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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Borodino Battle Panorama Comes Back to Life

Braying horses, clashing sabers, pounding cannons. It is 1812 and Napoleon's forces are advancing on the fields of Borodino. And you are there.


These are just a few of the sound effects in store for visitors to the new and improved Borodino Panorama, due to reopen in early 1995 after a long absence from the public eye.


Franz Rubeau's epic painting of the battle of Borodino has been lovingly restored for its second debut, and with the introduction of a new soundtrack playing battle sound effects in surround stereo, the panorama will now have audio as well as video appeal.


"The effect will place the viewer in the midst of the battle," said Irina Nikolayeva, the museum director. To broaden its appeal, narration will be offered in four languages -- Russian, English, French and German.


The vivid painting and special effects convey the horror and drama of Aug. 26, the day the French and Russian armies met in a frenzied, bloody battle at Borodino, a village 130 kilometers west of Moscow. After 15 hours, more than one-third of each army lay dead -- more than 100,000 soldiers in all. The French appeared to be the victors, as the Russians withdrew and abandoned Moscow to them. In reality, the battle was the beginning of the end for Napoleon, who was soon in full, disastrous retreat.


This is not the first face-lift for the painting, originally ordered by Tsar Nicholas II to commemorate the centennial of the battle. Rubeau worked on the enormous canvas for two years before a special wooden pavilion was built for it on Chistye Prudy, where it stood until 1918.


The canvas became a victim of the Civil War -- the building housing it was demolished, and it was rolled up and shuttled about various storage facilities. Only after World War II did the city government, invigorated after victory, remember the neglected canvas and set out to restore it and find it a new home.


"All 8 meters of the sky were completely destroyed," said Nikolayeva, "as well as 13 meters of the battle scene, which had to be recreated from sketches."


It wasn't until 1962 that the painting found a permanent home on Kutuzovsky Prospekt. The landmark triumphal arch was moved to a location near the museum. "This whole area is a commemorative spot connected with the battle of Borodino," said Nikolayeva.


But the new home had its drawbacks. The pipes leaked. The electricity was unreliable, the structure unsound. "It we hadn't closed it down, it would have been the death of the exhibit," said Nikolayeva.


But the renovation, which began April 1, 1991, has dragged on for nearly four years, with handouts from the city government supporting the project in fits and starts. It was not until the Borodino Panorama got the attention of Mayor Yury Luzhkov in 1993 that the funds started pouring in. The mayor gave the museum $200,000 to buy special lighting equipment from Italy, and this year contributed 3.5 billion rubles for additional renovation expenses.


In addition to the main event the museum will house a collection of Rubeau's work, as well as three exhibit halls, representing Franco-Russian relations before the war, at its beginning, and after the attack of the French troops on Borodino. The museum has also ordered life-sized wax figures of the battle's main players.


While the debut, originally planned for January, has been pushed back to March, Borodino battle fans can get a sneak preview Jan. 7, Russian Orthodox Christmas, when the museum and the military historical club will celebrate the victory at Borodino with a parade on the museum grounds.


"This is a tradition that started three years ago," said Nikolayeva. "They come in uniforms they've sewn themselves and strut around. The kids love it."


After the parade, which will start at noon, the museum will open its doors for the public to get a glimpse of coming attractions, although the wax figures will not yet be ready.