Ah, how he built the white-stone chambers,
Ah, how Sadko adorned his palaces in a heavenly way
Ah, how in the sky many stars are baked -
And in his palaces many stars are baked.
Ah, how Sadko decorated his white-stone chambers for everyone.
("Sadko", folk epic ballad. The poetry is presented in a literal prosaic translation - Translator's note.)
In many cities of vast Russia, be it Moscow, Yaroslavl, Kostroma or Vologda, one can see the ancient stone buildings. They can be near the busy modern quarters of the city center or further away, on the outskirts. Sometimes they are among suburban fields crossed by high-voltage power lines. They suddenly appear before us as bright and pure white-stone visions. Witnesses of bygone deeds and events, they seem to have ended up in our dynamic XX century by chance.
They are not from the 18th century or from the era of Peter the Great. This is clear even for those without special historical and architectural interests. With even the modest memories of the school years, everyone will say: "Oh, this is the 17th century! And this one is even older: probably the 15th, or even the 14th century..."
They are white-stone beauties, strict and majestic. Many of them have retained their wonderful and chaste appearance from the time of Novgorod the Great, of the Princes Andrei Bogolyubsky, Ivan Kalita and Ivan the Third.
The eyes of modern people are used to other rhythms and forms. They stop with surprise at unusual outlines and unfamiliar, sometimes incomprehensible details. These forms and details are able to draw our attention to themselves. They carry us away into another world, into the world of different images and ideas.
The kingdom of light... Palaces, gates and towers as if from ruby...
"The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh"
The surprise from seeing these monuments inevitably grows into admiration. The admiration gives rise to the need to examine them again and again, and then look for other, similar works.
These landmarks of the past are the creations of our distant ancestors. They are made by the genius of the Russian people. Old craftsmen put into them all the trembling of their hearts, the excitement of their souls and the skill of their hands.
Thus images of changeable fantasies,
Running like clouds in the sky,
Petrify and live for centuries after.
(Valery Bryusov. "Prologue")
...Chains of fortress walls with towers now run up the sloping green hills, now descend from them. The towers are cubic and round, coverless or topped with conical or figured roofs. There are large five-headed cathedrals with bulbous or helmet-shaped domes. There are completely other churches, slender, one-domed and prismatic. The roofs can be scalloped and corrugated, or even simple two and four-sided, steep and pointed. The walls are "bound" with stone or covered with a layer of plaster. This gives high and smooth walls a unique and captivating "fluidity" of lines and contours. Sometimes there is complete or almost complete absence of decorative details. But then there are the richest facades and altar apses covered with relief images. They depict the unknown creatures or intertwining ornaments.
Sometimes these buildings are so simple in structure that one can imagine that they were created by the local craftsmen. They drew from the experience of their fathers and grandfathers. They did not need to go "over the seas and oceans" to learn from cunning foreigners. But sometimes in some structures one can guess the influences from outside, the connections with the far East. Such, for example, is the rich and complex decoration of the churches of the Vladimir land.
Some cities have only three, two, or even one preserved landmark of old Russian architecture. But there are also some happy places dotted with unique buildings. They are not just scattered around the area, but constitute large and complex complexes. These are the complicated combinations of wonderful landmarks. There are central structures of great strength and sonority surrounded with simpler buildings. Sometimes they belong to different eras and are not at all like each other. But there is always something uniting, albeit on the basis of a lively opposition and even sharp contrast. This is the unity of artistic culture and artistic means. Entering the boundaries of such a complex - be it a monastery or a system of city fortifications - one never ceases to marvel at these creations. One is in the true sanctuary, captivated by the wonderful, enchanting works of brilliant Russian architects.
There are also solitary structures surrounded by vast expanses. Around them for hundreds of miles there are no remnants of antiquity. One travels on a "date" with such a unique landmark from afar. There is only one thought - to overcome a huge distance and to find joy in this building. One hopes to experience all the mysterious power of its influence.
There is something that enhances the charm of ancient architecture a hundredfold. It is its unity and inseparable connection with the natural environment. Old Russian architects always carefully chose the places for building. To found the city with a ring of fortifications, they needed a suitable defensible place. The Moscow Kremlin stood on a high forested hill between the Moskva River and the Neglinka. The fortifications of Pskov crowned the coastal steeps of the Velikaya River. They were protected from the "rear" by the Pskova River. And so it has always been. Hills, rivers and lakes, or even a convenient harbor, as in Solovki - all this "prepared" the architecture. Nature created a solid foundation for it and a worthy background. But ancient architects considered not only the needs of defense, trade and communication. They were not only purely practical people. They were also spiritual and poetic, they had a complex and subtle mental attitude. They knew how strong an impression the architecture can make. At the same time they knew how great the emotional impact of nature is. If one is combined with the other, then the effect is enhanced many times.
