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Betancourt у Molina Agustín de

Betancourt у Molina Agustín de(1758—1824)

Agustín de Betancourt y Molina was a prominent engineer, who worked in Spain, France and Russia. His work ranged from steam engines and balloons to structural engineering and urban planning. As an educator, Betancourt founded and managed the Spanish Corps of Engineers and the Saint Petersburg Institute of Communications Engineers. As an urban planner and construction manager, Betancourt supervised planning and construction in Saint Petersburg, Kronstadt, Nizhny Novgorod and other Russian cities.
Tenerife Betancourt family traced their roots to Jean de Béthencourt, who launched colonization of Canary Islands in 1402 and became a self-proclaimed king of Tenerife in 1417. Augustín's father, also Agustín de Betancourt y Castro, was a well educated businessman with interests in textile machinery; his mother, Maria de Betancourt, is believed to be the first woman in Tenerife to publish a scientific article (also related to textile dyes).

In 1778, Augustin moved to Madrid to study engineering at the San Isidro Royal College, and never returned to Tenerife again. His first jobs, after graduation in 1783, were related to Aragon Canal and mining in Almadén. In 1784, he travelled to Paris to study hydraulics and mechanics at the School of Bridges and Roads.

In France, Betancourt published treaties on engineering (e.g. on coal mining), however his real assignment was to scout new technologies for the benefit of Spain and acquire modern machinery for the future Cabinet of Machinery in Madrid, envisioned by Chief minister Floridablanca. In 1788, he travelled to England, visiting James Watt and Matthew Boulton, pioneers in steam engines. Watt was reluctant to reveal the secrets of his trade, however, Betancourt inspected Watt's engines working in London mills. Back in Paris, he wrote a treaty on steam engines and designed a steam-powered pump, a mechanical loom and sent a collection of machinery to Madrid. In 1791, he concentrated on naval technologies - harbor dredging and drilling gun barrels (his own dredge design materialized twenty years later, in Kronstadt). Shortly before the fall of French monarchy, Betancourt returned to Madrid with his new finds.

In 1792, Betancourt was appointed the Director of Royal Cabinet of Machinery, and catalogued hundreds of its exhibits scouted in France, England and Netherlands; in 1793-1795, he continued intelligence in England. This assignment was interrupted by Spain's alliance with revolutionary France (1796). In Paris, Betancourt teamed with Abraham-Louis Breguet in perfecting their version of optical telegraph, however, later, the French chose a competing design by Claude Chappe. Betancourt built his telegraph in Spain, between Madrid and Cadiz in 1798; same year, he was involved in lauching Spain's first hot air balloon.

In 1797, Betancourt's achievements were rewarded with a position of Chief Inspector of Ports and Communications in Spain, Chief of Corps of Engineers of Spanish military and other important assignments. In 1802, he founded Spain's first engineering college, School of the Corps of Engineers, and managed the institution until 1807; his textbook (written together with Jose Maria Lanz) on machine design became widespread in European universities. In 1807, Betancourt left Spain for Paris, where he was inducted into French Academy of Sciences; ironically, James Watt was inducted simultaneously. He was recruited into Russian service by Ivan Muravyov-Apostol (ambassador to Spain until 1806) and left France for Saint Petersburg in 1808.

Betancourt joined Russian service in the rank of Major General, assigned to the Directorate of Communications. His first extant work is the famous fountain in Tsarskoye Selo (1810), with sculpture by Pavel Sokolov immortalized by Alexander Pushkin's poetry. In 1816, Betancourt was promoted to head the Commission for Construction and Hydraulics, a national institution targeted primarily at Saint Petersburg development; since 1819 he also headed the Directorate of Communications. He recruited and trained such architects as Auguste de Montferrand and Leo Carboniere.

In 1811-1813, Betancourt built Saint Petersburg' first bridge across Malaya Nevka, connecting Kamenny Island with Aptekarsky Island. This seven-span wooden bridge, named after Betancourt, served for a record fifty years and was the only bridge to survive the disastrous 1824 flood. He designed similar bridges for Warsaw, Tula and Peterhof.
In 1816, Alexander I of Russia assigned Betancourt to find an architect for rebuilding Saint Isaac's Cathedral. Betancourt promoted Montferrand, and in February, 1818, tsar approved Montferrand' fifth draft. Betancourt provided Montferrand with an efficient, thoroughly calculated dome design utilizing three interconnected steel domes without any masonry vaults. Cathedral construction was delayed until Betancourt's death; the dome was erected only in 1841.

