The Moscow ManegeRussian: Манеж has an incredibly rich history. This is a historic building constructed in 1817 in honour of the fifth anniversary of the Russian victory against Napoleonic France in the War of 1812. Nowadays, it serves as a site for large-scale cultural projects, as well as hosting exhibitions of contemporary art and photography.
History of Manege construction
Manege is located in downtown Moscow, near the Kremlin, in Manezhnaya squareRussian: Manezhnaya ploschad or Манежная площадь. Manege was designed by Agustín Betancourt, however, its exterior was decorated only in the 1820s by one of the most famous architects of the time – Joseph Bovéan Italian-Russian neoclassical architect who supervised reconstruction of Moscow after the Fire of 1812. This building is among the finest architectural examples of the Russian Empire style which became widespread during the ruling years of Emperor Alexander Ireigned as Emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825 after the victory in the War of 1812.
Originally, this long one-story building with its enlarged proportions was intended for horse training and military drills – this explains why Manege was designed from the start to be a completely open space. Another interesting fact is that, for the first time in the history of Russian architecture, a suspended ceiling was used to conceal the structure of the roof. The external decoration of Manege is a prime example of late classicism (or empire style) in Russia. This style includes clear and concise forms, recurring blind arcading motifs, massive blank pediments on either end and limited use of decorative elements. Initially, the main entrance was located on the side that faces the Kutafya TowerRussian: Kutafya bashnya or Кутафья башня – we no longer use this entrance today.
Before the War of 1812, the site where Manege currently stands was occupied by erratically arranged merchant shops, an arrangement which dated back to medieval times. Manege partly owes its existence to the 1812 Fire which razed through the area and cleared a large space. The building incorporates a particularly interesting engineering solution – it is built without internal supports, with 45 metres of rafters which rest only on the outer walls. Manege has long been internationally recognised for its uniqueness. It also has its share of legends – people say that at the beginning of the 19th century, the floor of its attic was covered with a thick layer of tobacco. This was a method of protecting the wooden structures from rodents and insects, and the story goes that all of this very tobacco got smoked by revolutionary soldiers after the October Revolutiona revolution in Russia led by the Bolsheviks with Vladimir Lenin as a leader that was instrumental in the larger Russian Revolution of 1917. Some versions of the tale say that this smoking occurred during the Great Patriotic WarWorld War II – of course, neither of these versions are confirmed.
However, because of its unique design and the speed of its construction, the building had to undergo periodical renovations: first its wooden supports cracked; then, the rafters sagged, necessitating the roof to be re-done; finally, a rotunda was added on the side facing Alexander GardenRussian: Aleksandrovskiy sad or Александровский сад, though it was later dismantled during the Soviet era.
The purpose of the building has also changed over time. It was once a place where cavalrymen trained their horses, then it housed the royal stables, and since 1831, the building has been regularly holding concerts and exhibitions.
Contemporary histrory of Manege
The Soviet years weren’t the best time for Manege. As it was used as a garage for government vehicles, it was slowly deteriorating, with local fires breaking out here and there. Then, in 1941, it was hit by a German bomb, although the damage it suffered was relatively minor. In the postwar years, Manege underwent restoration work and structural modifications, but it was only fully brought back to life after Stalin’s death in 1957. It was at this time that the Manege became the central exhibition hall of the capital. It was here, for example, that the famous exhibition ‘30 Years of the Moscow Artists UnionRussian: 30 let MOSKh or 30 лет МОСХ’ was staged. In it, Khrushchev criticised avant-garde artists and this was followed by a nationwide campaign against formalism and abstraction.
The modern Manege is a virtually brand-new structure built almost from scratch after a serious fire in 2004. The building was badly damaged and many of the artworks exhibited inside were destroyed; in fact, there was nothing left of the Mangege except its walls. The interior and some details of the facades were replaced. Structural changes were made to the building as well, including installation of escalators and an open ceiling, organisation of underground parking, etc. Many experts hold a negative attitude towards this restoration, believing that it has distorted the original design of this building. Nonetheless, Manege is now one of the best exhibition spaces in the city. It incorporates the latest technology and provides all the necessary facilities for visitors to enjoy themselves.
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