Park name: Stormont Park, Upper Newtownards Road (A20), Belfast
Amenities: An all-inclusive play park for children of all abilities and outdoor gym equipment for older ages, signposted short and long woodland walks
Special features: Barbecue facilities and picnic tables.
Access: Public car parking and bus numbers 4a and 4b from Belfast City. Google Map “Stormont Park, Belfast”.
Dogs: Dogs must be kept on a lead except in the dog park known as “the bullfield” where dogs can run free.
Tip: If it’s lashing rain you can take a free tour of Stormont Parliament Buildings between 9am-4pm.
Park name: Gosford Forest Park, Markethill
Amenities: Beautifully crafted wooden playground among the trees, walking, mountain bike and horse riding trails.
Special features: There’s a special “pump track” where beginner or experienced cyclists can improve their riding skills. Game of Thrones fans will recognise Gosford Castle used as a location for the hit TV series
Access: On-site car parking. Google Map “Gosford Forest Park”.
Dogs: Yes on leads and the Green Dog Walkers Pledge encourages all dog walkers to always clean up after their dog and encourage others to do so.
Tip: Bring a picnic and use barbecue facilities and picnic tables next to playground.
Park name: Oak Park Forest Park, Carlow Town
Amenities: This 120 acre park has colour coded circular walkways of varying lengths with wheelchair-accessible surfaces. Accessible playground with a slide, swings and a wheelchair swing.
Special features: A great selection of trees including beech, oak, Scots pine, larch and sycamore.
Access: Free car parking on site. Google Map “Oak Park Forest Park”.
Tip: Check out the ducks and swans on the lakes and go bird-watching for wild birds.
Park name: Cavan Burren Park
Amenities: With over 10km of trails through one of Ireland’s most intact prehistoric landscapes, this is a perfect destination for geology and archaeology enthusiasts.
Special features: Signs along the walking trails explain the megalithic tombs and geological layers under your feet.
Access: On site car parking. Google Map “Cavan Burren Park”.
Dogs: Yes, dogs on leads allowed.
Tip: Discover the history of this ancient landscape in the interpretative centre or consider booking a tour with a local tour guide.
Park name: Dromore Wood Nature Reserve, Ruan
Amenities: Part of the Burren National Park, this 1,000 acre wood was designated a nature reserve in 1985. The natural features include rivers, lakes, turloughs, callows, limestone pavement, reed and rush beds, peatlands and woodland.
Special features: Plenty of historical and archeological interest including the 17th Century O’Brien castle, two ring forts, a limekiln and a children’s burial ground.
Access: car parking and free drop off and pick up on the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk shuttle bus. Google Map “Dromore Wood trailhead”.
Dogs: Yes, it’s great place for dog walking.
Tip: Download maps on burrennationalpark.ie to plan looped walks in advance. Consider asking for a free guided walk of the flora, fauna and geology of the Burren.
Park name: Fota Wildlife Park, Fota Island near Carrigtwohill
Amenities: A 40 hectare wildlife park with monkeys, giraffes, bisons, lemurs, pandas freely roaming in recreated spaces similar to their natural habitats.
Special features: Through its breeding programme, Fota Wildlife Park cares for several animal species in danger of extinction (including Cheetahs), helping to restore populations in the wild.
Access: €3 car parking fee gives entry to grounds of Fota House. Trains from Cork city stop at Fota Wildlife Park. Google Map “Fota Wildlife Park”.
Dogs: No dogs allowed. Seek advice on assistance dogs.
Tip: You can book a behind-the-scenes tour to interact with wardens and animal feeding staff.
Park name: Downhill Demesne, Sea Road, Castlerock
Amenities: This National Trust property is set in a stunning landscape which offers magnificent clifftop walks along the North Coast of Ireland.
Special features: The spectacular location of and views from the Mussenden Temple folly is a must see.
Access: Parking is advanced booking via paybyphone.co.uk. National Trust members park for free. The Ulsterbus 234 from Coleraine to Derry stops very close by. Google Map “Downhill Demesne”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads.
Tip: Bring snacks and drinks and be prepared for energetic walks.
Park name: Glenveagh National Park.
Amenities: A vast track of land (16,000 hectares) with moorland, mountains, woodlands and lakes, this park is suitable for families who enjoy hiking.
Special features: Glenveagh Castle, a 19th Century castellated mansion surrounding by gardens with exotic plants.
