Lovely, slender, pure white shapes of old churches and palaces - arching into the sky and into your heart
Old Russian architecture is still largely unknown in the West, if you consider that most people are only aware of the Kremlin and maybe one or two key churches in major towns. But the land that accepted Byzantine Christianity back in 988 AD - and produced mighty works of divine architecture and art in the centuries since - is unimaginably vast. Once you decide to venture into pastoral and often bleak small towns and Russian countryside, there is a good chance that architectural gems and religious art masterpieces hidden there "in the rough" will be totally unknown to most people. And yet, the pure, inspired, and rich legacy of the first Russian builders is worth discovery and, after you've been enchanted, further exploration.
In our first part we saw the "magical" wooden palace that's been recently restored in Moscow. Today we are going to highlight significantly less known (but no less beautiful) structures in Russian small towns... but we'll start with a true Baroque skyscraper, if there ever was one!
This slender bell tower could've been the Highest Building in Europe, back in 1750
You're looking at the model of the Smolny Convent in St. Petersburg (it was only partially built, without the incredible bell tower). The Italian-born architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli lived and worked in Russia during the reign of Elizabeth - and he had a vision to create something epic and undoubtedly special: a bell tower 140 meters tall with five distinct levels that would be taller than anything in Europe at the time!
Rastrelli's work was so ephemeral and ornate (he preferred to build in the style of Late Baroque, described as "sumptuous and majestic") that other architects humbly accepted the Smolny Convent as a "way how the REAL divine architecture should look" - never mind that the ambitious bell tower was not finished...
Some sources state that Elizabeth's death in 1762 prevented Rastrelli from completing this grand design (Catherine the Great favored Neo-Classical style instead); other sources insist that it was ultimately Rastrelli's decision to abandon the construction. Perhaps, he realized that the bell tower was too dominating and overpowering the whole Convent arrangement?
In any case, even without the huge bell tower, today the Smolny Convent shines delicately in the night, a true jewel of St. Peterburg's architecture:
The Ancient City of Murom: Birthplace of a true Russian superhero
We are talking about Iliya Muromets, the ancient and all-powerful warrior and good-hearted "saviour" (bogatyr) who featured prominently in ancient Russian literature and magical fairy tales (together with even more powerful "elemental" mountain-like giant Svyatogor):
(top right: "Bogatyrs" painting (1898) by Viktor Vasnetsov; images via 1, 2)
This mighty hero was born here in time immemorial... and the city still breathes the mystical atmosphere of a fascinating past:
Near Murom, another old town of Uglich is famous for having the best cheese in Russia... Crossing over from Russia to Western Ukraine, some intensely romantic views can also be found, like this photo of the Kamenets-Podolski monastery:
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