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by Olga YEGOROVA, Cand. Sc. (Technol.), Moscow State Open University

In March 2004 a bad fire wrecked an architectural masterpiece in the heart of Moscow, the famous Manege. Its unique wooden roof designed by Augustine Betancourt went up in flames (a model of this roofing on the 1:36 scale is displayed in the Central Museum of Railway Transport in St. Petersburg). The public town-building council of the Moscow municipality decided to restore the edifice in its original beauty. The job was done in less than 400 days. Exact replicas of the ruined beams and rafters were made for the purpose.

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The vogue of roofed-in riding-schools, in which whole cavalry regiments could learn riding skills in cold weather, came to us from Germany, and so did the name, das Exerzierhaus. Subsequently this big word was changed for the French manege. By the beginning of the 19th century several magnificent structures like that had been built in Russia, a country known for its cold, harsh winters. However, as good as all of them were sited in St. Petersburg, the capital city. The Moscow Exerzierhaus (Manege) was put up in 1817 on the fifth anniversary of the Russian victory over Napoleon whose troops seized for a while the old Russian capital and burned it to the ground. Emperor Alexander I moved his court from St. Petersburg to Moscow for a year so as to spur the rehabilitation work by his sheer presence. The opening of the new Manege was timed for the emperor's arrival as a place for a military march-past on that solemn occasion.

Ground was broken a few months before the event as Moscow's Governor-General, A. Tormassov, who was in charge of this key project, commissioned Major-General L. Carbonier (Inspector General of Communications) to proceed with feasibility studies, that is hydraulic and digging works, and "make up the layout and facade of the proposed exerzierhaus which is to be large enough for a complete battalion to march freely..."

Soon after, L. Carbonier filed plans and specifications for H. M. endorsement (no drawings have survived), whereupon he sent this dispatch to Gen. Tormassov: "... With regard to the exerzierhaus... His Majesty has kindly said he would rather wait for a probe which late this week will be made by General Betancourt; therefore, we should expedite the delivery of materials... and dig trenches for the foundations opposite the Pashkov house for a definite length, and sidewise, for only 16 sazhens*." Here the first mention is made of the name of the Spanish-born architect who moved to our country in 1808. His name is now in all the world's encyclopedias and lexicons; yet it carries a special meaning to Russia: Betancourt's initiative, vim and energy, his architectural talents brought a lot of use to his second Motherland, Russia.

Augustine Betancourt (1758 - 1824) was born at Puerto de la Cruz, a town on the Island of Tenerife (Canary Islands) into an aristocratic family. From his tender nail Betancourt showed an interest in the hard sciences, engineering and the arts. At age 19 he got enrolled in the Royal College of St. Isidor in Madrid and, upon graduation, became a clerk at the Ministry for the West Indies. In 1784 the young man went to France where he took lessons from two eminent savants of the day - Jean Rodolph Perrone and Gaspar Monge.**

These two great minds formed Betancourt as a competent architect and civil engineer. Upon his return to Madrid four years later, in 1788, Betancourt was appointed director of the Royal Cabinet of Machines. Together with his fellow engineers he founded the world's first Museum of the History of Engineering with 271 models and 327 drawings in the collection as well as a library of manuscripts and printed books. Towards the close of the 1790s Betancourt was thought to be the best engineer in Spain, superintending as principal the School of Roads, Canals and Bridges in Madrid (a school that he organized in person).

In 1807 Betancourt moved to France and soon after, to our country, Russia. In December 1808 he penned the following lines to a friend of his in Spain: "Being separated from my family and loath to serve either Napoleon or Joseph, I made a decision to take service with the Russian emperor who is treating me in the most respective manner that you could ever imagine." As earlier in the year the two emperors met for negotiations in Erfurt, Germany, Napoleon complied with Alexander I's request to send a group of eminent French civil engineers to Russia and he, Napoleon,


* Sazhen - Russian measure of length, equivalent to 2.13 meters. - Tr.

** Jean Rodolph Perrone, a bridge-building engineer, member of I'Academie de Sciences de Paris. Gaspar Monge, a French mathematician and one of the masterminds of the science of machines. The founder of descriptive geometry and organizer of higher technical education in France. - Auth.

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approved the candidature of Betancourt, the pupil of the famed Monge. The Spanish architect met the Russian emperor then and there.

Betancourt lived in Russia for the rest of his days, about 16 years, and created many architectural ensembles and technical structures, such as those to protect the town of Tver against the Volga's floodings. He upgraded the old network of waterways and canals in the country's northwest (the Vyshny Volochok, Tikhvin and Mariinskaya water systems) and the water supply systems of the parks at Tsarskoye selo and Pavlovsk south of St. Petersburg; and he built the stone St. George Church on the grounds of the Bolshaya Okhta cemetery in St. Petersburg. Besides, Betancourt designed and built a steam-driven dredger, a forerunner of the present excavator, for cleansing the water area of the Kronstadt port; he was in charge of the technical supervision of the St. Isaac Cathedral under construction in Russia's northern capital-for one, he developed winches for hoisting the mammoth columns of the cathedral. And he also headed the Committee on Civil and Hydraulic Engineering. Such is his record.

