Old looking new, new looking new

In many cities with hundred or sometimes thousand years of history, modern skyscrapers have started mushrooming around historical buildings and monuments, often creating interesting and unexpected contrasts.

In this case, though, Russia is once again a little “different” as looks can be very deceiving when trying to guess the age of what you are seeing.

Throughout its history, Russia has been a country many times destroyed and then rebuilt. Sometimes the destruction came from outside (as in the case of Smolensk, for instance) and other times from inside, when the Bolsheviks decided that many symbols of the past had to be erased.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the people decide to re-embrace the heritage of Russia, both in terms of religion (religious buildings had been destroyed or converted to the most bizarre functions) and history.

First of all, that meant re-building what had been razed, often creating a perfect replica, indistinguishable from the original.

But that was not “enough”, as Russian cities kept (and keep!) on growing and entire new neighbourhoods are in need of new monuments. This is also an occasion to embrace the rich Russian heritage.

One such example is the monument to the Russian general and prince Pyotr Bagration, pictured in the feature image of this blog. Situated just in front of the new Moscow City skyscraper neighbourhood, on the opposite site of the Moskva river, it is built to look almost as old as the hero it portrays.

Sometimes the new monuments do “look new”, as they are sculpted or casted in a modern style, like the one dedicated to Le Corbusier, but in the case of the Bagration monument the style is very classical and one would not guess it was inaugurated as recently as September 5, 1999. It defilitely looks 200 years old more than it looks 20!

It is in fact, an almost exact replica of a monument in Tibilisi (Georgia) – Pyotr Bagration was of Georgian origin – but this still does not correlate the look of the statue with its age, as the one in Tibilisi was erected as recently as 1984. The main differences are that the Moscow monument is, of course, taller and here the general has his sword raised, while in Georgia is lowered.

The monument to General Pyotr Bagration in a little square on Kutuzovsky Avenue in Moscow

The nearby pedestrian bridge spanning over the Moska river is also dedicated to the general, underlying the importance of this historical figure. But who was he?

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During the French Invasion of Russia in 1812, the commander of the Russian army Kutuzov gave General Bagration an almost impossible task: to face the Napoleonic troops and prevent them from taking the Smolensk Road to Moscow.

The French forces were superior in every aspect: sheer number, armament and training, but this did not deter Bagration to face them head on on the fields of Borodino in what would turn out to be the decisive and bloodiest battle of the entire war.

From the 60,000 French soldiers who participated in the operation, about 30,000 were killed or wounded. Russian casualties were also high, but fewer. The battle in itself, ended “inconclusively,” with both sides returning to their initial deployment zones. But that also meant that Bagration had effectively stopped a more powerful army in its tracks and, even more importantly, the battle drained from Napoleon his last fighting capabilities and resources and finally forced him to abandon his plan of capturing Russia when he entered an empty Moscow.

To this day this remains one of the clearest example of how, even by not winning a battle, this can be the deciding factor in actually winning the war.

Bagration was mortally wounded in the battle and died a few weeks later.

Tsar Nicholas I had a monument erected in his honour on the battlefield of Borodino. The general’s remains were transferred to the place where he had fallen and remain there to this day. The grave was blown up during World War II (reputedly, the local museum authorities were able to save only shreds of bone and cloth from the grave) but has since then been restored.

Stalin chose Bagration as the name of the Soviet offensive launched on 22 June 1944 that defeated the German Army Group Centre and drove the forces of Nazi Germany out of what is now Belarus

Since then many honours have been bestowed on this brave general, but maybe the one that really puts him in the firmament amongst the star is a small planet (or small celestial body) 8.4 Km in diameter discovered in 1973 and officially named 3127 Bagration.


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