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NCCA Kronstadt: The Flame That Burns Twice as Bright

02/01/2014 11:48 am ET | Updated Apr 03, 2014
  • j.frede Multidisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles

60.021735° N / 29.847976° E
January 29th 2014
3° F / -16° C

Standing in a courtyard in the abandoned Zverev fortress, I am surrounded by red brick buildings. I can already see signs of the fort's dramatic end. Fumbling with fingers that are completely numb from the cold, I prepare my camera before entering. Walking up to the shattered door I step inside. To my left is a large charred chamber, and before me is what appears to be steps, now buried with rubble, leading down into the basement. Upon reaching the bottom, I see what could easily be the gates of Hell (or at least the foyer of Hell). Every inch of the ceiling is covered with black stalactites. The walls and ceiling have melted, dripping and oozing from exposure to an unimaginable inferno.

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Engineer Konstantin Zverev built Fort Zverev in the 1870s, which is located on an artificial island in the Baltic Sea just north of Kronstadt. One hundred years later in 1970 a fire made its way through the fort until it reached the basement where, unfortunately, Russia's equivalent to napalm was stored. The fire, which reached temperatures of more than 3600° F, melted the bricks forming a mass of brick stalactites that now grip the ceilings of the basements and ground level rooms.

As I walk from chamber to chamber the scene is repeated: floors collapsed, walls frozen in their momentary liquid state, stairs that have what resembles a flowing river of lava whose motion was arrested. All the while a unique sound is beneath my feet, the sound of walking on broken glass or ice crumbling under my weight. The ground is littered with the melted bricks and chunks of broken bricks that remain un-melted. There is a beautiful light in each new room I enter, let in through blown out windows and massive holes in the ceiling exposing the chambers above.

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From time to time I would see a lone icicle hanging amongst the stalactites and think "Imposter!" It is interesting that the cold and such heat could result in identical shapes.

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It is impossible to describe how intensely ominous such a sight is. While the photographs are beautifully mysterious and unnerving, to actually move through the silent ruins of such a place is remarkable.

I would to thank Mikhael for taking me to the Fort! (whom makes work under the name ArXeNeKrOHeN you can see time-lapse videos of the ice stalagmites he creates yearly at NCCA Kronstadt on his youtube page here)

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