Saturday, 6 March 2010

A tale of two Tsarinas

Behind every great man is a great woman - but behind 18th century Russia there were two. Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth and Catherine the Great ruled Russia for 55 years between them, from 1741 to 1796, presiding over a golden age of cultural enlightenment and imperial expansion. While St. Petersburg was the capital of Imperial Russia, their era left its mark on Moscow - and this walk takes in some of the spectacular highlights of their age.

The 19th century playwright Alexander Griboyedov greets passengers leaving Chistiye Prudy metro station. Walk past him along the boulevard and pond, and turn left into Ulitsa Pokrovka.

The baroque white and turquoise palace on the corner of the road was built in the 1760s. It shows the influence of Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the architect of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, whose work the Empress Elizabeth loved.

Turn right into Barashevsky Pereulok to visit the lovely, late seventeenth century Church of the Presentation. The nondescript pinkish building on the left was once another church, the ‘Resurrection in Barashakh'. Empress Elizabeth and Alexei Razumovsky, a tuneful Cossack, are thought to have married here secretly in November 1742.

Elizabeth had heard him singing at the court chapel 10 years earlier and asked to meet him. When, after Elizabeth's death, Catherine sent an envoy to check the marriage certificate, Razumovsky allegedly threw it into the fire and said: "Papers and honours mean nothing to me. I was always a humble servant and devoted admirer of her highness."

Head along Pokrovka. If it's cold, look out for the Union of Artists at No. 37, whose warm, free exhibition room might tide you over until the next church. Cross under the garden ring. The mid-18th century pink and gold church, straight ahead on Staraya Basmannaya Ulitsa combines traditional Russian and western architectural forms. The architect was Dmitry Ukhtomsky, who also built the tall bell-tower in the famous monastery at Sergiyev Posad. Nikita Demidov, of the Demidov iron and steel dynasty, built his house behind the church, on Gorokhovsky Pereulok.

Turn right again into Maly Demidovsky Pereulok, named after the iron man and left into Ulitsa Kazakova, named after the architect, Matvei Kazakov, who designed the Demidov house.
An early 19th century palace, slowly being restored, surrounds a courtyard on the right. This huge house, which belonged to Razumovsky's nephew, has become sadly derelict in recent years. Razumovsky (junior) was part of Catherine the Great's noble government. He spent a million roubles on oak logs and imported mirrors for his mansion and the park was once a glorious tribute to his botanical passions. In the Soviet era, the building belonged to the Institute of Physical Culture, passing in 1999 to the Academy of Arts. At the end of the road is another masterpiece by Kazakov. The ‘Church of the Resurrection in the Pea fields' recalls the area's 18th century landscape, rolling arable farmland punctuated by domed churches, tiered bell towers and elegant mansions. Turn left into Tokmakov Pereulok, admiring the blue, 19th century house at the next crossroads.

Walk right round the back of dilapidated block 13-15 to admire the Art Nouveau façade hidden behind it. This Resurrection Church, built by Ilya Bondarenko, is one of the most unusual buildings in Moscow. The church belongs to the old believers' community and is still under restoration, but the icon-carrying angels seem to float above the scaffolding. Return to Tokmakov Pereulok and turn right onto Staraya Basmannaya Ulitsa again. The wooden house at No. 36 belonged to Alexander Pushkin's uncle and there is talk of turning it into a museum. By this time, you might fancy Molly Malone's, the Irish pub next door.

The columned mansion, just beyond the next crossroads, was home to Alexei Musin-Pushkin, no relation to the poet, but with his own place in Russia's cultural history. He was a historian, archaeologist and another of Catherine's noble supporters. As president of the Academy of Arts and son of the Monasteries' Administrator, he had access to rare manuscripts in forgotten church treasuries. He is famous for re-discovering and publishing the 12th century "Song of Igor's Campaign". Kazakov designed the house in 1780. His work is evident in the domed colonnade round the side. The fire of 1812 partly destroyed the mansion, together with the original manuscript of the "Song of Igor", which Musin-Pushkin had already transcribed for Catherine the Great. Further along Spartakovskaya Ulitsa there is a statue of the revolutionary Nikolai Bauman, who has given his name to the whole area. There are further lovely 18th century mansions lining the garden around it, but the unmissable landmark is the aquamarine Epiphany (or "Yelokhovsky") Cathedral. The impressive 19th century edifice still has painted decoration outside, the original rococo iconostasis inside and a very active congregation. Pushkin, the poet, born around the corner, was baptised here.

Across the road from the Cathedral a shopping arcade leads to the metro, though the area - including a bust marking Pushkin's birthplace - repays further exploration if you have more energy.

1 comment:

yogabc said...

When you post someone else's writing to your site you should be careful to credit them. This piece was researched and written by Phoebe Taplin and published originally in the Moscow News.