Architectural Gems of Old Russia, Part 2

Link - article by Avi Abrams

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!

(image via, click to enlarge)

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:

(image via)

The ancient city of Kolomna

Who knew that a typical, drab, and grayish provincial town could hide such bursts of color? The Cathedral Square ensemble positively glows in the evening light:

(image credit: Vilenia Petrova)

(image credit: Yulia Baturina)

(image credit: Yulia Baturina)

(image credit: Yulia Baturina)

The small town of Vereya

The Nativity Cathedral borrows some charm and majesty from the softly-glowing evening hour:

(images credit: Igor Alpatov)

To give you an idea of the deeply mystical Russian forest and countryside surrounding these architectural gems, here is a typical painting-like river view:

(image credit: Igor Alpatov)

Warm, inviting winter scene, reminiscent of Christmas:

(image credit: Igor Alpatov)

Church of the Sign of Our Lady in Dubrovitsy, a small town near Moscow, is almost unknown to foreigners, yet truly beautiful in its form:

(image credit: Vilenia Petrova)

The ancient city of Pskov: fantastic Novgorod-style (inspired by Vikings) fortress architecture of the Pskov Kremlin -

(image via)

...and the Pechersky Monastery in Nizhny Novgorod: "The Road Goes Ever On"

(images credit: Sergey Kulikov)

The ancient city of Rostov: Spaso-Yakovlevski monastery walls invoke the sense of deep past and rich history:

(image credit: Oksana Ermikhina)

The ancient city of Suzdal: this pastoral, painting-like scene speaks of quiet peaceful small-town living (though the realities of provincial cities in Russia are pretty harsh):

(image credit: Oksana Ermikhina)

Russian Christmas comes complete with Father Frost (Ded Moroz), many presents and nippy cold weather:

(image credit: Oksana Ermikhina)

The Intercession Cathedral (Pokrovsky sobor) in Suzdal:

(image credit: Oksana Ermikhina)

Part of Russia's "Golden Ring" and first chronicled in 1024, Suzdal "once had 40 churches for 400 families". The compact Suzdal-Vladimir area contains 5 monasteries, 36 churches and 15 bell towers.

Here is the Cathedral of the Dormition in the ancient city of Vladimir: the blessed purity of white, the inspiration of pure faith:

(image credit: Viktor Galkin)

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:

(image credit: Sergei Oseledko)

Very compact Kosmodemyanskaya Church... here your heart may skip a bit (if you let the silence of the place get to you):

(image credit: Vyacheslav Zaikin)

Some bell towers conceal an icon, a unique decorative touch:

(image credit: Sergei Oseledko, Constantin Voutsen)

Murom's Church of Ascension sports very cute golden mini-onion domes (left) and on the right is the Svyato-Blagoveschenski monastery built in 1554:

(image credit: Alexander Markin)

Murom's church of Nikolai Tchudotvorets, finished in profound yellow:

(image credit: Alexander Markin)

Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Trinity Cathedral, with yet another icon set in a wall:

(images credit: Andrey Panisko)

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:

(image credit: Yury Gulyaev)

Many local churches are being restored in small towns all over Russia today, but also many old-style typical log houses get a fresh layer of paint:

(image credit: sergefromru)

Finishing our review of wonders in obscure Russian small towns and countryside, here is a whimsical old-style motion wooden toy from Bogorodskoye village... with a definitely modern touch! -

(images credit: Evgeniy Kucherov, 2)

These toys are made from hand-carved solid Linden wood, and they come alive when you swing them in a circular motion - see video

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.




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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the Pskov-Pechersky Monastery",as you call it, is in Nizhny Novgorod, not Pskov.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you! Info updated.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The highest building in mainland Europe for centuries was Oleviste church in Tallinn Estonia, that was built about year 1500 and was 159 meters high.
Lincoln cathedral in Great Britain was in years 1300-1549 about 160 meters high.

That St. Petersburg convent built 1750 would have been highest building in Russia that time.

Blogger Joel Clark said...

God Bless Holy Mother Russia! Her whole essence was and will be again the glowing, warm and loving Light of the radiant soul that is the high reality of every being and the Holy Mother who embraces all. Thank you for this truly magnificent set of pictures which illuminates something of her spirit to those who really know her!


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