Descending into the cool darkness, I hold tightly onto the railing being careful not to slip on the shiny black marble stairs. As my eyes adjust to the dim lighting, a uniformed man points urgently towards my chest. He has a problem with the camera hanging around my neck. No photographs are allowed.
Having obediently zipped my jacket closed over my camera, he allows me to continue my descent. Then silently and without expression, he directs me to turn to my right.
My heart skips a beat as I step into the square underground vault. It’s a long time since I saw a dead body. In the centre of the room, an open coffin surrounded by bullet proof glass rests on a dark marble plinth.
Before I can stop to look more closely, another security officer gestures to me to keep moving. There’s no lingering allowed here.
A bright white light illuminates Lenin’s face, making a feature of his perfectly preserved pale waxy features. His white shirt and pale hands resting on his thighs contrast starkly with the dark suit that blends into the shadows.
Questions flood my brain. Is this for real? Am I gazing at a wax model or am I really looking at the body of Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader who played a lead role in the October Revolution of 1917?
Russians’ opinions differ about who or what lies under the spotlight in Lenin’s Mausoleum. Some claim that the authorities replaced the body with a wax figure, while others insist that it is the embalmed body of Lenin lying in state for visitors to see and pay their respects.
Prohibited from stopping to peer closely at the body, I walk as slowly as allowed around three sides of the coffin as directed, attempting to commit to memory the surreal scene before me.
All too soon, I reach the exit and must walk up a second set of stairs bizarrely feeling sorry that the visit is over. The strong sunlight blinds me after the darkness of the mausoleum as I wonder what just happened.
Did that really happen? It was all over so quickly. The whole process of waiting in line and going through security took far longer than the experience itself.
Even with no photographs as a memory aid, visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum is one of the unforgettable events in a trip filled with memorable experiences. Even now, I can easily summon that pale face lit up in a tomb of darkness to mind wondering if it really was Lenin?
- A visit to Lenin’s Mausoleum is free.
- The Mausoleum is situated in Red Square opposite the GUM Store.
- It is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday from 10am till 1pm – but check as there are occasions when the Mausoleum is closed.
- No photographs
- Small bags only – be prepared for a security check.