The odd Russia site
This huge expanse of forest, marsh, and rolling hills has inevitably suffered from its closeness to the capital. Many areas are dotted with suburban development and Muscovites' holiday homes, ranging from the dachas and plots of land belonging to ordinary folk, to the luxury cottages of the new rich, often still in the construction stage. Lines of communication run radially and are otherwise poor, which effectively renders the region into a series of linear peninsulas. Nevertheless, this is more than just the token countryside of the city-dweller. Dacha life exists side by side with that of the village, and wild animals roam the frequent remaining areas of forest and wilderness.
Many of the places mentioned below are easily reached by frequent bus and train services from Moscow. However, some are not, and for those not willing to get up at the crack of dawn to be sure of reaching them in a day, car rental may be the best option. Train/bus trips combined with taxis at the end are also possible and probably not too expensive, but don't rely on smaller stations to have cars that will take you the last leg. Another option could be to stay at one of the 50 or so Doma Otdykha (holiday centres) in the Region. These generally cost between $60 and $150 a night per person. Many are situated picturesquely in the grounds of old country estates, and will be mentioned in the following sections.
The southeastern part of the Moscow Region is distinguishable by marshy and flat countryside; its dominant feature is the Moskva River, primed with pollution from the city's factories. But while the area may sometimes be short on natural beauty, the occasional treasures to be found among the industrial wastelands of cities like Lyubertsy, Voskresensk, and Golutvino make visits here worthwhile.
At the town of Dzerzhinsky, just outside the grey Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy, is the peaceful haven of the Nikolo-Ugreshsky Monastery. Though founded in 1380 by Muscovite Prince Dmitry Donskoy, most of its buildings date from the 17th and 19th centuries. It is dominated by the bizarre brick-and-rubble ruin, now being restored, of the huge Transfiguration Cathedral, built in the neo-Byzantine style and a contemporary of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. The monastery's most unusual feature, however, is its walls, imitating ancient Russian battlements and towers in miniature. To the right side is the oddly-named Palestinian or Jerusalem Wall, an outward-facing facade resembling the finest of Russian wooden city fortifications.
Surprisingly unaffected by the nearby Bykovo airport and the aerospace factories at Zhukovsky (also home to Russia's main air show, held every September), the village of Bykovo presents one of the most unusual sights of the Moscow area. The Church of the Vladimir Virgin, built in Gothic style by the talented but flighty Russian architect Vassily Bazhenov, seems to have been transplanted from somewhere in Central Europe. It sports slender spires, arched windows and a stately dual staircase with ballustrade leading to an upper church. Only the eight-point crosses and cumbersome belltower give away its Russianness.
Bazhenov also designed the park nearby, including two ponds and a pavilion on an island. The park is now part of a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. In the middle of the last century, the Vorontsov family, who then owned the estate, added a neo-rennaissance style mansion with caryatids on the front porch columns. It looks down impressively over a grassy slope and river below.
A few kilometers east is a center of famous pottery craft and porcelain ware, Gzhel. The rich clay of the Gzhelka river valley has been used in the making of Russian china since the first production began in the 1740s. In the area's villages, meanwhile, a distinctive majolica craft developed - of tinted clay dishes and figurines with enamel colors and folk designs. At the end of the century, Gzhel turned to porcelain, as Catherine the Great decided to develop chinaware similar to that made in the West and in China. Today's distinctive Gzhel porcelain ware, however, with its cobalt blue flower patterns on a white background, appeared quite recently, possibly in the post-war period when there was a shortage of supplies.
Gzhel today is a whole cluster of small village communities based around 6 factories. The majolica craft is centred in Troshkovo and Fenino, and porcelain production in Kuzyayevo, Turygino and Bakhteyevo, with the main factory at Kuzyayevo.
Much further south, at the point where the Moskva joins the Oka is Kolomna, the area's most beautiful and historic town, once a frontier post for both Muscovy and its rival princedom of Ryazan. It was favoured by several Russian princes and tsars, notably Dmitry Donskoy and Ivan the Terrible, who both used it as a base in their campaigns against the Tatars. It also suffered heavily and regularly at the hands of these invaders.
This harmonious and yet also somehow chaotic feast of churches, monasteries, ancient walls, wooden houses, and an attractive waterfront was one of the last places in the region to be opened up to foreigners, due to the presence of some defense-related industries.
The nearly complete absence of tourists and the dispersed nature of the town's attractions make Kolomna perfect for the explorer. Approaching the centre on foot from the railway station, you will discover old wooden houses and ruined churches which will whet the appetite for greater treasures in the town centre.
Approaching instead from the main road, visitors get a more immediate sense of history. The remains of the magnificent 90-foot-high walls of Russia's third stone Kremlin, built by Italians in the 16th century, are still imposing, in particular the sections looming over the Moscow-Ryazan road. These battlements withstood numerous Tatar invasions. Look out for the twenty-sided Marina's Tower, once the prison of Marina Mniszec, wife of both false Dmitries and the renegade Cossack Ivan Zarutsky. At night she was believed to haunt the local townspeople in the form of a magpie.
The Kolomna town museum is in the classical Church of the Archangel Michael, across the main road from the Kremlin. It provides good coverage of events in the town's more recent history, like a mass execution of rebellious workers by government troops in 1906. The town has a rich industrial past, too, with a machine-building factory that produced Russia's first tram (1892), the world's first oil tanker (1907) and the USSR's first electric locomotive (1932). Kolomna is also famous for 'Kolomna Pots', made of the characteristic local black clay. A few are displayed here.
Entering the Kremlin walls, head for the numerous cupolas which mark the central square. The area contains a feast of classical, gothic and eclectic styles, all of which are dominated by the 17th century Assumption Cathedral, recently renovated, and its bell-tower. Behind them is the New Golutvin Convent, the first in Russia to function again during perestroika.
Leave the Kremlin through the magnificent Pyatnitskiye Gates, once used by Prince Dmitry and others for triumphal entries into the city. Ahead is a quiet rural street, sloping gently toward the river. This area preserves Kolomna's peaceful atmosphere from the ravages of the nearby modern sprawl of Golutvino. The best view of the town is from across the bridge at the river end, where a dirt track leads to Bobrenyovo Monastery. One of the town's foreposts in the 14th century, the monastery was founded in honor of the Kulikovo victory by some of the battle's veterans. The present buildings, now under restoration, are 18th century.
About 32 km to the south is Zaraisk, another ancient border town of the Ryazan princedom. A compact and well-kept district centre, its principal attraction is the smallest 16th century Kremlin in Russia. The 17th century St. Nicholas Cathedral and the 19th century Church of St. John the Baptist are undergoing restoration by local craftsmen, amid weed-ridden surroundings. The tiny town museum in the nearby square has, apart from historical exhibits, one notable painting, Lev Bakst's A Portrait of Countess Keller. Further up the main street is the birthplace and house-museum of early 20th century sculptor and pupil of Auguste Rodin, Anna Golubkina.
Ten kilometres away near the village of Darovoye is the estate of Cheremoshnya, where Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81) spent his childhood and youth. It now houses a museum.
Due south of Moscow is an area containing much of the forest land once characteristic of the Moscow Region, and a favourite place for holiday homes. There is also some dramatic scenery, with such deep river valleys as that of the Pakhra.
Not far from the station at Rastorguyevo is the village of Sukhanovo, site of one of Stalin's most horrific prisons.
Located in a former monastery (now returned to the Orthodox Church), and bordering on a militia training school, "Sukhanovka" witnessed shootings and interrogations by torture. This was Beria's favourite prison - he often spent the night there. It also figures prominently in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.
Today, monks and church volunteers are trying to restore Sukhanovka as a monastery. They do not seem overawed by this task, though some local people are still fearful of a return to the days of terror. Some also believe there is a curse on the place.
The cell blocks are falling down now, but some of the subterranean isolation and interrogation rooms remain. The former are too small to lie down in, and prisoners confined there were either shrowded in darkness or dazzled by bright electric light. In the latter, bits of iron tubing stick up out of the floor, remains of the table and two chairs which were the sole furniture of each room. The ground floor of the main church, site of executions, is currently a militia garage but the monastery is negotiating for its return.
Nearby is the Sukhanovo estate, built for Prince Volkonsky by some of the finest classical architects of the early 19th century. It now houses a sanatorium, once the most prestigious rest home of the USSR Union of Architects. An exploration of the easily accessible grounds will reveal the Volkonsky family mausoleum, a copy of Tsarskoye Selo's Girl with a Jug statue (see Leningrad Region) and some pseudo-Gothic ruins.
Away to the southeast is the estate of Gorki, better known as Leninskiye Gorki. This late 18th century mansion, renovated by Fyodor Shekhtel in the early 20th, was owned for a time by a branch of the Morozov family of industrialists. It is famous, however, for its post-revolutionary role. In September 1918 Lenin came there to convalesce after an assassination attempt. Thanks to its beautiful setting on the river Pakhra, it became his favorite place in his last years, and he died there in January 1924.
Though not the great place of pilgrimage it once was, it is still of historic interest and a reasonable day trip. A huge concrete complex at the entrance to the estate, built in 1987, is about the last reminder of his former glory in this part of Russia. A grand staircase leads to a lifesize plaster statue, while five high-tech installations in the main hall provide tape-slide productions with silky narratives, and three-dimensional mirrored projections describing stages of his life.
In contrast, the main house has been stripped of ideology and looks very much as it would have done when Lenin was alive. There are some interesting exhibits, like the Rolls Royce in the garage, one of two bought by the Tsarist government during World War One. Near the back entrance is an exhibition of the contents of Lenin's rooms in the Kremlin, moved here in 1995 supposedly because the premises are being renovated. There is something plainly absurd about the nerve-centre of the Bolshevik government being transplanted to the middle of a forest, to a building built 30 years after Lenin's death, but that's where it seems likely to stay for the near future.
The next main artery out of Moscow to the west, running due south in the general direction of the Crimea, is Simferopolskoye shosse, paralleled by the railway line from the Kursk Station (Kursky Vokzal). For steam engine enthusiasts, the town of Shcherbinka hosts one of the country's few railway exhibits, on the grounds of a research institute. The centre has just a few restored engines.
Just outside Shcherbinka is the estate of Ostafyevo. A classical mansion built in wooded parkland by the noble Vyazemsky family in the early 19th century, it hosted many famous Russian literary figures, including Alexander Pushkin.
There is a curious legend associated with the naming of the estate. Count Vyazemsky decided to call it after whatever first words the great poet uttered on his arrival. When the carriage drew up, Pushkin nodded at his luggage and said to the coachman, "Leave it" (in Russian "ostav yevo").
Memorabilia of the poet were organized into a museum in the later part of the century by Count Sheremetyev, the Vyazemskys' heir. But Ostafyevo is most closely associated with Nikolay Karamzin, the sentimentalist writer and historian. Married to Yekaterina Vyazemskaya, the estate's founder, he wrote most of his famous "History of the Russian State" here.
Closed in 1929 to make way for a dom otdykha, it was revived in 1988, with exhibits on Karamzin and the Sheremetyevs. Unfortunately, a spate of burglaries has deprived it of a bust of Pushkin in the park, and most of Karamzin's possessions. The writer's study on the second floor is now just an empty room with a painting - only his spirit is preserved.
A little further is Podolsk, a rather drab town whose only claim to fame is that Lenin lived there for ten days in 1900. Consequently, there is a museum dedicated to him. Just to the west, however, is the fascinating estate of Dubrovitsy.
Dating from the late 17th century, this estate changed hands many times, and was even owned by Catherine the Great. She didn't buy it for herself, however - it was a present for one of her favourites, Matvey Dmitriyev-Mamonov, a man who was nevertheless unfortunate enough to spend half his life under house arrest. Twice, at its inception and during the period prior to the Revolution, it belonged to the powerful Golitsyn family. While the mansion itself is ornately classical and mildly interesting, the jewel in Dubrovitsy's crown is the rather imposing Church of Our Lady of the Sign. This remarkable white tower, surmounted by a great gold tiara and cross, stands as a landmark over the beautiful Pakhra River to the unknown Italian artists who built it. The estate grounds are now used by a livestock research institute.
Despite its name, the town of Chekhov just to the south is not a major attraction. Anton Chekhov, playwright and master of the short story, lived in nearby Melikhovo, and only came to the town (then known as Lopasnya) for his mail. The old post office is now a museum and archive of his letters. Chekhov's former estate, also a museum, is away to the east. In tiny, sleepy Melikhovo, he wrote the plays "The Seagull" and "Uncle Vanya", and many short stories. A doctor and local philanthropist, he also fought a cholera epidemic and built three local schools.
The ancient southern defences of Muscovy in this part of the region were concentrated on the town of Serpukhov. Some spots are picturesque when seen from the heights of the Kremlin on Krasnaya Gora, especially in winter when the River Nara is in view. Now just ramparts graced by the little Trinity Cathedral (the town museum), the Kremlin used to have a white stone wall, but most of this was dismantled in 1934 and transported to Moscow for work on the building of the new metro. To the south, a forlorn broken bell-tower provides an enduring reminder of the ravages of the Second World War.
At the southern end of town are the Vysotsky Monastery and, across the Nara, the fine Vladychny Convent, both with mostly 17th century buildings but both dating originally from the 14th. The Vysotsky provided the Tretyakov Gallery with some of its finest Byzantine icons. In fact, it is believed that Andrey Rublyov and other Russian masters studied, and were influenced by, these icons. Both monastery cathedrals are thought to have fragments dating from that time, though Serpukhov has not yet been studied thoroughly by historians and archaeologists.
Just to the west of Serpukhov is the Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve, a haven of flora and fauna normally found only in the steppe of southern Russia, 650km away. Its 40 sq. km of virgin forest shelters breeding grounds for large mammals, among them a nursery for European Bison, a species reintroduced to the Soviet Union in 1948 in a last attempt to save it from extinction. The plan worked, and numbers worldwide have increased from a low of 47 to more than 3,000 today. The reserve is not open to the general public, though short regular tours of the central areas, including the bison nursery, can be arranged at the excursion bureau. Anyone wishing to spend longer and explore the reserve can arrange trips in advance by calling 296-9063 or 546-7363 (Moscow numbers).
The southeasterly route out of Moscow brings you into some of the clearest and freshest air around the city, acres of forest interspersed with sanatoria and dachas, giving way further out to more picturesque, open country. The first place of interest is Peredelkino, the famous Russian writers' village. Though now undergoing yuppification, it still has some literary residents, such as novelist Andrey Bitov and poet Andrey Voznesensky. Here Boris Pasternak spent half of his life and completed his Nobel Prize-winning novel, "Dr Zhivago".
Turning right along the road out of the train station, you come shortly to the tiny Transfiguration Church, frequently visited by high-ranking Orthodox priests and even by the Patriarch. Its interior has several major icons. The village graveyard behind it includes Pasternak's own grave, which stands in a quiet pine grove. This romantic spot was once a gathering place for the literary youth, and is still a place of pilgrimage for many. The great film director Andrey Tarkovsky is also remembered here, with a cross beside the grave of his father Arseny, a much-loved poet.
About 10 minutes walk or a one-stop bus ride further down this road will bring you to the Dom Tvorchestvo, a 'luxury' holiday home owned by the Union of Writers. Turn right down the road opposite, Ulitsa Pavlenko, for the Pasternak house-museum. The poet lived here from 1939 till his death in 1960, and the museum, opened in 1990, preserves the house virtually as it was then. It is very spacious, a fact which enabled Pasternak to work very fast here, completing not just Zhivago but numerous translations of Goethe and Shakespeare.
Just beyond Kaluzhskoye shosse to the south is the estate of Valuyevo, built by archaeologist and historian A.I. Muzin-Pushkin, best known for his discovery of the epic poem of ancient Rus', "The Lay of Igor's Host". Valuyevo's buildings in classical style dating from the 18th and 19th centuries are tasteful, harmonious and well-preserved; its landscaped gardens and summer houses reward leisurely exploration, and stays in the sanatorium in the grounds can also be arranged (see beginning of chapter).