In 1809 Betancourt built the edifice of the Institute of the Corps of Communications Engineers in St. Petersburg, this country's first senior engineering college and a major landmark in the development of the educational system in Russia. The architect displayed great acumen in marrying theory and practice combined with brilliant teaching talents. It was quite natural therefore that in 1817 Emperor Alexander I picked Betancourt as the architect and master builder of an exerzierhaus for the Horse Guardsmen next to the Moscow Kremlin. In the 18th century this site was under a haymarket where one sold firewood and moss for calking and weatherizing Russian homes, the izbas, and so both the square and the adjoining street got the name Mokhovaya, from the word mokh, or moss in Russian. According to another version, the name came from the moss-overgrown swamp out there.

Preparatory work was begun in March 1817 by bringing building materials to the site. In May the construction crews started digging foundation pits. And on June 10 the builders turned to the work at hand, the construction proper. They had to negotiate many difficulties, for one, the deliveries of dry, long and solid timber logs for rafters; this material happened to be in short supply. Therefore Gen. Carbonier had to change the construction of eight principals (rafters cum girders), a fact mentioned later in his monograph by Betancourt himself (who mistakenly saw that as the cause of the latent defects of the rafters).

The Moscow Manege was complete in the autumn of 1817, and on November 30 this edifice - a monument to the victory over Napoleon - welcomed the first visitors. Indoors it measured 166.1 x 44.7 m, not counting in the columns, and had wooden principals 44.86 meters long. They who saw all that were awe-struck, amazed. As one newspaper report put it, the Manege "had no peer elsewhere in Europe in sheer bulk, architecture and

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design". The singular combination of wood and metal, which lent a touch of aerial grace to the solid structure, was particular striking.

Betancourt invented original fasteners to hold and keep apart the metal and wood elements. He drew upon his experience of building a bridge across the Malaya Nevka to Kamenny Ostrov in St. Petersburg, where he used a similar technique in joining seven large arches, a feat that brought him a gift from the emperor, a snuffbox adorned with diamonds (as testified by documents at the Central War History Archives).

Betancourt took great care to avoid all possible risks - for instance, the threat of flooding from the Moskva quite nearby, a river that burst its banks now and then: he had the foundation laid 4 meters deeper, and the walls made wider at the base. He also allowed for sagging contingencies. Spotting defects in the wood material, he had it reinforced (in such cases he had to approach the emperor for permission). As civil engineer Betancourt designed the roof for asymmetric, unequal loads of snow in wintertime on the sunny and shady sides.

Outside the Moscow Manege was one-of-a-kind affair, too. Triple wooden gates were built in the middle of the massive face and side walls mounted on the high rustic socle, just under the smooth pediments in the tall niches. The windows were very large, they made up about a third of the wall area to let in more light. Alexander I must have chosen the masterplan of the Spanish architect from among others owing to the splendor and magnificence of the proposed structure. Other architects, like L. Ruska of Switzerland (in the Russian service from 1783 on) regarded the Manege as a purely utilitarian thing.

Betancourt shared his experiences in a monograph published in St. Petersburg in a small print (1819) and titled "A Description of the Moscow House for Exercises". The author supplemented the French text with drawings and sketches.

The unorthodox roof of the Manege had to be watched all the time, a job assigned to Lieutenant Kashperov of the Corps of Engineers and two clerks. Unfortunately the finishing of the building put off till the summer of 1818 was not completed; and two principals developed cracks. In a letter to Alexander I written in Nizhni Novgorod on August 2, 1818, Betancourt argued: that the misfortune occurred because Gen.

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Carbonier, acting in great haste for lack of long logs, changed somewhat the original construction of eight rafters. According to the original conception, it was to have seven posts (pillars), not nine as put up in the course of construction. The architect found it necessary to revert to the original construction, and he obtained His Majesty's permission in February 1820.

But the real cause lay elsewhere, namely in calculation errors. To begin with, the spans in between the principal beams proved to be all too large, and therefore in rebuilding the roof Betancourt had to up their number from 30 to 45, that is almost like in the plan suggested by Gen. Carbonier; accordingly, the intermediate spaces were cut down from 18 to 12 feet. It came out that the beams in their thrust journals (pivots, heels) had no proper stops against the walls, and thus longer beams had to be taken to reinforce the structure.