Of course, it could be otherwise. For example, the cathedral has always been the main public building of the city. It was supposed to emphasize the importance of the city, decorate it and make the residents proud. The cathedral always occupied the central, most prominent place in the city. Such a position highlighted the building, emphasized its significance and public role. But the building could also be away from the center, in a secluded settlement, a village or a modest cemetery. It could be built in some special place associated with memories and legends. In such cases the considerations of a different order were taken into account. Here, a note of intimacy was introduced into architecture, subtler strings and harmonies were touched upon. A slope, a hill, a lake, a pond, a river, groups of trees, a forest, a grove - all this was of great importance for the architects. All this was proportionate both in scale and in silhouette with what they had to design, build and decorate.
The stepped lancet outlines of the Russian forests are in harmony with the pointed contours of the domes. The straight, faceted volumes of the church buildings contrast with the soft windings of the river banks. This is the secret of the amazing skill of the builders of the past. Their creations "enter" organically into the surrounding nature. Hence the close contact between "natural" and "artificial architecture". This is what always strikes us in the ancient monuments. It seems that the ingenious creations of Russian architects arose from nature itself and are its integral part.
Russian architects were true magicians in determining the sophisticated silhouettes of the buildings. There are the inexpressibly flexible lines of the zakomaras roofs. There are the arrow-shaped crowns of the kokoshniks. There are the bulbous domes and the pyramidal 'tents' of high temples directed upwards. All this is the result of the creative work of genuine master artists.
The many dwellings compose the city,
Everything is beautiful - who will not be surprised!
Of other beauty I cannot tell,
For my weak mind can not embrace it.
(Simeon of Polatsk. XVII century)
Let's point out the crucial feature of Old Russian architecture. This is what we call today the synthesis of the arts. The architectural basis is inseparably united with sculpture and painting that complement it.
On the facades of structures, we usually can see the sculptural reliefs. The harsh and changeable climate made it almost impossible to paint frescoes outside. Sculpture was more appropriate here. But this does not mean that the Old Russian architects were indifferent to the issues of color. Even the temples of Kyiv Rus' and of Novgorod were marked by a common finely selected tone. The walls of these churches had alternating layers of stone, brick and mortar with additions of crushed brick. This gave Saint Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv and many of its 'peers' a unique pale pink, reddish color. It perfectly matched the greenery of grass and trees. But doesn't the Pskov flagstone hidden by plaster affect us with its color and texture? What about the masonry of the boulders of the Solovetsky Monastery, so varied in shades? Anyone who saw it, understands the great importance of color in the architecture of Ancient Rus'. And what about the brick walls of the Moscow Kremlin and the golden domes of the Kremlin cathedrals? What about the multicolor exterior of Saint Basil's Cathedral and many other buildings of the 17th century? They are so bright and intense that they remind of the works of the Russian folk crafts and popular prints.
However, on the outside the main emotional load was borne by the material itself - building and facing. Sometimes the role of sculptural relief was minimal. Often these are modest details, although they play a big role in the plasticity of the architectural volumes themselves. But sometimes - and above all in the Vladimir-Suzdal architecture - the role of plastic elements increases hundredfold. Temples in Vladimir, in Yuryev Polsky, a lonely standing church on the Nerl River are world-class artistic landmarks. This is not only due to their architectural qualities, but also thanks to the amazing sculptural relief decorations. In this regard, it is necessary to add a few words about the "non-figurative" sculpture that covers the facades of the buildings. This includes belt courses, ledges, window frames, decoration of entrance portals, kokoshniks. As a rule, they have no constructive significance, but are invaluable as a decoration. These plastic elements help to clarify the scale of the entire structure and enrich the rhythm of its volumes. They reveal the tectonics of the building and give it a unique charm.
While the external decoration of the buildings was mostly sculptural, inside there was a monopoly of painting. From the slabs of the floor to the apex stones of the vaults, everything was decorated with frescoes. Like a carpet they covered all architectural structures without exception. Pillars, girth arches, vaults, and finally the crowning dome were all painted.
The surfaces of the walls and vaults were divided into separate large areas. They were assigned to certain religious scenes according to the church rules. Church canons of images have long been established. But through these strict canons, a vivid sense of reality broke through. Conventions often gave way to a realistic depiction of persons and events.
Artistic means were also different in many respects. The number of images, their scale, the manner of the drawing, the coloring could all differ. Entering the church, one plunges into a certain "coloured world". One seems to dissolve in a soft, usually bluish-smoky scale, which makes up the general background of the images. Such are the famous Nereditsa Church, the Novgorod Dormition Church on the Volotovo field, the magnificent Ferapontov Monastery with frescoes by Dionysius. On a bluish-ashy background, brownish-red thin and straight lines define the boundaries of images. Soft and melodious lines and exquisite contours outline the figures of saints. The clothes are white. The countenances are ocher-coloured. The details of clothing are goldish-brown.
