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Onion Domes On The Seine? Orthodox Cathedral Sparks Controversy In Paris

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.rferl.org/content/onion-domes-on-the-seine-russian-orthodox-sparks-controversy-in-paris/24769953.html Wednesday, November 14, 2012 Russia Onion
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 13, 2012

      Wednesday, November 14, 2012
      Onion Domes On The Seine? Orthodox Cathedral Sparks Controversy In Paris

      By Antoine Blua

      November 13, 2012
      Orthodox cathedrals with their trademark golden onion domes are a
      familiar sight across Russia. And one may soon become part of Paris's
      famed skyline, right near the Eiffel Tower.

      French President Francois Hollande has just weeks to decide on a
      controversial plan to build a massive Russian Orthodox Spiritual and
      Cultural Center in downtown Paris on the banks of the Seine River, on a
      UNESCO-protected world heritage site.

      The project is staunchly opposed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who
      has described the architecture as "pastiche” and "mediocre." But Moscow
      is reportedly putting diplomatic pressure on Hollande to approve the
      project and allow construction of the golden-domed white limestone and
      glass structure to proceed.

      In 2011, the online real-estate television station La Chaine Immo
      announced plans for the cathedral with enthusiasm, describing the
      building as a "happy marriage between tradition and modernity."

      According to the report, architect Manuel Nunez Yanowsky's design
      comprises "two buildings dominated by five bulbs, one of which will be
      27-meters high. An immense glass veil will serve as a roof and a
      3,400-square-meter garden will be open to the public."

      However, opposition to this ambitious plan has quickly mounted in the
      French capital, where preserving the integrity of the city's famed
      architecture is taken seriously.

      In February of this year, Delanoe called on UNESCO to prevent the
      project's authorization.

      In response, Viktor Khrekov, a spokesman for the Kremlin Property
      Office, said Delanoe was only expressing "his personal opinion," which
      "has no legal significance."

      Hollande's Dilemma

      The reported deadline for Hollande to make a decision is November 29.
      With this red-letter day looming, the president finds himself on the
      horns of a dilemma.

      As the French weekly "Journal du Dimanche" reported on November 11, he
      could either defy Delanoe, a close political ally, or risk straining
      diplomatic relations with Moscow.

      The weekly added that Aleksandr Orlov, the Russian ambassador to France,
      has been calling officials nonstop to press for the project's approval.

      Adding to the pressure, the cathedral is expected to be on the agenda
      when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits Paris for talks with
      Hollande on November 27, just two days before the deadline.

      On November 12, Delanoe reiterated his "esthetic" opposition to the
      project, telling journalists that it would create a "bad image" of
      Russia and Orthodox religious authorities.

      In what appears to be an attempt to find a compromise, the French
      Culture Ministry says it is holding talks with Russian government and
      Orthodox Church officials to identify "adaptations and improvements to
      the project to permit its construction."

      'A Strong Symbolic Place'

      Mikhail Krymov, who works at the Moscow-based Arch Group architectural
      firm that participated in the original project, told RFE/RL that his
      company was "required to sign a contract agreeing to leave the project."

      "I really don't know what's going on," he said. "I suspect the project
      has changed a lot. How it has changed, I don't know. I don't know how
      much the building that is meant to be built corresponds to the original
      concept. Perhaps the two are exactly the same or perhaps they have
      changed it completely."

      In 2010, Russia reportedly spent 70 million euros on the 4,500 square
      meters of land where the cathedral is to be built. An official request
      for construction was filed in January 2012, with total costs estimated
      at more than 30 million euros.

      According to French media reports, the idea for the project, aimed at
      promoting "Russian civilization," came directly from President Vladimir

      In a 2010 interview, Ambassador Orlov described it as "unique by its
      location and its nature." He noted that tens of thousands of Russians
      live in or near Paris and that a "strong symbolic place" was needed for

      Paris’s Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral currently houses the archbishop's
      palace of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe. At least two
      other Russian Orthodox churches are located in the French capital.

      RFE/RL’s Moscow correspondent Tom Balmforth contributed to this report
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