Another worthy point of interest in the area is Voronovo, an immaculate neo-baroque mansion beside a lake. The estate was once owned by Count Rostopchin, Moscow's governor general during Napoleon's invasion. Two buildings in the grounds date from earlier - the Church of our Saviour, in a style reminiscent of Ukrainian baroque, and the oddball but beautiful Dutch House, seemingly dropped there from an Amsterdam canalside. Except for the church, all is now part of a dom otdykha owned by the Economics Ministry. The main residential blocks are a concrete eyesore across the lake, which once hosted a rump "Soviet Congress of People's Deputies". Made up of a group of conservative deputies of the former legislature, it met after the collapse of the USSR and its own dissolution to declare the 1991 Belovezh Agreement "illegal" and "impeach" ex-President Gorbachev. Voronovo was jokingly dubbed the "new capital of the Soviet Union" by one journalist.
Further south, in neighboring Kaluga Region but still just within day-trip distance of Moscow, are several towns which have been involved in the defence of Moscow from the southwest throughout the centuries - from the days of Muscovy, through the Napoleonic Wars to Hitler's invasion. East of Balabanovo is Borovsk, where 19th century scientist Konstantin Tsiokolsky lived and taught mathematics. The town is picturesque, with a pretty riverside and hilltop churches, and is worth stopping in for the tasty local black bread. Its greatest attraction, however, is the imposing Monastery of St. Pafnuty, three kilometres outside (on the Balabanovo road). It was built in the 15th century and used as a frontier post by the Muscovites against independent princes. In the 17th century, Avvakum, leader of the Old Believers, was imprisoned here for two years. Borovsk became one of the main strongholds of the sect, and a museum here is dedicated to them.
Once a defence against Caucasian tribes to the south, and Poles from the west, Vereya became an important trade centre in the 17th century. Many 19th century houses and stone churches have been preserved, as have the market stalls in the town's central square. The result is a modest provincial town, seemingly frozen in about 1850. Behind the district college opposite is the Kremlin, surrounded on three sides by steep slopes and providing a magnificent view of the river Protva. There, too, stands the attractive 16th century Cathedral of the Nativity, unfortunately much obscured by later buildings.
Vereya also boasts the Soviet Union's first ever jeans production line. It appeared at the local clothes factory as early as 1976, long before western imports became readily available. Workers from the factory used to be forbidden to buy their own jeans (though many did so illegally outside the factory gate) and the entire stock was always delivered to Moscow.
Just to the south, Maloyaroslavets is best known as the place where Napoleon finally gave up his dream of subduing Russia. Finding Moscow empty and devoid of provisions, he turned his weary army south towards the well-stocked city of Kaluga. When his vanguard reached this small town, it did battle with a slightly larger local Russian force, finally ousting it from a key bridgehead. Though this was nominally a French victory, it was enough to persuade Napoleon that the war was lost. He abandoned his army and returned to France.
Monuments to this war and the one against Hitler abound. On Moskovskaya ulitsa is a branch of the Borodino museum (see Toward Smolensk) and in a nearby chapel, a diorama of the Battle of Maloyaroslavets. The battle itself took place outside the St. Nicholas Chernoostrovsky Monastery, whose Blue Gates still betray the damage caused by grape shot. The current buildings date from the early 19th century, including the huge St. Nicholas Cathedral built by A. Vitberg, one of the architects of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.
Upstream (west) from Moscow, the Moskva River is a much more attractive proposition than the polluted waters to the southeast - swimming here is excellent, though areas closer to the city can become unpleasantly crowded and rubbish-strewn throughout the summer.
Often described as a Versailles outside Moscow, Arkhangelskoye is a gem among the region's estates. Although it was originally built in the 1660's, most of today's buildings date from a hundred years later, when the Golitsyn family, prominent since the time of Peter the Great, poured large sums of money and attention into its reconstruction. When Prince Nikolay Yusupov bought the estate in 1810, he added new buildings and filled the main house with one of Europe's finest art collections, including works by Van Dyck and Tiepolo.
Unfortunately, the main house museum was closed at time of writing, but the park and outer buildings, entered through a gap in the fence near the bus stop, are still worth visiting. A combination of formal gardens near the house and a landscape park further away, the palace grounds are filled with classical statues and pavilions. The serf theater, just to the west, contains faded decorations by the Italian master Pietro Gonzaga dating from the late 18th century. The Bridge over the Ravine is perhaps the most unusual outbuilding, consisting of an archway above which is a wooden structure in pseudo-gothic style. Finally, the fairytale Church of the Archangel Michael - the only survivor from the original estate - should be seen.
Near Arkhangelskoye are two country restaurants. The Arkhangelskoye Restaurant (tel. 562-0328) is just across the road from the museum. The pricey Russkaya Izba (tel.561-4244) is near the Moskva River bridge in the village of Ilyinskoye.
Just far enough away from Moscow to be truly rural, 12th century Zvenigorod is one of the oldest settlements in the region. It provides an ideal day out in summer, where you can combine the pleasures of swimming and sightseeing. At the centre of Zvenigorod is the Assumption Cathedral (c. 1400), the most ancient fully preserved architectural monument of old Muscovy. If you're lucky enough to visit when a service is taking place (6 p.m. Sundays and holidays), you'll be able to get in to see a fresco by master icon-painter Andrey Rublyov and his pupils.
Just west of the town is an area known as Podmoskovnaya Shveitsariya (Moscow Switzerland), whose beautiful landscapes of woodland and valleys have long been favored by party and government elites for short holidays. The dom otdykha at Solnechnaya Polyana, meanwhile, is generally regarded as being one of the best in the Region.
The most stunning 'Swiss' scenery is along the valley of the Storozhka River, which was often visited by 19th century landscape painter Isaac Levitan. At the river's confluence with the Moskva is the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery. Most of the current buildings are 17th century, but there is one outstanding exception, the Cathedral of the Nativity, dating from the monastery's founding in 1398 and now standing gracefully in the centre of the courtyard. It contains some of Russia's finest 17th century icons, as well as works from the 15th, 19th and even 20th centuries. The museum in the grounds includes a family chapel and the country's largest wickerwork collection.
The monastery is really quite magnificent, though this is frustratingly difficult to perceive visually, except from the high bell-tower or from across the river in winter.
To the south, toward the railway line to Mozhaisk, is the estate of Bolshiye Vyazyomy, supposedly once owned by Boyar and future Tsar Boris Godunov. From Peter the Great's time until the revolution, it was owned by the ubiquitous Golitsyn family. The main house, built by them in typical classical style, was recently given a full restoration, and is now a Pushkin museum-reserve, containing exhibitions on 18-19th century country estates, and on the estate's last owner, D.B.Golitsyn, head of the imperial hunt. Classical concerts are held here regularly at weekends.
Though the museum itself has little to do with Pushkin, the poet was a frequent visitor to the estate, and its then owner, the elderly Princess Natalya Golitsyna, was said to have inspired the decrepid countess of his famous supernatural tale "The Queen of Spades".
The nearby Transfiguration Church, however, is the real treasure of Vyazyomy. Dating from the late 16th century, the work on its cornices and zakomary among other things are reminiscent of the Kremlin's Archangel Cathedral. It also boasts a beautiful two-tier belfry, each tier containing three arched bays for bells - a phenomenon common in north west Russia but unique for the Moscow area. The churchyard contains the grave of Nikolay Pushkin, Alexander's younger brother who died aged 7.
Pushkin actually stayed nearby in Zakharovo, at his grandmother's house. Set high above the Vyazyoma River, all that remains of this estate now is a park: the 1903 house which replaced the original mansion burnt down recently. In 1949 (the 150th anniversary of Pushkin's birth), a black marble obelisk was erected on the grounds; on the first Sunday in June every year, people gather here for festive recitations of his poetry.
In recent Soviet times, the town of Mozhaisk was best known as being the main provider of the capital's sterilized milk. It is indeed the area's chief industrial centre, but that does not detract from its historical and religious importance. Mozhaisk is one of the centres of the cult of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker, Russia's favorite saint, depicted on icons as an elderly, bald, bearded man with a kind and innocent face.
Komsomolskaya Square, in the west of town, is the old center of Mozhaisk. Close by is the Kremlin, set on a massive rampart. Of the two churches, the most impressive is the massive neo-gothic New St. Nicholas Cathedral, a dramatic sight from the road to Borodino. Built in the 19th century, it contains remnants of older buildings, notably the Church-over-the-Gate, dating from 1685.
Leaving the town to the north by picturesque Ulitsa Krupskaya (named after Lenin's wife), visitors will first cross the Mozhaika River and then walk to the Luzhnetsky Monastery, attractively situated on the banks of the Moskva River. Most of its buildings date from the 16th century, and were financed by Makary, a major religious and political figure during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.
Some six kilometers to the north, the Moskva River is dammed. Upstream is the so-called Sea of Mozhaisk, created in 1961. This "sea" is a favorite place for fishing, with an abundance of pike, perch, and tench. It's probably best to start trips from the base at Staroye Selo, to the northwest.
The furthest point of interest within day-trip distance on the road to Smolensk is the battlefield of Borodino. Although this huge museum preserve, covering an area of 130 sq.km, is impossible to see in its entirety, its main features can be taken in without great fuss. They are: the pretty Nativity church in Borodino village, the only building to survive the battle; a museum, less than 1 km south, complete with diorama and relief map of the field; the Russian headquarters in Gorki, marked by one of the battlefield's dozens of obelisks; and Napoleon's camp, similarly indicated, at Shevardino. All are dominated by the main monument near the museum, a huge column topped by a gold sickle. This marks the spot of the Rayevsky Redoubt, where the fiercest fighting took place. Prince Bagration, the brave Georgian general who was Kutuzov's second in command, lies buried behind it.
In the village of Semyonovskoye, another scene of fierce fighting, the Convent of the Savior of Borodino was built in the 1830's and one of its churches dedicated to the fallen. The Convent saw service as a hospital during World War Two; it is now a museum dealing with the 1941 battle of Borodino, whose positions and maneouvres were uncannily similar to those of 1812. Just opposite is a former hotel where Leo Tolstoy stayed in 1867 while researching his epic novel, "War and Peace". This, too, is now a museum.
Moscow's northwestern outskirts soon give way to acres of beautiful mixed woodland combined with such picturesque river valleys as the Sinichka, Banka, Nakhabinka, and the Malaya Istra, stretching from the Istra River in the south to the St. Petersburg rail and road routes in the north. This is fine walking country.
Not far from the village of Opalikha, the first rural settlement encountered by the Moscow-based traveler, is another mansion in the Golitsyn holdings, Nikolskoye-Uryupino. Resembling Arkhangelskoye in style and features, it has one outstanding treasure - the lavishly decorated and beautifully situated St. Nicholas Church, similar in period and style to Arkhangelskoye's.
A few km along the railroad is Snegiri, famous as the place where future Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky's 16th Army stopped the German advance on Moscow on December 6, 1941. A couple of kilometres from the station is the village of Lenino, where the front line ran. A memorial park marks the spot, with a T34 tank facing west. The local museum is exceptional for the tank collection in its yard, gathered by the director over several decades. It includes a German Tiger tank, one of just four left in the world, found in a nearby swamp, and two American Shermans, lent to the Soviet Union for use in World War Two and never returned.
While many Russian monasteries seek to fill their visitors with awe, the subtle ingenuity and architectural excellence of New Jerusalem give it an appeal of a different kind. It was built in the 17th century by the colorful and controversial Patriarch Nikon, who sought to gain for Russia leadership of the Christian world. A part of his grand design was the rebuilding of sacred places on Russian soil.
Nikon chose this site on a bend in the river Istra because he felt it resembled the Holy Land's topography. The Istra became the Jordan, the hill beside it Mount Zion, and the monastery, Jerusalem itself. New Jerusalem's most extraordinary feature is the Cathedral of the Resurrection, completed in 1686 in the "image and likeness" of Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre though in contemporary Russian architectural style. Blown up by the retreating Nazis in 1941, it is undergoing painfully slow reconstruction. Its greatest treasures are the ceramic decorations, with tiling in the form of "Peacock's Eye" friezes, portals and seven unique iconostases. In stark contrast is the white plastered underground church of Konstantin and Yelena. Entering by a doorway from the draughty cathedral, the cozy heated stairway gives one the feeling of descending into the bowels of the earth. This subterranean church is the only one of its kind in Russia; its base is six metres below ground level and its belfry just a couple of meters above the grass of the courtyard.
Outside the walls are the "Gardens of Gethsemane," known for their holy water spring. A wooden chapel, a folly, and a windmill complete a rich and pleasing scene.
Situated on the old river route from Moscow to Novgorod, the town of Volokolamsk was always a bone of contention between these two rival princedoms. Now just a small provincial town, it lies beneath its tiny Kremlin, a cozy, fenced enclosure with two churches. One of these, the 17th century Resurrection Cathedral, houses the local museum.
Some 24 kilometers northwest of Volokolamsk is the village of Teryayevo and nearby the Monastery of St. Joseph of Volokolamsk. The latter was founded in 1479 by Joseph Volotsky, a powerful political and religious figure of his time, known for his unbending spiritual discipline and dislike of heretics. His monastery became a center both for education and for charitable activity. Legend has it that Volotsky's generosity to the poor upset local entrepreneurs by forcing up their prices. Most of the current buildings date from the 17th century, when they were decorated with strikingly colored tile friezes, notably the Assumption Cathedral's "peacock's eye," created by Stepan Polubes, the famous Moscow ceramicist. Now returned to the church, the monastery has once again become an educational centre, teaching the ancient art of manuscript-writing right down to such details as traditional methods of preparing ink, and collecting bibles from all over the world. A bible museum (the largest in Russia and the third largest in the world) displays the nucleus of the collection, including the first complete printed Slavonic bible.
Just to the west are two estates in the village of Yaropolets, owned by maverick Ukrainian hetman (general) Doroshenko in the 16th century. Having dared to take the side of the Turks in a war against Russia, Doroshenko was eventually captured by his fellow Slavs and died in prison. His two sons each inherited one of these estates.
The southern one is Yaropolets Goncharovykh, as the name suggests owned by the family of Alexander Pushkin's wife Natalya Goncharova. Indeed, this fine classical estate with elements of the pseudo-gothic was visited on occasion by the poet himself. Most haunting and romantic are the walls at the southern edge of the grounds, reminiscent of Tsaritsyno in Moscow. The stately Yaropolets Chernyshovykh was built by Pyotr Nikitin, a contemporary of architect Vassily Bazhenov. It was reduced to a ruined shell during World War II and still awaits restoration. Its condition is in stark contrast to that of its brightly painted and well-maintained neighbour. Just opposite the main house is the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, a magnificent two-domed classical church with porticos and columns, now also a ruin.
Just to the northwest of Moscow, off the main road to Novgorod and St. Petersburg, is another estate connected with a famous Russian writer. Serednikovo, the Stolypin family residence in the early 19th century, was frequented by the great romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov with his grandmother, the owner's sister.
For Lermontov, this was a beautiful childhood retreat, where he was inspired to write, and perhaps actually wrote, his long poem, "The Demon". (Extract from poem, written about Serednikovo:
"Clouds rush shining through the blue sky. The steep hill
is bathed in autumn sunlight. The river dashes downwards
among the stones..."
Since Lermontov's death in a duel at the tender age of 26, successive owners of the estate have striven to preserve his memory. At the turn of the century, the Firsanov family commissioned a ceiling painting of a scene from "The Demon" and a bust of the poet. In Soviet times, a sanatorium moved in, and has preserved the interior of the main house.
Now, things are changing again: the sanatorium is moving out, and the premises are being taken over by the Lermontov Association, an organization uniting 200 of the poet's descendants from all over the world. A museum complex is planned in the style of Pushkin's estate at Mikhailovskoye (see Pskov Region), with neighbouring mansions and a mahogany workshop also being restored.