Later frescoes of the 17th century become very sophisticated in their compositions. They tend towards literary narrative. Colorfulness and brightness come to the fore, the paintings are enriched with gold. Earlier frescoes of the classical period are not like this. They are restrained and monumental.
There is one more theme to be mentioned when speaking about Old Russian architecture. This is the interdependence of wood and stone building. Russian craftsmen were using wood, namely large logs. Bricklayers were using the local flagstone and brick. In the Northern forest regions, and partly in the South, wood was the primordial building material. It has continued to hold its value over the centuries. But early in the history of monumental architecture durable materials, namely stone, already came to the fore. This began in Kyiv Rus' in the 10th-11th centuries. Later these two materials, wood and stone, have coexisted for many centuries. Wooden architecture and stone architecture enriched each other all the time. The forms that appeared in wood were often reproduced in stone and brick. And, vice versa, wooden buildings often were influenced by the shapes that first appeared in stone.
The heritage of Russian monumental art is truly boundless. It cannot be covered even in dozens of volumes. The authors of this album do not intend to display all this historical material systematically. The purpose of the album is only to introduce some wonderful stone landmarks of Old Russian artistic culture. Among them there are temples, fortifications, examples of sculptural decoration, frescoes. There is no strict scientific system in their choice. The authors of this album did not pursue such a goal.
The goal was different - to present the individual characteristic structures, for the most part rarely reproduced. The album shows their especially interesting details. This may allow the readers to feel the charm of the ancient architecture. The photos are arranged so that one can admire these landmarks from different points of view, both from afar and closely. One can feel the material - stone, and its texture, and in color reproductions - the color of the stone and frescoes.
Beautiful artworks of ancient times will pass in a long line before the reader. Together they constitute a poem about stone, this wonderful material used by Old Russian architects. They were putting their whole soul and all their skill into it.
The album opens with ancient landmarks of the 12th century. This was the time when Russian monumental architecture was still forming. Still it quickly reached the heights of skills with a strong and bold leap. The architectural schools of individual Russian lands of that time were different. For example, here's the Saint George Church in Staraya Ladoga. It is built of stone and covered with a layer of plaster. It is stern, as if closed in itself, collected, stingy in its plastic elaboration, concentrated and strict. It towers over the ruins of old fortifications, looking into the cold lead waters of the Volkhov River.
Completely different are the temples of the Grand Principality of Vladimir-Suzdal. The majestic Saint Demetrius and Dormition Cathedrals of Vladimir rise like white monuments. They are decorated with reliefs, their architectural details are executed with great perfection. On their facades there are sculptural images of King David, fabulous griffins, pagan centaurs, angels, birds and other creatures. Thus the theme of David's psalm "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" is revealed. Here is a fusion of Russian pre-Christian pagan art, of foreign Eastern influences, and of Christian mythology. The perfect austerity of the lines of the Vladimir cathedrals is unlike the simplicity of the means of the Novgorod craftsmen.
From Vladimir the reader will move to the western confines of the Russian lands. The reader will see a panorama of steep hilly slopes and ramparts of Izborsk. This fortress was part of the outer line of fortifications of Pskov. Its towers were built of local flagstone with narrow slit-like loopholes. Their gloomy geometric shapes are erased by time.
Another example of fortress architecture is the unique complex of the Solovetsky Monastery. It is located in the far Russian North, in the Onega Bay of the White Sea. The cathedrals and churches of the 16th-18th centuries are girded with a necklace of low walls that seem to emerge from the depths of the sea. The walls and towers are covered with conical wooden roofs. They were built of huge, multimeter granite boulders, overgrown with rusty-red lichen. Bricks were laid between the stones to level the masonry, and in the evening sunset they are burning with bright red fire. Among the stones emerald grass breaks through, further shading the red-copper tint of ice age boulders.
Walls, boulders... Above them, under a low, pale gray sky stand the strict cathedrals of the Novgorod type. Their inclined planes of facade walls look as if they were made for defensive battles.
Among the boundless Vologda land on the low shores of a huge lake stands the beautiful Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. It looks thoughtfully into calm waters. There are no megalithic lumps like in Solovki, here the finest figured lacy masonry of bricks and ceramics define the exterior. Exquisitely honed edges of the walls, an extraordinary variety of towers - this reminds the legend about the Lost City of Kitezh. The lines are accurate, the volumes are white, the planning is broad in scope. The endless arcades and galleries in courtyards have a clear rhythm. In the center of the monastery stand the crowded colored churches. They bathe in the greenery of centuries-old trees.