Access: 24 km north-west of Letterkenny, the park is most easily accessed by car. Cars park near visitor centre. Google Map “Glenveagh National Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads only.
Tip: Check weather conditions before planning an outing and bring rainproof clothing and footwear.
Park name: Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Ballydrain Road, Comber
Amenities: Home to Ireland’s largest collection of exotic and local birds, there’s also natural play parks, a zip wire, a duckery, bird-watching hides and great views across Strangford Lough.
Special features: The Sustainability Trail teaches children about protecting nature.
Access: On site parking and bus no 11 from the Laganside Bus Centre in Belfast. Google Map “Castle Espie Wetland Centre”.
Dogs: assistance and guide dogs only.
Tip: Wear clothes and footwear that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Park name: St Anne’s Park, Raheny/Clontarf, Dublin
Amenities: At almost 100 hectares, this is the second largest park in Dublin: Perfect for long walks through a beautiful variety of trees, wildflower meadows and a rose garden.
Special features: A well equipped playground for children, football pitches, tennis courts and café and food market with outdoor seating areas. Check out the chestnut walk from the rock garden to the duck pond and spot the many follies dotted throughout the park.
Access: Dublin City Bus nos 29a, 32 and 130 stop nearby; Car parking along the edges of the park. Google Map “St Anne’s Park”.
Dogs: Dogs are welcome on leads.
Tip: Take a walk on nearby Bull Island if you’re on a day out.
Park name: Cabinteely Park, old Bray Road, Cabinteely (off N11 or take junction 15 from M50), Dublin 18
Amenities: This 45 hectare park has a spacious variety of adventure playgrounds, grassy meadows, a small forest and pond.
Special features: Look out for sculptures along some of the paths and enjoy the Japanese style cafe.
Access: Bus numbers nos 84, 84a and 145 and car parking. Google Map “Cabinteely Park”.
Dogs: Yes but must be kept on leads except in the dog park.
Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for rare birds including the great spotted woodpecker.
Park name: Florence Court, Enniskillen.
Amenities: Short and long walks through parkland, woodland and pleasure gardens and some special climbing trees.
Special features: Among the many champion trees (ie the tallest and thickest of their species) is Ireland’s original Irish yew tree. It is believed that almost all the Irish Yew trees in churchyards throughout the world come from this one tree.
Access: Car parking via Grand Gates on Mill Road next to visitor centre. Ulsterbus 192 from Enniskillen to Swanlinbar, getting off at Creamery Cross (two mile walk from there). Google Map “Florence Court”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads only.
Tip: Advance booking advised.
Park name: Rinville Park, Oranmore
Amenities: Woodland trails, a small lake and big meadows in a lovely location overlooking southern Galway Bay. Also there is a children’s playground and adult gym equipment.
Special features: A great place to spot wildlife such as otters or herons if you are lucky.
Access: Car park. Google Map “Rinville Park”.
Dogs: Yes but must be kept on leads.
Tip: Check weather forecast in advance and bring raingear.
Park name: Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms
Amenities: Three working farms with animals, poultry and historical machinery give visitors a first-hand experience of traditional farming life. The beautiful formal gardens include a sunken garden, a rock garden, a Victorian walled garden and glasshouses.
Special features: Craftworkers who can be observed at work in their studios also sell their work in the craft shop.
Access: On site car park and bus or jaunting car rides from Killarney. Google Map “Muckross House”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads in informal gardens but not on the traditional farm.
Tip: Plan your trip well to fit in guided tours of Muckross House and visits to the traditional farm.
Park name: Japanese Gardens, Kildare town
Amenities: One of the best examples of Japanese gardens in Europe, these exquisite gardens are laid out with trees, plants, flowers, lawns, rocks and water to symbolize the journey through human life and beyond.
Special features: A self-guided leaflet for the Japanese Gardens is available in 15 languages.
Access: Free car parking on site. A shuttle bus operates from Kildare train station. And Bus Éireann route 126 from Dublin stops in Kildare town, a 10 minute walk away. Google Map “Japanese Gardens, Kildare”.
Dogs: Dogs must be kept on their leads at all times.
Tip: Consider including the nearby National Stud in your trip
Park name: Castlecomer Discovery Park, Castlecomer
Amenities: Mapped out walking, mountain biking and orienteering trails scattered throughout this 30 hectare woodland demesne.
Special features: A tree-top walk, high ropes course and zipline over water.
