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Last Masterpiece of Medieval Russia

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At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian chemist and photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky invented a complex process for vivid, detailed color photography. Inspired to use this new method to record the diversity of the Russian Empire, he photographed numerous historic sites during the decade before the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917.

In 1911, Prokudin-Gorsky visited Rostov Veliky, or Rostov the Great, located some 130 miles northeast of Moscow. Rostov is one of the earliest historically attested towns in Russia. It was first mentioned under 862 in the ancient chronicle “Tale of Bygone Years.”  Prokudin-Gorsky traveled to Rostov not only to photograph its monumental architecture, but also its Museum of Antiquities, whose august patron was Nicholas II. My own photographs were taken during several visits from 1988 through 2013.

Rostov kremlin. Church of Resurrection (right), north wall, Dormition Cathedral. View north from Metropolitan's chambers. Summer 1911. / Photo: Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky

Rostov’s main architectural ensemble is its majestic kremlin, which rises above the north shore of Lake Nero. Although most of the ensemble was not built until the 17th century, this citadel conveys an unforgettable sense of Rostov’s importance for medieval Russia.

A valuable patron

The ensemble’s original designation was the Court of the Metropolitan, in recognition of its founder, Metropolitan Jonah of Rostov. After Patriarch, Metropolitan is the highest ecclesiastical rank in the Russian Orthodox Church. An ambitious, dynamic church leader, Jonah Sysoevich (ca. 1607-90) was the son of a country priest named Sysoi. Tonsured at the Resurrection Monastery in Uglich, he rose through the regional monastic hierarchy and in 1652 was appointed Metropolitan of Rostov by the newly elected Patriarch Nikon in Moscow.

Rostov kremlin. Church of Resurrection (right), north wall, Dormition Cathedral. Southwest view. August 21, 1988. / Photo: William Brumfield

Jonah had at his command land holdings and villages with some 16,000 peasants, as well as the best craftsmen and artists of a large, prosperous diocese. Within 20 years — between 1670 and 1690 — Jonah’s builders erected not only several large churches and other buildings for the Metropolitan’s Court and residence, but also magnificent walls with towers and gate churches.

Among Prokudin-Gorsky’s several photographs of the kremlin is a view north from the Metropolitan’s Chambers. On the right is the superb Church of the Resurrection, located over the north Holy Gate, which served as the main entrance to the kremlin from Cathedral Square.

Rostov kremlin. Church of Resurrection. South view. Oct. 4, 1992. / Photo: William Brumfield​

Architectural treasures

Built in 1670, the Resurrection Church was one of the earliest churches within the ensemble. Its extended base supports an enclosed gallery on the south and west. The main structure is crowned by five soaring cupolas topped with ornamental iron crosses. Its interior, also photographed by Prokudin-Gorsky, is covered with frescoes and will be the subject of a subsequent article. On the wall to the left of the church is a small bell pavilion. The Rostov kremlin walls, supported by massive arches, resemble the late 17th-century walls of the St. Cyril-Belozersk Monastery in Kirillov, which was intended to serve as a mighty fortress guarding the Russian North. The Rostov kremlin, however, was never intended for military purposes, and its walls are solely for the imposing effect desired by Jonah.

Rostov kremlin. Church of Resurrection. Southwest view. Aug. 21, 1988. / Photo: William Brumfield​

Visible beyond the walls on the left is the upper part of the Dormition Cathedral, first built of stone in the mid-12th century and rebuilt twice thereafter. Its final form, erected in 1508-1512, was modeled on the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow kremlin, thus symbolizing the spiritual unity of the Muscovite realm.

As with many other major Russian churches, the Dormition Cathedral’s original curved roofline was later replaced with a simpler sloped roof visible in Prokudin-Gorsky’s photograph. My photographs show the post-war restoration to the earlier roofline that followed the contours of the semicircular gables (zakomary). My more recent views also show changes in the color of the Resurrection Church walls.

Rostov kremlin. Church of Resurrection. Southwest view. July 12, 2012. / Photo: William Brumfield

Otherwise, a comparison of our photographs shows few changes over the decades. This stability is in no small measure due to the remarkable success of an early Russian preservation effort. With the transfer of the metropolitanate from Rostov to Yaroslavl in 1787 the Rostov kremlin rapidly fell into decay. Many of its buildings were used as warehouses, and there were thoughts of demolishing structures for their brick.

