– Alright, we have seen modern Chisinau, but it is no less interesting to know how our capital looked like in the past, let’s say in the 60s of the last century. Now it will be possible to do it thanks to the restoration of the history of Chisinau project called “CHRONICA”. Its author, Dmitri Voloshin, is our guest this morning. Joining him is the manager of this project, Diana Covalenco, whom we welcome. Greetings! You have interesting news, fairly recent. I would like you to tell us more about what contributed to the emergence of this project with such a beautiful name?
– First of all, it is not only in the 60s of the last century that you can see what Chisinau was like. We have plans to restore Chisinau from the moment of its appearance, from the first dugouts, from the first fires that were set up.
– That is, much more extensive?
– Yes, of course.
– So, theoretically, we will have a restoration timeline?
– We’re moving from the future to the past, we’re backtracking. Now we have the current city, we’re restoring buildings that were there at the beginning of the last century, and here in particular is the map you’re talking about. This is a unique map that we found. Our friend Iurii Svet helped us with this project and we were able to use it to reconstruct what Chisinau was like during the period of its construction after the war. And there is also a map from the forties, where we can see pre-war Chisinau. Because, as you know, the Center was completely different, there was practically no Rascani. And now we can go to chronica.md, switch maps with a slider and see how our city has changed.
– Time travel, right?
– Absolutely. And the person who helped us with this map was the only one with the ability to do this. We didn’t know what the streets were called in the 20s and 30s, because they had Romanian names, and nobody knew that until we announced this project. A man came to us and said: “I have a map of Chisinau…”, which you have just been shown, “…a unique map that no one has ever seen. I bought it from an antique dealer at the railroad station, and that antique shop is no more.” When we showed this map to the historians, they said, “Where did you find this? It’s fantastic! There are unique street names on there that we could only guess what they were called.” That’s the kind of finding that is very motivating and energizing.
– I realize that the more you work on this project, the more such finds can happen and the more you uncover objects and information.
– Our task is not only to make maps. Our main task is to restore the city in 3D. That is, we realize that we have a very large number of architectural monuments, which are disappearing after being exposed to daily rains and winds; they are left to collapse. In fact, there are more than a thousand of them in Chisinau, and we are trying, if not to restore them physically, because unfortunately, sometimes this is not possible, at least to digitize what we have to restore them with historians, to complete them and leave them on the map. This is our main mission, our main task – to restore and fix the city before it is completely destroyed.
– By the way, you have already said that historians are involved. Diana, who do you have to involve in this large-scale, bold, so to speak, project, which requires a huge amount of time and work. Who else do you involve for it to be realized?
– I would like to mention that we were supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Moldova. This is very important for us, because we also apply to different organizations such as the National Archive, the National Library, museums. So we have to look for a lot of information. We are also supported by architects and local historians – everyone who cares about the city. And I would like to thank Iurii Svet, who works with us, Sergiu Ciocana, Sergiu Musteata, Boris Gangala; basically everyone who cares about the city.
– Sergiu Prodan, the minister who supported us.
– All this information that we see now, photos, pictures, maps – are they somewhere in one place, in the archive, or did you have to collect them bit by bit, learn from people, communicate, maybe, with historians, find this information, maybe there were some lost pages in notebooks? How did it all happen?
– It’s all exactly like that, the information is stored on different sites, in different places, in archives, often people themselves do not know what is available and in what places. This is a discovery for everyone, that’s the peculiarity of our project.
– A discovery, right? Tell us about your team, maybe what difficulties you had to face, because it’s one thing to look at photos, and another one to recreate in 3D such a beautiful castle. As far as I understand, this castle was on Tighina Street, right?
– Yes, this is our prison, which is now located near Птичка. Yes, the prison used to look like this. It was a castle no worse than the Soroca fortress in terms of strength, but unfortunately, the earthquake of the fortieth year and the German bombing did their job and it was turned to ruins. Only one tower was saved, now you can still see it there.
– I know that you use artificial intelligence purposely to help you to complete some objects? How does that happen? How do you incorporate technology into things that have to do with history?
– For example, it’s used to improve the quality of photos, because often you can’t see anything in them. We use it to improve the quality of the maps themselves, because to create our maps, for the map of the forties we used images from ’44 and for the map of the sixties we used a satellite image from ’66. And so they were of not very good quality, they had to be improved and aligned in order to create the map.
– Does this mean that, for example, if there are viewers who have photos of some buildings or some other places in their home archives would you be happy to connect with them in this sense and add something to your project, because it is literally collected from different strokes?
– Can I address the viewers? Where do I look? Dear viewers, if you have photos of Chisinau from the 60s or further, where you, your relatives, or your friends are photographed in the city on the background of some architecture, on the background of the streets of our city, and not only Chisinau, any settlement of Moldova, go to the site chronica.md and send these materials to us. We will gladly post them and we will be able to point out that this information was provided to us by you.
