Saving and enriching our heritage

[b]Which outstanding constructions have been renewed this year and which ones are to be restored in the near future[/b]Ancient architecture is truly great, using natural materials and made by hand, without special equipment: evidence of real mastery and talent. How can we compare modern skyscrapers with Egyptian pyramids or Polotsk’s Sofia Cathedral? Our contemporary buildings may look impressive, but the genius at work in their construction is not on the same level. This year, various Belarusian architectural monuments have been restored, with further plans outlined. To find out which other treasures are to receive attention — from the state, local historians and private entrepreneurs — read on...
Which outstanding constructions have been renewed this year and which ones are to be restored in the near future

Ancient architecture is truly great, using natural materials and made by hand, without special equipment: evidence of real mastery and talent. How can we compare modern skyscrapers with Egyptian pyramids or Polotsk’s Sofia Cathedral? Our contemporary buildings may look impressive, but the genius at work in their construction is not on the same level. This year, various Belarusian architectural monuments have been restored, with further plans outlined. To find out which other treasures are to receive attention — from the state, local historians and private entrepreneurs — read on...

Looking underground
In 1936, a 17th century church in Minsk’s Svobody Square was demolished. However, its basements remained safe and, several years ago, its walls were restored. Not long ago, lighting and heating pipes were laid in the cellar, enabling anyone interested to take a tour. These days, its former prayer room hosts wedding ceremonies and classical music concerts.
On the opposite side of the city, reconstruction of Loshitsa estate (near Mayakovskaya Street) will soon be complete, as Galina Ladisova, Director of Minsk History Museum, explains. “The mansion is of major value, with reconstruction running for five years so far. However, by the time of the 2014 World Hockey Championship, tourists will be welcomed by the new estate complex. Reconstruction raised some thorny issues, as the mansion was last rebuilt in the late 19th century. Its wooden sections were truly in disrepair, needing replacement,” she tells us.
A private investor has recently purchased and restored the Wańkowicz family estate, not far from the National Library. It once welcomed such Belarusian-Polish cultural figures as Jan Damel, Stanislaw Moniuszko and Wincenty Dunin-Marcinkiewicz but its facades had not been revamped for over a century. The neighbouring park has been partially restored, having been almost completely destroyed during construction of the Slepyanka water system
in the 20th century.

Israeli Embassy to help restore synagogue
This year, major works began in Bykhov to restore an early 17th century castle once owned by the Sapegi family. The city’s synagogue is also unique, built in the 1640-1650s. After visiting, Israeli Ambassador Yosef Shagal promised to render support in its restoration; Russia’s Jewish National Fund is to finance the first stage.
Until recently, the building was in a critical condition, with trees growing from its roof and old bricks cracking. However, the first ‘recovery operation’ was fulfilled on the eve of Belarusian Written Language Day. As the Bykhov District Executive Committee’s Chairman, Dmitry Kaleev, tells us, Br350m was allocated from the Republican budget in 2013 to conserve the synagogue.


Fish for palace
Reconstruction of Kossovo Palace — built in 1838 — has been ongoing for the last five years, with completion due by 2018. The building is to house a hotel complex, with over 100 rooms. Legend says that one of the original halls had a glass floor, with a fish tank beneath, as well as a library of over 10,000 books and terraces decorated with exotic plants, fountains and sculptures. Some of these old elements are to be revived, based on archive documents.

Recollecting King August
Semkovo estate, 17km from Minsk, is famous for once welcoming Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last king of the Rzech Pospolita, in the 18th century. Designs are being drawn up to restore the mansion, architects being keen to recreate its 18th century style. Over the years, the building has been many times rebuilt, making it difficult to decide on its original appearance. Plaster must be removed to locate original stoves and ceilings. Not long ago, a staircase was found in an outbuilding, which probably led to a mezzanine floor.

Collegium to supplement castle
So far, the scale of the Radziwills’ former capital is probably underestimated, since few original monuments exist in Nesvizh. The majestic castle has been restored but Sergey Klimov, the Director of the Nesvizh National Historical-Cultural Museum-Reserve, believes that much more work is needed.
The Jesuit Collegium — operational from 1586-1773 — is to be rebuilt close to Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church. Jesuit monks and Catholic children once studied there. The collegium had its own library and printing house, in addition to a theatrical club, while its first floor was devoted to classrooms, reception halls, pharmacies and publishing houses. The monks lived on upper floors, where a chapel and the Rector’s apartment were situated. The original designs are to be preserved during restoration, with hotel rooms on all three floors and a restaurant on the ground floor. A conference hall will be found on the first floor and a transparent dome will cover a beautiful inner yard.