Fortunately, in the late 19th century Rostov merchants gathered funds to maintain the ensemble. In 1883 the White Chamber, built as a banquet hall for the Metropolitan of Rostov, opened as a museum of church antiquities, predecessor of the current distinguished Rostov Kremlin Museum. Thus through local pride Metropolitan Jonah’s visionary project was preserved for Prokudin-Gorsky and many subsequent generations.

Cathedral of the Dormition. Southwest view. June 28, 1995. / Photo: William Brumfield

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The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture

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Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.

Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.

Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”

The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.

The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.

But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.

This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.

View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.
View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.José Francisco Yusta

Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”

Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.

According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”

Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”

Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.

Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.

“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Ex-Ireland rugby player charged with stealing almost €600,000 from BOI

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Former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin is to face trial accused of deception, false accounting and theft of close to €600,000 from Bank of Ireland where he held a senior executive position.

Mullin (57) appeared at Dublin District Court on Tuesday following an investigation by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) into bank fraud allegations going back a decade.

The former rugby star won 55 Irish caps between 1984 and 1995 before he went into financial services and became managing director at Bank of Ireland Private Banking Ltd.

He was arrested at 9.08am on Tuesday when he met gardaí in Dublin city-centre. He was brought to the Bridewell Garda station where he was charged with 15 offences which allegedly took place between 2011 and 2013.

He is accused of stealing €500,000 on December 16th 2011, at Bank of Ireland Private Bank at Burlington Plaza, Burlington Road, Dublin 4.

Mr Mullin, of Albert Lodge, Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, is charged with eight further thefts of amounts totalling €73,000 from the bank.

Five counts of false accounting were also put to him.

He was also charged with deception by inducing a named man and woman to sign a payment instruction with the intention of making gain for himself or another on July 27th, 2011.

Dressed in a grey suit and light blue shirt, he sat silently during his hearing before Judge Michael Walsh.

GNECB Detective Sean O’Riordan told the court Mr Mullin made no comment when charged.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has directed trial on indictment meaning his case will go before a judge and jury in the circuit court.

The DPP has also stated that he can be sent forward for sentencing on a signed plea, should that arise, but defence solicitor Robert Purcell told Judge Walsh a book of evidence will be required.

Bail terms had been agreed, Judge Walsh noted, and it was set in Mr Mullin’s own bond of €10,000.

He was ordered to surrender his passport but this was not made a precondition of release; Judge Walsh warned him that it must be handed over to gardai within 48 hours of taking up bail.

Mr Mullin needed to travel for work purposes and that could be done once the GNECB detective is notified in advance, the judge said.

He must appear again at the District Court on November 11th next to be served with the book of evidence by the prosecution.

A trial order can then be granted.

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Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

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The killing on Saturday evening in the western town of Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, is believed to be the first in Germany linked to the government’s coronavirus rules.

The row started when the cashier, a student, told the customer to put on a face mask, as required in all German shops. After a brief argument, the man left.

The suspect then returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he brought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off the mask and another discussion ensued.

“The perpetrator then pulled out a revolver and shot him straight in the head,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters on Monday.

The suspect, a 49-year-old German man, walked to a police station the following day to turn himself in. He was arrested and has confessed to the murder.

He told police he felt “cornered” by the coronavirus measures, which he perceived as an “ever-growing infringement on his rights” and he had seen “no other way out”, Fuhrmann said.

Idar-Oberstein mayor Frank Fruehauf called it “an unfathomable, terrible act”, and residents have laid flowers and candles outside the petrol station.

The murder comes just days before Germans head to the polls for a general election on September 26 that will see Chancellor Angela Merkel bow out of politics after 16 years.

Katrin Goering-Eckardt, the parliamentary leader of the Green party, tweeted that she was “deeply shaken” by the killing, which she said was “the cruel result of hatred”.

Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner from Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, who hails from the region, said the murder was “shocking”.

The Tagesspiegel newspaper said far-right chat groups on Telegram were applauding the murder, with one user writing “Here we go!!!” while others posted thumbs-up emojis.

Germany has seen repeated protests from anti-mask demonstrators throughout the pandemic, some of them attracting tens of thousands of people.

The Querdenker (Lateral Thinkers) movement has emerged as the loudest voice against the government’s coronavirus curbs and regulations. Its marches have drawn a wide mix of people, including vaccine sceptics, neo-Nazis and members of Germany’s far-right AfD party.



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