Libmonster ID: TR-669
Author(s) of the publication: Yevgeny PASHKIN

by Yevgeny PASHKIN, Dr. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), Moscow University of Geology and Prospecting

Dramatic changes in the environment in consequence of technogenic loads pose a grave threat to architectural monuments. Acted upon by a variety of physico-geological and geochemical processes, these structures are deformed and destroyed in the end. Now, why is this happening and how? And what should be done about it and save objects of historical and cultural value?

First, some ruthless statistics: by 1998 about 85 thousand monuments of architecture had survived in Russia, or slightly above half of the nation's heritage in 1917. And their number keeps shrinking at an alarming rate: as many as 120 are gone every year. Besides, a large part of this heritage continues in a neglected state of disrepair. Such is the hardcore fact and indicator of the downturn in our cultural potential- an unrenewable potential for that matter.

Ecological hazards related to technogenic factors come first. As to natural factors, landslides (landslips) are most common. In many cases, however, they are provoked off by human activity too. In the past such shifts resulted in a partial or full destruction of large structures. This happened to the Pechora Monastery at Nizhni Novgorod founded on one of the Volga banks, nearly a kilometer south of the present sanctuary. In 1597 the slope on which it stood slipped downward over to the Volga as far as 100 meters and more. The bad destruction caused by that landslip made it impossible to have the cloister restored on the old site.

Even today the high and steep slopes of the Oka and the Volga within Nizhni Novgorod pose a landslide hazard for the walls of the local Kremlin, for the Pechora and Annunciation Monasteries, the Nativity (Stroganov) and Elias (Ilyinsky) Churches.

In 1817 architect A. Witberg attempted to put up a church of Christ the Savior in honor of the heroes of

Pages. 15

monks had trouble rescuing the relics of saints.

The slopes of the left bank of the Kamenka in the town of Suzdal (Vladimir region) are quite skittish too. In 1994 and 1995 landslides occurred there next to two monasteries; their walls and towers built in the 17th and 18th centuries survived by sheer miracle.

A 100 meter-long landslip formed in 1995 threatened the Resurrection Monastery of Novy (New) Jerusalem west of Moscow. * The same danger lurks in other parts of this country, namely in the Stavropol Territory, in the republic of Chuvashia, and in the Volga area, posing a threat to historical monuments there.

The flooding of large tracts of land is another hazard. This is particularly true of old towns and districts near man-made water pools. The Novgorod administrative region, with many historical monuments in the valleys of the rivers Luga, Volkhov, Msta and other streams, is a conspicuous example. The same applies to the Volga area, to the republic of Tatarstan in particular, where man-made "seas" at Kuibyshev and in the lower reaches of the Kama inflicted significant damage on hundreds of architectural and archeological monuments, in the town of Sviyazhsk for one. The construction of the Kuibyshev and Saratov hydro-power stations resulted in the destruction of the famous estate complex of Vorontsova-Dashkova (17th century) and of the Alexander Arcade in Kazan caused by the flooding, reworking and abrasion of the Volga banks.

Of particular anxiety to hydrogeol-ogists is the rise of subsurface waters Russia's Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon and his hordes. The cathedral was visualized as an architectural ensemble in three tiers (terraces) descending down the slope of the Vorobyovi gory (hills) toward the river Moskva. This attempt failed, however. It became clear at the foundation pit digging that removing the rock from the pit (this rock being the natural counterfort) disturbed the natural stability of the ground to touch off major shifts of the ground. So the church had to be erected elsewhere.

In 1768 a spring freshet washed out the steep left bank of the river Solotcha at Ryazan, the site of the Church of the Protecting Veil of the Solotcha Monastery. Both the walls and the church collapsed, and the

* See: V. Darkevich, "Novy Jerusalem", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2000. - Ed.

Pages. 16

and the ground overmoistening within such famed architectural monuments as the Ipatiev Monastery at Kostroma, the St. Trinity Monastery at Nizhni Novgorod, the Church of Dormition at Voronezh, the Dormition Cathedral of the Tikhvin Monastery near St. Petersburg, the historic field at Borodino west of Moscow (upon the digging of a water reservoir at Mozhaisk).

