A place for stargazing: Renovating the Public Observatory in Gorky Park

A place for stargazing: Renovating the Public Observatory in Gorky Park
The astronomy pavilion was built in the 1950s based on a standard design for park observatories common in the mid-20th century. Its historical appearance will be preserved.

The Public Observatory in Gorky Park will undergo renovation according to a plan approved by the Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage. The astronomy pavilion was completed in 1957 during the post-war park renovation by a team of architects headed by Vitaly Dolganov.

The small two-storey brick observatory is located near the main entrance gate at 9 building 5 Krymsky Val Street. It is shaped like a small rotunda with two symmetrical staircases going up either side. The metal rotating dome has a sliding panel to provide a telescope opening.

The design of the observatory facade is based on the combination of red and white: pilaster-strips: (narrow, low-relief, vertical pillars in a wall) and the strip under the dome are white while the space between the pilaster-strips is faced with red bricks and includes round windows.

The wood and ceramic granite flooring inside will be restored and the stucco and painted layers on the walls are to be reconditioned.

“This will be the first comprehensive renovation for the building. Some load-bearing structures are in a breakdown state and will be repaired. However, the core objective of the renovation is to preserve the building’s historical appearance and function. The brickwork will be reinforced, and the plaster layer and railing on the staircases, as well as the ticket office window with leaves and molded framework will be restored. The window frames and doors made of mismatched materials will be replaced by wooden ones. The facades will be cleaned of dirt and dust and repainted red and white. The dome will be treated with a rust-resistant compound,” said Alexei Yemelyanov, Head of the Moscow City Department of Cultural Heritage.

The observatory was closed to visitors for over 20 years, but in September 2012 it was reopened. It was equipped with two powerful telescopes and a dome with automatically sliding panels.

The observatory hosted day and evening tours where visitors could learn about the telescopes’ design. It was closed for autumn and winter and on 12 April, Cosmonautics Day, began to receive guests again. However, it has not been used for sky observation for over 18 months.

“The observatory was built to a standard design and the architect is unknown. Such structures appeared in many parks in Moscow and other Soviet cities in the 1950s and 1960s. Astronomy pavilions were open in the summer. If the weather was good enough people could observe celestial bodies under the guidance of an astronomer on duty. The observatories were called “public” because they were open to anyone. By the way, only two standard observatories have survived until today: one in Gorky Park and the other one in Sokolniki Park,” the Gorky Park Press Service reported.

The Public Observatory in Gorky Park is a designated cultural heritage site which means that the renovation will be supervised by the Department of Cultural Heritage and in compliance with the approved plans.

The Central Park of Recreation and Leisure (Gorky Park) was founded in 1928. The park’s chief architect, avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov, designed the area from the main entrance to Neskuchny Garden. Architects Alexander Vlasov and Alexei Shchusev undertook the park’s renovation in 1932.

In 2013, part of the Vorobyovy Gory nature reserve and some of the Lomonosov Moscow State University grounds were added to the park grounds. In 2015, Muzeon Arts Park, Russia’s largest outdoor museum of sculpture, was also included in its territory.

Many projects to restore historical sites in Gorky Park have been ongoing for several years now. For example, in 2018 restoration was completed on the semi-circular wings at the main entrance gate. Since the 1950s the wings housed ticket offices. During the restoration, which lasted for two years, the builders restored the facades and interiors of the wings. Six of 42 ticket office windows remained open and have Ticket Office signboards.

Count Orlov’s Grotto in Neskuchny Garden is expected to undergo renovation in the near future. The structure was built in the late 18th century. The grotto will be renovated for the first time in its history. Builders will repair the stonework and restore the historical look of the observation point.

Currently, the park is working on the famous round gazebos at the Golitsyn Hospital grounds along the Pushkinskaya Embankment. Restoration artists have already started to restore the gazebos’ historical appearance. The project is to be completed and the garden houses opened for visitors by the end of September.

The conservation and restoration of architectural landmarks in Moscow is the most important area of activity for the Cultural Heritage Department. Many landmarks are given new life and adapted to modern uses while preserving the appearance of Moscow’s past. Over 1,400 cultural heritage sites have been restored in the city since 2011, 203 of them in 2019.