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The Field on Which Empires Clashed

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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 some of his other articles on RI here.


The Battle of Borodino – known to the French as the Battle of Moscow – is thought to have been the bloodiest in all the Napoleonic wars, exceeding even Waterloo. The French won a tactical victory, yet they failed to destroy Russian forces under the command of Prince Mikhail Golenishchev-Kutuzov (1745-1813). Although the retreat of the Russian army after Borodino resulted in the destruction of much of Moscow, the occupation of the capital led not to Russian defeat, but to the disintegration of the French Grand Armee.

The usual approach to Borodino is from the city of Mozhaisk, located 56 miles west of Moscow, and the group of monuments that form the memorial begins a few miles west of Mozhaisk with an obelisk at the village of Gorky. It was here that Kutuzov had his headquarters during the battle. The obelisk, erected in 1912, has a golden sword on the shaft and is crowned with the spread-winged form of an eagle in flight. Its base contains a bronze relief of Kutuzov surrounded by his closest associates.

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A short distance beyond the Kutuzov monument, the road passes by the graceful Church of the Smolensk Icon of the Virgin, which overlooks a corner of the battlefield. Originally dedicated to the Nativity of Christ, the whitewashed brick structure was built in 1697-1701 in a decorative style suggestive of 16th-century architecture. The church has two stories, the lower is dedicated to the Smolensk Icon of the Virgin, which is revered as a protector against Russia’s enemies from the west; the upper church remains dedicated to the nativity. Although vandalized during the Soviet period, both levels have been returned to active use, with new wall paintings and icon screens. The church is crowned with a dome and high decorative cross. At the west end is an octagonal bell tower. During the Battle of Borodino, the church dome was hit by artillery fire.

On the slope below the church stands a large wooden house (or small palace) built for the imperial family in 1839 after their purchase of Borodino in 1837. The structure was converted to a military hospital in the late 19th century and was severely damaged during the German occupation of the area in the fall of 1941. It has now been rebuilt in preparation for the bicentennial of the Borodino battle.

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Beyond the church and palace, the road turns toward the main battlefield memorial, which contains a small refurbished museum. The field itself is dominated by the large obelisk 90 feet tall, which is the primary monument to all Russian soldiers who took part in the battle. The monument was designed by architect Antonio Adamini and dedicated in the presence of Tsar Nicholas I in July 1839. In 1932, the obelisk was destroyed by the Soviet regime because of its association with the tsarist era and the Orthodox Church. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which was built to commemorate the victory over Napoleon, was destroyed around the same time. However, after Nazi Germany attacked Borodino field in October 1941, the spirit of 1812 was rekindled and  in defense of Moscow. Later a T-34 tank on a pedestal was installed down the slope from the main monument.

The center of the battlefield is occupied by the Spaso-Borodino Convent. This restored monastery evolved from a small religious commune during the 1820s and achieved the status of convent in 1838 through the initiative of Margarita Tuchkova, widow of General Alexander Tuchkov, who died on the battlefield at the head of his regiment in a furious charge to retake a position captured by the French Especially poignant is a rough granite monument some just to the northeast of the convent. It was from this point that General Tuchkov led his final, desperate charge.Image iconsnimok_ekrana_2016-09-03_v_12.23.40.png

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During the latter half of the 19th century, the Spaso-Borodino Convent became a shrine to Russian military valor. The main cathedral is dedicated to the Vladimir Icon of the Virgin, which is believed to have miraculously caused the retreat of the conqueror Tamerlane from Russia in 1395.  The nearby Church of the Decapitation of John the Baptist is considered a memorial to soldiers who perished in battle. In 1867 Leo Tolstoy visited the convent and stayed overnight at its hostel.

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Of the many battlefield monuments scattered over Borodino field, most of them (33) were erected to honor valorous military units during the 1912 centennial observance. Most of them are dated Aug. 26, since that is the Old Style (Julian) calendar date of the battle. Two years after this notable Borodino centennial, the guns of August 1914 brought forth cataclysm whose shocks would reverberate throughout the 20th century. Thankfully, this now seems a distant memory. But Borodino Field reminds visitors of the enduring power of the past.