Access: Paid car parking on site. Google Map “Castlecomer Discovery Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads only
Tip: Book ahead and plan your trip, preparing for all weathers.
Park name: Emo Court Parklands
Amenities: Lovely walks through the formal gardens, around the artificial lake and outlying forests.
Special features: Beautiful range of specimen trees including giant sequoia, atlas cedar, tulip and handkerchief trees.
Access: Car parking on site. Google Map “Emo Court”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads allowed.
Tip: Consider advance booking for a tour of Emo Court, the 18th Century neo-classical villa built by James Gandon.
Park name: Glencar Park
Amenities: Varying lengths of walks in this wild and beautiful landscape include walks along the bog road or along the lake shore or the short walk to view the magnificent Glencar Waterfall via a paved path suitable for all users.
Special features: Picnic tables and a children’s playground close to the lakeshore.
Access: Car park. Google Map “Glencar Park”.
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed.
Tip: Wear hiking boots as it can be wet underfoot.
Park name: Curraghchase Forest Park between Adare and Askeaton
Amenities: Exquisite woodland walks and plenty of archaeological treasures including a cairn, three ringforts and a standing stone in this Coillte-managed forest. Also walks along an artificial lake onto Lady’s Island.
Special features: A great place for bird watching and keen birders will be pleased if they spot the rarely sighted hawfinch and more common brambling on a visit to this former demesne.
Access: Car parking on site. Google Map “Curraghchase Forest Park”.
Dogs: dogs on leads
Tip: The on site caravan park means that it’s a possible stop over on a tour of the area.
Park name: Leebeen Park, Aughnacliffe
Amenities: Nature trails, a green gym, walking loops and a boardwalk along the lake.
Special features: The timber frame playground overlooks the lake and has an excellent zip wire. Also, a fairy garden for little ones.
Access: car park on site. Google Map “Leebeen Park”.
Tip: Consider visiting the Pulliness Waterfall, a short walk from the park.
Park name: Ravensdale Forest Park
Amenities: Magnificent mixed woodland with walking trails including a walk to the summit of Black Mountain (506m) and the popular Ravensdale looped walk/run. Plenty of archaeological features.
Special features: Two longer walking routes – The Táin Trail and The Ring of Gullion Way pass through Ravensdale Forest.
Access: Car park on site. Google Map “Ravensdale Forest Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads.
Tip: Check the weather forecast before setting out on longer walks.
Park name: Westport House and Gardens, Westport
Amenities: A pirates’ adventure park with slides, swinging ships, swan pedalos and a miniature train. Extensive parklands and woodland walks and cycles.
Special features: a 3.5 km looped walk
Access: Ample car parking on site and ten minutes walk from Westport town. Google Map “Westport House”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads only.
Tip: Consider staying over at the camping and caravan site in the farmyard.
Park name: Balrath Woods, Burtonstown
Amenities: Nature walks and play equipment including a giant climbing web and accessible swings.
Special features: Signposted long and short walks. The nature walk, which is designed as an outdoor classroom, has information panels along the way.
Access: Car park on site. Google Map “Balrath Woods”.
Tip: Check out balrathwoods.com for descriptions of animals, insects, birds, flowers and trees that you might see when you get there.
Park name: Rossmore Forest Park, Monaghan town
Amenities: Woodland and lakeside walks and family cycling trails. This former demesne of Rossmore Castle also has a great variety of mature trees including Scots pine, cedars and giant redwoods and yew trees.
Special features: a wonderful play park for children with a spectacular sculpture trail.
Access: Car parking. Google Map “Rossmore Forest Park”.
Dogs: dogs must be kept on leads.
Tip: Download the map from coillte.ie and plan your walks in advance.
Park name: Lough Boora Discovery Park
Amenities: This former industrial bogland between Tullamore, Birr and Clonmacnoise has restored wetlands, woodlands and lakes interspersed with walkways and cycle paths.
Special features: A fantastic range of sculptures dotted throughout the park evoke the former industrial activity and natural environment on the bog. You can hire bicycles to take longer trips through the park.
Access: Car park costs €4. Google Map “Lough Boora Discovery Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads only.
Tip: Bring insect repellant to protect yourself from midge bites.
Park name: Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, Boyle
Amenities: 800 hectares on the southern shore of Lough Key with woodland biking and walking trails, ziplines and boat hire.
Special features: The adventure playground has towers, slides, climbing frames, roundabouts, swings and puzzles.
Access: Car parking on site. Google Map “Lough Key Forest”.
