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Bernardazzi - An Eternal Memory

Talented people remain in the memories of many generations to follow. Decades go by but time has no power over their images because the beauty of the treasure that they left behind as a heritage to mankind is eternal and always victorious in filling each one of us with admiration and gratitude. Buildings that have transfigured the appearance of Chisinau to make it more stately and magnificent are a stone symphony created and bequeathed to its residents by the talented Alexander Bernardazzi. In his honor one of the streets of Chisinau bears the architect’s name today.

After graduating from the St. Petersburg construction college in 1850 Bernardazzi was appointed to Bassarabia as assistant architect. After only six months his talent and organizational skills helped him become chief architect. He maintains that post for 22 years during which he creates a unique architectural ensemble that could easily compete with the most stately monuments of European architecture, combining elements of traditional architecture.

Aged 25, Bernardazzi came to a small provincial town in Bassarabia that had no sidewalks and no pavement. In winter pedestrians got stuck in mud and snow and in autumn thwarted snow and ice formed impassible quagmires. Lodgers dumped their waste and fireplace ashes out into the streets and Chisinau, especially the lower part, was mostly made up of slums. Only in the town center there were several stone buildings belonging to the nobility that opened their doors to the greatest Russian poet Alexander Pushkin during his exile.

The young architect set himself a difficult goal of rebuilding and renewing the town and pursued it for years to come. He was practically the first one that actually achieved that aim with buildings like the Dadiani Gymnasium (today one of the blocks of G. Asachi lyceum), City Duma (Primaria of Chisinau), church of St. Panteleimon, the chapel of the Number 2 School for Women, New Armenian Church, Water Tower (currently a city museum), children’s hospital, regional courthouse (nowadays the Railway Department), and Katakazi estate house. Researchers revealed Gothic elements in the facade of the Number 2 School for young women and the City Duma. Bernardazzi was influenced by the style of Santa Maria del Fiore, the main cathedral of Florence, and the Church of St. Mikhail.

Out of the buildings requested by affluent citizens one of the most gallant and beautiful is the estate house of Katakazi (today’s Museum of Natural History). In Hincesti village Bernardazzi built a home for prince Manul-Bei, which is an entire ensemble consisting of a palace, a hunter’s annex and a church. Alexander Nevski Cathedral was constructed in Ungheni in 1905. Altogether the number of buildings erected on the basis Bernardazzi’s projects amounts to 50 including many of those that have been destroyed during World War II.

In 1878 he moved from Chisinau to Odessa where he continued with his work creating some spectacular ensembles like the Bristol Hotel. But living in Odessa he never forgot the place where he began his career as an architect. He projected several other buildings for Bassarabia including the Church in Ustia, judet Orhei, Lutheran School, Hospital blocks in Costiujeni, Bendero-Galatskaia railway and all of the buildings for freight loading stations near a town called Reni, Catholic Chapel in Bender, the houses of Riscani-Dorojinski and Casso and others. He carried out the difficult task of paving the streets of Chisinau, cleaning up the town, preventing fires and setting up a plumbing system. He adorned Chisinau with decorative metal fences and gates. Bernardazzi installed the Stefan cel Mare Park cast iron fence as a present to the city of Chisinau. He loved the town so much that in his will he specifically expressed his desire to be buried there. The architect’s relatives complied with his last wish but government officials that knew very little about the talent of Alexander Bernardazzi ordered the burial vault to be taken down. Modern day Gaudeamus Theater building was built on the grave, which was never moved to a cemetery.

Bernardazzi’s children also became architects. His first wife Cristina Frantsevna died in Chisinau leaving three children. He got married a second time to Iulia Bulatel that belonged to an old noble family. His sons Alexander from first wife Cristina and Evgheni from his second marriage both became architects. Few people know that Evgheni Bernardazzi was one of the authors of the Stefan cel Mare monument.

On July 1, 2001 on the date of his birth a memorial board was made to commemorate Alexander Bernardazzi. A symposium that gathered his descendants took place after the opening. The architect himself became exhilarated through work: “Works of art must correspond to the profound and inborn human need, tearing a person away from everyday bustle and carrying him into a serene environment of thoughts and inspirations, thus enlightening him and filling his soul with happiness; if this is settled then the obvious goal is to create art.”

Ludmila Mamaliga
(Translated by Natalia Corobco)

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