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Germany’s flood zones spared severe storms on Saturday

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In the west of the country, the fire brigade reported a quiet night in the flood areas in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine Westphalia.

The situation remains tense, however, with local thunderstorms forecast in some parts of Germany from midday on Sunday — most likely south of the Danube.

Further heavy rain and hail were also possible again, according to the German Weather Service (DWD), which publishes storm warnings.

READ ALSO: WEATHER: German flood zones at risk of further storms

The latest storms came just days after parts of the country were hit by devastating floods after torrential rains that ravaged entire villages and left 180 people dead, hundreds injured and with many still missing.

The flooding also caused damage in Belgium, where 37 people died, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland.



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Prosecutors allege R Kelly had sexual contact with under-age boy

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US prosecutors in R Kelly’s sex trafficking case say he had sexual contact with an under-age boy in addition to girls, and the government wants jurors in his upcoming sex-trafficking trial to hear those claims.

Federal prosecutors aired a wide-ranging raft of additional allegations – but not new charges – against the R&B singer in a court filing on Friday.

Jury selection is due to start August 9th in a New York federal court for Kelly, who denies ever abusing anyone.

The Grammy Award-winning singer is charged with leading what prosecutors call a criminal enterprise of managers, bodyguards and other employees who allegedly helped him to recruit women and girls for sex and pornography and to exercise control over them.

The charges involve six different women and girls, who are not named in court filings.

Now, prosecutors would also like jurors to hear about more than a dozen other people whom the government alleges that Kelly sexually or physically abused, threatened or otherwise mistreated.

Among them, the government says, was a 17-year-old boy and aspiring musician whom Kelly met at a McDonald’s in December 2006 and later invited to his Chicago studio.

According to the prosecutors’ court filing, after asking the boy what he would do to make it in the music business, Kelly propositioned and had sexual contact with him while he was still under-age.

And when Kelly was about to go on trial on child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, the same youth told the singer he had access to a juror, and Kelly asked him to contact the juror and vouch he was a “good guy”, prosecutors wrote.

The filing does not say whether the youth did so. Kelly was acquitted in that case.

The boy also introduced Kelly to a 16- or 17-year-old male friend, with whom prosecutors say the singer began a sexual relationship several years later.

Kelly also filmed the two youths in sexual encounters with other people, including some of Kelly’s girlfriends, according to the filing.

Prosecutors wrote that the accounts of the boys and others would help show that the actual charges “were not isolated events and were part of a larger pattern”.

The multiplatinum-selling singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is known for work including the 1996 hit I Believe I Can Fly and the cult classic Trapped In The Closet, a multi-part tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.

Kelly’s private life has drawn scrutiny since the 1990s, and he currently is also facing sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota. He has pleaded not guilty.– AP

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Fears mount in western Germany as fresh rain falls

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For some areas, the German Weather Service has forecast heavy showers or storms, bringing between 30 and 40 litres per square metre.

Amid further rainfall on Saturday afternoon, evacuation services to emergency accommodation were offered to communities in Rheinland-Palatinate who had been particularly badly affected by the flooding, German news site Merkur reported.

“The people will have to make the decision themselves,” said Begona Hermann, head of the relief teams in the west German state, explaining that the forecast rainfall was not expected to be as severe as that which devastated parts of Germany last week.  

READ ALSO: German floods death toll hits 180, with 150 still missing

However, even lower levels of rainfall could still be a problem because sewage and drainage systems were not working properly because of the flooding.

Earlier on Saturday, police requested all volunteers working on the clean-up operation in the Ahr area to leave as quickly as possible for their own safety because of the difficult conditions.

This came after the police and the crisis management team asked the public not to travel to Rhineland-Palatinate to help out because there were too many people there.

“The population’s willingness to help continues to be undiminished and overwhelming,” read a Kassel police statement on Saturday. Due to the large number of volunteers who came to help out, however, roads in the area are now congested, it said.

Heavy machinery required for road and bridge construction, and for the restoration of the area’s water supply, was getting stuck in traffic jams, the press release said.

Vehicles for removing rubbish and construction debris, as well as emergency and rescue vehicles, were also unable to get through.



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