Despite needing extensive restoration and constuction work, Serednikovo makes a pleasant day out of Moscow. You can admire the main house (and ask to be shown the interior, with its paintings, stained glass and mahogany panels), taste the water of the holy spring, or picnic by the lakeside or in beautiful woodland.
Continuing northwest you will arrive at another of the outposts of ancient Muscovy, Klin, better known in Tsarist times as a post station and stopping place for merchants on the way to St. Petersburg. It was the home of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, whose mansion is set in woods below the town and is now a house-museum. It was here that he wrote his Sixth Symphony and the "Nutcracker" ballet. The birch table where he worked on the former has been preserved as an exhibit. In 1964 a concert hall seating 400 was added, where visitors can listen to tape recordings and watch films about Tchaikovsky.
The town itself has retained some of its charm, though it has suffered badly from heavy traffic and uglification. The Kremlin is now barely noticeable, its main church shorn of its cupola, painted a lurid green and used as a "Culture House." The nearby 19th century pseudo-Russian style market stalls have fared better, though, and exploration behind the facade reveals an 1886 shop sign, workplace of the trader Timofey Chelyshov. Two churches in the town are worth a look: the Assumption Church on Ulitsa Papivina, a forlorn but durable white building set back from a busy road, unusual for having triangular pediments below the rooves instead of zakomary or kokoshniki; and the Church of the Prelate Tikhon on Sportivnaya, a gleaming, festive structure in a grim suburban wasteland, built and opened just a few years ago by the Patriarch.
The next main artery to the east is Dmitrovskoye shosse, and close to it the estate of Marfino, with its magnificent 19th century gothic palace, now unfortunately completely derelict. Once frequented by literary figures in the last century, it was recently used as a location for the filming of the Satanic Ball in Bulgakov's satirical novel, "The Master and Margerita". Despite Marfino's ruined state, visitors still come to admire the gardens, and particularly the front steps and stunning romantic bridge over an ornamental pond.
Just a few kilometres away is the sleepy village of Fedoskino, nestled in the valley of the River Ucha. This is the original centre of the production of Russia's famous lacquer boxes. Though begun in 1795, the industry faced new ompetition in the 1930's, when icon-painting centers such as Palekh and Mstyora, in Ivanovo Region, began to adopt the craft. However, Fedoskino continues to produce boxes in its own 19th century classical, non-religious style. Though suffering from lack of a museum and relative obscurity, its reputation still brings regular visitors. Most of the artists now live in the modern residential blocks beyond the river opposite the factory, and they always welcome visits from potential buyers.
Further north is the town of Dmitrov itself, founded by Yuri Dolgoruky in the 12th century. The town's history is turbulent: it was contested by the Muscovy and Vladimir-Suzdal princedoms, then sacked by the Lithuanians and Poles in the 17th century. The earthen ramparts of the Kremlin remain, shielding the churches within from the incursions of the modern world. The large Assumption Cathedral combines a working church and, below it, one of the area's best history museums. Behind the Kremlin stands the charming Monastery of SS. Boris and Gleb, a real find for lovers of crumbling ruins.
THE MOSCOW CANAL AND OTHER BODIES OF WATER
One of Stalin's more successful grandiose construction projects during the 1930's was a canal connecting Moscow to the River Volga at Dubna. The Moscow Canal was built with forced labor, and casualties ran into the thousands. It runs from the Moskva River in the city to the town of Kimry, via a number of artificial reservoirs - now Moscovites' favorite recreational areas for swimming, windsurfing, sailing and fishing. The canal includes 11 immense locks and eight hydroelectric power stations.
The canal is best seen in summer, either on a Moscow-St. Petersburg cruise or from one of the Raketa hydrofoils which ply the nearer reservoirs and channels between May and October from Moscow's Northern River Station. Though raketa services are infrequent, a bit of forward planning can lead to a rewarding day out, with stops at any of the wayside piers.
Of the six reservoirs, perhaps the Klyazminskoye is the most popular, and is one of the country's most important sailing centres. Here visitors can arrange daily outings accompanied by an experienced crew. Several yacht clubs can arrange trips, including Spartak in the town of Dolgoprudny (tel. 408-2500, 576-0213 [Moscow numbers]), and Aurora at the nearby Vodniki train station (tel. 947-4372 [Moscow]). Check prices, as the number of people in the group and length of time spent sailing will determine which of these is the best value.
Not far from the pier at Chiverevo is Zhostovo, famous as the centre of Russia's painted tray craft. Originating in the Urals, it was developed outside Moscow by the industrialist Vishnyakov family in their home village in the 1820s. Zhostovo's hallmarks are extravagant oil-painted flower patterns on varnished metal trays.
For swimming, try the adjacent Pirogovskoye Reservoir. Just 35 km from the city, it is nearly unspoiled (though avoid the rather unpleasantly soiled northern shore in the area of some downmarket sanatoria) and surrounded by forest. Fish swim in the shallows unperturbed by pollution, and the water sparkles.
Farther west, near the town of Solnechnogorsk, is another, much older artificial reservoir. Senezhskoye Lake is all that remains of a canal bult in the early 18th century to carry stone to Moscow for the building of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Once frequented by such famous anglers as Lenin, poet Alexander Blok, and Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, it remains a prominent fishing centre.
Completing the picture of Moscow's northern lakes is Kiyovo in the town of Lobnya. Though tiny and stagnant, it is an important nature reserve, and home to several thousand gulls.
The Jewel of Orthodoxy
It would be difficult to imagine Orthodox Christianity or indeed Russia itself without the city of Sergiyev Posad (formerly Zagorsk) or its centrepiece, the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. This major complex of spiritual life contains several churches amd museums that make a fascinating day trip from Moscow. Aand although hundreds of visitors may mingle on its grounds with monks and theological students during a midsummer day, the monastery's serenity seems never to be dispelled.
Because of the gradual appearance of this ensemble over the centuries, it would seem to make sense to introduce its buildings chronologically.
The origins of the monastery founded in the 1340's by St. Sergius of Radonezh are modest. Sergius was an ascetic monk who settled in the forest with his brother and gradually built up a community of like-minded people. With his followers he played a major role in the spiritual consolidation of a Russia demoralized by Tatar oppression.
Though destroyed during a Tatar raid in 1408, the monastery was soon being rebuilt, and 15 years later the Trinity Cathedral, the oldest and perhaps still the finest of the monastery's churches, was completed on the site of Sergius' grave. Though made of white stone and pre-Mongolian in style, it was the first church to include "kokoshniki", a type of awning over the facades. It formerly housed Andrey Rublyov's "Old Testament Trinity", the finest surviving work of ancient Russian art, which is now on display in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Rublyov's work is replaced here by a copy.
Nearby stands the shorter and slenderer Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the second oldest in the ensemble, built in 1476 by Pskov masters. This is the oldest surviving church in Russia with a bell-tower contained under its roof.
In the 15th century, the monks decided to fortify the Lavra, and raised a huge brick fortress complete with moats and stakes. One result was to dwarf the Trinity Cathedral. In 1559 Ivan the Terrible commissioned a new cathedral, the blue and gold domed Assumption, which when finished 30 years later became the monastery's dominant structure, and remains so today. The interior is bright and sumptuous, with frescoes by members of the highly-acclaimed Yaroslavl school. Adjoining the southern entrance is the tomb of Tsar Boris Godunov, famous for his part in Russia's Time of Troubles.
The monastery survived a bitter siege at the beginning of the 17th century. A hundred years later, after supporting Peter the Great in his struggle for power, it was rewarded with many of the exquisite buildings which grace its precincts today. Most notable of these is the Refectory (1692), whose walls seem carpeted with lush decoration.
Building continued into the 18th century with a magnificent belltower which, although the tallest in Russia, nonetheless preserves the harmony of the ensemble; its successive layers are equal in height to that of other buildings in the monastery. The base now houses a souvenir shop, while a climb to the top provides an excellent view of the monastery and surrounding area.
The museums of art and history now on the site boast a rich collection of every conceivable form of ancient Russian art. One genre in which it excels above all other collections, however, is tapestry. You can see the best collection in Russia (guided tour only) in the Vestry behind the Trinity Cathedral, including a full-length portrait of St. Sergius, possibly made by Rublyov himself. The nearby Treasury contains an icon collection, among them some works by the Rublyov school and an exhaustive display of local peasant crafts.
While in the Lavra, ask about visiting another Sergiyev Posad monastery, the Chernigov Skeet on the edge of town. During the 1840's, a string of smaller monasteries was built around the lavra, of which this quickly became the most famous and revered.
Shortly after its founding, a nomadic hermit called Philip came to the Skeet and decided to settle. Intending to build himself a small cave, he got carried away and created a system of underground cells and churches, in the style of the cave monsteries in Kiev.
A holy spring was discovered, the healing icon of Our Lady of Chernigov installed, and group of "startsy" (elders) arrived. The most famous of the latter was Barnabas the Comforter, who was said to recieve 500 people a day, among them Tsar Nicholas II, for whom he predicted the sufferings of 1917.
In Soviet times, the Chernigov Skeet had various new "uses", notably as a home for limbless World War Two veterans. Many died here, forgotten by the victorious nation. The nearby Gethsemane Skeet was obliterated except for its walls, and was taken over by a top secret Ministry of Defense department dealing with the storage of nuclear warheads. Until very recently, the monasteries and nearby housing estate were blotted out of local maps.
In the later 1980's, the Chernigov Skeet was partly returned to the church in a derelict condition. Its caves have survived: an underground church and several monk's cells. Some paintings of "startsy" have been preserved on the walls, their eyes gouged out by the Bolsheviks in an act of barbarism reminiscent of the Romans in Egypt, jealous of rival civilizations. Beneath them stands Barnabas' coffin, while above ground the grave of early 20th century philosopher Vassily Rozanov has been restored.
If you have time, visit also the toy museum just south of the Lavra. It contains work from the nearby factory, one of the best in Russia, and includes a lifesize 'Misha,' (the Moscow Olympic mascot bear) and a 1959 interplanetary spaceship with cosmonauts and capsules, made entirely of wood.
Yaroslavskoye shosse, the road from Moscow to Sergiyev Posad and beyond, is one of the best-maintained in the region, the beginning of the Golden Ring tourist route and therefore patronized by coachloads of foreigners whom the Soviet government was always anxious to please. But even so, not all the area's treasures have been readily appreciated by visitors.
Take for instance Klyazma, a small village two kilometres off the main road with a handful of architectural gems to delight lovers of Art Nouveau. The Church of Veronica's Veil is its centrepiece - a stone structure with unique colored tiles over the belfry and entrance portraying Christ and the angels. It was built two years before the Revolution and services were never held there at the time. Just after reconsecration in 1991, the church was damaged by fire but remains largely intact. Restoration continues. Two doors away is the earlier wooden village church, also art nouveau, but nowadays locked up by the local gymnastics club. The Alexandrenko family, who sponsored these buildings, has a dacha nearby. Unfortunately a shady cooperative now owns it and the determined visitor will have to negotiate a high wall and vicious dog to see its modest architectural merits.
Just beyond the town of Ashukino is the pretty estate of Muranovo. Although virtually unknown to Golden Ring tourists, it has a museum dedicated to two of Russia's finest 19th century poets, Yevgeny Baratynsky and Fyodor Tyutchev. The former praised this "happy house" in a poem and declared that even in the throes of old age he would not grow cold there. The most endearing thing about Muranovo is its setting; the ideal season for visits is the autumn, when the mixed foliage around the estate is alive with color. A small church on the grounds houses the Tyutchev family burial vault. Just south of Muranovo is the excellent Sofrino dom otdykha, bookable through the travel agents mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
The lush, green countryside in this part of Moscow Region has inspired artists and writers for centuries and made it an attractive setting for Abramtsevo. This small country estate was acquired by the devout Slavophile writer Sergey Aksakov in the mid 19th century because of its proximity to the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. For a time it became a kind of headquarters of the Slavophiles in their intellectual battle with the Westernizers. Later in the century, the estate was bought by the progressive industrialist and art patron Savva Mamontov, who invited such artists as Viktor and Apollinarius Vasnetsov and Ilya Repin to work on collective projects there. Even after the Revolution, artistic traditions continued, as painters Aristarch Lentulov and Robert Falk, among others, lived and worked there.
Abramtsevo is now a museum preserve, best appreciated by wandering around the grounds to see the outbuildings constructed by several of the resident artists. The neo-Russian Church of Spas Not Made By Human Hand (1880-82), designed by Apollinarius Vasnetsov with interior icons and other decoration by Viktor Vasnetsov and Vassily Polyenov, is white, unimposing, and asymmetrically pleasing to the eye - a perfect site for peaceful contemplation. The Teremok baths, with their traditional but unorthodox folk carvings, and the ceramics on display in the studio should not be missed. The main part of the exhibition, though, is a rather colorless display of photographs and personal belongings of the estate's two famous owners.
The Abramtsevo museum is closed during the months of April and October, on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on the last Thursday of each month. On other days it is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Traveling to Abramtsevo by car you will pass the Convent of the Protection and Intercession of the Virgin at Khotkovo, originally built as a female complement to the nearby Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. So great was the attraction of this convent for local women that the most of the local men were forced to live as bachelors. The ensemble is dominated by the St. Nicholas Cathedral, built at the beginning of this century in Russo-Byzantine style. The older Church of the Protection and Intercession of the Virgin was once frequented by Mamontov, and in recent years Abramtsevo people have worked tirelessly to restore it. It now gleams brilliantly among derelict surroundings. A small branch of the Abramtsevo museum devoted to local crafts can be found over the monastery gate.
Anyone with an interest in Scottish history should consider a deviation from Yaroslavskoye shosse to the village of Monino and the small estate at Glinki. It belonged to James William Bruce, a direct descendent of the Scottish King Robert and a commander of Peter the Great's artillery at the battle of Poltava. In addition to his military skills, he was known to practice the black arts, and on one occasion succeeded in hypnotising the Tsar and his courtiers into believing they were about to be washed into the River Neva by a flood. The main house is now a sanatorium and the inside has been completely refurbished, but there is a small museum nearby devoted to Scottish-Russian relations of that era.
For those interested in a completely different kind of sightseeing, Monino also contains an air force museum. Situated in the middle of an air base, the museum displays just about the entire historical wealth of Soviet military aviation, ranging from wispy biplanes to sleek intercontinental bombers. There are also some civilian aircraft, like the Tu-144, the Soviet version of Concorde. Visits to the base require careful preparation, so call 584-2180 (Moscow number) for further details.
Dzerzhinsky: by M5 to Lyubertsy, then right, or turn off the Moscow Circular Road between the M5 and Domodedovo airport turn-offs. By bus #347 or route taxi from Kuzminki metro station, or by train to Lyubertsy 1 from the Kazansky Vokzal, then bus #21.
Bykovo: 6 km beyond the ring road on the M5, take the A102 Zhukovsky road, and proceed for 5 km. The church and estate are to the right of the road. By train to Udelnaya station on the Ryazan line, then #21 or #23 bus to Bykovo village (not to be confused with Bykovo train station or Bykovo airport, both in the other direction). For the Zhukovsky air show, alight one stop further at Bykovo.
Gzhel: turn off the M5 in Lyubertsy onto Yegoryevskoye shosse. The Gzhel villages are between 32 and 40 km away (For Kuzyayevo turn left at Novokharitonovo [40km]). By train from the Kazansky Vokzal on Shatura, Cherusti and Kurovskoye bound trains - alight at Gzhel station for Troshkovo and Fenino, or at Kuzyayevo for Kuzyayevo, Turygino or Bakhteyevo.
Kolomna: take the M5 Ryazanskoye shosse to the southeast. The town is on your left after the Kolomna River bridge, approximately 93km from the center of Moscow. By train, go from the Kazansky Vokzal to Kolomna (Golutvino or Ryazan bound trains), journey time 2.5 hours. The #9 tram takes you directly to the town museum (last stop).