– I think we can add that maybe not everyone had the opportunity to take good quality photos in those times, maybe they have some paintings or maybe someone drew and sketched some elements. Using these assets, I think, it is possible to more or less restore how our capital looked like.
– There was a real problem with photographs before, especially at the end of the nineteenth century. There are a lot of engravings that were made. And so we go to auctions and buy these engravings in order to restore some of the buildings according to the engravings. What did we see with you the other day, the fire tower?
– A fire tower.
– A fire tower, which is nowhere to be found in the photos, but there are a couple of engravings, from which we reconstruct a 3D model of what it was and put it in the place where it should stand.
– Let’s talk about the maps we have on the table. As far as I understand, this is also exclusive material that you managed to find. They show our republic as a whole, yes?
– Yes yes, and this is one of the maps – it’s an original, it’s amazing, because it’s still of very good quality.
– Let me show it to our viewers and you tell us about it, please.
– Dmitri bought it at an auction, it’s a map from the 17th century. On it you can see the districts. Why are we looking for such maps? Because we have plans to expand beyond Chisinau, plans to expand our project to the whole of Moldova too. We would like to find more maps, so if someone has old maps or some plans, maybe some information about where to find these maps, we are happy to contact these people and cooperate, because our project is about uniting all people who are interested in history.
– If we are talking about the period of the 60s, which is now the main focus, what stage is your project at? What percentage out of 100, if it is even possible to say 100 percent, has been completed? Because I went to that site, it’s really interesting. The first thing I noticed was the street names.
As Dima said, until the forties, the late forties, there was one set of names, then after the sixties, another. Now, in our current Chisinau, the names are completely different. Something in between the Soviet era, and the time after the sixties.
– Currently, we are focused on creating a fully 3D model of one central street in Chisinau, reconstructing its buildings that were relevant at the beginning of the last century, approximately a hundred years ago. Diana is currently working with artists, and we are also involving volunteer artists. I’d like to express gratitude to Serghei Mirza for providing his architectural bureau and 3D artists on a volunteer basis to help us draw these houses. What you are seeing now is part of this effort. Diana will explain better, specifically which buildings we aim to place in the Center.
– There’s a story about the current Stefan cel Mare Boulevard that practically none of the previous buildings within the perimeter from Maria Cebotari Street to Alexandri exist nowadays. We want to show Chisinau residents what beauty used to exist here. You can see all these buildings in old photographs. Unfortunately, there aren’t many photos of whole buildings; many are in a ruined state. Therefore, our goal is to reconstruct them in 3D to show how our city used to look like. Very few people, as it seems to me, know what Stefan cel Mare Boulevard was like in the 40s, what kind of buildings there were. It was a completely different city, completely different streets, and I think it will be very interesting.
– As for why people don’t know, the answer is on the surface: because there is no such information, and you are the ones who can now gather it to pass it on. This is also very important. For each of you, personally, what became the most surprising discovery during the time working on this project? Something you found for yourselves that you really want to share?
– For me, the most surprising insight was about the “prison castle” built in the 19th century that didn’t quite make it to our time. It had a wow effect on me. I didn’t know that there was a large fortress in our city. Also, it turns out that we have no old buildings preserved in the city. I know of one dating back to the early 19th century, 1820-30, and practically nothing is left from the 18th century. Nothing at all, absolutely. This is also related to earthquakes and wars. It’s sad, but it’s a fact. For me, this insight was a sad one.
– Diana, was there anything particularly surprising for you in the project?
– What surprised me is how little information is accessible and how difficult it is to find, but at the same time, it’s very interesting. When we were reconstructing the buildings on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard, we needed to collect photos of each building, about 20 buildings from different angles. It was very challenging, and at first, it seemed impossible.
– As you’re saying it now, it seems impossible.
– It is possible because we found photos of each building, and we are currently creating them in 3D, and everyone will see them soon.
– I know that you used some secret materials. The photo from 1966, was it a satellite photo? There were disagreements and comments. Some said that satellites didn’t take photos in those years.
– It’s an American satellite, a spy satellite photo.
– Were you able to see it?
– It’s amazing that it even appeared. But there are no earlier photos. Aerial photography was done in the 1940s. Before the 1940s, we have many maps of Chisinau, but everyone drew them as they could. So, we will also think about how to make it as close to the truth as possible and consult with historians. As for what was there in the 18th century, that’s a big mystery. There are a couple of sketches from when the city was just founded. Here, we will be looking into the archives of the Tsar Empire in St. Petersburg, and perhaps those maps when the Russian Empire came here in 1812, looked and said: “well, let’s sketch what was there for memory, and then we’ll redo everything”. What was there is surely stored somewhere, and we’ll be searching for it.
– Well, I wish you and your team good luck. For those who are interested in this topic, we invite you to visit the site chronica.md. There you can take a little journey through our capital in the 1940s, 1960s, or stroll through the city in modern realities. Well, Dmitri Voloshin and Diana Covalenco were our guests. And we continue our broadcast.
– Thank you, guys!
– Thank you!