My second day was a tour of Mamayev Hill, the center of the fighting for Stalingrad during World War II. As many as a million soldiers died here during the battle. Atop the hill is the massive victory statue of the Mother of Russia, symbolizing victory over the Nazis. The statue is about 250’ tall, taller than a 20 story building. The layout of the memorial is just brilliant. I arrived by taxi near the Volga River bank. From the parking lot I could not see the statue. I had the sinking feeling that perhaps the memorial was smaller than I had anticipated. My disappointment was soon over as we approached the stairs leading over the bluff that blocked the view from the road. At the top of the stairs the statue finally came into view. It was about a quarter of a mile away and really was an amazing sight. I could see far off at the base of the statue people walking up the hill at its base and judging by the size of the people in front of the statue I realized how big it was. The feeling that it brought was much like the first time I saw the Statue of Liberty. It is such a grand and majestic site that you just want to stand and marvel at its view.
The pathway leading to the statue leads through a row of pretty trees, battle emplacements, fountains, art sculptures, memorials, and a large pond and memorial that reminded me of the World War II monument in D.C.
After passing the first fountain (above), I came to an “alleyway” of stairs that was flanked by battle sculptures on either side. Playing on a loudspeaker were sounds of battle and a Soviet soldier urging on his comrades into battle. I could hear the sounds of tank and artillery fire, machine guns and bombs and the screams and yells of soldiers in what made a terrific auditory spectacle. I stood between sculptures on the stairs and looked at the carvings and tried to imagine what this horrific battle must have been like.
Ascending the stairs from the battle sculptures I came next to a reflecting pool with the victory statue standing triumphantly behind it. It was a beautiful sight and the sword wielding Mother Russia reflected back in the pool. Tourists lined up to be photographed at this vantage point and as I looked up I could see people walking up the path to the statue. From this distance, the diminutive bodies gave a scale to the size of the statue.
On the far side of the reflecting pool were some inscriptions and carvings of Soviet leaders – most prominent was Lenin. I came close and I could see that these carvings were of the typical Soviet labor type murals that were oh so common during Soviet times. I took a moment to examine them (wishing that I spoke Russian and could read them). Of to the right side I saw a portal that appeared to be a cave entrance.
I entered the cave like portico and found that it made an abrupt 90 degree turn to the right. Once I was fully inside of the cave I looked around the corner and saw the Eternal Flame.
The centerpiece of the Eternal Flame room was a massive hand coming from the center of the ground holding a torch and a spiral staircase ascending the chamber. On the sides of the walls were lists of some of the dead from the Battle of Stalingrad; an honor guard stood guard, watching over the chamber and eternal flame. Beautiful heavenly music quietly played in the background and echoed through the chamber. It was one of the most beautiful memorials that I have ever seen. I captured a video of the chamber (further below) and if you listen you can hear the music that is played here.
Ascending the pathway, about three quarters of the way to the top I could see the top of the victory statue through the opening in the roof. It was an amazing feat of architecture, still inside the quiet chamber with this heavenly music, the quiet whisperings of the tourists and the sight of the massive head and sword of Mother Russia extending to the sky from above. I continued walking up the path and found that it ended right at the foot of Hill 102 where the victory statue is mounted.
Here is the video that I captured; if you listen clearly you can hear the music in the background that set a very sombre mood to the place that I think was very respectful to the veterans that perished here.
At the base of the victory statue is another pond and at its centerpiece was a beautiful sculpture of a mother holding the body of her dead son. His face is covered and the look on her face is of pain and anguish.
As I was admiring the sculpture and the view of Mamayev Hill, 4 men approached who looked like war veterans based on their dress and mannerisms. They wore some military clothing and had a look of pain and remembrance. They seemed to be in their 40’s and 50’s and I surmised that they were veterans of the Afghanistan War. A few times I saw one man put his man on his comrade’s shoulder and the second man seemed to be fighting back tears. I wondered if these men saw each other today for the first time in years? Perhaps they decided to have a reunion and come to this memorial to remember their own friends who died in the war…? I kept a distance as I did not want to disturb them and tried to capture a photo of the moment while still maintaining some discretion. After they left I admired the tall victory statue and the view of the Volga River from the top of the hill.
I was thoroughly moved by the entire memorial site and its sculptures and the surrounding grounds. In the parking lot, a bus load of children were exiting. Each child had a large white flower. It is good to see that the youth are being taught to observe and respect the sacrifices of the generations that preceded them.
On a side note, on my way out of the memorial park, I tried to buy some post cards. It seemed that every post card had facts and figures on the back side. The cards seemed to be more like information or trading cards; they were not designed to be mailed. Once again, I think the whole concept of “post” cards is lost on the Russians outside of Moscow or St. Petersburg. For the next 4 days I would search in vain to find a single post card that was blank on one side so that I could write a message and mail it home…
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