The town of Belozersk at Vologda in the north, one of the oldest in Russia (Foundation date, 862), is likewise endangered with the rebuilding of the Volga-Baltic water route (formerly, a system of canals laid in the 19th century) and the digging of a lake at the Sheksna. As a result, the water level in the White Sea and in the by-pass channel rose by 1.2 m-high enough to flood 213 structures in the inner town. Besides, the destructive effect of subsurface water is ever present.

Monuments of national significance are in this number, specifically, the 18th-century churches of Our Savior All-Merciful, of Resurrection (architect, V. Bazhenov), and of the Protecting Veil.

More often than not we cannot admire grandiose monuments or historic landscapes because of the haphazard construction in the oldest town districts. Pavel Korin, an eminent artist, pointed to this alarming fact back in 1966. "... The forced intrusion of new complexes into the territories of world-revered ensembles is spreading like an epidemic as good as everywhere. I do not speak of the bygone years-I mean the present day, today."

These words have even a more topical ring now. The problem is developing into a real scourge for ecology and culture. Concrete-and-glass monsters rub shoulders with single-style structures, and high-rises dwarf smaller houses built before the 20th century. The memory of the past is marred and distorted, it is obliterated now and then. Unique old town-scapes are thus gone for good.

Mass-transit facilities (buses, trolleys) and the ever expanding pool of private cars are ecocidal as well.

Also, the intensive construction of subways, underground markets, and underpasses and tunnels is the cause of ground subsidence deforming architectural monuments. For instance, the construction of "Borovitskaya" metro station just opposite the Moscow Kremlin (the fourth built under the rather small Vagankovsky Hill) has damaged some of the houses of the Russian State Library-namely the printing-house (17th century), the

Pages. 17

Pashkov House (18th century), and the book repository (20th-century architectural monument). The digging of a pit for the ticket-office vestibule of the "Borovitskaya" subway station gravely damaged the subsurface premises of the Mikhail Malein Church (16th century).

Such risk factors are responsible for ecologically unfavorable conditions imperiling our historical and cultural heritage. This is true above all of Moscow and St. Petersburg and their suburbs, the site of magnificent estate complexes (Arkhangelskoye, Mtsyri and Ostafievo near Moscow, and Peterhof and Oranienbaum near St. Petersburg), and this is also true of the towns within what we call "Russia's Golden Ring" around Moscow.

The Samara administrative region is another example of this kind, a typical Volga region insofar as our cultural heritage is concerned. Many of the monuments in Samara, Syzran, Chapayevsk and other towns are polluted by industrial and domestic wastes, posing a chemical and biological menace. Effluents disturb the surface run- off, and that results in the over-moistening of soil in the foundation pits.

With so much garbage, backfilling and asphalt pavements here and there, the old monuments find themselves 1 - 3 m below ground level. Their original proportions are upset, and their socles and walls are attacked by moisture and salts from the ground. Freezing in the wintertime, the load-carrying structures then fall victim to weathering. In Moscow alone over a hundred monuments of architecture have died a slow death like that. Thus endangered are the All-Saints Church at Kulishki (16th century), and the Nikola (St. Nicholas) Church at Bersenev (17th century) as well as the Hall of Columns (18th century). In Yaroslavl the same danger threatens Our Savior's Church and the refectory of Our Savior's Monastery (15th century), and the Nikola Nadein Church (17th century). * Such kind of ecological intervention is like a delayed-action bomb: destruction processes are slow but sure.

... A few years ago I inspected the premises of the palace estate museum Ostankino in Moscow. In one of the halls a solid mirror of the early 19th

* See: V. Darkevich, "Yaroslavl, A Glory of the Volga", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1998. - Ed.

Pages. 18

century caught my eye. It had two cracks, though there were no signs of man-inflicted blows. The attendants were unable to explain the cause. Only later did I realize: that was the effect of the seasonal frost penetration and thawing of the ground. We know that freezing, water swells out. It forms ice impregnation and ice particles under the foundation. Frost swelling takes place as a result. Should this process spread evenly under the structure, it will not cause much trouble-the building will heave a bit in winter and sink back to the old position in summer. But this seldom happens under actual conditions.

A team of geologists and engineers who made a case study found that the seasonal changes of the Ostankino Palace foundations did not only depend on the nature of the ground and moistening-the position of the walls had a role to play too. The freezing of the southern part of the edifice sets in later, and its thawing begins earlier and faster compared with the northern side. Besides, the vertical displacements caused by frost swelling in the northern part exceed those in the southern side due to the different depth of wintertime ground freezing.

Such uneven shifts of separate parts of the walls (support structures) were to blame for the cocking of door and window apertures. So the mirror fixed rigidly to the wall cracked.

Frost swelling is particularly destructive for monuments of the Russian North. This is often seen in the deformations of the corner parts of buildings and in the wide vertical cracks running all through the walls.

As a matter of fact, our country has hard natural and climatic conditions by and large. Therefore the entire complex of negative effects-natural and technogenic ones-should be diagnosed with much accuracy by civil engineers and geologists.

Many designers do not take due account of the tie-in between structures and the geological medium. This generates problems. One is the formation of salt outcrops (aggregates of mineral salts of crystalline structure on the surface or within structural materials cropping up with the evaporation of aqueous solutions). This leads to the mechanical destruction of materials and their leaching so that the surface finish of walls comes off, and the load-carrying capability of structures is reduced.

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Destruction of historical and architectural monuments caused by frost swelling (heaving) of earth. 1-swelling zone, 2-a masonry block off, 3 and 4-corner parts of the building tip over.

Schematic representation of brine and salts migrating through the pores of the ground, walls and foundations of the building of the Senate in the Moscow Kremlin. 1-fill-up earth, 2-sand, 3-concrete, 4-paving stone, 5-a tray with gravel, 6-water proofing, 7-migration pathways, 8-blocks of white stone, 9-zones of salt outcrops.

Pages. 20

The migration pathways of solutions and their chemical composition likewise depend on the kind of building materials (white stone, brick, mortar, stucco, plaster, dyes) and on natural and fill-up earths. The moistening of outer walls and foundations proceeds in two ways: the water seeps through into the walls and/or down into the foundation. This process is a major hazard because the surface waters of cities have an enhanced concentration of aggressive sodium and potassium chlorides used against glaze or sleet in the wintertime.

Outer walls absorb moisture because of water condensation in the near-surface layers of underlying soils. In the absence of water proofing, the moisture gets into the foundation. Such moisture is predominantly of sulfate-chloride composition in consequence of technogenic deposits (construction rubbish in particular).

Immense damage is also done to archeological monuments. The point is that all pollutants finally get into the earth. Country-wide we have more than 30,000 archeological objects subjected to technogenic effects. Dramatic environmental modification caused by construction projects, chemical wastes and by soil and subsurface water contamination work to destroy historical monuments scattered far and wide across this vast country. Among them, monuments not detected and not studied as yet. In 1998 as many as 196 mute witnesses of the "dim and distant past" were gone because of that.

Architects and restoration experts are taking pains to save monuments of culture. Their selfless work will be futile unless comprehensive studies are undertaken by geologists and civil engineers. Only then will it become possible to learn more about the nature and extent of outside effects on a particular structure, its stability and longevity, and thus work out adequate recommendations toward its protection.

All this involves considerable outlay and attention on the part of government authorities. Lone wolves enthusiasts and patrons-are not enough. In fact, our national heritage is at stake, the heritage we should pass on to our descendants intact.


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Yevgeny PASHKIN, A GEOLOGIST DIAGNOSES // Istanbul: Republic of Türkiye (ELIBRARY.COM.TR). Updated: 14.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 21.07.2024).

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