Russia’s architecture in danger

What will happen to all the old Russian Orthodox churches and monasteries? That is a real concern because many of these buildings are of great historical and architectural importance and it is a shame to see them in a state of decay.

Just southeast of Red Square, Moscow, 2011 (Photo copyright: The Mendeleyev Journal)

At first glance one might expect this scene to be from some forgotten outpost in a Russian or Ukrainian village. It may surprise you however that this scene is less than 2 minutes from the Kremlin, off the southern end of Red Square just southeast of “Saint Basil’s” Cathedral.

“Architectural monuments of all eras are under threat. Nothing is sacrosanct,” says Marcus Binney, President of SAVE Europe’s Heritage, who explains that “Moscow is in danger of becoming an ersatz city, which makes a mockery of Moscow’s great past.”

The SAVE Europe group says that more than a thousand Moscow buildings, hundreds of them of historic and architectural importance, have been destroyed in the last five years, approximately 200 of them with monument status.

Most of us had grown up with the thought that the Communists had destroyed thousands of church buildings across the Soviet Union. It was true, they seemed bent on devastation of anything tied to the old way of life and often that made easy targets of churches and monumental buildings . If you think there are loads of ancient church buildings now in the former Soviet Union, imagine how the place must have looked prior to 1918!

Many great churches and historical buildings were converted into warehouses, offices, apartments and museums. Today some of those properties are being returned to the original owners. Old Believers, Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox bodies are benefiting from this return. Unfortunately however, in many cases the return is merely symbolic because the buildings, most in fine shape when confiscated, are in serious decay and in need of extensive renovations to be rescued.

A few of the more popular buildings receive state funding; a good example is the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square, the first church to be rebuilt after the fall of the Soviet empire. Others, like the Cathedral of the Intercession (known in the West as “Saint Basil’s”) on Red Square remain the property of the state as a museum. In some cases, like the rebuilding of Russia’s main cathedral, the Church of Christ the Saviour, restoration has been funded primarily by private donations.

Moscow, 2011 (Photo copyright: The Mendeleyev Journal)

So take another good look because many of these treasures just may not be around in the future.