Tip: Plan your activities in advance as there are so many things to do here. Loughkey.ie.
Park name: Doorly Park, Sligo town
Amenities: Part of the Cleveragh Demesne, this park has woodlands and wetlands for walks and boating.
Special features: The playground has a good range of play equipment.
Access: Free car parking. Google Map “Doorly Park”.
Tip: Consider walking to the park from Sligo town along the Garavogue River.
Park name: Castlelough Lakeside Park, Portroe
Amenities: The designated recreation areas of the Arra forest on the shores of Lough Derg. Walking trails along Lough Derg, water skiing, paddleboarding, canoeing, fishing and cruises along the River Shannon.
Special features: Those keen for longer walks can consider doing stages of the Lough Derg Way which passes through Castlelough.
Access: Car park on site. Google Map “Castlelough Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads are welcome.
Tip: Plan water activities in advance and don’t forget your wetsuits.
Park name: Drum Manor Forest Park, Cookstown
Amenities: Forest walks and cycles. Plenty of space for running, dog walking and picnics by the lake. A play park for younger children.
Special features: A detailed downloadable map of forest park trails
Access: Paid car parking. Google Map “Drum Manor Forest Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads welcome.
Tip: Consider camping here as seasoned campers rate the campsite highly.
Park name: Waterford Nature Park, Tramore Road, Waterford City
Amenities: This former city dump has been converted into 150 acres of parkland. Plenty of linear and looped walking/running trails along tarmac paths and on paths mown through meadows to allow children interact with nature.
Special features: Plenty of seats dotted along the routes for little ones to rest on.
Access: Free car parking. Google Map “Waterford Nature Park”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads.
Tip: Bring a picnic and enjoy this traffic-free urban oasis.
Park name: Belvedere House, Gardens and Park, Mullingar
Amenities: Plenty of lovely walks through woodlands, along the shores of Lough Ennell and Belvedere Lake. Four children’s play areas, one of which includes a 30 metre zip line.
Special features: The Victorian walled garden has a special dedicated fairy garden.
Access: Free car and bicycle parking. Google Map “Belvedere House, Westmeath”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads welcome.
Tip: Check to see if Belvedere House is open for tours on the day of your visit.
Park name: Irish National Heritage Park, Wexford Town
Amenities: A chance to explore 9000 years of Irish history through replicas of a castle, crannóg, Viking house, monastery and ringfort. Also walks through woodlands and two playgrounds.
Special features: Activity-based experiences such as archery, medieval cooking and interactions with birds of prey at the falconry centre.
Access: car parking on site and buses from Wexford town. Google Map “Irish National Heritage Park”.
Dogs: Only guide and assistance dogs allowed.
Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to see everything on a self-guided tour or join a tour with a costumed guide.
Park name: Russborough House and Gardens, Blessington
Amenities: Lovely easy looped woodland and nature walks suitable for all ages, a good sized playground, a fairy trail, walled garden (under restoration) and occasional food and craft market in the courtyards of Russborough House.
Special features: Japanese gardens with cute bridges that you can walk onto Lady’s Island. Information boards identify flora and fauna on nature walks and the special tree trail. The Blessington Greenway walk and cycling route is a short walk from the gates.
Access: paid car parking. Google Map “Russborough House”.
Dogs: Dogs on leads only.
Tip: Check to see if the maze and National Bird of Prey Centre are open on the day of your visit.
New skeleton find could reveal more about Vesuvius eruption
The remains of a man presumed to be aged 40-45 were found under metres of volcanic rock roughly where Herculaneum’s shoreline used to be, before Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD pushed it back by 500 metres (1,640 feet).
He was lying down, facing inland, and probably saw death in the face as he was overwhelmed by the molten lava that buried his city, the head of the Herculaneum archaeological park, Francesco Sirano, told the ANSA news agency.
“He could have been a rescuer”, Sirano suggested.
As Vesuvius erupted, a naval fleet came to the rescue, led by the ancient Roman scholar and commander Pliny the Elder. He died on the shore, but it is believed that his officers managed to evacuate hundreds of survivors.
The skeleton might have otherwise belonged to “one of the fugitives” who was trying to get on one of the lifeboats, “perhaps the unlucky last one of a group that had managed to sail off,” Sirano suggested.
It was found covered by charred wood remains, including a beam from a building that may have smashed his skull, while his bones appear bright red, possibly blood markings left as the victim was engulfed in the volcanic discharge.
