But the 2717-room Hotel Rossiya is the latest Communist landmark to fall in a capitalism-fuelled frenzy of construction fast changing the face of the Russian capital.

 

Mayor Yuri Luzhkov last week issued an order that it be torn down.

 

Critics say that such development by fiat –the hotel is said to be profitable and the city has only general plans for what to build in its place – is wrong. The Rossiya may not be the prettiest structure on earth, but it is part of the city's history, they maintain.

A boxy hulk that crouches on the Moscow River just metres from the Kremlin, it was once billed as the largest hotel in the world.

Long heritage

Millions of Soviet functionaries, business travellers and tourists resided in accommodations ranging from cramped singles lining monotonously long corridors to plush suites overlooking Red Square and the Kremlin beyond.

Its drab exterior, which contrasts with the colourful, curvy onion domes of nearby St Basil's Cathedral, earned it such inglorious nicknames as "the suitcase" and "the rectangle".

Despite widespread derision of its design, media reports about the plan to topple the hotel sparked debate on Tuesday.

Many residents of Moscow have watched the fast-paced changes in the skyline and streets with the same sense of helplessness many felt about the political and economic upheavals of the past 15 years.

"Why ask a meaningless question?" said one woman who called a radio station show that conducted a phone-in survey to determine whether listeners support or oppose demolishing the historic hotel. "The authorities will just do what they want".

Replacing the hotel would be a modern complex, organically inserted into the very heart of the historic centre of Moscow.

Moscow residents are not so sure – the word 'modern' no longer inspires automatic confidence in these parts.

 

In the phone-in programme, 72% of more than 2400 callers said the hotel should stay. One caller said that while it would not win any prizes, it was as much a part of Moscow as the Kremlin and should not be removed.

Preservationists have expressed their opposition as well about the fast-paced destruction of history.

"I am concerned about the idea of demolition according to taste – that is, if you don’t like it, raze it," Yevgeny Ass, a professor at the Moscow Architectural Institute said. "History does not have taste: it leaves its marks".