In Moscow, Betancourt supervised construction of the Moscow Manege (1817). Architectural design was assigned to Leo Carboniere. The building, 166 [meter]s long and 44.7 meters wide, required a single-span roof without any internal columns. Betancourt personally designed the wooden roof trusses and completed the whole project in six months. By 1824, roofing required replacement; new trusses, installed in 1824-1825, served until the fire of 2004.

In 1816, accidental fire destroyed the Makaryev Fair. Fairgrounds transferred to Nizhny Novgorod, equipped with temporary wooden shacks. Betancourt visited the site in 1817 and proposed a six million rouble, four-year project to rebuild the Fair in stone. He supervised overall planning and financing, while Montferrand, as the chief architect, was designing individual buildings and ensembles. Despite his Petersburg projects,

Betancourt travelled to Nizhny Novgorod every year to inspect the progress of construction. The Saviour Cathedral, also known as Old Fair Cathedral, was designed by Betancourt (overall structure) and Montferrand (facade and interiors) together and completed in 1822, the year when the Fair opened for its first season. The fair operated until 1930.

Betancourt designed other buildings for Nizhny, including the city jail, three brick foundries, and helped in preservation of two ancient churches. Throughout 19th century, the left bank of Oka River was developing according to his master plan. Russia's first steamship, Yelizaveta was designed jointly by Charles Baird and Betancourt (1815).

In 1810, Betancourt completed his steam-powered dredge. It was used to deepen the shallow waters around Kronstadt and build a canal between this island and the Izhorsky foundries on the mainland. He could not patent the design immediately, because Russian patent law was enacted later, in 1812; eventually, patent was granted to completely different people.

After the French invasion of Russia (1812), Russian monetary system was ruined by war expenditure and a flood of counterfeit bills. Dmitry Guriev, Minister of Finance, assigned Betancourt to set up a modern currency printing facility. By 1816, Betancourt examined all existing printshop and persuaded the government to build a new factory equipped with steam-driven machinery. He designed the buildings, machinery and the technological process, using his childhood experience in textile mills. The new printshop (present-day Saint Petersburg Goznak) was inaugurated in 1818.

Betancourt is credited with design of Russia's first modern highway between Saint Petersburg and Moscow, as well as numerous industrial projects like Tula and Kazan armouries.

In 1809, Betancourt set up Saint Petersburg Institute of Communications Engineers, the nations' first engineering college, and headed the Institute until 1824.

In 1822 Betancourt fell in disfavor at the court, lost his chair as the Director of Communications but retained other state jobs. In 1823 he was struck by the death of his only daughter and never recovered from this loss. In February, 1824 he finally resigned, and died July 14, 1824. He was buried at the Smolensk Lutheran cemetery in Saint Petersburg. His tomb, a 6.85 meter cast iron column, was designed and made by Auguste de Montferrand and paid for by Nizhny Novgorod merchant society. In 1979, the grave was relocated to Alexander Nevsky Lavra.

Saint Petersburg has three monuments to Betancourt (in University Embankment, in Communications University and inside the Goznak currency printshop). Betancourt's Medal is an annual award instituted in 1997 by Russian Railways for excellence in science and education.

Russia, 1997, Manege

Russia, 2008, Agustín de Betancourt

Spain, 2003, Agustín de Betancourt у Molina

Russia, 1997.10.17, Moskow. Manege

Russia, 2008.02.01, Moskow. Agustín de Betancourt

Russia, 2008.09.14, Nizhny Novgorod. Agustín de Betancourt

Spain, 2003.03.21, Madrid. Agustín de Betancourt

Spain, 2003.03.21, Madrid. Agustín de Betancourt

Spain, 2003.12.14, Puerto de la Cruz. Agustín de Betancourt

Russia, 1996, Moskow. Manege

Russia, 1996, Manege

Russia, 2008, Agustín de Betancourt

Russia, 2009, Betancourt monument in St. Petersburg

USSR, 1985, Manege

Russia, 1996.10.10, Manege

Russia, 1997.06.18, Manege

Russia, 1997.06.18, Manege

Russia, 1997.09.04, Manege

Russia, 1997.09.04, Manege

Russia, 1997.09.04, Manege

Russia, 1997.09.04, Manege

Russia, 1997.09.04, Manege

Russia, 1997.10.01, Manege

Russia, 1997.10.01, Manege

Russia, 2001.11.28, Moskow. Manege's place

USSR, 1957.03.15, Moskow. Manege

USSR, 1966.06.30, Manege at winter

USSR, 1967.09.02, Manege at winter

USSR, 1970.11.26, Manege


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