Archaeologists also found traces of tissue and metal objects — likely the remains of personal belongings he was fleeing with: maybe a bag, work tools, or even weapons or coins, the head of the archaeological park said.
Other human remains have been found in and around Herculaneum in the past decades — including a skull held in a Rome museum that some attribute to Pliny — but the latest discovery can be investigated with more modern techniques.
“Today we have the possibility of understanding more”, Sirano said.
Researchers believe that in Herculaneum temperatures rose up to 500 degrees — enough to vaporise soft tissues. In a phenomenon that is poorly understood, a rapid drop in temperature ensued, helping preserve what remained.
Although much smaller than Pompeii, its better-known neighbour outside the southern city of Naples, Herculaneum was a wealthier town with more exquisite architecture, much of which is still to be uncovered.
READ ALSO: Where are Italy’s active volcanoes?
Lou Reed: The Velvet Underground: an inside look at the band that gave a voice to the outsiders | USA
The importance of The Velvet Underground has been endlessly discussed. They are, with a nod to The Beatles, the modern rock group par excellence. Formed by Lou Reed and John Cale in New York in 1965, the band was immediately endorsed by Andy Warhol, with whom they would collaborate until 1967, although his influence would never leave them. The Velvet Underground were a sixties group that, during its five years of existence, failed to fit into their era for a single day. While others sung of love and good vibrations, they designed a revolutionary and perverse alternative for rock.
It was an alternative that remains valid to this day, half a century after the group was mortally wounded by the departure of Reed in August 1970. To corroborate this, Apple TV will premiere The Velvet Underground in October. Directed by Todd Haynes, the documentary is full of never-before-seen footage and interviews with people who were in the thick of it at the time, more than compensating for a dearth of movies about a band that can be described as legendary without fear of slipping into musical nepotism.
The documentary arrives in good company. At the end of September I’ll be your mirror: A tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico was released, an album of cover versions of the group’s influential debut album when the line-up consisted of Reed, Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker. A posthumous work by producer Hal Willner, who died of Covid-19 in 2020, it features contributions by Thurston Moore, Sharon van Etten, Iggy Pop, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett and Michael Stipe, among others.
Speaking about the original The Velvet Underground & Nico, released in 1967, Haynes said in an interview with Uncut magazine earlier this year that it is music that makes you think about how fragile identity is, and also about life. The journalist Susana Monteagudo concurs with Haynes. “The Velvet Underground were the first punk group in terms of transgression of codes and creative freedom,” says the author of books including Illustrated History of Rock and Amy Winehouse. Stranger than her. “As well as practicing the philosophy of do-it-yourself and rejecting the commercial course of the music industry, they subverted the establishment by making dissidence visible on every level, not just in artistic terms. They embraced the marginal and they were too nihilistic, cynical and sinister for the Flower Power era.”
The Velvet Underground did not belong to their time, but to the future. Cale wanted to fuse rock and roll with experimental music. Reed’s lyrics were open to the influence of writers like Burroughs, Delmore Schwartz and John Rechy. They were a loud and screeching band, but they also composed melodic songs. This contrast is most evident on The Velvet Underground & Nico, which contains some of the group’s most beautiful songs. I’ll be your mirror and Femme Fatale are sung by Nico (who also provides vocals on the chorus of Sunday morning, originally written for her but eventually sung by Reed), one of the most conflicting elements of the band.
For trans artist Roberta Marrero, Nico, the German model and singer who died in 1988, was an “icon of undisputable beauty, as well as being a pioneer who opened the door for other greats like Siouxsie.” In spite of her beauty, Nico did not fit the prevailing pop girl model of the time. Her singing style was far removed from traditional rock and openly reflected her Germanic and Gothic roots. Her inscrutable personality was married to a talent that after she left the Velvet Underground would manifest itself in unclassifiable works such as The marble index (1969), whose idiosyncrasy – tearing up the blueprint of pop music and exploring musical latitudes reserved for men – would inspire Kate Bush and Björk, as well as more contemporary artists such as Julia Holter, St Vincent and Anohni.
