Lubyanka – home of the infamous KGB

There are few places in Russia which represent the repression of the Soviet era as much as Moscow’s Lubyanka Building.

Lubyanka is the popular name for the headquarters of the former KGB and its affiliated prison on Lubyanka Square in the Meshchansky District of Moscow. It is a large Neo-Baroque building with a facade of yellow brick designed by Alexander Ivanov in 1897 and subsequently extended by Aleksey Shchusev between 1940 and 1947.

The building was originally constructed as the headquarters of the All-Russia Insurance Company, which explains its beautiful parquet floors and pale green walls.

KGB Building

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the structure was seized by the government to act as the headquarters of the secret police, which at the times was called the Cheka. In Soviet Russian jokes, it was referred to as the tallest building in Moscow, since Siberia (famous for its Gulag labour camp system), it was said, could be seen from its basement.

During the Great Purge (1936-38), the offices became increasingly cramped due to growing staff numbers. In 1940, Aleksey Shchusev was commissioned to enlarge the building. His new design doubled the Lubyanka's size horizontally, with the original structure taking up the left half of the facade (as viewed from the street). He also added another storey and extended the structure by incorporating backstreet buildings. Further work was planned, but then war intervened.

This asymmetric facade survived intact until 1983, when the original structure was reconstructed to match the new build, at the urging of Communist Party General Secretary and former KGB Director Yuri Andropov in accordance with Shchusev's plans.

Although the Soviet secret police changed its name many times, its headquarters remained in this building. Secret police chiefs from Lavrenty Beria to Yuri Andropov used the same office on the third floor, which looked down on the statue of Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. The prison on the ground floor of the building figures prominently in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's classic study of the Soviet police state, The Gulag Archipelago.

After the dissolution of the KGB, the Lubyanka became the headquarters of Russia’s Border Guard Service, and today houses the Lubyanka prison and one directorate of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). In addition, a museum of the KGB (now called the Historical Demonstration hall of the Russian FSB) was opened to the public.

In 1990, the Solovetsky Stone was erected across from the Lubyanka to commemorate the victims of political repression.

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