party leader but rather, a monument to a prince and a commoner. Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky are Russian national heroes, even though they are not exactly depicted the way one would imagine medieval Russian warriors to look. Let us start at the beginning.
Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky lived at the turn of the 17th century. It was a difficult time for Russia, known as the Time of Troublesperiod of political crisis in Russia that followed the demise of the Rurik dynasty (1598) and ended with the establishment of the Romanov dynasty (1613). The Rurik dynastya dynasty founded by the Varangian prince Rurik had ended, leaving Russia with no legitimate ruler. False tsarevichesself-proclaimed sons of tsars, supported financially and politically by powerful Poles, began to come out of the woodwork one after another in pursuit of the Russian throne. After the false tsarevitches had been overthrown, the Poles and the Lithuanians took advantage of the lack of unity and the overall weakness of the Russian Tsardom and openly attacked Moscow. This was the start of the Russo-Polish War. While the invaders had taken over and kept control of the Kremlin, 400 kilometres away from the capital — in Nizhny Novgoroda city in the administrative center of Volga Federal District and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in Russia — Kuzma Minin (elected the local head at that time) was gradually gathering the people’s militia forces under the leadership of Prince Dmitry Pozharsky. In February 1612, the militia regiment headed out to Moscow, recruiting more volunteers on its way. From August until October, Moscow witnessed a long and bloody fight between the militia and the Poles resulting in the successful expulsion of the latter from the country.
Moscow has rarely fallen victim to foreign intruders: in the 14th century it was invaded by the Mongol Khan Tokhtamysh, and once again in the 19th century, by Napoleon. That’s only three times over the 700-year-long history of Moscow and the Russian state! During each of these times, freedom was regained at the cost of innumerable casualties, fires and destruction. Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, who voluntarily and on no one’s orders gathered and led the liberation movement, became a symbol of Russia’s freedom and invincibility.
The monument hasn’t always stood by St. Basil’s Cathedral. It was originally going to be set up in Nizhny Novgorod, since this is where the legendary volunteer army had been gathered. But Minin and Pozharsky fought with the Poles at the walls of the Kremlin! Also, the monument was erected after the War of 1812 and Napoleon’s forced retreat from Moscow. Therefore, Emperor Alexander IIthe Emperor of Russia from 1855 until 1881 decided to place it in Moscow and announced that funds for this monument would be raised from people all over the country who wished to make a donation; this fact was perpetuated in the inscription made on the monument, which reads: ‘To citizen Minin and Prince Pozharsky from grateful Russia’.
It did, however, take some time before the statue finally settled in its present location. It was originally installed on the Red Square in front of the Trading RowsRussian: torgovyie ryadyi or торговые ряды built by architect Joseph Bovéan Italian-Russian neoclassical architect (Giuseppe Bova) after the 1812 fire. The design of this long building capped with a flat wide dome closely echoed another structure of a similar style — the Senate built in the 18th century by Matvey Kazakovne of the most influential Muscovite architects during the reign of Catherine II. They stood facing each other, on one axis, separated by a long open square. Minin’s gesture, both triumphant and protective, seemed to have some connection with the domes of the two buildings, looking as if it was shielding them from danger while at the same time pointing at the towers of the Kremlin. Only in the 1930s, when the square was significantly reconstructed, was the monument relocated towards the cathedral. The official version of why this was is that it had interfered with parades. Local folklore has it, though, that one of the party leaders did not like the fact that Minin was holding the sword with one hand while pointing at the Lenin MausoleumRussian: mavzoley Lenina or мавзолей Ленина with the other.
WHY IS THAT?
Look at the monument. Why is Minin standing and Pozharsky sitting? Why are they dressed so strangely? Where is the legendary battle with the Poles? Sculptor Ivan Martos — the creator of the monument — had to deal with the same concerns.
Initially, he had planned to portray Minin and Pozharsky as ancient heroes but with a little difference between the two: the sculptor wanted Minin to be barefoot and bareheaded, as a representative of the common people; in contrast, he decided to put prince’s boots on Prince Pozharsky, add a Roman helmet and pin his cloak with a fibula that old Russian princes wore. Both, according to the original plan, were supposed to be standing.
Then the concept changed to Pozharsky looking like an ancient hero head to toe, including sandals, while Minin was supposed to wear a simple shirt of Russian peasants. Eventually, Martos depicted them both barefoot and free of excessive clothing (nudity in ancient figures is a sign of a hero). By doing this and by removing any characteristic details pointing to their own historical time, the sculptor made them equals and essentially timeless, emphasising that their heroic act will stay in people’s memory forever.