Zaraisk: by M5 beyond Kolomna to the town of Lukovitsy, then right. By bus from Vykhino metro station, journey time 3 hours, or from Golutvino, the next rail station after Kolomna.
Sukhanovo: leave Moscow by Varshavskoye shosse and continue to the town of Butovo. Turn left there, then right 5 km later. By train to Rastorguyevo from the Paveletsky Vokzal (45 minutes), then by local bus.
Gorki: take Kashirskoye shosse, M4/6, 8 km out of Moscow and turn left to Gorki-Leninskiye. By bus #439 from Domodedovskaya metro station.
Shcherbinka: 3 km south of Butovo on Varshavskoye shosse, turn right and continue for another 1.5 km. By train from the Kursky Vokzal (45 minutes). To reach Ostafyevo, continue for another 3 km or take a bus from Shcherbinka.
Podolsk: continue another 6 1/2 km past Butovo. For Dubrovitsy, leave the town by the Obninsk road and turn right immediately. By train from the Kursky Vokzal.
Melikhovo: by M2 Simferopolskoye shosse, 50 km from central Moscow, then turn right, doubling back under the shosse away from the town of Chekhov. By train from the Kursky Vokzal to Chekhov, 1 hour 50 minutes, then by local bus.
Serpukhov: by M2, another 25 km beyond Chekhov, and turn right. By train 2 1/4 hours from the Kursky Vokzal.
Prioksko-Terrasny: take the Serpukhov turning off the M2 but double back under the shosse. From Serpukhov by bus to Danki.
Peredelkino: by car leave Moscow by Minskoye shosse (M1) and at the 21 km post turn left. By train half an hour from the Kievsky Vokzal to Peredelkino station.
Valuyevo: take Kievskoye shosse, M3, out of Moscow (called Leninsky prospekt as far as the ring road). After 5km turn left to Moskovsky and continue through the village toward Verkhnyeye Valuyevo. By public transport, take the Vnukovo airport bus from metro Yugo-Zapadnaya to the Peredeltsy stop, then carry on by local bus.
Voronovo: drive south of Moscow on A101 Kaluzhskoye shosse for about 50 km, or take bus #508 from Tyoply Stan metro (1 hour journey).
Borovsk: by the M3 to the town of Balabanovo (78 km), then turn right and continue for another 13 km. By train from the Kievsky Vokzal to Balabanovo (2.25 hours), then on by bus.
Vereya: by Minskoye shosse (M1) 68 km to Dorokhovo, then left. Continue 13 km to the hamlet of Kolodkina and turn right. By train from the Belorussky Vokzal to Dorokhovo (2 hours), then by bus.
Maloyaroslavets: 130 km by A101. By train 2 1/2 hours from the Kievsky Vokzal.
Arkhangelskoye: leave Moscow by Volokolamskoye shosse, then turn left onto Ilyinskoye shosse; or take Moscow bus #549 from Tushinskaya metro.
Zvenigorod: turn off the Moscow ring road onto Rublyovskoye shosse and continue for 28 km to the town. By train from Belorussky Vokzal, journey time 1.2 hours.
Bolshiye Vyazyomy: take the M1 out of Moscow, then turn right on the A100 for Odintsovo and continue for 32 km. By train from the Belorussky Vokzal to Golitsyno (approx. 1 hour), then walk north about 1 km or take any bus two stops.
Zakharovo: as for Bolshiye Vyazyomy, then turn right towards Zvenigorod. In 2 km at the village of Zakharovo, turn left. By train from the Belorussky Vokzal to Zakharovo on the Zvenigorod branch line.
Mozhaisk: direct by the A100 or 97 km on the M1 and turn right, for another 5 km. By train 2.5 hours from the Belorussky Vokzal.
Borodino: continue through Mozhaisk on the A100, 13 km further to the village of Borodino. By train from the Belorussky Vokzal to Borodino (nearly 3 hours), then by bus to the museum and village itself.
Nikolskoye-Uryupino: by Rizhskoye shosse 10 km from the outer ring road and turn right, or train from the Rizhsky Vokzal to Opalikha (1/2 hour), then 4 km on foot.
Lenino: leave Moscow by the M9 Volokolamskoye shosse and continue for 30 km. By train to Snegiri.
New Jerusalem: 10 km beyond Lenino. The monastery is just beyond the town of Istra, on a hill to the right. By train, go from the Rizhsky Vokzal to Istra (1.5 hours), then take a local bus to the "Musei" stop.
Volokolamsk: 130 km on the M9, or 2 1/2 hours by train from the Rizhsky Vokzal, then on by local bus.
Teryayevo: by M9 approximately 105 km to the village of Chismena, then right through the village and another 24 km. By train to Volokolamsk and another 27 km by bus.
Yaropolets: by car to Volokolamsk, then right for another 13 km to the village of Kashino, then left. By bus 16 km from Volokolamsk.
Serednikovo: by Leningradskoye shosse about 30 km, then turn left towards Firsanovka just before Zelenograd and drive straight for about 8 km. By train from the Leningradsky Vokzal, 45 minutes to Firsanovka (Podsolnechnaya- and Kryukovo-bound trains only).
Klin: by the M10 for 65 km, or by train to Klin from the Leningradsky Vokzal (2 hours), then a short bus ride.
Marfino and Fedoskino: by A104 to the village of Sukharevo, then right, or by train to Katuar (1 hour) from the Savyolovsky Vokzal, then by bus.
Dmitrov: by A104 for 48 km, or by train to Dmitrov from the Savyolovsky Vokzal (2 hours).
Moscow Canal: In summer the canal and its main reservoirs are served by "Raketa" hydrofoils from Moscow's Northern River Station (Severny Rechnoy Vokzal). Otherwise they are best reached by car along the A104 Dmitrovskoye shosse (Klyazminskoye and Ikshinskoye) or M8 Yaroslavskoye shosse (turn left at Mytishchi for Pirogovskoye or left at Pushkino for Uchinskoye). By train go to Vodniki for the Klyazminskoye or to Iksha for the Ikshinskoye from the Savyolovsky Vokzal, or to Pirogovsky for the Pirogovskoye or Pushkino for the Uchinskoye from the Yaroslavsky Vokzal.
Zhostovo: by Raketa to the Chiverevo pier, then walk or take a bus 3 km northeast to the village.
Senezhskoye Lake: by M10 Leningradskoye shosse 40 km to the town of Solnechnogorsk. By train to the same (1.5 hours) from the Leningradsky Vokzal.
Kiyovo: by A104 Dmitrovskoye shosse for 16 km, then left to the town of Lobnya. By train to Lobnya from the Savyolovsky Vokzal, journey time 45 minutes.
Klyazma: by M8 Yaroslavskoye shosse about 24 km from Moscow, then turn left into the village. By train to Klyazma, 1/2 hour from the Yaroslavsky Vokzal.
Muranovo: by M8 for 40 km to the village of Rakhmanovo, then left and continue for 5 km. By train to Ashukinskaya (1.5 hours), then 3 km on foot or by bus.
Abramtsevo: by M8 for 72 km to the village of Vozdvizhenskoye, then left to Khotkovo. Before reaching the entrance to the convent, turn left again for Abramtsevo. By train to Abramtsevo (1.5 hours, just one stop further for Khotkovo).
Sergiyev Posad: take the M8 and continue for 80 km. By train just under 2 hours from the Yaroslavsky Vokzal.
Glinki and Monino air base: by M7 Gorkovskoye shosse for 40 km, then left to Monino. By train from the Yaroslavsky Vokzal to Monino (1.25 hours) on the Fryazevo branch, then by bus to the "Sanatorium" stop.
St. Petersburg and its formerly eponymous oblast now bear different names as a result of referenda which took place in 1991. While the citizens of Leningrad voted to restore their city to its pre-World War I name, those of the surrounding region did not follow suit.
This sprawling region spreads from the Gulf of Finland to Lake Onega, from Novgorod to Karelia. While the suburbs of St. Petersburg are renowned for their summer palaces and parks, go further afield and you will find a much older heritage - the towns and fortresses which defended first Novgorod's, then Moscow's, northern borders from the 11th century and after. The region, like other parts of northwest Russia, is also blessed with forests, lakes and traditional wooden architecture, and the former homes of many of Russia's cultural elite of the last two centuries.
LADOGA'S SECRET SANCTUARY
The 50 islands of the Valaam Archipelago, granite outcrops with sheer cliffs cut by the glaciers, are a distinctive feature of northern Lake Ladoga. Their remoteness suited them for monastic life, and by the 14th century a community of monks had settled here.
Plundered several times by the Swedes, Valaam only became truly established as a monastery in the 18th century, under the protection of the normally anti-clerical Peter the Great. A new abbott, Father Nazary, built skeets, small monastic dwelling places, which functioned outside the traditional monastery framework.
They were populated by monks who chose to live an even more austere way of life than that of the main monastic community. Some took vows of silence and limited their diets to the strictest form of veganism. Others took vows not to wash; after years of this their clothes would graft to their bodies and have to be scraped off. One hermit, Damaskin, slept in a coffin; he would later preside as abbot over Valaam's most prosperous era.
Father Damaskin brought Valaam international fame, sending missionaries as far afield as Alaska. At home, everything was rebuilt, using bricks baked from local clay; the islands again became self-sufficient, housing a wide variety of workshops and agricultural activities.
After 1917, Valaam's luck continued: as part of newly-independent Finland, it survived the Bolshevik scourging of Russian Orthodoxy. When the Soviet Union invaded in 1940, the monks of Valaam made use of their new citizenship and fled, founding New Valaam further west. This descendant of the parent monastery still exists today.
In 1989 the original Valaam was reconsecrated; six monks returned to the monastery that year. Today, they are twelve in number. Although a triumph for the Russian Orthodox Church, this development is proving to be a mixed blessing for others.
New Valaam, entirely Finnish but still in possession of the old monastery's treasures, puts forward its claims to the islands, but the Russians shun any contact and deny the Finns' legitimacy. For them, no real Christian could live by the Gregorian calendar.
Meanwhile, the island's 600 villagers resent what they sees as insensitive treatment by church authorities. The mainland housing they were promised has not materialized, and many villagers are reluctant to leave their remote island home for flats in a modern city. They tend to view the monks as lazy strangers, far removed from the natives' devout and self-sacrificing traditions. Mutual respect so far seems to elude both parties. The donation of 23 million rubles authorized by Boris Yeltsin in 1992 evaporated, stalling the monastery's protracted restoration process.
Whatever Valaam's internal conflicts, it makes a pleasant extended day or weekend outing from St.Petersburg. Boat trips or wanders through the hills are a joy in themselves, while the never-ending surprises of the islands - skeets, chapels and crosses in unexpected places - will please romantics and the pious alike.
The settlement's focal point is the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, within the monastery. Inside, the picture is a sad one of crumbling 19th century tempera paintings and forlornly empty iconostasis frames. Here and there are the monastery's service blocks, the work of St. Petersburg architect Alexey Gornostayev. Life continues in its shadow, although the handful of shops and single cafe hardly buzz with activity. The town will probably dissolve if the monastery takes full control; liquor and tobacco could be banned from the islands as in former times.
A wild forest road takes you to Skitsky Island, and the now functioning All Saint's Skeet, the one most restricted to visitors, where the psalter is read 24 hours a day, each monk taking a two-hour shift. Always the largest of the dependent communities, Skitsky also has Gornostayev's most notable commission in the islands, a skeet designed in the manner of a white fairytale castle rising through the trees.
On the southern end of Valaam Island, sites were named by an enraptured abbot after places in the Holy Land, following his return from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem Skeet's Resurrection Church hosts concerts of Valaam's unique chanting, while the Gethsemane Skeet is a handsome wooden church in eclectic style.
Some of the skeets are in far-off corners of the islands, so you would do well to allow more than a day to explore them.
However long you're here, you'll enjoy this haven, where even blustery weather does not mar the idyllic calm.
THE PALACES AND PARKS:
If you take the southern coast road out of St. Petersburg, you will see a wealth of palaces among the (more common) factories and housing blocks. However, the best of them, the Grand Palace at Strelna, is partially hidden from the road. This work by Rastrelli is a fine example of period baroque, with some later classical additions. It was the residence of Grand Prince Konstantin Nikolayevich, younger brother of Alexander II.
It was restored after destruction in World War Two, but quite pointlessly. It was abandoned and ownerless for some time, forgotten by all but the locals who went strolling in the grounds. Then it was restored again, this time as St Petersburg-born President Vladimir Putin sought to raise his city's profile for the 300th anniversary in 2003. It is now a reception place for senior dignitaries. The ornamental Konstantinovsky Park stretches down to the sea in the fashion of Petrodvorets (see next).
A couple of bus stops back to the east is the Trinity St. Sergius Pustyn, one of the holy places of St. Petersburg and better known as the Tsar's Monastery. Don't be put off by the checkpoint at the main gate - the militia school which owns it has returned half the grounds to the church, and now cohabits uneasily with jovial monks.
Straight ahead of the entrance stands the Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh. Its beautiful columned interior, copied from St. Catherine's Church in Sinai, was used by the militia as a cinema, and though services are now held here again, you can still see the remains of a screen above the altar. Its construction was funded by Zinaida Yusupova, mother of a wealthy dandy who with great persistence engineered one of the most difficult murders in history, that of mystic monk Grigory Rasputin.
She lies buried in the vault below, along with members of most of Russia's great families. This was the most prestigious burial place in the country for the Russian aristocracy.
In the years following the founding of St. Petersburg, the city was not the only focus of intensive building. On an island in the Gulf of Finland, the citadel of Kronstadt was raised, and the Tsar's courtiers laid out seaside plots for themselves along the nearby coast. Peter had a wooden palace built for him in his favorite spot, which was to become known as Peterhof. Here he received guests, monitored the progress across the water at Kronstadt, and planned a system of parks at Peterhof to join the lower plain near the sea with higher ground inland. In 1712, Russian victory in the sea battle of Gungut made Peterhof secure from attack by the Swedes. Two years later, work began in earnest on the site, and Peter's dream to create a new Versailles began to take shape. The Upper Chambers, now the Grand Palace, came into being, as well as gardens with fountains and cascades, and the favorite haunt of the Tsar, the snug, seaside Monplaisir Palace.
During the next two centuries, St. Petersburg's most famous architects and sculptors reworked and perfected Peterhof. In 1745 the Empress Elizabeth commissioned Rastrelli to redesign the Grand Palace, adding side wings and two domed blocks, one a church, the other topped by the coat-of-arms. At the same time, the palace was infused, inside and out, with the extravagant baroque decoration that is its hallmark.
The current century's upheavals were deeply felt at Peterhof. The Revolution opened to the general public what was once a sanctuary of the privileged, while the Second World War all but destroyed it. Today's palace is the splendid result of decades of restoration.
Petrodvorets is the most grandiose of St. Petersburg's palace ensembles and also the most open, visible from at a great distance from both land and sea. There is always something to admire, and it is well worth visiting even if you don't see the interiors. Try to make your visit coincide with the working of the Grand Cascade, which is in itself reason enough to come here.
The Grand Palace can be exhausting for its sheer size and countless halls, all but a few of them devoid of human warmth or even an accumulation of royal splendors. It is obviously a reconstruction, its vast spaces never inhabited but only admired. Note the gilded wood carvings of the main staircase, the legions of innocent maidens portrayed in the picture gallery, the carved wood panels of Peter's study, and the exotic mixed parquet of the Chinese rooms.
If you arrive by sea, your first sight will be the Grand Cascade, a feast of spurting torrents, spraying mist and gold statues. It was built to celebrate Russia's beginnings as naval power. The statues and fountains throughout the park are united by a marine theme, while at the cascade's focal point, a Russian Samson pries open the jaws of a Swedish lion, which send a jet of water 20 meters high.
