Russia Acquires Land Near Eiffel Tower, Plans Orthodox Center

AOI | by Fr. Johannes Jacobse | Feb. 9, 2010

The Russian Orthodox Church is on a roll!

Russia has defeated Canada and Saudi Arabia in a tender for a plot of land in downtown Paris and will build an Orthodox Christian spiritual and cultural center on the banks of the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower.

France’s Budget Ministry said in a statement on Monday that Russia had offered the highest price for the land, but did not elaborate on the figure. The plot of land on the Branly Quay is currently occupied by the French national meteorological service, Meteo France, which is expected to be relocated in 2011.

According to the Russian Newsweek magazine, Canada was seeking for the land for a new embassy, while Saudi Arabia wanted to build a diplomatic office and a mosque, intended only for Saudi citizens.

Russia reportedly plans to build an Orthodox church on the plot, and to relocate a divinity school currently located on the outskirts of Paris.

The magazine quoted experts as saying an average price of land in the area was about 7,000 euros (more than $9,500), which means Russia may have bid 50 million euros ($70 million) or more.

The purchase took place in the Year of Russia in France and France in Russia.

Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of Russian parliament’s International Affairs Committee, told the magazine that the Russian state would hand the piece of prime real estate over to the Russian Orthodox Church.

A group of private investors also reportedly took part in the tender, with plans to build a hotel on the Branly Quay.

The plot would be the second major French acquisition this year for the Russian Orthodox Church, after a court ruled in January that Russia was the rightful owner of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Nice.

The church, originally the property of Tsar Nicholas II, had been given to the archbishop of St. Petersburg on a 99-year lease, which expired on December 31, 2007.

In 2007, the Cote d’Azur region, which includes Nice at its center, declared the contents of the church part of the national patrimony, which meant no part of it could be removed from France without the permission of the Culture Ministry.

The Patriarchate of Moscow claimed the church should be returned to the Russian state as the successor to the tsarist regime.

The Russian Orthodox Association of Nice (ACOR) said it would appeal the ruling, arguing the cathedral belongs to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople.