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Ancient cities are cities of the future
Ryazan. Pic: oddoo.ru
Faraway past and near future have been debated throughout this week in Ryazan. The city hosts the first International Forum of Ancient Cities, which has become a global platform to discuss development and preservation of towns and cities that are 500+ years old. The Forum has been attended by representatives of Russian cities and towns, as well as representatives from Europe and the CIS countries.
Twenty Russian cities and towns (from Kaliningrad to Kerch and Derbent) sent their representatives to Ryazan, including government officials, architects, restauranteurs, craftsmen, and etc. Participants from Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, the CIS countries and other states have joined the Forum as well. Overall, more than five hundred guests from more than forty cities and towns have attended the Forum. It was suggested to establish the Association of Ancient Cities.
The program has included dozens of scientific, business, cultural, gastronomic, and festive events, total number of which exceed one hundred. The Forum will be closed on August 18th with carnival procession. On Saturday night streets in the heart of Ryazan will turn into improvised river, and sailing boats with flags and arms of participating cities and towns will “float” along.
Friendship between cities
Opening ceremony of Posolskaya Square was conducted on Lybedskoy boulevard of Ryazan last Thursday, August 16. It has accommodated embassies of all 48 participating cities and towns. Throughout the Forum, anyone can visit a pavilion of the city or town he/she is interested in, discover its history, traditions, architecture and even signature dishes. Roundtable discussions, panels, conferences and briefings have been conducted as a part of the Forum along with concerts, stage performances, historic quests, food festivals and fairs.
Embassies of Ancient Cities in Ryazan. Photo credit: Forum of Ancient Cities/Vkontakte
According to the event organizers, one of the Forum’s key objectives is establishment of multicultural collaboration – entire week in Ryazan has been dedicated to remembering old connections (in some cases ancient trade logistics is rather viable up to now, our ancestors knew their ways around) and establishment of new ones. Since first days of the Forum some cities decided to make twin-towns or sister-cities arrangements. For example, a group from Turkey visited Kasimov (165 km from Ryazan) and suggested for their towns to be friends.
Ancient cities and towns of Russia and Europe have more in common than just medieval maps and history books. They share similar issues, concerns, challenges and possibilities. Status of ancient settlement imposes lots of restrictions onto a town and its inhabitants, but at the same time it provides a lot of opportunities for development. At the Forum, leading international experts have been discussing how to preserve heritage from the past and embody the inherited potential.
Five hundred years is rather significant age for Russian and many European cities. But this number is not that great for Greek civilization. However, it was the mayor of Greek Sparta Valiotis Vanhelos, who suggested Ryazan’s leaders to collaborate in tourism industry and exchange knowledge at the very first day of the Forum. Cultural relationship started formation right there: Greek guests brought Spartan folk group to the Forum, and it performed in the Ryazan Philharmonic Hall. During briefings, representatives of Russian cities and foreign guests discussed educational and cultural exchange.
Cultural program of the Forum has been very busy – stage performances, concerts, ethnic dances. Photo credit: Forum of Ancient Cities/Vkontakte
“We were very happy to be invited to the Forum, though had no idea what to expect here,” said Elvira Garbes, Deputy mayor of German city of Trier, summarizing results of the first day. “And we have been amused with its course. We see that such events facilitate development of relationship between cities. Our city of Trier was founded more than two thousand years ago; and you can find there survived monuments of all ages, including the Roman Empire times. The Forum is to fuel the discussion on how ancient cities should treat their historical heritage. Here, in Ryazan, I have seen many historical buildings being preserved and restored. There is a huge development potential and desire to grow.” By the way, Tier is not only about Roman heritage. It is Karl Marx’s hometown, and its inhabitants treasure everything connected to the philosopher.
The Forum’s gastronomic program has not been less vibrant, and the organizers really didn’t want it to be seen as a “side-dish” to main events. Ethnic foods of the Forum’s participants were tasted at squares and restaurants; they were discussed and debated about within the Forum’s premises. Affordable and comfortable hotels alongside with well-developed fast-food and restaurant chains are requirements for any city that wishes to attract visitors. As one of the speakers noted, no matter how awesome sights and wonders may be, the entire impression of the city can be blurred by a bad hotel and tasteless dinner.
Development of gastronomy tourism was one of the Forum’s major topics. Photo credit: Forum of Ancient Cities/Vkontakte
Currently gastronomy tourism grows rapidly, and if a city is able to offer a unique meal flavored with history, it has all chances to boost tourist flow. When a tourist asks, “Is there anything interesting to eat?”, irrespective of the language used, there must be clear answers in every city. Participating in the Forum restauranteurs and culinary experts from Russia and Europe recommended Ryazan to turn local potatoes, which the region is famous for, into its brand.
A city as a living system
The conference “Historical and cultural legacy as a guarantor of sustainable growth for ancient cities” became one of the central events at the Forum; it was attended by architects, historians and art experts from many countries. The following question became its key subject of discussion: how to make sure that historical monuments and architectural ensembles do not hinder development of ancient cities, but facilitate it. In search of the specified balance, conference participants exchanged their ideas and know-hows, shared examples from international experience, successful and disappointing. Among other things, they indicated that ancient spirit and historical face do not mean only ancient structures and ensembles. They also include landscape and green planting.
“Any city is a living system, and it must develop, breath,” the chief architect of the Ryazan Region Dmitri Vasilchenko firmly believes. “At the same time, there is historical heritage, which is untouchable. In my understanding, there should not be any imbalance in favor of any side. Some people may say: let us develop the new city. Others will object: let us only preserve the old; then the city will stop breathing. We shall seek the golden mean, strive for balance. This is what makes architect’s work to be masterly.”
Roundtable discussion on “Historical and sociocultural development of ancient cities: challenges and prospective” followed by Vyazma pryaniks (Russian spice cakes) tasting event. Photo credit: Forum of Ancient Cities/Vkontakte
Historical memory should not be preserved to the prejudice of current population of ancient cities. Nikolay Shumakov, the President of the Union of Architects of Russia, defined connection between development of ancient cities and acute challenges of the regional growth. Cities of historical significance should aim their efforts to increase attractiveness and comfort for local inhabitants aside from developing as open-air museums. In such a way people will get opportunities for self-fulfillment, as well as motivation to stay in non-metropolitan areas.
“In my opinion, the focal point of the Forum is to say: Ryazan is alive, Russia is alive. And ancient cities are cities of our future,” said the architect. And this can be called the central resolution of the Forum of ancient cities, which all participants would probably agree to. The first Forum raised questions and defined key challenges; solutions will be discussed in details at further meetings. The event organizers hope that the Forum will turn into traditional event. In any case, it has been announced that the Architectural conference of ancient cities will be held in Ryazan on an annual basis.