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Three Pearls of Smolensk City’s Pre-Mongolian Architecture. Part 1

Smolensk

Smolensk

So, our trip to Smolensk is over. It was in our plan, among other things, to visit three monuments of pre-Mongolian architecture of the city of Smolensk. The weather too was in our favour. It was a sunny day, though sometimes this summer heat was overcast by fleeting clouds that appeared so suddenly; and gusts of wind embraced us tenderly in what felt like a sea breeze; then, we sensed that some invisible power was caring for us tenderly to prompt us to see and touch the splendour of the ancient Russian buildings devoted to God. Of course, we know that all of it was manifestations of God.  He cares for us.

The Church of Peter and Paul is located near Smolensk train station and can be well seen from the railway bridge. The church was built in 1146. It was erected by Chernigov masters, who were invited to Smolensk for this very purpose by Prince Rostislav Mstislavovich.

The temple was sanctified by Simeon, the first bishop of Smolensk. In 1611-1654, during the Polish occupation of the city, the temple was turned into a catholic church (kostyol). A catholic archbishop served in it.

Since 1654, the Church of Peter and Paul becomes a diocese Orthodox temple. In the middle of XVIII century, the temple was rebuilt and included into the temple complex of Great Martyr Barbara that was built next to it on its western side.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1812, the temple was looted, but later it was restored on the means of the state treasury.

In this temple, in a special icon case there was a particularly revered local icon of saint Nile Stolbensky with a part of his holy remains and an ancient icon of Apostles Peter and Paul.

In 1943, during the fights for liberating Smolensk the temple was seriously damaged.

In 1962-1963, Smolensk restoration workshops under architect P. D. Baranovsky carried out the works to return to the Peter and Paul’s temple its original appearance.

The church of Peter and Paul – is a cross-shape domed construction with three half-circular apses, crowned with a helmet-like dome with a massive dodecahedral drum on a square base. It is a wonderful pattern of the cross-shaped one-dome construction with four pillars, and as such, it continues the classical traditions of Kiev Rus and Byzantium. In its exterior forms and proportions the temple is static, stern, and monumental. But because of “flexible,” easily processed brickwork the plastics of the prince’s church is intricate and fine.

Austere, almost severe outward appearance of the temple is quickened by some elements of its intricate decoration: it is a string of arches running on top of the walls and a pattern of triangular dents, as well as prominent crosses. The drum is decorated the most; especially beautiful is the string of arrow-pointed cones on the drum.

On the façade, holes left by scaffoldings and sections of the original ancient brickwork are clearly seen. Gables on the northern and southern facades match the ends of the vaults; side gables of the western and eastern facades are false. Facades are divided by lesenes; two middle ones have wide corner lesenes without semi-columns. The apses are enlivened with wide vertical string cornices and a blind flat arcade in the top section. Wide half-circular window embrasures are framed by a single-step niche. Dark spots of these openings emphasize the might of the building. There are three windows in the central gable; in the side gables – one window or niche in each. At the bottom, the main middle tier of windows has three windows in its central section and one window in each side division. The big gap between the tier of windows and the niche of the portal is very important. Side windows seem to emphasize the insignificant size of the portal, increasing the impression of the temple’s grandeur.

The inner space of the temple is spanned by cylindrical vaults; upon the crossing of the vault’s central arms a drum is set, which rests on four massive pillars joined by arcs. In the western section of the building the loft was made – a kind of balcony for the prince and his suit. Thus, the prince was standing literally over the heads of his subjects during worship services.

Originally, the floor was laid of brick, but it was later replaced with glazed ceramic tiles. Inside, the walls and vaults were ornamented with murals. Preserved wide-headed nails, as well as small fragments of the painting testify to that. The planes of the window embrasures were also painted. Some inscriptions that date back to the 12th century survived on the walls.

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