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Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The Church of the Domition of the Virgin in the Volotovo Field is the ultimate example of dedication to restoration and preservation that has come about in part by Veliky Novgorod's UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site.  The above photos illustrate the destruction of the church resulting from the siege of Novgorod by the German army between 1941 and 1944, and its reconstruction through Russian - German cooperation in this decade. 
While the pile of rubble on the left appears very terminal, it in fact consisted of 4 meter high walls with frescoes intact, buried under debris which consisted in part of the millions of fragments making up the balance of the frescoes which were reconstructed like jigsaw puzzles. 
The German Company, Wintershall AG has a web page devoted to this project at

Monday, October 25, 2010

church of sts peter and paul

A good description of the church of Sts. Peter and Paul is found on the website and I'll quote it directly here:

Beyond the remains of the rampart, on the left bank of the Volkhov (to the left of the bridge), is the Church of Sts Peter and Paul (1406), its beautiful silhouette can be equally well seen from any side. In older times, this area was called Kozhevniki. A 16th-century cadastre states that most of residents of the adjacent streets engaged in tanning leather. The church is among the most illustrious examples of the heyday of Novgorodian architecture. The Novgorodian architect's rational thought is reflected in the different decoration of the facades. Whereas the north facade giving on the rampart and the east facade overlooking the Volkhov are resolved in a rather modest manner, the western and southern walls profuse in decor. During the 1950s the monument was restored to its original state, with the walls left without stucco and white-washing, as they used to be in the 15th century. The surviving 16th-century icons from this church are exhibited at the Novgorod Museum of History, Architecture and Art. North of the Church of Sts Peter and Paul lay the princely sporting grounds, the zverinefs (warren), first mentioned in chronicles of the 11th century.

I was interested in the aspect of the tremendous amount of plastering or stucco used on all types and ages of buildings, and this description gives a clue to what I suspected; that originally brick buildings were later plastered over, perhaps as a maintenance strategy, until it became the norm.  In a brief interview with  Aleksy Petrovich Bichkov,  [Алексей Петрович Бычков] of the Novgorod region department of Culture (Historical Preservation Office essentially), I mentioned my curiosity and his reply was that churches were of course originally brick but that the white plaster had become fixed in people's minds as symbolic of Russian church architecture.  And that in some cases of restoration plaster was removed to reveal the brick, but it was more difficult to maintain in that condition.
This is a familiar dilemma in preservation approach because of the significance that attaches to later architectural alterations when enough time has passed to become fixed in the culture. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

our lady of the sign

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign is in the Torgov quarter of Veliky Novgorod, E. of the Volchov River.  Its date is 1688 and the frescoes were painted by local artists from Krostroma in 1702 which survive.  For the most part other frescoes we saw in churches were restorations or subject to the practise of continually overpainting, so these stood out, and also because they include secular scenes. 



Friday, October 22, 2010

klopsky trinity monastary

On our way to the town of Staraya Russa we stopped at this monastary complex which is being restored by the church.  It is alongside the Veryazha River near Lake Ilmen.  Obviously a work in progress.  The monastary was first mentioned in writings in 1412.

Model of the church

Bell tower on the right

Friday, October 15, 2010

дачи и дома [dachas and homes]

The old house of our friend in Velichy Novgorod is exactly like hundreds we saw in town and in the countryside.  There are variations, some two story varieties, but this is the most common.  Today this particular house is worth over $100k because of the land value and boom in building $1-2 million varieties like the houses next door (below).  If he ever sells, the house will be torn down for a new McMansion.

On our bus ride from St. Petersburg to Novgorod we saw the dacha communities scattered all along the way.  There were a wide range of conditions of these country properties; some looking abandoned, and many appearing to be updated or in the process.  Almost a third of Russian families own dachas, which may or may not have a house on them, but are typically a place to get away from the city and grow a garden.  Traditionally the houses were primitive but that is changing.  I got the impression the whole tradition of dachas might be shifting.  These pictures were taken out the bus window.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

dostoevsky house in staraya russa

F. M. Dostoevsky had a summer house in the village of Staraya Russa (Old Russia) during the later years of his life, and where he wrote most of The Brothers Karazamov.  The survival of the house is a near miracle, given its wooden construction, and that Staraya Russa was just about obliterated by the Germans during their occupation and siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg).  Our guide stated that the house was spared because of its association with Dostoevsky. 


Monday, October 11, 2010


Gatchina, the palace of Paul I is about an hour south of St. Petersburg.  Empress Catherine II, his mother, supposedly gave the palace to Paul to keep him as far away from her throne as possible.  The ground floor of the central part of the structure has been restored.  German occupation in WWII caused considerable destruction.  It was interesting to see parts that were restored, vs. parts that were not; to see the extent of the damage.  The palace is off the beaten track because of distance from the city, so you need to take a translator for the Russian language tour guides. 

Unrestored Area

Sunday, October 10, 2010

windows in russia

Most windows I saw in older buildings in Russia were double, even in Soviet era construction.  The wide spacing between panes of glass wouldn't be as efficient as modern double pane, but given Russia's long history of keeping out the cold this way it will be a long time before the US catches up in btus saved with our modern windows.
Window in poet Anna Akmatova's museum home in St. Petersburg

Friday, October 8, 2010

dinner with the gavrilovs

One of the best meals and highlight of the Russian experience was an evening with the Gavrilovs, a family from Velichy Novgorod.  Son Borya and his mother's friend (Irenya I believe) were our translators.  Yougest son Vanya, about 4 years old, was our entertainment.  The photos were taken by Borya except for his photo and the table setting photo.

Vanya, Andrei, Myself, my bro-in-law Doug, and Borya

Vanya interprets Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt.