Fire of Moscow (1812)

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The Moscow fire depicted by an unknown German artist Napoleon Moscow Fire.JPG
The Moscow fire depicted by an unknown German artist

The 1812 Fire of Moscow broke out on 14 September 1812, when Russian troops and most of the remaining residents abandoned the city of Moscow just ahead of Napoleon's vanguard troops entering the city after the Battle of Borodino. The fire all but destroyed the city, which had been mostly abandoned by its residents the previous month.

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is by far or by a considerable margin the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, including Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

Moscow Capital city of Russia

Moscow is the capital and most populous city of Russia, with 13.2 million residents within the city limits, 17 million within the urban area and 20 million within the metropolitan area. Moscow is one of Russia's federal cities.

French invasion of Russia Napoleon Bonapartes attempted conquest of the Russian Empire

The French invasion of Russia, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian Campaign, began on 24 June 1812 when Napoleon's Grande Armée crossed the Neman River in an attempt to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Tsar Alexander I of Russia to cease trading with British merchants through proxies in an effort to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia. Napoleon named the campaign the Second Polish War to gain favor with the Poles and provide a political pretext for his actions.

Contents

Causes

Napoleon watching the fire of Moscow from the walls of the Kremlin Napoleon watching the fire of Moscow 01.jpg
Napoleon watching the fire of Moscow from the walls of the Kremlin

Before leaving Moscow Count Rostopchin gave orders to have the Kremlin and major public buildings (including churches and monasteries) either blown up or set on fire. But this was not the foremost cause of the fire that destroyed the city. As the bulk of the French army moved into the city, there were some fires. Their cause has never been determined and both neglect as well as Rostopchin's orders may be among possible reasons. Today, the majority of historians blame the initial fires on Russian sabotage. [1]

Fyodor Rostopchin foreign minister of the Russian Empire and governor of Moscow

Count Fyodor Vasilyevich Rostopchin was a Russian statesman and General of the Infantry who served as the Governor-General of Moscow during the French invasion of Russia. He was also known as a satirical writer who ridiculed Francophiles.

Sabotage deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity

Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening a polity, effort, or organization through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. Saboteurs typically try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions.

This version of events is confirmed by General Armand de Caulaincourt. [2] He states that they had been in Moscow for three days. That evening a small fire had broken out but was extinguished and 'attributed to the carelessness of the troops'. Later that evening (10h 30min) Caulaincourt was woken by his valet with the news that 'for three quarters of an hour the city has been in flames'. Fires continued to break out in multiple separate points. Incendiarists were arrested and interrogated and declared that their commanding officer had ordered them to burn everything. 'Houses had been designated to this end.' Later on in the same chapter he asserts 'The existence of inflammable fuses, all made in the same fashion and placed in different public and private buildings, is a fact of which I, as many others, had personal evidence. I saw the fuses on the spot and many were taken to the Emperor.' He goes on to write 'The examination of the police rank-and-file... all proved that the fire had been prepared and executed by order of Count Rostopchin'.

A 19th-century caricature ( lubok ) of Napoleon meeting Satan after the Fire of Moscow, by Ivan Alekseevich Ivanov Napoleon with Satan after burning Moscow (19th century).png
A 19th-century caricature ( lubok ) of Napoleon meeting Satan after the Fire of Moscow, by Ivan Alekseevich Ivanov

The catastrophe started as many small fires, which promptly grew out of control and formed a massive blaze. The fires spread quickly since most buildings in Moscow were made of wood. And although Moscow had a fire brigade, their equipment had previously either been removed or destroyed on Rostopchin's orders. When Napoleon retreated to a castle outside the city, his troops finally lost their discipline and began to loot and pillage all across Moscow. Even hard punishments could not prevent the plundering, beating or raping of Moscow's citizens by French soldiers during the fire. [1] The flames spread into the Kremlin's arsenal, but the fire was put out by French Guardsmen. The burning of Moscow is reported to have been visible up to 215 km away. [3]

Tolstoy, in his novel War and Peace , suggests that the fire was not deliberately set, either by the Russians or the French, but was the natural result of placing a deserted and mostly wooden city in the hands of invading troops, when fires start nearly every day even with the owners present and a fully functioning police department, and that the soldiers will start fires–from smoking their pipes, cooking their food twice a day, and burning enemy's possessions in the streets. Some of those fires will inevitably get out of control. Without an efficient firefighting action, these individual building fires will spread to become neighborhood fires, and ultimately a citywide conflagration.

