Inside Lenin’s mausoleum
Lenin’s Mausoleum was the holy shrine of the Lenin cult during the Soviet era. Stalin, and other Soviet leaders have a tomb behind the mausoleum, other important Soviets were buried in the Kremlin wall. Visiting the mausoleum and Kremlin wall necropolis is still a special occasion today, even though many of the buried people are controversial to say the least.
Comtourist crew have visited the Lenin Mausoleum in 2002 and 2008 and also been inside the mausoleums of Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung and Ho Chi Min. Visiting a mausoleum is meant to be the ultimate religious experience in communist countries so visiting one is always an interesting occasion. Strict rules apply and visitors must be silent and behave respectful at all time. Visiting a communist mausoleum is a must see whenever you are in Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang or Hanoi. The Lenin Mausoleum is open from 10:30 to 13:00 except Mondays and Fridays.
History of the Mausoleum
After Lenin’s death in 1924 it was decided to embalm his body and display it in a mausoleum to allow all Russians to say goodbye to their leader. A wooden structure was build by the Kremlin wall on Red Square. By 1929 the body was still on display in the wooden building and new preservation methods were known to scientists by then. It was decided to build a new stone mausoleum that was finished in 1930. Lenin’s body was moved to Siberia in 1941 fearing that the Germans would take Moscow and get their hands on his remains. A new stone sarcophagus was constructed in 1972, nothing else changes since then. Stalin was placed besides Lenin from 1953 to 1961 when he fell out of favour and was reburied in a tomb with bust at the Kremlin wall with other famous Soviet statesmen like Kalinin, Frunze, Dzerzhinsky and later Andropov, Chernenko and Brezhnev. The mausoleum was guarded by the Guard of Honour called the Number One Sentry until 1993, from then the Moscow police took over this task.
It was Stalin’s decision to preserve Lenin’s body; he wanted to take communism to the next level and believed that it would be a good way to harness the religious sentiment of the nation’s masses for his support. The job of embalming Lenin’s body was given to scientist Boris Zbarsky, whose family is still responsible for preserving Lenin’s body today. This is not an easy task and requires daily work to moisturize the features and inject preservatives under the clothes. Rumours have been going around for years that the body displayed in the mausoleum is in fact a wax doll and that the real Lenin in stored in a freezer. The Zbarsky franticly deny this and claim that visitors are looking at the real thing. Lenin’s body does look like a fake in our experience but what to expect after 75 years of daily conservation treatment? The bodies of Kim and Mao do not look mach different from Lenin although they were embalmed years later. A () photo report from a Russian source can be found on the internet that claims to show maintenance on Lenin’s body. It is clearly not Lenin however as the left hand is flat the hair is different from Lenin’s. Bloggers suggest that this is a spare body used to experiment treatment methods that will be applied to Lenin’s body. The embalmers of Lenin have consulted the Chinese, North Korean and Vietnamese specialists who were tasked to embalm their leaders.
Visiting the Lenin Mausoleum
The Lenin Mausoleum is open from 10:30 to 13:00 except Mondays and Fridays. Visitors are not allowed to take bags or cameras inside these can be stored in the wardrobe of the State Historical Musuem. People will offer to get you in quickly for a fee, this does not add any value, don’t use their service. It generally takes from 20 to 45 minutes to get inside the mausoleum. Waiting for the mausoleum is generally not a boring occasion, there are usually Stalin, Lenin and Tsar Nicolas imitators nearby, pretty Russian girls stroll around and bride and grooms are making their wedding photos. At the end of the queue there is a metal detector and from there you walk to the mausoleum, passing the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. Visitors enter the mausoleum at the front entrance and leave it via the exit on the left site. Speaking is not allowed inside the heavily guarded mausoleum, Russians generally ignore this rule and are often reprimanded by the policemen on duty.