On the west side of the Lower Park can be found the quieter beauty of the Marly Palace, a temporary residence for guests or family of the Tsar, built in 1723 by Johann Braunstein. Its modest form is in perfect harmony with its surroundings. Walking back to the east along the shore of the Gulf brings you to the Hermitage, another Braunstein masterpiece, which was offered to members of the Tsar's entourage for merriment or solitude.
Continuing east and crossing a canal brings you to Monplaisir, a palace in whose construction Peter the Great participated personally. It has many details associated with Peter, including wood-paneling, Chinese rooms and a Dutch kitchen. Next door is a block once occupied by Catherine the Great, as she waited to assume power while her hapless husband, Peter III, was overthrown.
Inland of Monplaisir, the aquatics of Petrodvorets assume a more playful tone. Two trick fountains, designed to drench unsuspecting passers-by, give way to Chessboard Hill, perhaps the most extraordinary of the park's cascades. Three brightly coloured dragons guard the entrance to a small grotto, spurting water over a sloping chessboard. The cascade is oddly flanked by traditional classical statues by Italian masters from the early 18th century.
Continuing east, you will arrive at the gates of the Alexandria Park, a much wilder and less trodden place that was once the domain of Peter's right-hand man, Prince Menshikov. In due course, it was given to Nicholas I's wife Alexandra.
Alexandria Park could scarcely make more of a contrast with its neighbor. It is essentially a landscape garden, or rather a seascape one; the sea plays a major role in its composition. Full of small romantic buildings and follies, its overriding style is gothic, notably the towering Germanic capella, devoted to Alexander Nevsky, and Alexandra's own residence, the Cottage Palace, its early nineteenth century interior the finest of all in Petrodvorets.
One more area of Petrodvorets is worth exploring, but it will require a longish walk. The Lugovoy or Ozerkovoy Park is away to the north of the railway line, a system of lakes and canals and one of the sources of water for the Grand Palace and its gardens.
The Lugovoy Park came into being in the first half of the nineteenth century, but unlike the lower parks it has not yet had the chance to recover from the damage of the Second World War. Today it is in places overgrown, in places ravaged by recreational bathers and locals who have taken land illegally to make allotments.
The park is reached by crossing the railway line about 1/2 km west of Novy Petergof rail station. Walking a few hundred metres more inland, you come to a lake, where opposite you stands a red-brick ruin, the remains of the Pink Pavilion.
It may be hard to imagine now, but this was once the magnificent centre of the Park, with an observation tower, pergolas in front of each facade, and terraces, porticos and loggias all around. This was one of Petersburg architect Andrey Shtakenshneider's works, and blended magnificently with its surroundings.
The Pavilion stands at the head of the Park's main canal, leading another 2 km inland to more lakes. Follow this until it becomes a mere trickle, and you will see ahead of you and to your right two hills. The further hill is topped by Shtakenshneider's Church of the Holy Martyrs and Tsarina Alexandra, now a sad ruin too.
The only restored building in the park is on the nearer hill. The Belvedere Palace is one of the most beautiful buildings in Petrodvorets, but little known because of its obscure location. It was ordered by Tsar Nicholas I to mark the southern border of his estate. Unfortunately for him, the marble got lost on the way from Italy, and Shtakenshneider was only able to complete it after his death, in 1856.
The Belvedere Palace has now been assigned as the centre of a golf club of the same name, which plans to build an 18-hole course on the territory of the park. Added to a handful of courses in the Moscow and St. Petersburg area, it will attempt to raise the profile of a sport which is still little known in Russia.
Entrance is currently forbidden,but you can appreciate the Palace from below, with its 28 marble ionic columns, and a front portico supported by four caryatides, the most distinctive feature of the structure. The top floor is said to have good views of the Gulf of Finland, the Kronstadt naval base, and St. Petersburg itself.
A short journey to the west from Petrodvorets brings you to another former Menshikov property, the palace and park of Oranienbaum, still sometimes known by its Soviet-era name Lomonosov. Prince Menshikov once again sought to outdo everyone in the splendor of this palace. After his fall, the estate eventually came into the hands of Grand Prince Peter and his German wife Catherine, later the Great, who commissioned the architect Rinaldi to build more palaces for them.
Oranienbaum survived World War II intact, the only one of St. Petersburg's palaces to do so. Today it is a quiet park and museum complex, each of its buildings displaying splendidly festive interiors. Be sure to study the map at the gate before entering - signposts in the park are rare and often misleading, and thick plantings of trees make orientation difficult.
Menshikov's palace, its main facade obscured by trees, is currently under restoration, so walk round to the left of it to Peter III's Palace. This odd little cuboid was once the centre of Peterstadt, a mini-fortress used by the infantile prince for parading his "toy" soldiers. Now it is simply set in a quiet garden. Its interiors, often in Chinese style, are cloyingly rich.
This theme is continued in Catherine's palace, also known as the Chinese Palace, on the western end of the park. This building's fate was also to be merely a toy, a showpiece, as it was never lived in by the future empress. With its restrained exterior and extravagant interior, it is the most complete and outstanding example of rococco in Russia - a sea of damask wallpaper, paintings on plaster and canvas, fake marble and parquet containing 20 species of wood. The culmination of all this is the Great Chinese Study, a free interpretation by European masters of Chinese art, with a ceiling fresco representing the union of Asia and Europe, a theme in keeping with the expanding Russian Empire.
Finally, visit the Coasting-Hill Pavilion. This was built in 1762-64 for an early Russian prototype of the roller-coaster. First known as the "Russian Hill", its popularity spread all over the world. In addition to further rococco interiors, the Pavilion includes a model of the roller-coaster; the original fell into disuse and was dismantled long ago.
Formerly known as Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar's Village), this settlement's original name was a corruption of the Finnish saari, meaning island, but later came to mean just what it suggests. Tsarskoye Selo became the tsars' main country residence, complete with a dependent town to serve it.
Tsarskoye Selo's beginnings were modest. The acquisitive Prince Menshikov came by this farmstead south of St. Petersburg in 1707. But not for long - three years later Peter bequeathed it to his future wife Yekaterina Alexeyevna. From her, Catherine's Palace took its name.
However, serious work on constructing the palace, gardens and outbuildings commenced only under Empress Elizabeth.
Rastrelli created a baroque palace of unprecedented glamour and glitter. Unfortunately, materials used in building were of poor quality, and Elizabeth's successor Catherine the Great set about a major reconstruction almost immediately after her accession. The interior was redecorated in classical style, and much of the baroque extravagance of the exterior toned down. This was the heyday of Tsarskoye Selo, and it became, as well as Catherine's favourite residence, a playground for aristocratic youth. Work was begun on a second palace for Alexander, the Tsarina's grandson.
Catherine's son, Tsar Paul, virtually abandoned Tsarskoye Selo in favor of nearby Pavlovsk, and the palace complex was threatened for a time with oblivion. However, Alexander I, true to his grandmother's ideals, returned there, and development continued through much of the 19th century. This time it was the town's turn - it became the first in Russia to have a railway line (1837) and electricity (1880). Up until the Revolution, it was a model town, with the best sewage system, cleanest roads and best schools in the country. Poets Alexander Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova both studied in Tsarskoye Selo, Pushkin in the Lyceum attached to the Catherine Palace.
After the Revolution, the town was given a new role, as a centre for childrens' sanatoria, and correspondingly a new name Detskoye Selo (Childrens' Village), retained today only at the railway station. Pushkin, as it was renamed in 1937, 100 years after the poet's death, was virtually destroyed during the war, and is still undergoing restoration today. The Catherine Palace is again intact, and its glittering, golden halls and 20,000 works of art surpass Petrodvorets completely.
The jewel in its crown is the Great Hall. Once a venue for banquets and masquerade balls, its walls form a vast gallery of windows, mirrors and gilded carving.
The 300m southeast facade, turquoise and studded with the large forms of gold atlantes seeming to support white columns, displays Rastrelli's glamorous artistry. The contrasting northwest side was redone in classical style by Catherine the Great's chief architect, the Scot Charles Cameron.
The palace is surrounded on two sides by the large Catherine Park. Adjacent to Rastrelli's facade is a nearly rectangular formal garden. Its centerpiece, three-quarters of the way between the palace and the Lower Ponds, is the Hermitage, a building in the plan of a cross used for meals and balls. An elaborate system of pulleys and ropes enabled courtiers to dispense with servants and set up tables or dance floors as they pleased and with a minimum of effort.
Away to the right is the Great Pond, Catherine's favorite place for strolling, located in the larger, landscaped portion of the park. A superb place from which to view it is the Cameron Gallery (1780-85), adjacent to the south corner of the palace, which stands between the formal and landscape parks. The many surprises in and around the pond include a rostral column which rises from the water in honor of the sea victory against the Turks at Cesme, Turkish Baths, in the form of a diminutive mosque and minaret, and a pyramid nearby which marks the grave of three of Catherine's pet dogs, Sir Tom Anderson, Zemir and Duchess. As you walk along the shore, you will also encounter a simple statue of a girl with a broken pitcher; this was a favorite of Pushkin and Akhmatova, each of whom wrote poems about her.
Spreading to the north are other buildings and follies, this time in Chinese style. Their focus is a Chinese Village, also designed by Cameron; I found a company of twelve-year-olds parading there in prerevolutionary uniform. Does it now house a school for monarchist children?
Several other parks and palaces complete the Pushkin complex. To the northwest, the Alexander Park is overgrown and mostly in ruins, but a magnet for the intrepid explorer. The palace's exterior is severely classical, and the interior is off limits; it is Defense Ministry property. Worth seeing are the towering gothic ruin of the Arsenal, at the intersection of paths in the center of the park, as well as a pavilion where the Tsar's elephants used to be kept.
On the park's edge are the most recent structures in the area, the Fyodorovsky Village, which dates from the years immediately prior to the Revolution. Built in ancient Russian style to resemble a kremlin, they were intended to house the tsar's bodyguards. The gates sport white-stone carvings echoing the Vladimir-Suzdal style of centuries past. Nearby is St. Fyodor's Cathedral, also in pseudo-Russian style. The foundation stone was laid by Nicholas II, a bust of whom stands in the yard behind. A native of Tsarskoye Selo, he was a frequent visitor to the village, which is where he was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Erected just last summer, this is the first monument to the last Tsar on Russian territory.
Finally, Babolovsky Park, which lies beyond the Orlov Gate at the southern extreme of the Catherine Park, is the largest of the three, and was used mainly for horseriding. Its remote palace was built in anglo-gothic style in 1784 for Catherine's favorite, Grigory Potyomkin.
Returning to the town, those with time to spare could head for the two museums devoted to Russia's most revered writer Alexander Pushkin. The more interesting is the lyceum, just opposite the palace entrance, with schoolrooms and the cells of Pushkin and his contemporaries frozen in the early nineteenth century. Down in the town is the Pushkin Dacha museum, a run-of-the-mill display of the poet's memorabilia. He rented this house out for the summer of 1831.
The Pavlovsk ensemble just south of Pushkin was a much later construction than its neighbour. It was begun by Catherine the Great for her son, the future Tsar Paul. But Charles Cameron's work, like most of the things his mother initiated, failed to please the prince, who during the 1790's engaged Vincenzo Brenna (1745-1820), Cameron's understudy, to redo it. During the half century consumed in building the palace, one of the finest landscape parks in Europe was fashioned around it.
Postwar restoration here was completed in 1970, much earlier than at the other outlying royal residences. Unfortunately, the palace is too small to withstand large numbers of people, and admission at certain times is by group excursion only.
This classical palace has a rather compact core surmounted by a low dome. A pair of wings on the courtyard side, added by Brenna, form nearly a complete circle around a courtyard. It is a delight to approach the palace from this side, along Treble Lime Alley.
After ascending from the ground floor to the first, you will see two contrasting modes of decoration in the rooms of the central portion of the palace, announced by Paul's Hall of War and tsarina Maria Fyodorovna's Hall of Peace. Paul's taste at Pavlovsk often recalls his oppressive Mikhailovsky Castle in St. Petersburg, with its battle regalia and masonic symbols. Happily, Maria's contributions to the appearance of many interiors provide a saving balance. Her suite of rooms (Hall of Peace, library, boudoir, and bedroom) include splendid patterned parquet floors and exquisite wall paintings.
Among the most pleasing furnishings of the palace - which were all removed for safekeeping ahead of the German advance in 1941 - are a collection of intricately detailed silver and gilt clocks. Most rooms include a large black and white photograph showing their ruination at the time of the German withdrawal. What has been accomplished since is an astounding act of re-creation, carried out by skilled craftpersons and ordinary citizens alike. Their story is movingly told by Suzanne Massie in her book, "Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace".
But the greatest pleasure of Pavlovsk is its splendid landscape park, esentially the work of Charles Cameron. He shaped the Slavyanka river valley into Pavlovsk Park's defining central landscape, later elaborated with picturesque pavilions and rustic bridges. The park is especially stunning in autumn, the mix of trees chosen for maximum colourful effect. Allow time to explore the park's many special places, including the Centaur's Bridge, hidden unobtrusively in the shadow of the palace; the Old Woods, where bronze statues of the Twelve Muses stand in an etoile formed by the converging paths; and the Pil Tower, a cylindrical folly further afield in a portion later designed by Brenna.
This stern palace with Italianate features which lies to the south of Pavlovsk is quite distinct in aspect from all of the other suburban palaces. It was originally designed by the Italian architect Rinaldi for Count Orlov, Catherine the Great's favorite, when Orlov was at the height of his influence. Tsar Paul later commissioned Vincenzo Brenna to replace its intimacy with pomp and ceremony.
Gatchina's recent history is notable only for its harshness - the palace was even more badly damaged than its neighbours in World War Two. Nevertheless, there is little evidence of this. The main entrance is magnificent and often eerily calm, with few human figures in sight other than a statue of Tsar Paul.
The palace museum contains collections of art and artifacts from all over the world which were preserved from the Nazis, but only a limited number of rooms are open. The displays are rather lacklustre and smack of lack of funds to go beyond a very basic restoration (which began in 1976, much later than at the other palaces). High points are the picture gallery in the throne room of Tsarina Maria, Paul's wife, thrones from the coronation of Nicholas II, and Paul's weapons collection. A guided tour will take you down a secret tunnel from the cellars to the lake. Dating from Orlov's time, its 1.5m thick limestone walls survived the war and still boast a powerful echo.
The park, also the work of Brenna, is now almost completely wild. Its leafy romanticism is marred only by the poorly cared for paddleboats on the White Lake. A string of islands, connected by a peculiar variety of bridges, stretches across the lake. But don't hope to cross to the other end - one bridge has been removed, for no more perceptible reason other than to frustrate the leisurely stroller.
For the best view of the palace, walk around the lake to the Island of Love, where the twin towers can be seen looming over dense greenery. The ceiling of the island's Venus Pavilion is decorated with an 18th century ceiling painting of the plump self-satisfied goddess.
There are three other parks - the strictly geometric Silvia Park, and the Menagerie and Priory hunting grounds. The latter contains the extraordinary Priory Castle, built by architect Nikolai Lvov at the end of the 18th century for the emigre French Prince Conday, Prior of the Maltese Knights of St. John, who never chose to reside there. A Germanic fairy-tale castle, it may also be Russia's only adobe (earthen) building.
The town of Gatchina has many attractive 18th century wooden houses and a charming Lutheran church at the southern end. Lovers of Art Nouveau should visit the Rozhdestvensky House on Ulitsa Khokhlova, now a wedding palace, and the odd triangular house of the caricaturist Shcherbov at #4, Ulitsa Chekhova.
If you want a total contrast to the glamour and splendour of Petrodvorets and Pushkin, and to witness the decline of Russia's cultural heritage in recent years, another Tsar's palace, Ropsha, is the ideal place to visit.
