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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

After Stalin's Destruction, a New Red Staircase

It was one of the most important walkways in Russian history: The Red Staircase, the royal entrance to the Kremlin's Faceted Palace where a young Peter the Great watched in terror as Kremlin guards murdered his uncles.

Destroyed by Stalin to make way for a dining room for Soviet delegates, the Red Staircase is now being rebuilt in the heart of the Kremlin for the celebration of the 850th anniversary of Moscow in 1997.

The restoration has evoked mixed reactions among art historians, some of whom fear that the construction is being done shoddily and that a rare opportunity to excavate the original foundation of the staircase, uncovered when the dining hall was demolished in June, has been squandered.

"I support the idea of restoring the staircase, but I'm afraid it will be of very low quality", said Volfgang Kavelmakher, a Moscow architect who specializes in restoration. "It's a very complicated process and it's being done very crudely. Saddest is that the original foundation is not being preserved".

Until the original 15th-century foundation was uncovered, the earliest date attached to the staircase was the 16th century, historians say.

The Red Staircase, more accurately the "Beautiful Porch" or Krasnoye Kryltso, initially was connected with a terrace that linked it with the Annunciation Cathedral.

The staircase was used only by members of the royal family, who would pass by gilded lions on the ledges and beneath an archway crowned with double-headed eagles as they descended to the square on the way to their coronation ceremonies. It was standing on these steps in 1682 that the future Peter the Great, then age 10, watched with his mother as the Kremlin guards, allies of his half-sister Sophia, murdered his uncles on the square below.

The recreation of the staircase launches a major renovation plan in preparation for Moscow's anniversary celebrations, said Yury Shilobreyev, head of the special construction department for the Moscow government.

The next major project that the city has proposed to President Boris Yeltsin is the restoration of the richly decorated Alexandrovsky and Andreyevsky halls, which were united in the early 1930s to form a single meeting hall for the Supreme Soviet, he said. It was the same meeting hall that led to the destruction of the Red Staircase; when the hall was completed in 1934, the Red Staircase was torn down to make way for the delegate's dining room.

The staircase is now being rebuilt to look as it did after being restored in the 1840s by F. Richter, a Kremlin architect, said Lev Lavrinov, in charge of the restoration project. Some of Richter's drawings and plans for the staircase were even found in archives, and engravings and photographs of the staircase still exist, he said.

The staircase, to be constructed of brick and limestone, will run along the south side of the Faceted Palace and lead to the square.

As in earlier times, a lion will be perched on the bannister at each of three landings. Sculptors are now creating lions, also made from limestone, which are being copied from one of the original lions, which was located in the Great Kremlin Palace, according to Lavrinov.

He said he did not know how much the overall project would cost.

Natalya Zyuyeva, an art historian who works in the Great Kremlin Palace, said that the drilling from the construction has created cracks in some of the elaborate frescoes on the interior of the Faceted Palace.

Lavrinov denied that the construction has damaged the paintings, which he said are long overdue for restoration.

Zyuyeva also questioned spending money to recreate monuments when there are so many existing monuments in dire need of repair.

"When you rebuild destroyed monuments it's just a copy, an imitation", she said. "It's impossible to repeat a masterpiece".