Historic Moscow – endangered species

While most popular sites in the capital receive the necessary upkeep, hundreds of lesser known places are left neglected. RT discovers the distressing parts of historic Moscow.

Weather has not always been friendly to the richest heritage of the Russian capital. Nor, for that matter, were the political upheaval and economic instability of past years. Moscow has always managed to survive all the mess. But some of its heritage has not.

Some buildings have fallen victim to unfulfilled contracts, admitted Konstantin Mikhailov, a coordinator of Arhnadzor, an architectural watchdog organization fighting for historical preservation in Russia.

The 18th-century house of prominent Russian architect Matvey Kazakov, which has stood vacant for 15 years, is now showing signs of neglect. After kicking out its tenants in the 1990s, the city’s plans for development were derailed by persistent lobbying.

Such cases are by no means unique in Moscow, and activists point to the reign of former mayor Yuri Luzkhov as the worst period for the deterioration of historical buildings, Konstantin says.

But the mayor’s office can only answer for so much, with local developers often being accused of using underhand tactics to thwart city planning.

Any type of construction or demolition work in certain areas must be approved by a special commission, says Nikolay Pereslegin, head of the Moscow Cultural Heritage Committee. Nonetheless, such work often goes ahead unimpeded.

There are few concrete ideas, however, for how to save historical buildings in Moscow while at the same time spurring necessary investment in the busy capital. Money, as would be expected, is a major roadblock.

“We wanted to buy and renovate a house,” said preservation activist Maria Sokolova. “The first impulse was to just make one more beautiful house in Moscow – but this project is not profitable. I can’t advise someone to put this model to commercial use. People who want to restore buildings must have money. It’s expensive, but very interesting.”

Activists want the state to cough up more money for architectural preservation. Such investments, they argue, are actually in the government’s interest.

“If you invest in old buildings in the center of Moscow, you will get more tourists,” said Kevin O’Flynn, a Moscow Times journalist and member of an architectural preservation society. “They’re spending billions of dollars on tourism; they should be investing that money in restoring and making the old city an area that will attract tourism.”

But at the moment, efforts at closer cooperation between City Hall and preservation activists may be a more realistic goal. For his part, Moscow’s new mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, has offered to work closer with preservation groups.

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