Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Can Leningrad Be Saved?

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Can Leningrad Be Saved?

Article excerpt

IN 1703, Peter the Great founded the city of St. Petersburg at the mouth of the Neva river. In 1914, the city was renamed Petrograd, and since 1924 it has been known as Leningrad.

The Tsar wanted his city to be an ideal capital, a Venice of the North. For two centuries, successive generations of architects worked to translate his dream into reality. They built a city of extraordinary beauty and fantasy, rich in architectural detail, palaces and museums. Its layout is clear and logical, its streets and squares are elegant. Majestic waterfront quays were constructed, and the streams and canals were bordered with whimsically designed ornamental railings. The city centre, where half the houses are listed as historic monuments, covers 46 square kilometres.

But today Leningrad is dying. Within ten or fifteen years its historic centre will have entirely disappeared. Over 30 per cent of the public buildings and private residences built by both European and Russian architects are or soon will be in ruins.

This once glittering capital is today a wretched sight. Houses are on the point of collapse. Pavements are full of potholes and strewn with debris from broken cornices and railings. There is a general air of dereliction. Scaffolding and wire netting protect passers-by from falling bricks and masonry. Some deserted streets look sinister even in broad daylight, with their doors boarded up and their windows broken. No one lives in them any more.

There are many reasons for this decline. In the 1917 Revolution the city's palaces were besieged. Hundreds of buildings of outstanding value were converted into communal apartments. In 1918 the civil war took its toll, and in the 1930s Stalin ordered the demolition of many religious buildings. Then came the Second World War, the blockade of the city and the destruction of entire streets which the occupants took decades to rebuild. In the 1960s a campaign against "architectural superfluity" disfigured many original buildings and transformed them into square boxes.

The years of the Soviet regime ended with the destruction of half the habitable surface area and the disappearance of hundreds of historic and religious buildings. In addition, current restoration work is notmanaging to curtail the natural ageing process.

Unfortunately many old buildings were given over to administrative use, which rapidly led to their deterioration. Thus the splendid cathedral of St. …

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