Moscow’s Tsaritsyno Palace
is Cracking Up

Tsaritsyno Palace
Photo: Archives

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Embarrassing cracks have appeared in the flagship redevelopment of the Tsaritsyno Palace and park - just five years after work started on the high-profile restoration of Catherine the Great's former Moscow residence.

City government officials have admitted that the high-speed renovation is sub-standard, with the head of Moscow's culture department, Sergei Khudyakov, saying that there were "many problems" with the estate.

That came as little surprise to experts, many of whom have been critical of the park's redevelopment from the outset.

"Many experts cast doubt over the methods applied to the reconstruction of the estate at the time it took place," Anna Ilicheva, coordinator of the Arkhnadzor movement, told The Moscow News.

"This huge project was implemented in just two years, and this record speed is not exactly in line with the notion of scientific restoration." Until late last week there was little official indication that Tsaritsyno was anything other than an impressive success for the city.

In 2007 it won the city government's contest for the best implemented investment and construction project.

Initial criticisms were aesthetic, rather than structural: the new-look palaces with their brightly coloured brickwork appear incongruous in the woodland setting and critics said a "plastic makeover" had little in common with architect Matvey Kazakov's original design.

But new information about the quality of the engineering on the estate has sharpened criticism of the whole project.

"If today doubts are raised over the quality of construction works implemented at Tsaritsyno, what were the designers and contractors paid for?" Ilicheva commented.

The authorities' original plan was to transform Tsaritsyno into a major cultural, exhibition and recreation complex with a total area of nearly 700 hectares on the site of an incomplete palace complex commissioned and abandoned by Catherine the Great.

Major restoration work began five years ago, and most of the complex was pompously reopened on City Day in 2007. But Khudyakov is unhappy with the current structure, especially the Khlebny Dom (Bread Building), which he said was in an especially alarming condition, RIA Novosti reported.

Today there are cracks in the walls, excessive damp and structural defects. The restoration works on the building passed an inspection upon completion in 2006, but two years later, inspectors said that only "restricted use" of the building was possible."

The greenhouse is another area for concern, with cracks in the wall causing draughts and killing off some of the plants. And Khudyakov also lamented the lack of storage space, which meant the museum's collection of 40,000 exhibits could be properly displayed or archived.

That problem may be eased by the transfer of a nearby youth theatre owned by the Moscow Region authorities who are considering handing it over to offset debts owed to the city. Southern administrative district prefect Yury Bulanov is calling for more cash to be sunk into the estate. As well as resolving the current crisis, he want to build more storage buildings, offices for the park's management and an underground passage linking straight to the nearby metro station.

City Hall has yet to respond officially, but Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov harshly criticized Bulanov and the estate's general director. "Within a month, everything that could be done in winter time to improve the situation, should be done," Luzhkov told Vechernyaya Moskva. "By May 1, all works that need to be done in warmer weather should be completed. The prefect gets a warning and the director of the Tsaritsyno estate is reprimanded and warned about not fully complying with the requirements of his position."

But a reprimand does not go far enough for the estate's critics. "Following Khudyakov's statement about the alarming state of the recently restored and recreated Tsaritsyno buildings, we, as residents of the city, still expect that people responsible for all that disgrace will be found," Ilicheva said.

"The statement made at the [city government] meeting suggests that the problems could only be solved by additional construction works, which, in turn, are going to require extra engineering work and extra funding. In this case, not only those who executed the project, but also those who made the decisions and imposed this large-scale reconstruction on the Tsaritsyno estate, should be made responsible."

"I'm not sure what should be done about Tsaritsyno," Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper, president of the media, architecture and design institute "Strelka", told The Moscow News. "There should be an expert inspection and a tender [for additional works]. What's important is to keep the "heroes" of the previous "restoration" out of it. Personally, I no longer go to Tsaritsyno, it's too sad."

The Moscow News
19 February, 2010