The Lenin Mausoleum is a classic work of Soviet architecture. Its architect, A.Shchusev, employed a simple and expressive design in the form of a monumental edifice, faced in dark red granite and black labradorite, which embodies, as it were, the grief of the people and the power of Lenin's eternal teaching.
The Mausoleum occupies a key position in the composition of the whole square. The Soviet architects made skilful use of various artistic devices to emphasize the exceptional role of the Mausoleum in the ensemble.
Lenin died on 21 January, 1924, and the whole country went into deep mourning.
In response to numerous requests to the government not to commit the body of the leader of the Revolution to the earth, it was decided to build a Mausoleum-burial vault by the Kremlin wall. The task of designing the Mausoleum was entrusted to the talented architect Alexei Shchusev. In his search for forms Shchusev turned to the ancient tradition of the memorial edifice in the shape of a pyramid. He studied the Pyramid of Caestius in Rome, the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, the famous tombs on the Via Appia between Rome and Capua, the mastabas and pyramids in Egypt and the burial towers of Palmyra and Petra. He only studied these famous monuments, however, but did not copy any of them in the composition of the Mausoleum.
The ground plan of the building was marked out in Red Square by the Senate Tower, where a stone platform stood. Then they set about digging the foundation pit. The work was made difficult by the extreme cold which froze the ground. Crow-bars and pickaxes were not strong enough, so a team of sappers carried out a series of controlled explosions. By dawn on 26 January the pit was ready. At the same time the carcase of the Mausoleum had been built in the square. They worked both day and night, with the help of floodlights. Many volunteers helped to erect the Mausoleum. They included not only citizens of the USSR, but also emigre revolutionaries: Hungarians, Poles, Finns and Austrians.
On 27 January the temporary wooden Mausoleum was ready. It consisted of a cube about three metres high made of horizontal layers of beams covered with planks and topped by a three-sided pyramid. Under the cube was the Hall of Mourning which was sunk into the ground, and on either side were rectangular sections over the staircases of the entrance and exit. The Mausoleum was painted dark grey with black boards at the corners which created the impression of a black frame. On the facade was a relief inscription of LENIN in black letters.
After the funeral the urgent question arose of the further immortalization of Lenin's memory. In spite of the fact that more than 100,000 people had visited the Mausoleum in six weeks, there were still millions more who wished to pay their last respects to the great man. So the Governmental Commission passed a resolution on the building of a permanent tomb and the embalming of Lenin's body.
During the discussion on what the tomb should be like, the ideas of erecting a palatial type of building and monumental sculptural monuments were rejected. The designing of the second Mausoleum was also entrusted to Shchusev. The architect presented his design to the Governmental Commission in March 1924. The dimensions of the new Mausoleum (also made of wood) were much larger. The tripartite composition was replaced by a single section, which included a burial vault and tribune. This laconic design required different colouring. The architect chose a combination of light brown and black, close to the colours of the Revolution and mourning, which harmonized with the background of the Kremlin walls. This wooden Mausoleum was opened on 1 August, 1924.
In 1929 the government decided to build a stone Mausoleum. Shchusev, who also drew up the third design, travelled round many quarries in the Soviet Union and selected the finest types of stone: marble, porphyry, granite and la-bradorite. The largest block of black labradorite was from the Golovinsky quarry in the Ukraine.
The whole country took part in the building of the Mausoleum. Each republic sent its finest specimens of facing material. The work took less than eighteen months. Construction was completed in October 1930. Red Square was reconstructed at the same time. The tramway lines were removed, the statue of Minin and Pozharsky wa shifted next to the Intercession Cathedral, and the whole square was re-paved. The Kremlin walls and towers were restored, the communal graves on either side of the Mausoleum were re-planned, and visitors' stands with a seating capacity of 10,000 were built along the Kremlin wall.
The architecture of the Mausoleum is void of ornament and deliberately plain. On a powerful base rises a tiered pyramid, which is crowned by a massive slab resting on thirty-six columns. Over the main entrance portal is a block of black stone inscribed with one word in red polished granite: LENIN. On either side of the entrance are flights of steps leading up to the governmental tribune.
In the granite square round the Mausoleum are four lawns planted with blue spruce. Stands for guests run along the Kremlin walls.
Shchusev worked on the interior in collaboration with the artist I. Nivinsky, who had designed the interior of the temporary Mausoleum as well. On the wall is a granite bas-relief of the emblem of the Soviet Union. Two flights of steps lead to the Hall of Mourning in the shape of a cube, the symbol of eternity. The hall has a tiered ceiling which repeats the form of a pyramid, as it were. Its walls are red and black: at regular intervals are pilasters of red quartzite on a black background of polished la bradorite. In the centre of the hall on a pedestal lies the coffin containing Lenin's body. Over it is a crystal sarcophagus.
A guard of honour stands motionless by the entrance to the Mausoleum. It changes every hour to the sounds of the Kremlin Chimes. The guards march from the building by the Saviour Gate, taking exactly 2 minutes 45 seconds each time.
Behind the Mausoleum, by the Kremlin wall, is the Revolution Necropolis. Here are the graves with tombstones and busts of Lenin's associates, and figures in the Communist Party and the Soviet state.
On either side of these burials are communal graves where the heroes who perished in the fighting for the Revolution and the establishment of Soviet power are buried.
Behind the black slabs set in the Kremlin wall are urns with the ashes of eminent members and statesmen, writers, scholars, generals, hero-pilots, stratosphere fliers and cosmonauts.