Another of Rastrelli's projects, Ropsha became famous as the site of the murder of Tsar Peter III in 1764 organised by his wife, who as a result became Catherine the Great. It also boasted one of Russia's first paper factories, built by Old Hermitage architect Yuri Felten, and a system of waterways.
While a photo from several years ago shows the palace reasonably intact, some misfortune in the interim period has turned it into what can only be described as a ruin. What was once the front garden is now an untended football field, its incongruousness enhanced by a tiny World War II cemetery behind.
This island in a corner of Lake Ladoga is known for its peanut shape (the name comes from the Russian word "orekh", meaning "nut"), an impregnable position guarding the entrance to the river Neva, and for the political prisons established there.
Originally built as part of Novgorod's northern fortification system in 1323, it became an entry point into Russia for merchant shipping. In the 17th century it inevitably fell to the Swedes, but Peter the Great regained it in the Northern War, and had it converted into a prison. An early inmate was his unloved wife Yevdokia; Catherine and others kept up this tradition.
After the Revolution, the Bolsheviks abandoned the prison. Still, Oreshek (also known as Schlusselberg) played a major part in World War II, when its garrison held the Germans at bay throughout the siege of Leningrad, thus preventing complete encirclement of the city.
Today, Oreshek, a short day trip from St. Petersburg and well away from the crowds, is a grim and mysterious place. The wreckage inside the walls is almost unchanged since the war. The ruined Assumption Cathedral is a far cry from its former twin the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Within is a memorial to the garrison.
At the far end are the former prison blocks. Within the citadel of the fortress is the Secret House (1798), where members of nearly every generation of revolutionaries have languished. Oreshek was also a place of execution. Alexander Ulyanov, Lenin's brother, was shot there; a plaque on the courtyard wall commemorates him.
If you're travelling to Estonia along the shores of the Gulf of Finland, a stop on the border will give you an opportunity to visit two great fortresses on opposite banks of the Narova river. Ivangorod and Narva have always been rivals; now they are once again on opposing sides, as Russia and Estonia squabble over citizenship, frontiers, and other post-Soviet matters.
Narva's fortress came first, built by the knights of the Livonian Order in the 13th century in traditional European style. It was known as "Long German" for its slender walls which surrounded a high central watchtower, or keep.
Ivangorod followed in 1492, decreed by Ivan III shortly after the unification of Rus' under Moscow's leadership. He made the most of a brief lull in the raids by the Livonians. In the space of a single summer, a great fortress went up before the very eyes of the Narvans, and suddenly Long German seemed a mere toy in comparison.
Blown up during the last war, Ivangorod is under restoration but its complex of towers and battlements, a paradise for wargame enthusiasts, is accessible and allows magnificent views of the river valley, Long German and Estonia. Inside it's weed-ridden and empty, except for two small churches and an 1891 mortar cannon in a corner, looking very much in need of an overhaul.
This town near the Finnish border is almost completely non-Russian in appearance. Vyborg's old town is, in terms of plan and architecture, entirely European.
Russia's claim on Vyborg (vee-borg) has always been shaky. Sweden founded it in 1293 on former Novgorodian land. When it finally joined Russia after the Northern war (1700-17), it was already decidedly Finnish in ethnicity, and in 1917 it became a part of the new state of Finland. After the Red Army regained the territory between the Gulf and Lake Ladoga in 1944, Stalin's policy was to populate it with Russians.
Today it is a strange mixture. There sometimes seem to be an inordinate number of drunks on the streets, but some locals are prospering, selling goods to Finns attracted by Vyborg's new status as a Free Enterprise Zone. Emerging from the railway station, you are confronted by a host of Western shops and notices in Finnish. A few yards away is the Finnish-built Hotel Druzhba, where you can stay in relative comfort, but for a price - over $100 a night for a single.
Busloads of foreign tourists elicit great interest. As they park in the town's central square, Russians surround them brandishing their wares, mostly locally produced wicker baskets.
Sociology and commerce aside, Vyborg is filled with ancient monuments, notably the fortress. Built on an island in the gulf, it was once known as the most impenetrable fortress in Scandinavia. Now only its foundations remain; it was replaced in the 19th century by a tower shaped like an old Russian warrior's helmet. Surrounding buildings are packed with souvenir shops and galleries of Finno-Ugric folk art.
The old town's straight narrow streets contain a hodge-podge of Germanic and Scandinavian architecture from several eras. Note particularly the slender 15th century clock tower and the 16th century Merchant's Guild House, now the Vyborg Dog-lovers Club.
The lower town is interesting too, and for more than the basket sellers. The market square has a rather austere Finnish covered market, and nearby a round tower, actually oval, was once part of the Swedes' defence system. Now it houses a decent restaurant.
Across the gulf is the estate of Monrepo (from the French "mon repos", "my rest"). Its classical mansion, pavilions and landscape garden blend perfectly, giving it the name "Fairytale of the North".
The environs of the relatively new city of St. Petersburg would seem to be an unusual place to look for Russia's ancient origins, but Staraya (Old) Ladoga, inland of Lake Ladoga, was a town in the 8th century, when Novgorod and Kiev were still villages.
Moreover, Ryurik and Oleg, the founders of Novgorod and Kiev respectively, ruled here first. Archaeological digs have found evidence of farming methods similar to those of Jutland, in keeping with Ryurik's Danish origins.
Situated on the Volkhov River, the main Arab-Viking trade route, the town of Ladoga (a corruption of the Swedish name Aldega) first bore that name in the 12th century (before the lake). The fortress built around it was for centuries one of the most impenetrable in Europe, and meanwhile trade flourished, with Ladogans selling glass necklaces (then the most desired jewellery around) and other wares. Six monasteries and 20 churches were built to serve a community of just 2,000.
The population remained constant until the 1930's, indicating a steady decline in the town's fortunes, partly as a result of being upstaged by Novaya (new) Ladoga, Peter the Great's lakeside town. Nowadays it is a gentle backwater, enlivened by Scandinavian tourists and archaeologists. The fortress has been well preserved, at least on the land side, its short stone walls hiding the beautiful 12th century Church of St. George, perfect example of the finely proportioned ancient architecture of Novgorod.
The church is unique in Russia, being virtually the only building of its age to be unaffected by the nation's two greatest tragedies - the invasions by the Mongols and the Nazis. Consequently it contains some of the best preserved 12th century frescoes, including a bizarre, non-canonical portrayal of St. George and the Dragon. In the fresco, the saint holds up a cross while the princess he has saved leads his opponent away on a leash.
The fortress has two museums. The little wooden church of St. Demetrius of Thessalonika exhibits arts and crafts of the town, including the distinctive local distaffs - a favourite present by men for their womenfolk - painted with Ladoga roses and the name of the recipient.
In the entrance tower, several rooms trace the history of the town from neolithic times. One of the highlights is the copy of an engraving portraying a visit by German travellers in the 16th century. It is believed that here they first tasted raspberries, sold for next to nothing by the hatful by local children.
Distances are not great in Staraya Ladoga, and all but St. Basil's Monastery across the Volkhov, restored with skewed cupolas by well-meaning Norwegians, can be seen in a couple of hours. Make a point of visiting the Assumption Convent just downstream of the fortress. It was built around Ladoga's second 12th century church. Other buildings in the convent complex seem gloomy and repressive: in 19th century red brick, they seem reminiscent of factories in Victorian England, and now house a school for children with learning difficulties.
Restoration of the church is at a standstill: some believe more research needs to be done on its age. It could even be 11th century - in the Russian Federation only Novgorod's St. Sophia's Cathedral is this old.
Several recent guide books have indicated that this island fortress in the Gulf of Finland is now accessible for all. Perhaps this was wishful thinking, or perhaps the island was indeed open for a while, but the truth is that entrance is officially only by invitation from an island resident, and you could be wasting your time if you try to go. In fact, all depends on who is on guard when you arrive - so if you go independently by bus or hydrofoil you have little to lose, but if you go with one of the group tours which sell trips on Nevsky Prospekt, you could be wasting money as well as time.
If you do take the plunge, you will find an island with plenty of history (like the huge part its sailors played in Russia's various revolutions) but not a great deal to see - except perhaps a few cobbled streets frozen in the eighteenth century, two cathedrals and a palace built by Menshikov.
CULTURAL MONUMENTS IN THE REGION:
ROZHDESTVENO AND VYRA
"It is with festive lucidity that I recall the path from our Vyra to the village of Rozhdestveno, the descent to the river, sparkling through the brocade ooze, the bridge, bursting into conversation under horses' hooves, the blinding flash of a tin left by an angler on the railings, and my uncle's estate on the grassy/anthilled knoll, all as native to me as my own circulation..."
from "Other Shores" by Vladimir Nabokov.
Perhaps one of the greatest cultural gains of perestroika for Russia was the "rehabilitation" of the literary giant of the post-revolutionary emigration, Vladimir Nabokov, later famous for critical works on Gogol, and novels like "Lolita" (made into the film "Lolita Syndrome" by Stanley Kubrick, and considered as much American as Russian literature). What a shame, then, that one of his childhood haunts, the picturesque wooden classical mansion on a hill above the village of Rozhdestveno, which stood for so long as a monument to the writer and for a short while housed a tiny museum to him, should be so badly damaged by fire in 1994.
Rozhdestveno was the house of Nabokov's maternal grandparents, the Rukavishnikovs, a wealthy Siberian gold family. Here the young Vladimir developed, among other things, his lifetime hobby, butterfly collecting.
The mansion was for many years the local history museum, carefully avoiding mention of its great former inhabitant. Though it did not last long as a museum to Nabokov, local enthusiasts are at great pains to restore this charming mansion.
Just 2 km back towards Petersburg is the village of Vyra, site of Nabokov's mother's house, given her as a wedding present. Nothing remains of the building today, but there is a charming little museum on another theme. The Postmaster's House was used as a model by Alexander Pushkin for his famous short story "The Postmaster". Lucky enough to be restored in 1987, while there was still money for such things, its immaculate firetower, stable, courtyard and living quarters are enhanced by the friendly and helpful babushkas in attendance.
The other side of the city, in a paradise of forest just yards from the sea, stands the great 19th century artist Ilya Repin's country estate of Penaty. Already famous for such classics of the Itinerant genre as "Ivan the Terrible and his son" and "Church procession in Kursk Province," he acquired the estate in the then Finnish village of Kuokkala in middle age and lived here until his death in 1930.
Repin worked here six days a week in his airy glass-roofed studio, taking only Wednesdays off to receive guests. His feasts were truly unusual, with visitors (strangers were also welcome) announcing their entrance by banging a gong, and eating sumptuous vegetarian meals at a round table, with revolving centre to facilitate easy access to food in the absence of servants. Each guest took away a copy of the menu as a souvenir, and many found themselves being used as models by the artist.
His last twelve years were spent cut off from his homeland, as Soviet Russia gave Finland independence, and was buried in his own garden. The Soviet government restored the house as a museum after the Second World War.
This holiday resort to the northwest of the city is famous for two reasons. It contains a number of dachas in art nouveau style which belonged to the cultural elite in the early part of the century. A number of esteemed literary figures, like the satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko, are buried in its graveyard.
In a southern suburb of Sestroretsk, called Razliv (after the nearby lake), are two museums devoted to Lenin, who hid here in the summer of 1917 as he prepared for revolution. The Sarai (barn), encased bizarrely in glass, is within walking distance of train and bus routes. His more distant refuge, a thatched hut called the Shalash, is 4 km away around the lake.
Valaam: Though in Karelia, the islands are best reached from St. Petersburg. An irregular boat service from the River Station takes you there and back in 36 hours, and includes guided tours of the monastery and some of the skeets. Obtain timetables and tickets from the Central Tourist Bureau on Ulitsa Bolshaya Konyushennaya. The only means of individual travel to Valaam is by overnight train to the pleasant Karelian border town of Sortavala (from St. Petersburg or Petrozavodsk), then by infrequent boat (journey time 2 hours).
Strelna: take a #36 tram from Avtovo metro station (for the tram stop, cross the main road as you exit the metro and cut through the market on the other side). It's best to visit the palace first, at the end of the line, then return two stops to the monastery. By car leave St. Petersburg by Prospekt Stachek, and take a right in the suburbs along the coastal A121, about 30km altogether.
Petrodvorets: a short ride (40 minutes) by suburban train from the Baltiisky Station to Novy Petergof, then by local bus to the palace entrance. In summer a "Raketa" hydrofoil service operates from the pier outside the Hermitage. By car as to Strelna, and another 5 km.
Oranienbaum: by train to just beyond Petrodvorets; get off at Oranienbaum I station. The palaces are slightly inland. Summer Raketas are less convenient, leaving from the Morskaya pier near Tuchkov Most on Vassilyevsky Island.
Pushkin: a short suburban train journey (half an hour) from the Vitebsky Station to Detskoye Selo, then by local bus #371 to the palace. A couple of stops further is the Pushkin Dacha museum. By car leave by Moskovsky Prospekt and turn left just before Pulkovo airport. 25km overall.
Pavlovsk: as for Pushkin, then one stop further by train. The park entrance is just opposite the station, and a long but very pleasant walk to the palace. Buses also connect station and palace.
Gatchina: an hour's journey from the Baltiisky Station on Gatchina-bound trains only. By car leave on Moskovsky prospekt and continue south past Pulkovo on the M20 Kiev road, 40km.
Ropsha: 40 minutes by train on the Gatchina line to Krasnoye Selo, then take a #454 bus. By car it is best reached from Strelna - turn left on the Kipen road just west of the palace.
Oreshek: just over an hour by Dubrovka-bound suburban trains from Finlandsky Station to Petrokrepost, then by riverboat to the island. By car leave by the M18 Petrozavodsk road, and after 45km cross the Neva bridge and turn left for the town of Petrokrepost.
Ivangorod: 3 hours by bus from Petersburg's No.2 Bus Station. By car leave on the M11 Tallinn road and follow for 115km to the Estonian border.
Vyborg: 2 1/2 hours by suburban train from Finlandsky Station or 120 km along the M10 (north) Helsinki road.
Staraya Ladoga: 2 1/2 hours by train to Volkhovstroi (either suburban [Volkhovstroy only] or Karelia-/Murmansk-bound skoriye trains) from the Moskovsky Vokzal, then 20 minutes on a local bus bound for Novaya Ladoga. By car take the Petrozavodsk road (M18) and turn right at the village of Kiselnya (100 km).
Kronstadt: 1/2 hour by train from the Finlandsky Station to Gorskaya on the Sestroretsk line, then by local bus along the causeway, or by Raketa hydrofoil from Tuchkov Most on Vassilyevsky Island.
Rozhdestveno and Vyra: 75 minutes by train from the Varshavsky Station on the Luga line to Siverskaya, then by #500 bus. By car about 25 km south of Gatchina on M20.
Repino: 3/4 hour by train from the Finlandsky Station, then walk south through the Baltiyets dom otdykha, turn left on Primorskoye shosse and walk 1/2 km to the museum. It's easier by bus #411 which runs from Chornaya Rechka metro station and stops right outside the museum. By car 30 km on the M10, turn right for the coast road at Solnechnoye train station.
Sestroretsk: 1/2 hour by train from the Finlandsky Station, on trains marked Sestroretsk or 'cherez (via) Sestroretsk' only. Razliv is one stop before Sestroretsk. The M10 runs through here too.
Following the Lower Don Valley to its estuary in the Azov Sea, next to the Black Sea, this is one of Russia's most beautiful steppe regions. It is part of the black-earth belt of central-southern Russia, providing a large share of Russia's bread and wine. Sandwiched between the Ukraine and the Caucasus, it shares the flavour of both, something which affects everything from its cuisine to its criminals. But here, other traditions are present - this used to be the realm of the Don Cossacks, part of a race that guarded Russia's southern borders from the 16th century to the Revolution. In ancient times, it served as a frontier between two very different cultures, the Greeks and the Scythians, and is rich in archaeological finds of these and other, nomadic, tribes who settled there later.
