What is Red Square?

Mary McMahon

Red Square is a famous Moscow landmark which has existed in some form or another since the late 1400s. It is the largest and most well known city square in Moscow, and it is among the most famous city squares in the world; many people are familiar with Red Square and the fact that it is located in Moscow, even if they don't know much more about it. The site is a popular spot for residents of Moscow and visitors alike, and it has witnessed some very notable historical events.

Red Square is a famous town square in Moscow, Russia.
Red Square is a famous town square in Moscow, Russia.

The modern day Red Square is in the center of the city, accessible from many major roads which converge on Red Square. It is surrounded by a number of buildings, including St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's Tomb, the Kremlin, and the famous GUM department store. Some of the structures around the square were damaged or removed during the Soviet era, and later restored, including the famous Resurrection Gate, which was demolished to make way for tanks and later rebuilt.

A map including Russia.
A map including Russia.

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In the early years of its history, Red Square was designed as a marketplace, like many city squares were. It served as a hub for trade and for the exchange of information between residents. Over time, it evolved into a site which was used as an official location for announcements, executions, and other state-sponsored events. In the Soviet era, Red Square was used for victory parades, speeches, and other state events, and some of the most iconic imagery of the square comes from this period.

Red Square sprawls across 18 acres (a little over seven hectares), making a lot of room for events and visitors. It has had a guest role in many films set in Russia, ranging from James Bond movies in which the hero sprints across the square to heroic epics about Russian history. The site is very popular for film and photography because it is surrounded by so much remarkable architecture and many historical sites.

Some people are under the impression that the “Red” in the square's name is a reference to the former Communist government of Russia. In fact, the story is a bit more complicated. The term is derived from the Russian word krasnaya, which originally meant “beautiful,” and was applied to the square in reference to St. Basil's Cathedral. Over time, this word came to mean “red,” not “beautiful,” and the square's name acquired its current English translation.

Vladimir Lenin, who launched the communist era in Russia, was embalmed, and his body is on display in Red Square.
Vladimir Lenin, who launched the communist era in Russia, was embalmed, and his body is on display in Red Square.

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Discussion Comments


Does anyone know if Red Square is where Lenin's body is on display? I heard a few years back that it has been preserved for decade following his death and that it is still on display in Moscow. I would love to see it one day just for the morbid spectacle.


Whenever I hear about Red Square in Russia I can't help but think about some of those news reel films you used to see in school and movie theaters during the Soviet era. They would show huge lines of tanks rolling through the square and perfect formations of high kicking soldiers strutting along for what seemed like miles. Red Square was the site of all this pageantry. In my mind I will always associate it with Soviet braggadocio.


I have been to Moscow and seen Red Square and I can tell you that it is incredible.

The first things that strikes you is its size. I have been all over Europe and am pretty familiar with the town square model that red square imitates. Rarely does it exist on the same scale that it does in Moscow. It is simply huge. You almost feel like you can't see what is going on on the other side it is so far away.

The next thing you see is all the beautiful building. There is simply not a single ugly or underwhelming anywhere in the square. They are all huge, ornate and dripping with history.

This was one of my favorite sights in Moscow and Moscow is an incredible city. Anyone who finds themselves anywhere near Red Square should make a special trip to check it out.

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