The Velvet Underground also broke with the heterosexual tradition of rock music. In Monteagudo’s view, in addition to creating a literary imagery “where there was room for homosexuals, trans women, prostitutes, junkies and outsiders in general,” they were also “a band not exclusively made up of males, and men who at the same time did not identify with a heteronormative masculinity, especially in the case of Lou Reed. They integrated and normalized diversity in their sphere because their way of life was linked to this concept. It was also the dawning of the ambiguous, the queer.” Marrero believes that “they brought non-normative sexualities to the forefront, such as sadism, more so than homosexuality. Although when I think about it, I’m waiting for my man could be talking about a gigolo and not a drug-dealer. In reality, it’s very ambiguous.”
This divorce from the prevailing canons also had a lot do with the presence of Maureen “Moe” Tucker. Her drum work with the band anticipated a trend that would not take hold until 1977, with the explosion of punk. From that point on, the female role in groups ceased to be principally pigeon-holed into certain instruments and roles. In Monteagudo’s opinion, Tucker is “a key element of this breaking of stereotypes and, as such, a figure to be held up by feminism. Her playing style, as unorthodox as it was influential, is one of those achievements that should be emphasized by the movement. Furthermore, her androgynous image and her discretion made her a counterpoint to Nico’s glamour.”
Revered by bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, who dedicated a song to her, and as Marrero asserts, a precursor to drummers such as Hannah Billie, formerly of Gossip, Tucker is, along with Cale, one of the survivors of the Velvet Underground’s original line-up. Due to her social media stance on Donald Trump and gun ownership, Tucker has also become the band’s least popular member.
Warhol’s influence was a determining factor behind The Velvet Underground developing such a peculiar personality. In the strictly musical sense, the band projected through their instruments some of the ideas on repetition, improvisation and saturation that the artist applied to his experimental movies. On the literary side, the people who frequented Warhol’s Factory left their mark on songs including That’s the story of my life (inspired by Billy Name, the Factory’s archivist) Femme fatale (inspired by the ‘it’ girl Edie Sedgwick) or the Reed-penned Candy says, which is about Candy Darling, an icon of the trans community.
“When Candy says was released in 1969 nothing changed,” says Marrero, “but I think it was a marvelous celebration of trans culture on the part of the group. It is one of my favorite songs. You have to read the lyrics in a historical context because all that stuff about being trans and hating your body is a discourse that is now quite outdated in our community.” Marrero also notes that, years later, Reed was in a relationship with a trans colleague, Rachel Humphries, the two sharing a “romantic relationship that was utterly silenced by the hetero-ciscentric music press.”
When he started his solo career Reed would again talk about Candy Darling and other trans actresses on Walk on the wild side, one of the hits on his acclaimed 1972 album Transformer, a record that finally delivered many of The Velvet Underground’s artistic ideas to a wider audience. By that time, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Suicide, Modern Lovers and New York Dolls we ready to do the group’s legacy justice.
A Treasure of Old Christian Paintings in a Russian Church in a Remote Forest
One of the editors of RI actually visited this church this summer, and we can assure you, it is REMOTE! Brumfield, in his understated way, doesn’t describe the condition of the road leading to this village, but it is barely passable at times. The number of remarkable architectural and other treasures hiding in the Russian hinterlands, especially in the north, is rather extraordinary.
This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.
Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture. He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.
His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon). This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. Here is our 2015 review of it.
Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography. We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.
Don’t believe in miracles? Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that. You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.
The original headline for this article was: The Church at Korovye: Abandoned Treasure of Russian Art
The turbulence of the past century has left many abandoned architectural monuments in Russia’s regions — parish churches, former estate houses, log houses and churches in villages where no one lives. However modest, they all reflect the history of their area, and some of them are — or were — masterpieces of creativity.
One of these monuments is located in the tiny village of Korovye near the Viga River just off the road to Chukhloma. Although the village name is modestly derived from the word for “cow,” its church has the imposing and unusual dedication to the Convocation of the Mother of God. Within the abandoned church is one of the most unusual displays of religious art in all Russia. On the walls of the main structure, the artist in effect created a miniature Renaissance palazzo for the display of the sacred images.
The village of Korovye was originally known as Verkhniaia pustyn (“Upper wilderness”), a reference to one of the three monastic retreats founded in the Chukhloma area by St. Avraamy Gorodetsky. Dissolved in the middle of the 18th century, the small monastery’s two wooden churches — dedicated to the Convocation of the Virgin and to Elijah the Prophet — were converted to use as parish churches. In 1797, parishioners provided resources to rebuild the former as a large brick church that would serve a group of 34 villages (most of which no longer exist).