The road is winding around low, flat hillocks, crossing fields and groves. After some seventeen miles you are at the gates of a modest rural monastery. Today its name is known all over the world: Ferapontov Monastery. Thousands of people rush here to see the famous frescoes by the master Dionisius. They cover the walls, foundations and vaults of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God. It is impossible to describe them. The refined drawing and the gray-blue general tonality of these frescoes forever remain in the memory of those who saw them once.
Returning from the Ferapontov Monastery to Central Russia, one visits the monuments of the Moscow region. Among them there are the Storozhi monastery of Saint Savva and the Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius. Then follows ancient Moscow with a necklace of monasteries that once formed the defensive belt of the capital. In Moscow one sees the Novodevichy Convent and the Andronikov Monastery. The latter is the burial place of the great Russian painter Andrei Rublev.
Getting acquainted with these landmarks, one can feel the huge scope of Moscow construction in the 16th-17th centuries. How many wonderful buildings, creations of brilliant architects, are here in Moscow!
...The red domes will shine
The sleepless bells will ring...
(Marina Tsvetaeva. Poems about Moscow)
What contrasts! The towers of the Novodevichy Convent with patterned upper galleries are grandiose and majestic. The 'Teremok' in Krutitsy with its majolica decoration is miniature. But these are contrasts of scale, but not of style. All buildings of the 17th century combine genuine monumentality with rich decorative plastic. They are rich and cheerful. Their architectural motifs are diverse and their colors bravely juxtaposed.
As if not satisfied with the richness of impressions, the eye of the photographic lens leads further and further. The illustrations here are out of chronological order. The reader moves from one region to another and then returns back. In this case, it is not the scientific system that matters. In this album much relies on the contrasting juxtaposition of the photos. The purpose of the authors is to show all the richness and variety of stone materials, guided by aesthetic considerations. They can be natural and artificial, there can be a combination of many rocks and different deposits. Limestone and sandstone can combine with brick, brick can combine with ceramics. Simple and glazed ceramics can combine with figured brickwork.
The issue here is not the technological side of things, but the creative and artistic one. This is not only about different materials, but about various architectural and decorative forms. That is why the authors of the album pay special attention to fragments of structures. Details and individual motifs are considered here. It resembles the frames of a fascinating film. The readers move away from buildings and approach them again. They can see them from different points of view and angles, under different light.
The 16th century churches of Outer Moscow are incomparable. Such is the church in Kolomenskoye village with its melodious rhythms, admired by the composer Hector Berlioz. Such is the church in the neighboring village of Dyakovo. Such is the Ostrov Transfiguration church crowned with a pyramidal roof. These are all solitary structures, inscribed into the landscape with unsurpassed talent. As if to further emphasize the lyricism of isolated high churches, the album immediately moves on to an energetic major chord. This is a resounding outburst of magnificent decorative architecture of Rostov the Great. Not one building, but dozens of churches and towers. There are whole "bundles" and "bouquets" of bulbous domes and tower tops. There are chambers and galleries, walls and belfries.
Rostov is famous for its bells of various tones. They range from bass, deep and velvety to 'tenors' and sonorous 'sopranos'. The music of sounds echoes the music of stone, the music of architecture.
Many are familiar with the ringing chimes of Rostov bells. Sometimes they are strong and percussive, sometimes soft and melodious. There are entire "quartets" and "quintets" of these gigantic instruments, a kind of Russian church "organs". Since the ancient times in Rus' the bells notified the travelers that the desired goal was near. Bells have always been heralds of important events - both joyful and sad.
The reader sees Yaroslavl with its many-domed brick temples. In this album Yaroslavl is represented by the famous Saint John the Baptist church in Tolchkovo. One can endlessly look at its complex patterns of brickwork with colored majolica inserts, figured columns with "melons" and intercepts, caissons and overlays, kokoshniks and arches.
From Yaroslavl our path leads to an outstanding monument of the end of the 17th century. This is the elegant church in Fili with irresistible carved white stone decoration.
Finally, here's Moscow again. The apotheosis of Russian national architecture is the Moscow Kremlin with its surroundings. Saint Basil's Cathedral is a true stone fairy tale. And here are towers again, this time - the towers of the Kremlin walls. Here is Spasskaya Tower, with the clock that the whole country hears every day. Here are Nabatnaya and small decorative Tsarksaya Towers. Here are Moscow cathedrals with golden domes.
You have no equal in the world
You will always be alive
By the days of the past, forever glorious!
The city built by Dolgorukiy
Among the dense forests
The grandchildren lovingly lifted up
Above other cities!
(Valery Bryusov. Moscow)
Modern architecture is unlike what our distant ancestors created hundreds of years ago. Each historical period suggests its own special architectural means and forms.
Today we have new tasks and different goals in architecture than before. But the sense of beauty should be cultivated by the most perfect examples. First of all, it means one's own national architecture, close and natural. And such examples are all around us.
Bartenev I., Batazhkova V.