Leo Tolstoy Russian writer, author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He received multiple nominations for Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906, and nominations for Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902 and 1910, and his miss of the prize is a major Nobel prize controversy.

<i>War and Peace</i> 1869 novel by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. It is regarded as a central work of world literature and one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements.

Timeline of events

Commemorative Bandanna : Burning of Moscow (1812) Printed in England - "Conflagration of Moscow Seen from the Kremlin, on the entrance of the French Army, the 14th of Sept 1812" Burning of Moscow 1812 - Bandana 01.jpg
Commemorative Bandanna : Burning of Moscow (1812) Printed in England - "Conflagration of Moscow Seen from the Kremlin, on the entrance of the French Army, the 14th of Sept 1812"
Liturgy in the St Evpla church of Moscow in presence of French soldiers, September 15 of 1812 (Gregorian : Sept. 27). Moscou 1812.jpg
Liturgy in the St Evpla church of Moscow in presence of French soldiers, September 15 of 1812 (Gregorian : Sept. 27).
Napoleon retreating from the burning Moscow Fireofmoscow.jpg
Napoleon retreating from the burning Moscow

Dates in Gregorian calendar (new style) and numbers referenced to Clausewitz and Tarle

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

Carl von Clausewitz German-Prussian soldier and military theorist

Carl Philipp Gottfriedvon Clausewitz was a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed the "moral" and political aspects of war. His most notable work, Vom Kriege, was unfinished at his death. Clausewitz was a realist in many different senses and, while in some respects a romantic, also drew heavily on the rationalist ideas of the European Enlightenment.

Yevgeny Tarle Russian historian

Yevgeny Viktorovich Tarle was a Soviet historian and academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is known for his books about Napoleon's invasion of Russia and on the Crimean War, and many other works. Yevgeny Tarle was one of the founders of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Russia's diplomatic university.

Extent of the disaster

1817 map, destroyed area shaded dark Fire of moscow 1812 1000px.jpg
1817 map, destroyed area shaded dark

Ivan Katayev (1911) summarized losses as 3/4 of all properties in the city:

Some 12,000 bodies were recovered [1] of which an estimated 2,000 were wounded Russian soldiers perished in the fire. Moscow State University, Buturlin's library, Petrovsky and Arbatsky theaters were completely destroyed; many pieces of art, notably the source manuscript of epic poem The Tale of Igor's Campaign, were lost forever. The Moscow Orphanage near Kitai-gorod, converted to a hospital, was saved by local police. The population of Moscow in 1811 is estimated at 270,000; after the war, when residents returned to the city, it decreased to 215,000; by 1840, it had increased to 349,000. [4]

Maps compiled by Russian authorities after the war (notably the 1817 military map reprinted for the public in the 1831 guide book) show that the majority of Moscow territory had succumbed to the fire. Notable exceptions are Moscow Kremlin, the Orphanage, northern segment of Bely Gorod from Tverskaya Street to Pokrovka Street, Patriarshy Ponds in the west, as well as suburban settlements.

The map probably exaggerates the damage, showing some surviving blocks as if they were destroyed. For instance, Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street west from Boulevard Ring retained many of its mansions: troops defended their own lodgings and the French theatre, as well as the French colony in Kuznetsky Most. On the other hand, French patronage did not help the Batashov Palace (present-day Yauzskaya Hospital), occupied by Murat's headquarters: after two days of firefighting, it was consumed by fire that razed Taganka. Still, the remaining buildings had enough space for the French army. As General de Marbot reasoned:

"It is often claimed that the fire of Moscow... was the principal cause of the failure of the 1812 campaign. This assertion seems to me to be contestable. To begin with, the destruction of Moscow was not so complete that there did not remain enough houses, palaces, churches and barracks to accommodate the entire army [for a whole month]."

