Cycloramas - virtual reality 19th century style...
Viewers arrive up the stairs and right into the thick of the famous 1812 battle. Photo My Bathroom Wall
Walking into the centre of a huge painting that is wrapped around the walls of a cylindrical and purpose-built building is still a pretty impressive experience. But it's hard to imagine the impact it must have had back in the 18th and 19th Centuries; a time before virtual reality, TV's or even the cinema.
Bear with me, but the term 'panorama' was coined by the English painter Robert Barker (1739-1806) for his paintings of Edinburgh that were exhibited inside a large cylinder and called 'The Panorama'. The effect attracted such good crowds that the next year, in 1793, Barker constructed the world's first purpose-built panorama building on London's Leicester Square.
The immersive experience, which grew to incorporate key diorama features of real items and scnery in the painting's foreground, were a smash hit in the UK and across Europe, and soon most large cities had a completely circular display building called a cyclorama.
Built in 1962, the circular building that houses the Battle of Borodino Cyclorama. Photo My Bathroom Wall
The latter half of the 18th century saw the concept wain in popularity, but there are still a couple of handfulls of cycloramas arond the world, and I recently visited the one in Moscow, called The Museum-Panorama The Battle of Borodino.
Detail of the fighting, with a manned trench in the background of the foreground. Photo My Bathroom Wall
Set back a little from the multi-lane Kutuzovsky Prospect and a few minutes walk from the Triumphal Arch (built from the original design in 1968 thanks to Stalin's dismantling of the original) and the World War II commemorative Victory Park.
A panorama of the panorama. Photo My Bathroom Wall
As luck would have it I arrived at the cyclorama on the 6th of June, which as the day that Hitler declared war on Russia in 1941, meant that the entry fee of 250 Rubles was waived for everyone. The museum that flanks the building is interesting - cue quite a few oil paintings of bedraggled men and horses - but I walked up the central staircase and up into the extraordinary sight of the Russian and French armies knocking the six bels out of each other.
Spectator watches on as Kutuzov's cabin and command centre burns.Photo My Bathroom Wall
It's a shame that that the conceipt of a daiaroma looks so hackneyed these days, but then we are bombarded almost constantly with televiual stimulation now. But trying to look afresh, the playing with perspective, and with what is painted and what is modelled, makes for an effective blurring of boundaries. In their heydays the thrill of the panorama would have been boosted with lighting effects - to illustrate day and night, noises off to convey the roar of cannon and the moaning of men.
Knocked out cannon position. Photo My Bathroom Wall
The Battle of Borodino was faught between the armies of Russia and France on the 7th of September 1812 at Borodino - a village sitting on the banks of the Moskva River some 128 kilometers west of Moscow. The panorama was completed in 1912 to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle, by Franz Alexeevich Roubaud (1856-1928), and measures 15mx115m.
Portrait of Kutuzov and a family writing desk. Photo My Bathroom Wall
|Moscow is underrated as a city break destination, largely because of the hassle and expense of getting a visa, plus owing to the relative distance from much of western Europe. The visa cost does make it tempting to visit St Petersburg in the same trip, or even to tour the famous Golden Ring of ancient Russian cities to the northeast of Moscow.|
|Moscow has several airports, the largest of which are Sheremetyevo Airport, which is 29 kilometres northwest of Moscow, and handled 31m passengers in 2015, and Domodedovo, which is 42 kilometres southeast of the city and handled 30m passengers in 2015. There are flights to Moscow from all across Europe, plus from Asia, Africa and the Americas. See Aeroflot, S7 Airlines.|
|The best time to visit Moscow is probably in the Spring, when temperatures reach the 50s and 60s, the sun shines for much of the days, and hotel prices are manageable. Summer are great too, with late evenings and warm temperatures - though it can get hot and gritty at times, plus very busy with tourists, and there is a spike in hotel prices. Winter has its special atmosphere in the city, but it can get extremely cold.|
|For details see the Battle of Borodino, which is on Kutuzovsky Prospect roughly midway between the Park Pobedy and Kutuzovskaya metro stations. I travelled to Moscow as a guest of Political Tours, which specialises in running politically focussed tours in a number of the world's more contentious regions. Or try the Russia Experience or Cox & Kings. See the Russian National Tourist Office|
Cycloramas are an endangered species. Other remaining examples include...
Australia: Fletcher's Mutiny Cyclorama, Norfolk Island
Austria: Das Tirol Panorama, Innsbruck
Belgium: Battle of Waterloo, Waterloo
Canada: Cyclorama of Jerusalem, Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec
Egypt: 6th of October War Panorama, Heliopolis, Cairo
Hungary: Arrival of the Hungarians, Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park, Ópusztaszer
Netherlands: Panorama Mesdag, The Haag
North Korea: Battle of Daejon, Pyong Yang
Poland: Raclawice, Wrocław
USA: The Battle of Gettysberg, Gettysburg, Pensilvania; Panorama of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, Met Museum, New York, Behalt Amish, Millersburg, Ohio; Atlanta Cyclorama - reopens in the Autumn of 2018, Atlanta; Bunker Hill, Boston; and Laysan Island Cyclorama, Iowa City
For more information on Cycloramas see the Panorama Council