In February 1823 Betancourt charged Col. R. Bausa - a Spanish engineer in the Russian service as of 1816 - with the supervision of the reconstruction of the roof. The work that began in the summer of 1823 revealed other faults. Since some of the old beams, 30 in number, proved not fit for reuse, 45 new ones had to be shipped.

The rebuilding of the Manege roof was completed in 1824 with engineer Kashperov still in charge. He made an estimate of the costs and drew up a list of the required changes; this document contains remarkable details bearing on the original construction and on the work done by Bausa. Alexander I decided to award a St. Vladimir Order Fourth Class to Kashperov "but not before the year is out, when the rafters of the exerzierhaus have proved strong enough."

The original stucco moldings did not appear in the Manege because of the rebuilding work. In 1825 new ones were made to the drawings of Osip Bove, an architect who masterminded the layout of the Red and Theater Squares, the Bolshoi Theater, and the Triumphal Arch at the Tverskaya town-gate in Moscow. The original sculptures suggested by Betancourt were not mounted either. In January 1827, that is after Alexander I's death (1825), the Manege passed into the custody of the Kremlin Expedition, and thus the building survived well into the mid-20th century.

At first the Manege was meant for reviews of mounted troops, parades and exercises. It had room enough for an infantry regiment (over 2000 men) and numer-

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ous guests. Later on it came to host art and industrial exhibitions, music and theater shows. The very first exhibition displaying models of a cast-iron bridge across the Moskva (Moskvoretsky Bridge) was opened in 1831). Another memorable event took place there 36 years after: a concert that brought together an audience of 12000, an orchestra and choir of 700 with the outstanding composers, Hector Berlioz of France and Nikolai Rubinstein of Russia, as conductors. In 1872 the International Polytechnical Exhibition held within the Manege was visited by 750000. The unique collection of more than 10 thousand items wrought by masters of many countries was passed to the newly founded Polytechnical* and Historical** Museums in Moscow.

A new tradition was born in and around the Manege in the mid - 19th century - that of public fetes and festivals on official church and secular state holidays. High-society balls and get-togethers were staged there as well. In effect, the Manege building matched nicely the Kremlin ensemble and other edifices in the vicinity as one of Moscow's best landmarks in the Empire style. The Manege witnessed sad events, too: Emperor Alexander III's funeral cortege in 1894.

After the October Revolution of 1917 the Manege was converted to a government garage, and it served so up to the early 1950s. From 1957 on it became the venue of annual art shows featuring works of prominent artists affiliated with the Artists' Union of the USSR. Ten years after, in 1967, it came to be expanded into the standing Central Exhibition Hall "Manege" displaying canvases, photos, sculptures and folk art items.

A new page was turned with the reconstruction of the Manege Square begun in 1992. There were plans to refurbish Betancourt's masterwork as well. But the terrific fire of March 2004 interfered with the project. It took less than 400 days to revive the architectural masterpiece from the ashes. On the Cultural Heritage Day marked worldwide the Manege, the work of the great Spanish-born architect, Betancourt, had its second birth. Its unique roof was restored in keeping with the original conception; its foundation and walls were forti-


See: G. Grigoryan, "Polytechnical Museum", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2003. - Ed.

** See: V. Yegorov, "Treasurehouse of Russian History", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2004. - Ed.

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fied, and part of the brickwork was replaced. Many experts in most diverse fields lent a hand. The facades were painted in baked milk, the same color as in Bove's days.

The exhibition area was expanded to 20.9 thousand sq. meters with the erection of entresol floors and recovery of the underground space. The bottom floor houses vestibules, checkrooms, rest rooms, technical and subsidiary services, storerooms, administrative premises as well as a new exhibition hall for archeological finds. Two escalators carry guests thither. They can reach upper stories by taking elevators. With the removal of partitions indoors, the main exhibition hall looks even more majestic and grandiose.

The Moscow Manege is the only structure in Russia that has wooden girders and rafters of the roof surmounted on the large basement (ca. 9000 m2). The 45 principal rafters of Betancourt's have been reconstructed and open to viewers. In between are the "dormer-windows" which Betancourt conceived for letting in more light.

In his interview for the newspaper Moskovski komsomolets on April 18, 2005, A. Levchenko heading the Urban Development Department said "the high pace of work did not prejudice the quality. The Manege has been restored in compliance with the historical parameters of the building; all the elements destroyed by the fire retained their geometry and position. The new bonded wood girders fit exactly the unique girders of Betancourt's, the masterpiece of engineering conception. They have been covered with a special varnish which, while not changing the color and texture of the surface, ensures biological and fire protection." The indoor premises are floodlit by 1400 lamps-each and every guest should see the gorgeous interiors.

A new star, No. 11446, was named after Betancourt in 2003 at the request of the scientific community of St. Petersburg. A worthy tribute to the Great Spanish - born architect who devoted his talents to Russia.


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