However, many units were stationed not in the city, but in remote suburbs like Ostankino (light cavalry) or Khimki (Italian corps); others were dispatched south to screen Russian movements.

Reconstruction of the city

A shortage of funds, state and private, delayed reconstruction of Moscow by at least five years. In those years, many properties were sold by ruined owners, and whole neighborhoods changed their social status; for example, all properties on once-diverse Maroseika Street were bought out by the merchant class. [5]

Some 18th-century buildings were rebuilt to original plans Wiki chernigovsky.jpg
Some 18th-century buildings were rebuilt to original plans
Vasily Pushkin house, a typical example of 1810s cheap wooden architecture with neoclassical trim Wiki Staraya Basmannaya 36, Vasily Pushkin House, Moscow, Russia.jpg
Vasily Pushkin house, a typical example of 1810s cheap wooden architecture with neoclassical trim

The disaster allowed the authorities a unique opportunity to plan the city from scratch. [1] In February, 1813, Alexander I of Russia set up the Commission of Building in Moscow, with the instruction to produce a viable master plan for the city. The 1813 plan by William Hastie was deemed inadequate for the task, thus the Commission hired numerous local architects and topographers who produced the final, 1817, master plan (incorporating Hastie's ideas of clearing the Central Squares of Moscow). In 1816–30, city planners set up the Garden Ring, a circular highway in place of an old fortification rampart, and widened many other streets.

Later in 1817, the city held groundbreaking ceremony for Alexander Witberg's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a monument to the 1812 War in Sparrow Hills. This project was later canceled and the current Cathedral emerged in the center of Moscow.

Reconstruction of Red Square and Kitai-gorod was handled by Joseph Bove, who designed the neoclassical Upper Trade Rows as a mirror of Matvey Kazakov's Kremlin Senate. In February 1818, Ivan Martos completed the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky, the first public monument in Moscow, placed in the center of Red Square. Bove also designed the symmetrical Theatre Square and completed Bolshoi and Maly theaters by 1825. Moscow University and other public buildings were rebuilt by Domenico Giliardi and Afanasy Grigoriev.

Bove also handled the "façade department", authorizing façade designs for all new buildings. A severe shortage of brick, stone and cement forced many developers to build in wood; the city had to agree with the inevitable, on condition that the houses follow the neoclassical standards. Local craftsmen responded with mass-produced wooden imitations of classical ornaments. Most of these houses were eventually destroyed. Extant examples include a recently restored house on the corner of Glazovsky and Denezhny Lanes in Arbat District, and Vasily Pushkin house in Staraya Basmannaya Street.

See also

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References

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 4 Hecker, Hans (2012). "Schaurig-grandioses Schauspiel" [A horrific and terrific spectacle]. Damals (in German). Vol. 44 no. 9. pp. 72–77.
  2. 'With Napoleon in Russia', William Morrow, New York 1935.
  3. Luhn, Alec. "Moscow's Last Great Fire - Russian Life". www.russianlife.com. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  4. Fillipov
  5. Sytin, p. 105.
  6. "йЮПК ТНМ йКЮСГЕБХЖ. ╚1812 ЦНД╩". Museum.ru. Retrieved 2013-09-28.
  7. "Е.Б. Рюпке ╚Мюьеярбхе Мюонкенмю Мю Пняяхч╩". Museum.ru. Retrieved 2013-09-28.
  8. "Как менялся этнический состав москвичей". Demoscope.ru. Retrieved 2013-09-28.
  9. "╚Нревеярбеммюъ Бнимю Х Псяяйне Наыеярбн╩. Рнл Iv. Лняйбю Опх Тпюмжсгюу. Онфюп Лняйбш". Museum.ru. Retrieved 2013-09-28.

Further reading

Coordinates: 55°45′N37°38′E / 55.75°N 37.63°E / 55.75; 37.63