Town planning

A Russian orthodox cathedral on the banks of the Seine!

Apart from the Buddhist pagoda in the Bois de Vincennes and the Grande Mosquée, the list of religious buildings in Paris built to an “exotic” architectural blueprint is pretty short. But longer than it used to be. On 19 October, a new Russian orthodox cathedral topped with gilded onion domes was inaugurated on quai Branly. It’s the work of architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and forms part of the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Centre.

No, you’re not dreaming! You haven’t been teleported to Moscow. There really is a Russian orthodox cathedral sitting on the left bank of the Seine, between the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. Designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the project’s chief architect, the cathedral is square (450 sq.m.) as tradition demands, with a nave decorated with frescoes. Rising 37 meters above the ground (the maximum authorized under urban planning rules) are five gilded domes in gold and platinum alloy, called Moon Gold, giving the building a raffish air. The biggest dome symbolizes Christ, surrounded by the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The outer walls and annex buildings, in comparison, are elegant in a relatively understated way. The cathedral rubs shoulders with a parish center, which boasts an auditorium (1,675 sq.m.), a cultural center (745 sq.m.) and, standing slightly apart, a bilingual primary school (1,920 sq.m.). The complex as a whole covers 4,790 sq.m. and was, according to Wilmotte, “based on horizontality, transparency, the play of light, stone, simplicity and gentleness”.

 

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Centre spirituel et culturel russe

2 Avenue Rapp, 75007, Paris
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Designed for processions, alleyways lined with touches of vegetation allow visitors to walk between the buildings that comprise the center, which adjoins a wing of the palais de l’Alma. Called Holy Trinity Cathedral, the main building also goes by the cheeky nickname Saint Vladimir, a reference to Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, without whose support it would never have seen the light of day. But doesn’t the city already have a Russian cathedral, Saint-Alexandre-Nevsk, better known as “the Russian church” on rue Daru? Yes, but… the Daru cathedral actually comes under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, not the Patriarch of Moscow, close to the Kremlin.

The architectural competition was launched in 2010, and the project was initially awarded to Manuel Nuñez-Yanowsky, whose plan was rejected by the then mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, who felt it would spoil the Unesco-classified embankment along the Seine. In the previous design, the building was topped by a glass canopy bristling with the mandatory domes. Placed second in the competition, Wilmotte took over the helm and the project went without a hitch. Begun in 2014, the complex is now almost complete. So what do Parisians think of this new and one-of-a-kind monument? Well, one thing’s for sure: it’s certainly a readymade topic of conversation… and maybe controversy.

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By Michel Doussot. Photos : Wilmotte & Associés Architectes - Published the

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