Kolozha changes image

How will the oldest temple of Belarus look like after restoration?
Many old monuments of architecture survived in Grodno. The oldest is Kolozhskaya (Borisoglebskaya) church, built at the end of the 12th century. And though the temple reminds of its real image only by two thirds, it is a unique historical object today. At any time of the year, there are many parishioners and tourists in this church. The buses with guests, including foreign ones, visit it every day. However, the original building requires reconstruction. It can turn into ruins without it.

The problem of the designers is how to restore the temple which changed its image several times. Different variants were offered, sometimes they were absolutely opposite. Let’s plunge into the depth of the centuries in order to understand all historical and architectural peculiarities.

…I am standing by a mosaic wall of Kolozha. I cannot take my eyes off it. Use of boulders in the building brickwork, which also decorate the walls, is striking. There are many resonators which not only improve acoustics but also simplify bearing constructions. There is also a visiting card of Grodno architectural school — a decoration of the front elevation with worked stones and majolica plates, which nature the scientists correlate with old Slavic traditions of embroidery and weaving.

Still there are many disputes about the name Kolozhskaya. Researchers explain it in two ways. According to the first version, it came to Grodno from Pskov trading quarter Kolozhe, seized in 1406 by Prince Vitovt, together with the enchanted Pskov citizens. According to the second version, this word comes from a Slavic name of the unsettled area Kolozhan (it means the place where numerous springs were sparkling, which was worshiped by the pagans). The church and the Orthodox monastery were located on the outskirts of the town. The crusaders destroyed them. A famous castellan of Grodno David Gorodensky was the first to restore the lost. Later on, in the 15–18th centuries there took place new destructions and repairs of Kolozha. Their traces can be seen on the walls. In spring of 1853 the church was partially destroyed by the landslide, and the monastery was removed to another building (the present building of the drama theatre).

Two serious restoration attempts of Kolozha (in 1889–1911, 1934–1939) were interrupted by world wars. In the Soviet time the temple was exempted from the clerical property. It had been empty for long until it was given to the regional historical and archeological museum. It was at the end of the 40s of the last century that museum workers provided the expedition of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR with the unique materials from their funds during the diggings. In 1979 the owner of Kolozha was appointed the republican museum of atheism and history of religion. His team initiated the examination of the temple condition, which was conducted by specialists from Minsk. “At that time the first “beacon light” was installed on the split of the eastern frontside. During this period the plaster of the internal part of the northern wall and columns was removed, the rest of fresco paintings was discovered, brick conservation was carried out, additional “beacon lights” were fixed,” recollects the former museum worker and a historian of architecture Igor Trusov.

However, there was no time for a profound reconstruction though it was necessary. After the aggravation of the landslide process in the depth of the bank in 1991, the problem of Kolozha was again taken into consideration. Even French specialists came to help but soon the works declined. Only in 2000–2005 the slope was fortified and the restoration works continued. The architects took the 19th century as a reference point, which was not accidental. In the archive of Saint Petersburg Igor Trusov discovered measurement diagrams of western and southern walls of Kolozha made a year before their breakdown. The first scientific pictures of the lost parts of the building appeared.

It was a senseless idea to return to the original 12th century — it is unknown how the church looked like at that time. Probably, its upper part was lost in the end of the 13th century. Only two thirds of the initial height of the “original” walls survived. The data about one third, about the system of coverings and a dome are still a murky secret. One more riddle is the soil content under the building. It was discovered five years ago when the solution, exceeding the norm by several times, was pumped into one of the bore holes for a pile of the upper belt. However, polemics of the scientists continued, that is why the final decision, in which form to store a pearl of architecture of the 12th century, hasn’t been accepted for long. In the discussion which lasted over fifteen years the resolution was found at the end of 2008: the Ministry of Culture approved the architectural project of the building reconstruction with restoration and recovery works. The forthcoming changes became known.

Looking at the church from the Neman quay, the first thing to be seen is a wooden wall. It was built in place of the stone wall destroyed during a landslide fifty years ago. It will be restored by the example of the preserved wall. The artists-ceramists will decorate the front side with multicolored majolica tiles. The composition will be finished by four semicircular elements, the so-called zakomars. Besides, such a style is characteristic of Orthodox and Byzantine architecture.

The chief project architect Nina Emeljanova, representing the regional unitary project enterprise “Grodnograzhdanproekt,” acquaints us with the other novelties. Thus, a meter thick wall will be made of special bricks of high strength. In order to lighten the construction and to create ideal acoustics in the church, resonators will be mounted into the brickwork. The enterprise “Volkovyskstroymaterialy” has the order for their production. A pilot lot was made there. It is curious enough that Volkovysk potters used clay of Novolukoml deposit in Vitebsk region for resonators. In order to provide strength of half a meter vessels, they were frozen and unfrozen 70 times. An expertise carried out in one of the capital institutes confirmed strength and durability of resonators. 250 resonators will be necessary.

The other architectural solutions are also interesting. For example, the roof will be covered with copper sheets; the coverings will be made of laminated wooden beams. Window framings will be made of oak. The floor will be yellow and green. Now it is covered with granite plates. The pattern was restored in accordance with the preserved fragment near the altar. Floor in the church will be heated. A special aperture is provided underneath where tubes will be installed. Temperature will amount to 12 degrees above zero. It is acceptable in winter.

The constructors plan to stay in Kolozha for a year and a half. Within the distance of one hundred meters a one-storey building with an area of 100 square meters will be built in order not to interrupt such a continuous period of church service. Probably, a children’s Sunday school will be situated in this building after the restoration.

Deputy Head of Administration on protection of historical and cultural heritage and restoration of the Ministry of Culture of Belarus Igor Cherniavsky is sure that they chose the correct restoration variant of the architectural monument, “The main thing is to observe all international requirements to restoration of such a unique monument of ancient architecture. It will help us to count on the inclusion of Kolozha into the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage.”

It is unreal to restore Kolozha in its initial image. However, there is a chance to restore an objective image of the monument. The project designers are working at it today. The ancient temple and one of the symbols of Belarus is worth being reborn again.

Iosiph Popko
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