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Mirsky Castle: Restoring Or Destroying?

Mirsky Castle: Restoring Or Destroying?
By Larisa Mikhalchuk
The Belarusians and Market
The Mirsky castle restoration generates many questions among scholars concerned about the way these works are going. The subject was discussed at republican scientific conference “Mirsky Castle. The Restoration Museum Concepts”.
Participants agreed that the problem of interior designs in the castle and their likeness with historical originals should have been discussed 10-15 years ago. The time has gone but these issues still have to be dealt with.
The first restoration idea about the castle was offered by architects O. Attas, S. Veremeichik, V. Kalnin, and archaeologist O. Trusov in the early 1980’s. They suggested that it was to be used for an arts college. The project went under way in 1983.
In 1987 Mirsky Castle was handed over to the Belarusian National Museum which put foreword a model of the future museum exposition. The Ministry of Culture ratified the concept in 2002 and published it in the Kultura newspaper in August. However, the publication did not receive much response from experts.
The reconstruction project for the castle has been amended several times since the works began. For instance, the square footage for a museum exhibition was reduces in order to increase the castle’s apartments. These amendments have to be incorporated into the overall museum concept which was discussed at the conference.
The conference also looked into some omissions made in the course of restoration. It primarily concerns the sizes of fireplaces and doorways in the castle, and authentic decorations. The most concern was given to the fact that the restoration has been going without taking into account historians’ opinions. As a result, this valuable historical complex is turning into just another attraction. Undoubtedly, Mirsky Castle will always be very attractive in the present state but it has lost its main attribute – historical authenticity.
Unskilled work power was also discussed at the conference. Archaeologist Pyotr Rusov talked about how fireplaces in the Svyatopolk-Mir’s crypt were destroyed. “Instead of taking one piece off after another, numbering them, putting them carefully in boxes to learn what bricklaying method was used then, they just went on and smashed it all with an axe,” he said. “Now they are going to build new fireplaces in the crypt, decorate them very nicely like the old ones were, but they will not be authentic.”
One of the designers of the original project Valentin Kalnin from the Belarusian State Museum of National Architecture and Folk believes that the surrounding areas around the castle are being changed in a way that will change the format of the historical monument, but the main goal – to preserve the castle – has been reached.
Scholars are also concerned about restaurants and a new hotel being in the same building with the Museum. One of the conference participants said that nobody really thought about putting them together.
Archaeologist Oleg Trusov reckons that omissions made in the course of the restoration resulted from the lack of public discussion. “Restoring the whole castle cannot be entrusted to only one person,” he said. “There should be a group of multi-skilled experts. The project was being discussed until Dmitry Bubnovsky was appointed to be the Restoration Director and he cut off every discussion. At that time he was the Deputy Minister of Culture, the chairman of the Historical and Cultural Heritage Protection Committee, and the Scientific Director of the Project, which is unacceptable and mustn’t be allowed in any case.
Dmitry Bubnovsky has been in charge of the project since 1986 and reckons that before this castle was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List and as the first part of the Museum complex was opened, there were enough discussions. “During the time when the castle’s reconstruction concept was put together, I was looking for an audience to discuss it with,” he says. “Strangely enough I found in Krakow, in Riga (at the regional conference of the soviet ICOMOS), in UNESCO as Mirsky Castle was nominated for the World Heritage List. There were so many publications in Belarus as well, but I would really like a professional discussion. Plus I have never turned down any meeting and was open to give explanations about the reconstruction. This or another designer is responsible for the project. Moreover, the scientific director is to be personally accountable for it.”
Admitting certain mistakes in the renovation works (like flattening down the area around the church; Grodno Regional Executive Committee requested to speed up preparations for the Day of Belarusian Printing in 2002, which resulted in the church basement’s flooding), Dmitry Bubnovsky noted that the Arts Museum has not quite come to a conclusion about a museum concept for Mirsky Castle.
“I have to think about suspending works when it comes to the museum part, which doesn’t have much work done to it anyway,” he says. “Those in charge need to make up their mind. We can either use the concept from the Ministry of Culture or something else.”
There are other problems though. The Museum also asked to change the layout of the underground level. The project is to be finished soon, but the final blueprints are not read yet. Another fact is the renovation works opened up more details about the castle that should also be taken into consideration. And at last the initial technical terms and requirements used for the project in 1982 have changed dramatically and are difficult to be put together now.”
Dmitry Bubnovsky also said that the hotel located in the eastern part of the complex isn’t a hotel really but apartments according to the UNESCO’s Mirsky Castle program.
“Once we became independent the Ministry of International Affairs approved of this part of the Castle,” he says. “It is a place for top-ranked meetings of various sorts as it’s done around the world. There can be 10-20 such events a year. The apartments are not to be vacant the rest of the time. Nobody is going to turn it into business, but the money invested into the Castle is to be giving returns. The apartments will not be used as a normal hotel. The fence around the Castle will also be used for lighting and video security as the area will be strictly secured.”
“The Castle’s potential should not be limited to its Museum part only,” continues Dmitry Bubnovsky. “However, holding such events such as festivals, conferences requires a certain infrastructure which the Museum asked for first, but now is not willing to go along with it. The number of festivals is growing and every party uses its own equipment which damaged the property every time.”
Talking about the situation in general, the Museum management said that “the work is going on fine, and it’s not too late now to solve some issues together, to carry out certain researches, and to introduce slight changes.”
Oleg Trusov reckons that “the reconstructed Mirsky Castle will remain the symbol of Belarus with its all omissions and mistakes. It is another thing that in 20 years it will need other thorough renovations because the quality of our work is far from European. The main thing, the authenticity is still there. Dmitry Bubnovsky didn’t destroy almost anything. He probably built some more new things, but the time will come and it will be re-built as well. For instance, the well in the Castle made of fancy stones instead of traditional wood raises many questions.”
The conference participants said that now is the time to define the way for further restoration works at the Mir Castle and other monuments. Olga Bazhenkova, a Ph.D. in History and Arts, noted that if nothing gets done now, “mediocrity will triumph”. However if the designers listen to historians, the Belarusian historical heritage will be preserved the way it should be.


 

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