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Harbin to Rebuild Orthodox Church

A unique Russian Orthodox Church, the Holy Iveron Icon Church, will be rebuilt after almost half a century of neglect.

The project will be part of the rehabilitation of a busy area of Harbin that acts as a transportation center.

The church, with five magnificent Russian-style domes, was built in 1908.

The domes, which later disappeared, will be rebuilt with the original features regardless of budget.

Some minor renovations are already under way, said a source with the Harbin Municipal Bureau of Urban Planning.

"Unlike most Orthodox churches in Harbin, the Holy Iveron Icon Church had five ogee domes," he said.

Also, a mosaic of religious figures has begun to fall off.

Among the other projects is a new entrance for the Harbin Railway Station in the center of the city.

Currently, the station has only one entrance, facing east, and the square in front of it is one of the city's most important transportation hubs.

Seventeen bus lines pass through the spot, six of which start there.

The volume of commuters is approximately 100,000 a day, a number that swells to 160,000 during peak periods.

An average of 4,500 vehicles pass the square every hour, reports the Heilongjiang Daily.

Traffic jams during the rush hour are a headache for local residents.

"The construction of another entrance aims to alleviate the heavy traffic burden in this area," said Li Ming from the Harbin Academy of Urban Planning and Construction.

The new entrance is expected to face north and a 137,000-square-metre square will be built in front of it. The square is likely to be built first.

The new entrance and square should take up at least 30 per cent of the commuters and relieve some pressure from the main entrance.

The new square will be 37,000 square meters larger than the original one.

The church project will go hand-in-hand with the new railway entrance, which will be designed to fit in with the church located just to the north of the station.

With the church as the leading landmark, this area will be transformed into a showcase of Harbin architecture.

The church was once dedicated to Russian soldiers who died in wars in the beginning of the 20th century.

It fell into disuse after 1949 and was severely damaged during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

Harbin should well preserve historical relics, said Bi Congliang from the Harbin Cultural Relic Management Center.

"Even if the northern entrance project does not go ahead, repairing the church should be on the agenda," he said.

As one of the most important cities in Northeast China, Harbin once attracted many Russians at the end of the 19th century.

The city now has about two dozen Oriental Orthodox churches, several Protestant churches, and a beautiful Turkish mosque.

(China Daily December 10, 2004)

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