Monastery returning to life
This year, almost Br3bn were allocated to restore the former Bernadine Monastery, in Dubrovno. The two-storey building has a vaulted roof and is known to house many secrets. The monastery was founded in 1630 but its Roman Catholic Church was the only part to survive a fire in the late 18th century. In 1809, the monastery was restored by Duke Ksawery Lubomirsky who, according to legend, previously set it on fire in revenge for the Bernadines allowing his beloved daughter to marry a poor merchant without his parental approval. Restoration began in 1996, with the former monastery to house a local history museum.

Hunting for mammoths
Our ‘Belarusian’ forefathers once hunted mammoths, as villagers of the Gomel Region’s Yurovichi know. Belarus’ oldest ancient settlement attracts its share of tourists and is soon to be the focus of even more attention, thanks to restoration of its former Jesuit Roman Catholic Church and monastery (Orthodox today). Once in ruins, it has taken a couple of years for restorers to bring them back to life. An incredible job has been achieved in recreating its ancient baroque towers and 18th century fronton (sports court). Domes have also been installed and covered with patina. Yurovichi is certainly among the foremost attractions of Belarus as a result.

Icons to embellish church
Moscow restorers recently began fresco restoration at St. Nicholas’ Garrison Church, at Brest Fortress. The church was built in 1856-1879, to a design by outstanding Russian architect David Grimm, who founded the ‘Russian’ or ‘Byzantine’ style. His works include major buildings in St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, Copenhagen, Genиve, Nice and Bethlehem.
In August 1886, Brest church was visited by Russian Emperor Alexander III and the future Tsar Nikolay II, as well as the future German Kaiser Wilhelm II. After WWI and Brest’s joining Poland, the Orthodox church became Roman Catholic in denomination, and then, in 1939, housed the Red Army troops’ military club.
The church was significantly damaged during the war but, luckily, was not fully destroyed. In 1994, restoration works began.

Empty yet far from neglected Roman Catholic church
Bobruisk’s oldest building is its citadel, built in 1747, — rather than the fortress in the city centre (which shares the same style as Brest Fortress and was built at the same time). This former Jesuit Roman Catholic Church was later rebuilt as a military prison and still bears evidence of its past: cells, barred windows and boxes for weapons. Almost half of its interior was incinerated by fire, including the altar. Nevertheless, it’s clearly recognisable as a house of God and, it’s believed that Belarusian classical writer Wincenty Dunin-Marcinkiewicz was baptised there.
To preserve this architectural monument, conservation is needed but, so far, only a small plaque tells us that this historical-cultural treasure is protected by the state.
An Orthodox church is being built nearby, with a cross installed in front of the construction ground. Meanwhile, Catholics in the city hope their church won’t be neglected.
Almost a hundred beautifully decorated late 19th-early 20th century buildings remain in Bobruisk’s Slutsky suburb, with proposals made to proclaim them historical-cultural treasures.

Repair for Zamenhof’s house
The house at Grodno’s 5 Kirov Street was built in 1898, being home to Esperanto creator Ludwig Zamenhof. Entrepreneur Nikolay Shamin now owns the building, and is keen to restore its original architecture. The house is situated on soft ground, so metal rods are needed to strengthen its foundations and walls. Its facade (looking out over Kirov Street) needs to be reconstructed and its bricked-in windows opened up.

Travelling to last century
Many ancient buildings remain untouched in Vitebsk, while some were restored in the early 21st century. You can see various epochs while walking the city streets and it helps to have a copy of A Walk with an Old Map, written by Marc Chagall Museum Director Lyudmila Khmelnitskaya. The guide is based on Vitebsk’s city plan of 1904 — which was kept by the Regional Archives. The book tells us the history of the city’s streets and architectural monuments, with reference to archive documents and famous citizens’ memories.
Among the edition’s interesting facts is the story of Russian Tsar Nikolay II’s trip to Vitebsk, when a traffic jam of cabs was created on the central square, in which the Tsar was caught. Afterwards, Nikolay passed the photographic studio of Goloshchekin (whose brother — Filip — later initiated the execution of the Imperial family).
Another chapter, dedicated to the Opera Theatre, looks at Vitebsk’s cultural life; at one time, up to 28 operas premiered each month — all to full houses. Of course, the city’s most famous resident was Marc Chagall, so a description of his life in Vitebsk is essential.

By Viktor Korbut
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