The Protection of Architectural Monuments in Russia during the First World War (Summary)

Elena Kulchinskaya (PDF)

On 1 August 1914, Russia entered the war, a more brutal and destructive war than any before it. A well-composed system for monument preservation had already been developed in Russia by the start of the First World War, and the protection of historical and architectural monuments has already been the subject of public debate. An important event that demonstrated the turning of society towards the issue of protection was the creation of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Monuments of Art and Antiquity in 1909 in St Petersburg. Central to the founding of the society were the most prominent figures in Russian arts and culture. The society remained independent and often opposed government protection bodies.

Although Article No. 56 was implemented in 1907 in The Hague Convention, which prohibited destruction or wilful damage of historic monuments and works of art and science, it was fundamentally violated during the First World War. The whole world shuddered after the bombing of Reims, which was shortly repeated by the ruin of Belgian cities and Venice. In 1915, in Russia, a new institution was established, the Commission for the Study of Damage Inflicted on Monuments of Architecture during Military Action.

A particular role was played during the war by the Petersburg (later Petrograd) journal Старые Годы (The Old Years), a ‘monthly publication for lovers of culture and antiquity’. It was issued from 1907 to 1916. From the day of its founding, the journal formulated a new attitude in society towards monuments from the past. During the First World War, the journal featured a regular column entitled ‘A Reflection of the War’. The journal reported the loss of artistic valuables on both the Eastern and the Western fronts. The founders and authors of the journal were founders and members of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Monuments of Art and Antiquity. They were wonderful people who published wonderful articles. Soon, a terrible wave of the Russian Revolution was to sweep them away.

Keywords: artistic values, heritage, the Hague Convention, Petersburg, society