Kremlin Wall Necropolis
Many other important Soviet notable politicians, military leaders, cosmonauts and scientists besides Lenin are buried at Red Square. The last person to be buried near the Kremlin Wall was General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko in 1985. The Soviet heads of state buried at the Kremlin Wall each have an individual Tomb with a bust. The most notable graves are those of Joseph Stalin and KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. Other Soviet dignitaries were buried in the Kremlin wall with a black plate with gold letters marking their grave. The most famous Soviets buried in the Kremlin Wall are Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, father of the Soviet Space programme Sergey Korolyov and World War II field marshal Georgi Zhukov. Many important Soviets and later Russians who died after 1985 or did not make the Kremlin Wall Necropolis are buried in the famous Novodevichy Cemetery. Some famous Russian buried at Novodevichy are Boris Yeltsin, Nikita Khrushchev, Andrei Gromyko, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sergei Eisenstein, Raisa Gorbachyova, Sergey Ilyushin, Ansatas Mikoyan, Andrei Tupolev to name a few. Comtourist did not have the change to visit the Novodevichy Cemetery but will post pictures of these important graves in the future.
Tourist cannot overlook the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall at the centre of Tiananmen Square opposite the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Mao’s body was embalmed and laid to rest in his Mausoleum after his death in 176. Visitors will need to store their bags and cameras in a wardrobe near the National Musuem and queue around the mausoleum. Visitors generally progress quickly trough the queue and waiting times are not to bad. The entrance brings visitors in a hall with a giant Mao Statue from Lu Xiangyou. Doors on the left and right side of the statue bring visitors in the Hall of Mourning with the coffin of Chairman Mao. Visitors have to keep walking and then progress to the next hall. This in true Chinese fashion is a store selling all kind of Mao merchandize! The mausoleum is open daily from 08:00 - 11:30 and 14:00 - 16:00.
Kim Il Sung’s Mausoleum
Most people will remember the news images of mass mourning in North Korea after the death off Kim Il Sung was announced in 1994. The whole nation was crying on the streets for days and some people even died of sorrow. It was no surprise that Kim’s son and successor Kim Jung Il went all out to dwarf any of the existing communist mausoleums when he made plans on how to burry his father. It was decided to turn Kumsusan, Kim Il Sung’s office into his mausoleum. Kumsusan memorial palace is entered with a series of escalators, leading to a hall with a statue of the eternal leader. Visitors will see Kim’s Mercedes and armoured train before they enter the actual mausoleum. A special pressure cabin is used to minimize the amount of dust visitors bring inside the hall with Kim’s body. Kim Il Sung rests in a glass box on a traditional Korean bed, visitors are have to walk around the leader and bow at every side. A visit to Kumsusan is usually included in any tourist trip to North Korea. Read more about our visit to Kumsusan on the Pyongyang monuments page.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
After his death in 1969 Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh was embalmed and displayed in a mausoleum in Hanoi against his will like Mao. Construction of the mausoleum started in 1973 and was finished in 1975. The building shows significant similarity with the Lenin Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh’s body is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum, with a military honour guard. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. A military guard of honour is present in the memorial hall and changed with formal protocol regularly. The Mausoleum is open from 09:00 to 12:00 and sometime closed for restoration and preservation work. Visitors are required to cover their legs, be silent and show respect. These rules are enforced by the guards strictly.
Sukhbaatar, Dimitrov and Gottwald mausoleums
Tourist who visit Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang or Hanoi still have the opportunity to see one of the great communist dictators on display in 2011. It is highly questionable that this opportunity will still exist ten years from now; most will probably not exist anymore by then. Three mausoleums already underwent this faith in the past. The most recent to go belonged to Mongolian revolutionary leader Damdin Sukhbaatar in Ulaanbaatar. It was demolished in 2005 to make place the new Government palace. Comtourist were in Ulaanbaatar in 2002 so still had the opportunity to shoot some pictures. Sukhbaatar’s mausoleum in front of the old Government palace clearly resembled the Lenin Mausoleum. The mausoleum of Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov was build after his dead in 1949 in Sofia. His embalmed body was cremated in 1990 and the mausoleum was demolished in 1999 after a heated nation-wide debate. Czechoslovakian communist leader Klement Gottwald was also displayed in a mausoleum after his death in 1953. The embalming was not properly done however and his body started to blacken and decompose in 1962, it was then decided to cremate him. The equipment used in Gottwalds mausoleum (at the site of the Jan Zizka monument) is now on display in the Czech National museum (former Liberation museum).