Attributed to the noted Kostroma architect Stepan A. Vorotilov (1741-1792), the design reveals a professional mastery unusual for a rural church. Whereas typical parish churches had a sprawling refectory with additional altars that pushed the main structure away from the bell tower, here all the components are tightly integrated.
The structure rests on a ground floor that contained secondary altars and was used for worship in the winter months. Above the ground floor rise the essential components of a parish church: the main worship space with two rows of windows and five cupolas, a rectangular apse for the primary altar at the east end and on the west, a compact refectory and magnificent bell tower over the main entrance.
This sophisticated, technically demanding design created a coherent visual tie between the primary components of the church: the bell tower and the core structure with five cupolas. The main interior space on the upper floor was dominated by an elegant neoclassical iconostasis.
The majestic character of this design was demonstrated when the Convocation Church was chosen for a visit by Emperor Alexander I and his wife Empress Elizabeth on their way back from a visit to the Urals territory in the fall of 1824. Indeed, during the first half of the 19th century, this church could claim to be the most imposing in the Chukhloma region, surpassing even those in Chukhloma itself.
A fire in the late 1890s damaged much of the interior and led to a major renovation that extended from 1903 to 1906. On the ground floor, a refectory (containing altars to Elijah the Prophet, St. Nicholas and St. Avraamy Gorodetsky) was expanded on the north and south sides. The expansion was artfully hidden by a grand staircase that curved upward from both sides to the main portal on the second level of the bell tower. This skillful renovation — and particularly the stairway — gave the church a still more imposing appearance as it soared above the two main streets of the village.
Yet the great miracle occurred on the interior, whose walls were repainted under the direction of a Moscow artist identified as Anufry A. Bakhvalov, a native of this area. Although the work of Anufry Bakhvalov is little known, the scope of imagination represented by these wall paintings is extraordinary, even daring. The artist did not simply depict the religious subjects in a Renaissance-based style typical of academic painting, he painted the subjects within imposing Renaissance frames situated between neoclassical columns with lavish composite capitals — and all of this in trompe l’oeil (on a flat, two-dimensional surface). At some points, Bakhvalov even painted the shadows cast by the illusory frames. The interior space had become a miniature Renaissance art gallery.
Surviving fragments of the paintings on the north and south walls include full-length figures of St. Vladimir, St. Catherine, St. Nicetas and St Macarius on the lower level between the windows. The upper level of the north and south walls is devoted primarily to a portrayal of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with their symbols — another unusual artistic decision. (The Evangelists are often depicted on spandrels beneath the main dome, but spandrels are absent in this structure.) On the south wall are John (now effaced) with the eagle, and Mark with an endearingly vivid depiction of a guardian lion. On the north wall are Matthew, compelling in his concentration and assisted by an adoring angel; and Luke with the bull (both largely destroyed). The north wall also contains a depiction of Christ with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus — one of the most moving episodes in the Gospel account of the life of Christ.
Equal to the Evangelists in their artistry are the three scenes above the arch in the west wall: the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes (Christ feeding the Multitudes) on the left side; Pentecost (Mary and the Apostles) in the center; and a vivid depiction of Balthazar’s Feast on the north side of the west wall. Throughout, there is evidence of the artist’s knowledge of Renaissance art, particularly in Balthazar’s Feast, which depicts armed horsemen storming through the gate of the burning city. On the east, the apse contained a depiction of the Last Supper, now almost effaced.
The ceiling vaults in their height represented a culmination of the visual program. Although much has been lost, fragments remain of the august display of the Synaxis (Gathering) of the Archangels, part of the larger concept of the Convocation of the Virgin. Crowned archangels and angels gather on the north and south flanks, while the east flank was devoted to the cartouche with the Crucifixion (destroyed). The west flank presumably had a depiction of the Mother of God enthroned.
Unfortunately, the Convocation Church’s glory days were soon eclipsed by the rise to power of an avowedly atheistic regime. Although it survived longer than many other churches, the Convocation Church was closed in 1937 during a renewed wave of terror against religion. Subsequently the icons were removed, and the ground level was used as a storehouse for various purposes. The cupolas were destroyed, and in the 1980s, the area of the church was apparently used as a detention center for juvenile delinquents.
Unprotected and exposed to the elements as well as vandalism, the artwork of the upper level began to collapse. Recently, the roof of the church was replaced and the arch in the upper west wall was reinforced with a firm wooden brace. The upper level has been swept of debris, but the interior is still exposed and under threat of further deterioration. The fate of the remains of this extraordinary artistic creation is still in question.
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