This million-strong industrial city covers almost 25km of the Don's right bank, and penetrates a considerable distance inland, though its origins are relatively new. It began as the fortress of St Anne in 1730, when the Don was a border against the Ottoman Empire, and soon grew into a trade settlement. By 1761 the fortress was obsolete, and the reigning Empress Elizabeth renamed the town Rostov in honour of the recently canonised St Demetrius, a metropolitan of Rostov the Great (Yaroslavl Region) favoured by her father Peter the Great.
In 1779, 12,000 Armenians settled here, after migrating from the Crimea, and founded their own town, Nakhichevan, next door to Rostov. They prospered greatly, and in the next hundred years surpassed Rostov in architecture and hygiene (at the turn of the century Rostov was the third city in the world after Shanghai and Calcutta for cholera deaths).
In the last hundred years Rostov has grown rapidly, swallowing Nakhichevan and becoming one of the ten largest Russian cities, though in the last war it suffered from two German occupations. Because of its position, it is known as "The Gateway to the Caucasus", which, combined with its Armenian population, remaining about 20% of the total, gives it an atmosphere unusual for Russian cities. Here such things as hospitality and commerce are often more "southern" (ie Caucasian) than Russian.
For the tourist, there is little of interest in the city itself, and a perusal of the main streets running west to east should give a reasonable idea of it. The main street is Bolshaya Sadovaya. Many of the stately town houses of the pre-war era have remained, their fates various, depending on whether they have been taken over by rich commercial organisations. To your right, down Pereulok Podbelskogo, is the city's main church, the neo-Byzantine Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin built by Konstantin Thon, a prolific architect in southern Russia in the mid-19th century also famous for the Church of Christ the Saviour and the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow.
Returning to Bolshaya Sadovaya, be sure to visit the excellent city museum at No 79. Downstairs it houses a lavish collection of gold and silver treasures from local archaeological digs, including Greek, Scythian and Roman ware (the latter brought later by the Sarmatians) and even golden earrings supposedly worn by 7th century female warriors. Upstairs, progressive museum staff have borrowed ideas from the Museum of Transport in Glasgow, Rostov's twin city, and created three attractive and informative exhibitions: on early industry in the city, including Russia's first one-armed bandit factory; local viniculture; and Rostov's musical traditions (the city is considered the birthplace of Russian operetta).
As you continue east, it's probably better to take a bus or trolleybus a few stops. Head for Teatralnaya ploshchad, the boundary with the former town of Nakhichevan. On your left you will see the Gorky Drama Theatre, built in the 1920s in constructivist style in the form of a tractor.
Further east, you cross the "frontier" into Nakhichevan. The fact that it was so-called says something about the relationship between the two towns. Once a magnificent whole of fine houses and well-ordered streets, modern encroachments have spoiled much of the area you are now entering. However, some buildings remain from the original town, projected by Ivan Starov, the famous St Petersburg architect. Nakhichevan's school No 1 was at one time headed by a friend of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, indeed the great writer himself spent much of his childhood and youth in Rostov, and on a recent visit opened a plaque on the maths and physics faculty at the University, where he studied.
A day in Rostov should be completed by a short trip to the northern limits of the town. Take a tram No6 out to the Seman cafe on Prospekt Korolyova and walk a few hundred metres behind the cafe. Still managing to look attractive among the tower blocks and new private housing building sites stands the little Armenian Church at Surb Khach (meaning sacred cross). Once part of a monastery complex built by Starov in classical style, it is now a museum of the life of the Nakhichevan community. It features several "khachkary", headstones carved with stone crosses preserved from the Crimea days of the settlers.
The Left Bank
Across the Don from the city is Rostovians' main recreational area, with extensive beaches and wooded areas, the latter created artificially to provide relief from the open steppe landscape and punctuated by sanatoria and shashlyk bars. Further inland on the Bataisk road (the continuation of Voroshilovsky Prospekt) is a Civil War monument, a massive strident statue of members of Budyonny's 1st Horse Army, who drove the Whites out of Rostov. From nearby you can get a good view of the city itself.
This quiet village by the Don was once Cherkassk, the capital of the Don Cossacks from 1644. It was chosen for its position because it was surrounded on three sides by water, and was easy to fortify. Unfortunately, it also flooded easily, and was replaced by the more modern town of Novocherkassk in 1805. Now, it is just a simple stanitsa, or cossack village, isolated but for river tourists in the summer.
Much of the old spirit remains here, with cossack farmsteads and churches preserved as a museum-reserve. This is the best place to see "kureny", two-storey dwellings specially designed for flood-prone areas. The ground floor, a kind of stone foundation known as a "podklet" is used for storage, and the first lived in. The best example is to the left of the pier, the house of Kondraty Bulavin, a rebellious ataman who in 1707 protested the paying of taxes to the tsar. After taking Cherkassk, he was finally defeated in 1709, and killed in this house.
Just in front of the house is a stage, which every last Sunday of the month in summer is used for the Starocherkassk Song Festival, which has regular performances of the local Cossack People's Choir.
Nearby is the little SS. Peter and Paul Church, built in 1751 by masons sent by the Tsarina Elizabeth from Moscow. It stands on the village's central trading square. Looking across it, towards the river, you will see a giant seal on the wall, portraying a naked man sitting on a barrel carrying a rifle. This rather unlikely symbol of the Don Cossacks comes from the time of Peter the Great, when the Tsar found just such a man blind drunk on one of his campaigns. After brief questioning, it transpired that the Cossack had sold everything except his rifle to go on a drinking binge. The rifle, however, he could not sell: this was his means of regaining what he had lost.
Walk towards the cathedral at the other side of town. On the way you pass another attractive kuren on the left, the house of the rich Zhuchenkov brothers built in 1797. Slightly further on the right is the Ataman's Palace, now the site of the local museum.
The Palace and nearby house church were built by a rich and powerful ataman, Daniil Yefremov, in 1750. The former is now used as an exhaustive exhibit of life in Cherkassk in its 18th century heyday and in the 19th century, when the palace became a convent. Note the local women's costumes, mostly oriental as their origins suggest. Behind the church, the graves of Yefremov's family have been excavated: they were buried in bricked up vaults traditional for Cossacks. Note the later vault which has partly destroyed the others: this is Mother Innokentiya, founder of the convent.
Continue towards the village's main landmark, the Resurrection Cathedral. It was built in 1709-19, enjoying the special favour of Peter the Great, who banned almost all stone building in the period outside St Petersburg. He even laid several stones near the altar during one of his visits here. Those familiar with Ukrainian baroque style, based on the wooden architecture of the region, will not be surprised by its appearance. But the beautiful proportions of the church are truly stunning.
In front of the church is the main square or maidan (a name also shared with Ukrainian villages), where the Army Circle, the Cossacks' ruling body, used to meet and take important decisions, standing in a circle so as to look each other in the eye. Beside the steps are the gates of the Turkish fortress of Azov, taken by the Cossacks in 1637 without help from the Tsar. The belltower, built in 1730, was multi-purpose - functioning also as a prison, archive and watchtower.
Entering the church, you will see on either side of the door the chains of Stepan Razin, leader of the peasant revolt of 1670-1 and himself a Don Cossack ataman. The most striking feature of the interior is the huge baroque iconostasis carved from linden wood, one of the biggest and best in Russia. The church never had wall paintings, except on the lower side of the choir balcony, and the gleaming white walls can only enhance the frontal force of the icons.
The capital which replaced Cherkassk was founded by Ataman Matvey Platov in 1805. In total contrast to its predecessor, it is built on high ground, in the style of European towns of the day, by a French engineer. With its huge squares and wide streets it was totally alien to the rural Cossacks, and they only moved here with great reluctance. For the Tsar, on the other hand, Novocherkassk represented a chance to bring the Don Army under greater central control.
In the last century, Novocherkassk became a southern centre of resistance to the revolution, the headquarters of White Ataman Krasnov, and developed into an industrial centre in the 1930s. Its Soviet history was distinguished by a workers' demonstration in 1962 which ended in tragedy: 22 men were killed and the incident was covered up until 1989.
Novocherkassk survived World War Two virtually unscathed, and retains a stately nineteenth century feel in its centre. Dominating everything is the Ascension Cathedral, known also as the Don Army Cathedral. It is the third largest church in Russia after the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and St Isaac's Cathedral in St Petersburg.
One of the more graceful and aesthetically pleasing of Russia's generally pompous neo-Byzantine churches, the Ascension Cathedral is magnificent inside as well, with lush decoration by members of the St Petersburg Society of Artists. Reminiscent of religious works of the likes of Viktor Vasnetsov, it also glorifies local heroes like Platov, portrayed on his return from Paris in 1817 after the Napoleonic Wars by local artist I Popov.
The cathedral is on one of Novocherkassk's main squares, Ploshchad Yermaka, named after another famous Don Ataman. Nearby is a statue of Yermak, the man who conquered Siberia for the Tsar, built in 1704 by Mikeshin and Beklemishev. In his left hand he holds a military banner, in his right the crown of the defeated kingdom.
Nearby is the Ataman Palace, now once again functioning as the Don Cossack headquarters. At the front of the garden looking onto the square is a statue of Platov executed partly by the famous St Petersburg sculptor Pyotr Klodt. It was recently returned here after decades of the more familiar figure of Lenin (still one of very few of the 1000s of statues to the Soviet leader in Russia to be removed). Nearby is a recent monument to the victims of the 1962 massacre.
Finally, visit the local museum for a comprehensive overview of the Don Cossack movement. A rich collection of regalia has been pieced together gradually since its dispersal during the Civil War. Many of the White Cossacks' possessions were returned by the Czech government after World War Two. Included are sabres, one of them presented to Platov by the English in recognition of his contribution to the 1812 victory.
This largish port is famous largely as a haunt of Russia's cultural intelligentsia in the 19th century, and in particular as the birthplace of the great playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov. An Italian settlement in the 13th-15th centuries, it became Russia's first naval base in 1698. Tsar Alexander I died here in 1825 under circumstances that have the makings of a mystical thriller: some believe he never died at all, but was replaced in the coffin by a servant and reappeared later in Siberia as a holy man.
Taganrog remains true to Chekhov's memory, with his father's house lovingly restored both as a museum and as a shop, as it would have been in the last century. You can also visit the literary museum in the school where he studied, his "memorial cottage" and the Drama Theatre in his name.
A walk round central Taganrog should reveal other interesting sights - a monument to Garibaldi (it was here, it seems, that he vowed to create a united Italy) on the embankment, a statue of Peter the Great, the founder, near the edge of the horn, and a typically festive house in art nouveau style by Fyodor Shekhtel on the corner of Ulitsas Frunze and Gogolya.
Finally, the art gallery deserves a visit, to see paintings by the likes of Arkhip Kuindji and Konstantin Savitsky who both spent time here.
On the way to Taganrog from Rostov is Tanais, once a major Greek settlement which over the centuries developed traits of nomadic and Scythian cultures before being destroyed in AD 375 by fire. The site is now an archaeological museum, open May-October only.
This 900-year-old town near the Don estuary owes most of its turbulent history to the conflict between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Begun as a Slavic settlement under Kievan Rus', it quickly fell to the Tatars and was later a Turkish outpost, its culture enriched by a strong Genoese and Venetian presence.
From the 16th century onwards it was terrorised by the Cossacks, with and without the support of the Tsar. In 1637 they took and held the town single-handedly for several years, but were forced to leave when Russia refused to back them. Finally, at the end of the century Russia's need for a Black Sea outlet became overwhelming and Peter the Great recaptured the fortress in 1697.
Sadly little remains today of this cultural mix, and Azov seems a very ordinary provincial Russian town, albeit with excellent river views. However, there are some fortress remains, notably the Alexey Gates on the western side of town. The nearby Krepostnoy Val Cafe serves some of the best food in the region, traditional Russian fare in an almost medieval atmosphere, with wooden thrones and long tables. This is a good place to try "sbiten", an ancient non-alcoholic drink of spices and honey.
Further west is Peter the Great's Powdar Cellar, now a passable exhibit of the various Russian campaigns against the fortress. But if history doesn't interest you much, the main city museum, on the central square, has a sensation in store. Negotiate its rather rambling and colourless interior and aim for the giant skeleton in the second downstairs section. This is a pre-mammoth elephant, and considerably larger than the largest mammoth found.
This quiet part of the upper Don Valley is the homeland of the great Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov, famous for his epic novel about life among the Don's village communities "Quiet Flows the Don". It is now a museum-reserve, comprising a number of house-museums (two in Vyoshinskaya itself and one each in Kruzhilin - his birthplace - and Karginskaya - his childhood home). True to his love of landscapes (he is believed to have described 200 in his literary career), an area of natural beauty is also preserved.
A film version was recently filmed here by the late Sergey Bondarchuk of "War and Peace" fame. Among the cast was the British actor Rupert Everett.
Rostov: almost 24 hours by train from Moscow's Kazansky Vokzal. Trains to the Black Sea coast (Adler) and the Caucasus (Mineralniye Vody) from the Kursky Vokzal also stop at Rostov, but may be routed via Ukraine and may require a transit visa. By road, Moscow and Rostov are connected directly by the M4 (leave Moscow by Kashirskoye Shosse), distance 1,055 km.
Starocherkasskaya: virtually the only route is by river, making the village virtually inaccessible by public transport between October and May (there is a once-daily bus from the old Rostov bus station on Prospekt Sholokhova which should not be relied on, and a ferry to negotiate at the end). In summer, hydrofoils run regularly from the main River Station. By car, cross the Don by the bridge carrying Voroshilovsky Prospekt and turn left along the other bank.
Novocherkassk: buses run from the old bus station in Rostov, but it'll probably be more convenient to get either a local train or a long distance bus from the new bus station, opposite the rail station. Novocherkassk is also on the M4, about 40 km north of Rostov.
Taganrog: by local train from Rostov to Taganrog II. 70 km along the M23. Tanais is about halfway on both routes.
Azov: by bus (from the new bus station) or local train. Leave Rostov by the southern route and turn right in Bataisk, distance 40 km.
Vyoshinskaya: by M4 to Millerovo, 200 km north of Rostov, then another 150 km to the northeast.
This beautiful land of woods and meadows, the nearest area of fertile black earth country to Moscow, is famed most of all for its writers, people like Turgenev and Bunin, who had so much influence on Russian literature in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. Its centre was a stronghold of the provincial gentry, third only to Moscow and St. Petersburg in its cultural significance.
This peaceful provincial town may not seem like a typical starting point for voyages of discovery. However, its high concentration of explorers has made it just that.
Among others, polar discoverer Vladimir Rusanov hailed from Oryol. In the early part of this century, he became famous for his expeditions to the island of Novaya Zemlya, off the north coast of Russia.
In 1912, Rusanov set off on his most ambitious voyage yet, an attempt to cross the Northern Sea from Spitzbergen to the Bering Straits. He and his 11-man team, including Roald Amundsen's South Pole navigator Kuchin, disappeared without trace a year later in the Sea of Karsk, off the northern coast of Siberia.
Rusanov is dutifully remembered in Oryol, with a street Ulitsa Rusanova, named after him, and a museum in the house where he spent his childhood and youth at no.43.
In fact, Oryol's exploring traditions don't end with Rusanov: the 45-year-old "Rus" Travelers' Club is well-known throughout the former Soviet Union for its interesting and sometimes unusual expeditions.
One of "Rus'"s current projects is a scientific investigation of Rusanov's disappearance, but many of their expeditions are for ordinary mortals too. Some go abroad: cycling to Oryol's sister cities, or making the pilgrimage 3,500 kilometers on foot to the Holy Land.
But for those who want to explore the wilder areas of Russia, "Rus" has been organising a series of expeditions on the routes of the 16-17th century Russian "zemlyeprokhodtsy" (explorers) in Siberia and the Far East. Among its rediscoveries are a land route used by Cossack frontiersmen to cross with boats between the Yenisei and Taz rivers, and the winter campgrounds of Panteley Pyanda, forgotten discoverer of another great Siberian river, the Lena.
