Even by the typically monumental standards of Soviet-era memorials, “The Motherland Calls” is an impressive sight. Towering seventeen stories above the Russian city of Volgograd, the monolithic statue depicting a windswept woman holding aloft a sword is a striking combination of neoclassical styling and Stalinist kitsch. A symbolic representation of Soviet victory over Nazi invaders, the figure intentionally recalls the “Winged Victory of Samothrace.” Like that ancient masterpiece, the Soviet composition communicates dynamism and strength. A closer inspection of “The Motherland Calls,” however, reveals at least one important difference. Cast entirely out of reinforced concrete, the dull, grey surface (interrupted here and there by cracks and the rust marks caused from embedded rebar) suggests none of the solidity and timelessness of the marble Greek statute.
The incredible mass of the statue is difficult to comprehend unless seen in person. From its plinth to the top of the figure’s head, “The Motherland Calls” measures 170 feet. Its highest point (the tip of the sword) is located nearly 300 feet in the air. Each of the two shawl pieces extruding wing-like from the figure’s back exceeds the length of an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer. Both weigh close to 250 tons. The composition as a whole tips the scales at 8,000 tons. Not surprisingly, “The Motherland Calls” was the world’s largest statue at the time of its public dedication on October 15, 1967. [For a better view, click on the image to the right. Note the adults standing alongside the statue's base.]
“The Motherland Calls” is not a stand-alone monument. Rather, it is the focal point of a vast memorial complex covering 1.3 square miles. The complex is located on Mamaev Kurgan (“Hill of Mamai”), the former epicenter of the Battle of Stalingrad (as the city was then known). It was here that the fate of Europe was determined in 1942-43. The hill was stormed by the Germans in mid-September 1942 only to be recaptured by the Red Army several days later. It subsequently changed hands several times before the encirclement and destruction of the Nazi forces was completed. (more…)