“The Motherland Calls” is a towering statue that dominates the summit of Mamayev Kurgan, a hill that overlooks the city of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). The enormous artwork is the centerpiece of a wider memorial complex that commemorates the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare.
Construction began on the massive monument in May 1959, and it was finally completed in October 1967. At the time, it was the tallest statue in the world. It has since lost that record, but remains the tallest statue in Europe and the tallest statue of a woman in the world. And this isn’t a woman you want to mess with, as she wields the world’s largest sword.
Apart from the various records, “The Motherland Calls” is notable for being a beautifully dramatic sculpture. The sculpture depicts a woman stepping forward in an elegant but forceful manner, her left arm outstretched before her and her right raised high and wielding a mighty sword. It is a symbol of strength and determination, a call from the Motherland to never surrender and to maintain the attack until all enemies are defeated.
From a technical point of view, it was a truly ambitious project. The posture alone was a hugely complicated issue, apart from the simple size of the thing. Pre-stressed concrete and wire ropes were used to achieve the dramatic stance and to help balance the statue with its outstretched arms. The exterior walls were made from concrete about 12 inches thick, and the interior was made from a series of separate chambers.
In total, the statue is 279 feet tall from the tip of the sword to the top of the plinth. The female figure stands at an impressive 170 feet tall. The sword, meanwhile, is 108 feet long and made entirely of stainless steel.
“The Motherland Calls” has had to cope with a couple of serious problems over the last half century. Not long after the statue was completed, it became apparent that the huge sword was potentially a massive problem. The weapon, which was originally trimmed with titanium sheets, was swaying in the wind, putting enormous stress on the statue’s arm and creating some highly disconcerting noises. The problem was resolved in 1972, when the blade was replaced by a new steel version without the titanium and with holes near the upper end to reduce the wind impact.
More recently, a new problem emerged. The 8,000-ton statue isn’t actually connected to its foundations, but rather relies on its own weight to keep it in place and standing upright. In 2009, it was discovered that rising water levels were causing the foundations of the memorial to subside. At the time, an unnamed official told the BBC that the statue was already listing by around eight inches, and that it would probably collapse if the tilt increased much more.
So far, however, thanks to some restoration work and perhaps a lot of luck, the world’s tallest woman, and the world’s largest sword, are still standing proudly above Volgograd.