"Rus" has also followed another Oryol explorer, the biologist Alexey Kurentsov to the bleak and distant Chukotka peninsula.
For the less adventurous, car and baidarka boat trips in European Russia are also available.
"Rus" expeditions are open to anyone in sound health. As a non-profit organization, participants are only expected to pay for their own needs. Administrative and organisational costs are covered by sponsorship money.
For further details about "Rus" expeditions, contact Valery Salnikov at Oryol 302001, Ulitsa Gagarina 2, tel. (086-00)64794. He speaks a little German, and there are English-speaking staff in the office.
This agricultural centre in the fertile lands south of Moscow was once a stronghold of Russia's provincial aristocracy. It was perhaps for this reason that it also became a literary center in the 19th century, with 4 great and a dozen minor Russian writers living (though not simultaneously) in an area of about 5 sq km. Only Moscow and St. Petersburg proved more culturally fertile.
Oryol began its life as a frontier town in 1566, one of the defences against the southern Crimean Tatars. Its early history was troubled, and in the Time of Troubles it was occupied by various rebel forces. Notably, in 1607-8 it was the headquarters of the second False Dmitry.
The Tatars also sacked Oryol later in the century, but by the beginning of the 18th it was already a quiet backwater. Unlike the neighbouring cities of Tula and Lipetsk, little industry developed here. Instead, minor noble families moved in, and by 1853 they numbered over half the local population (the remainder were tradespeople who principally served their demands).
Of course, after 1917 most nobles fled Oryol, but the spirit of the local aristocracy remained, and now some local people of noble descent are rediscovering their roots. The city itself has been little changed since the revolution, and it retains a provincial charm rare for regional centres. Here the dirt, dereliction and thuggery normally associated with Russian cities is noticeably absent.
The city centre is divided into two parts, either side of the Oka River. The main shopping area is around Moskovskaya ulitsa on the east side, but the most interesting area historically and culturally is reached by crossing the Oka to the beginning of Ulitsa Lenina.
Just by the Orlik river you will see the stately classical Church of the Archangel Michael and beside it a series of statues erected in 1981, a first introduction to Oryol's literary past. The writer Nikolay Leskov sits on a bench surrounded by his favorite characters raised on pedestals.
Leskov is little known in the West, but his stories on folk themes with an element of social satire have given him a reputation as a genius of the written word in Russia. Among the characters portrayed here are Leftie, the left-handed Tula craftsman who made shoes for a metal flea presented to the Tsar by the English. The only problem was, the shoes made the flea too heavy for the delicate mechanism which made him move to work.
Walk across the Orlik and up Ulitsa Lenina, one of the city's oldest streets and now a pleasant pedestrian precinct. Straight ahead of you is the local "White House", so-called not for its colour (yellow) but because of its function, as headquarters of the local administration. Its building, locals believe, was a deliberate attempt by the Communists to dominate the Smolensk Church (on the hill directly behind you), a symbol of pre-revolutionary power, which in the 1920's became, and remains today, a bakery. Neither building is of any great architectural interest.
When you reach the main square at the end, turn left down Ulitsa Gorkovo. (Despite having a street named after him, Maxim Gorky had little to do with Oryol.) At the crossroads with Ulitsa Turgeneva turn left again, and you will come to a whole cluster of literary museums.
At no. 11 is a tiny museum to the most famous Oryol writer Ivan Turgenev. In fact it really only deals with members of his family. Though Turgenev was born in the city, he grew up in a country estate to the north (see Spasskoye Lutovinovo), to which most of the museum exhibits were moved in the 1970's.
Next door at no. 13 is the Oryol Writers' Museum, dedicated to several lesser known Orlovians, among them: Turgenev's friend Afanasy Fet, inspired to musical, lyrical poetry by the Oryol countryside; Leonid Andreyev (see below) portrayed by the art nouveau furniture of his Finnish dacha; and Boris Zaitsev, an emigre writer who never lost touch with his roots.
Now cut through the trees to 1 Georgievsky pereulok, the Ivan Bunin museum. This covers very thoroughly and effectively the life of this master of language, often seen as the living link between the 19th and 20th century classics Lev Tolstoy and Vladimir Nabokov. The exhibit tells of his childhood in a "lumpen noble" family in nearby Yelets, his "death" at the time of the revolution, and "rebirth" after emigration to France. The last room is a reconstruction of his Paris flat, with authentic furniture, and includes a 1912 recording of him, and Tolstoy, reading. One of his novels, "The Life of Arsenev", describes life in Oryol.
Return to Ulitsa Gorkovo, turn left and cross the footbridge over the river. This will bring you to 2-ya Pushkarnaya Ulitsa, part of the old gunsmith's quarter and domain of Oryol's most colourful celebrity Leonid Andreyev, whose house museum is at no.41.
Unlike almost all of Oryol's writers, Andreyev came from a lower class background. Well-versed in street fighting, and left to fend for himself after the death of his alcoholic father, Leonid also became a brazen pioneer of literary styles. In 1901 (aged 30) he published his first book, shot to fame, and was soon Russia's most successful (and best paid) writer.
He was also one of the first colour photographers, using a special technique, lost after his death, that make his prints look sharper than most taken 50 years later.
Andreyev was against the revolution, and he paid for his opinion with the obliteration of his fame. He died a broken man in 1919, an accidental exile on his northern dacha, which at the time happened to be on Finnish soil.
The Pushkarnaya museum, opened by a bizarre coincidence on the day of the effective collapse of Soviet power, August 21st, 1991, tells mainly of his childhood and parents. But its main asset is director Lidia Ivanova, a true Andreyev enthusiast, who has kept his spirit alive virtually single-handedly. By giving readings of his work, and organizing parties for the local children, she has involved the neighbourhood in the life of the museum.
Return to the footbridge, recross the river and rum left along the bank towards the little hilltop pavilion in the distance. This is part of the Dvoryanskoye Gnezdo (Nest of Gentlefolk) Park. As the name suggests, this is the setting of one of Turgenev's best known novels, a tale of unhappy love among the gentry. The pavilion is actually taken from another novel, "Rudin", whose hero, one of Russian literature's "superfluous men", supposedly sat here. A bust to the great writer stands set back slightly in the woods.
Finally, walk back along Oktyabrskaya ulitsa to the unusual wooden house at no.9. This is the Leskov museum, most interesting for the reconstruction of the writer's St. Petersburg study.
"When you're in Spasskoye, give my regards to the house, the garden, my young oak, give my regards to my homeland, which I'll probably never see again."
A dying Ivan Turgenev to his neighbor Polonsky.
The relative remoteness of Turgenev's childhood home makes a trip here something of a difficult pilgrimage. But lovers of Turgenev's works should definitely experience its simple charms.
The estate was built in the 18th century by Turgenev's great uncle Ivan Lutovinov, the magistrate in nearby Mtsensk, and was passed on to his mother. Turgenev spent a harsh and spartan, but fulfilling childhood here, and Spasskoye's local color inspired him in much of his later work.
He never abandoned Spasskoye, and often returned throughout his life, including for a period of exile in 1852-3 when he angered the authorities with his attack on serfdom "The Hunter's Sketches". He intended to end his days there, but was stricken with cancer while in France, and died near Paris in 1883.
As you enter the grounds near the estate Church of the Transfiguration, the main house is ahead at an angle, a pretty wooden mansion with a miniature portico on each storey and intricately carved balconies. At one side is a curved stone gallery serving as an entrance to the main building.
The interior is preserved as in Turgenev's day, with no extra museum pieces or explanations of exhibits. Take a guided tour, or simply wander and peacefully absorb the atmosphere, enhanced by Turgenev's favourite period music.
The nearby outhouse (fligel), however, where Turgenev lived during his exile, serves as a full-scale literary museum, including silhouettes by Bern illustrating his "Hunter's Sketches", the writer's own hunting gear, and his death mask.
"The garden had become a magnificent sight: delicate shrubs of lilac, acacia and honeysuckle... spread through wonderfully dense thickets: birches and ashes, every one of them stretched and strove..." from Turgenev's "Faust".
Finally there is the garden, a wooded hill slope with birch, ash and linden avenues, and a lake at the bottom. Among the trees are several other buildings, a bathhouse and stables among them, and the oak tree mentioned above, planted by Turgenev himself.
Oryol: by virtually any southbound train from Moscow's Kursky Vokzal, journey time about 9 hours. By car about 700km on Simferopolskoye Shosse.
Spasskoye Lutovinovo: 2 hours from Oryol on Gorbachovo or Tula bound suburban trains to Bastiyevo, then by infrequent local bus or turn left across the railway line and walk 5km. By car, turn off Simferopolskoye Shosse just north of the town of Mtsensk.
CENTRAL BLACK-EARTH REGION
Russian's heartland, or at least one of its heartlands, is the very fertile area to the south and southeast of Moscow, where nutriments in the soil give it the appearance of being black. Ruthless exploitation of the soil, especially in the 20th century, has severely damaged its capabilities. However, it remains Russia's main agricultural base. Here the friendly and generous Russian nature seems compounded: people are fiercely proud of their land, and notably of its part in some of the fiercest battles of World War Two, and give a lavish welcome to visitors. A third feature of this area is the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly: high deposits of ferrous ore cause problems for those wishing to find their way by compass, and aircraft have to fly over on autopilot.
Kursk, the city of partridges (kuropaty), has a long and turbulent history, beginning its life as an outpost of Kievan Rus' and joining the ill-fated campaign by Prince Igor of Novgorod Seversky against the Polovtsy tribe. In 1240 it was destroyed by the Mongols, and for a while was under Lithuanian rule, before becoming Russia's southern frontier against the Tatars. By the early 18th century, it was in provincial obscurity, roused only in 1941, when German occupation and a lengthy tank battle in the surrounding countryside put it on the map.
Today's regional centre betrays little of its history externally: most of its architecture suffered in the war. However, it is a lively and friendly city, and though sightseeling should take up little of your time, local tourist bureau and museum staff are always willing to help.
Start with the regional museum, first opened in 1905 in honour of Tsar Nikolay's visit. The usual sections on nature and history are supplemented by "Museum Rarities", an exhibit including icons, chinaware, and displays resembling a 19th century antique shop and an 18th century drawing room. Another room has treasures rescued from local estates, like Maryino, among them a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by French court artist Robert Lefievre, and a praying carpet belonging to Shamil, a Tatar prince captured in the Crimea.
The museum is currently in the former Monastery of Our Lady of the Sign, whose silver-domed cathedral, the main central landmark of the city, is now a working church. Formerly used as a cinema, the unusual round columned interior is fully restored for services. Continue past the church round to the right and descend to the former House of Nobles, now an Officers' Club with the tiny and austere Kursk Battle Museum tucked away at the back. It describes the powerful 1943 German counter-offensive, which turned into a crushing victory for the Red Army.
Kursk's third museum is a small exhibition hall on Ulitsa Radishcheva used by the local art gallery. With 7,500 paintings, Kursk has one of provincial Russia's largest collections, including works by local boy Alexander Deineka, famous for his work in the Moscow metro, and Kazimir Malevich, who worked in Kursk during his modernist period. There is Italian and Flemish art too, including works by Tiepolo. Unfortunately, almost all these canvases are in storage,coming out for display on rotation in the limited space of the aging exhibition hall.
Finally, visitors should not miss the city's most beautiful church, the St. Sergius and Kazan Cathedral. It was built in 1752-78 by Rastrelli or one of his pupils, and contains upper and lower churches with luscious baroque interiors.
If you're in Kursk for a few days, make sure you visit the Alyokhin Nature Reserve south of the city. The reserve is made up of several areas of land scattered through Kursk and Belgorod Regions, bequeathed to Cossacks and Streltsy for services rendered by Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich in 1626. As the soldiers had no time to farm, the soil was barely exploited, unlike in surrounding areas. When collectivisation of the land loomed this century, Kursk botanist Professor Alyokhin started a campaign to save these areas from farming, and a reserve was set up in 1935. Now Alyokhin's successors preside over the richest soil in the world. With a humus content of 12-14% (compared with less than 1% in non-reserve land around), the soil has enough nutrients to generate harvests for 2-300 years without fertiliser.
Most visitors go to the reserve headquarters at the Kazatskaya Steppe section, in a village on the boundary between forest and steppe zones. The best time to go is May 20th - June 20th, when the steppe meadows are alive with colour, changing weekly depending on which flower is in bloom. This is how the American Prairies used to be, before "buffalo"-hunting destroyed the ecological balance.
The forest zone to the south is no less wonderful, a density of plant species as high as the tropical forests creating an intoxicating mixture of smell and colour here too. Go early morning to hear the splendid tones of the famous Kursk nightingale.
SVOBODA AND THE KURSK BATTLE MONUMENTS
Svoboda (meaning freedom) was for years after World War Two known as the headquarters of Marshal Rokossovsky, one of the commanders in the Kursk battle. Today there is a memorial complex here devoted to him and his men. While tourists were brought to this site, however, their Soviet-era guides carefully avoided mention of the nearby Korennaya Pustyn monastery. Now the monastery is back on the map, and working again.
For a while, Korennaya Pustyn housed the 13th century miracle-working Icon of the Korennaya Virgin, sent to Kursk by Boris Godunov in the 16th century as the Tatars threatened Russia's southern borders. It helped defend the city, both in this and the Polish invasion of 1612, when Kursk successfully held out against siege. After the revolution, the icon was sent abroad. It is currently in New York, and under a new name, the Hodigitria of Russians Overseas, it serves as a guiding light for perplexed emigres. A copy can be seen in Kursk Regional Museum.
Today the monastery is under restoration, its main Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin, built by Konstantin Thon (of Kremlin and Church of Christ the Savior fame), looking festive again. At the bottom of the hill are three holy springs, and a river used by churchgoers for ritual bathing.
The village church of SS. Joachim and Anna is another Thon construction.
Svoboda is one of many in a whole complex of battle monuments. Other notable ones are in Belgorod Region: at
Yakovlevo, site of the fiercest fighting, where you can see the main battlefield memorial - anti-tank guns, a T-43 tank and YaK fighter plane flanking the "War Glory Hall"; and at Prokhorovka, site of World War Two's largest tank battle, where a church has been built in memorial for the 50th anniversary of victory.
This stunningly beautiful estate west of Kursk was once part of land owned by the Ukrainian hetman Mazeppa, who took Sweden's side against Peter the Great in the Northern War. After the battle of Poltava, Mazeppa fled, and his estate eventually passed to the Baryatinsky family, rich nobles who distinguished themselves in the diplomatic service.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Ivan Ivanovich Baryatinsky, Tsar Paul's ambassador to London, decided to build a mansion and park here. He commissioned Kursk architect Karl Gofman to work on the house, but imported English agronomists to work on the park and its flora.
In Soviet times, the estate became one of the Communist Party's top sanatoriums. It remains exclusive today, visitable only as a resident, or on occasional guided tours via Kursk Tourist bureau.
A long alleyway from the mansion leads to the original Mazeppa estate at Ivanovskoye. The derelict 18th century "Mazeppa's Chambers" are all that remains.
Kursk: 0528 km from Moscow on Simferopolskoye shosse, a possible stopping point for those on route to the Crimea, or by almost any southbound train, 10 hours from the Kursky Vokzal. The Alyokhin Nature Reserve is about 15km further south, turn right to "Zapovednik" off the M2. Buses to the reserve (marked Zapovednik) run from a corner of the market square, between the market itself and the Cafe Sadko.
Svoboda: 27km north of Kursk on the Ponyri road, by bus from the main Kursk bus station. Yakovlevo is 110 km south of Kursk on M2, Prokhorovka another 31 km off to the left. Prokhorovka is also a stop on the main rail line south.
Maryino: Oabout 70 km west of Kursk on the Rylsk road, or by Rylsk buses from the main Kursk bus station.