The Town of Kolomna: A Creative Cluster of the Moscow Region
Photos by: Lyubov Zolotova
Those who wish to experience some of a more provincial Russia and immerse in its cozy atmosphere will love Kolomna, an old town 100 km away from Moscow. It is ideal for a one- or two- day visit. The town is relatively small but its cultural life is thriving. It hosts an entire cluster of fantastic little museums, most of which happen to be private, set up by passionate admirers of Russian heritage and crafts. Besides the well-known Pastila (Marshmallow) Museum and Factory (see my post about it below), many more deserve your attention, namely: The Blacksmith Quarter (Кузнечная слобода); The Museum of flax and female crafts (Музей льна и быта русской женщины); The House of Samovar (Дом Самовара); and The Soap Shop&Museum. Together, these interactive museum projects form a fascinating creative cluster with unique collections, enthusiastic owners and guides, and fantastic souvenirs.
The Blacksmith Quarter (Кузнечная слобода)
This museum was set up by a local blacksmith and a passionate collector of traditional forged pieces, Ilya Lebedev. The museum is made up of a forge (where you can take part in a smith craft workshop), an impressive collection of forged pieces, and a gift shop. The vast collection numbers over 10,000 forged items, from ancient chain mails, armor, church items, hunting and fishing gear (hooks, harpoons, traps etc) to various household articles including forged sleighs, cabbage knifes, elaborate locks and many other fascinating items. The museum guides do a fantastic job telling insightful stories about the craft and the long gone life traditions.
Where: Ул. Гражданская, 84, Коломна, Московская область
Official website: www.sloboda.art-kovka.ru
The Museum of Flax and Female Crafts (Музей льна и быта русской женщины)
This cute little museum sits next door to the Blacksmith Quarter in a traditional Kolomna house. The museum was founded by a local resident, Natalya Ryabtseva, and it hosts a collection of ancient flax (linen) items including holiday clothes of late 19th century, traditional towels, table cloths, as well as multiple household items associated with flax and linen-making craft. The collection is a joy to the eye and provides a glimpse of numerous jobs involved in the growing of flax and making of linen cloth, from rough canvas and ropes to the finest fabric, which in the 19th century was much in demand in Europe. For a little extra, you can have a photo shoot in traditional linen clothes and a Russian tea ceremony. Don’t miss the gift shop where you can get fine linen clothes as well as organic food products made from flax seeds and flax-seed oil.
Where: ул. Гражданская, 80 г. Коломна, Московская область
Official website www.len-kolomna.ru
The Soap Shop & Museum (Торговля мылом Г.И.Суранова)
This tiny museum hosts a beautifully arranged exposition of Russian soaps and perfumes of late 19th- early 20th cc. including those produced locally. In the near future, interactive educative programs will be conducted for children and adults acquainting visitors with the traditional soap-making process and the history of the craft. The museum’s highlight is a fantastic selection of fragrant fully organic soaps (both dry and liquid), scrubs and perfumes made following traditional recipes. A job well done!
Where: ул. Зайцева, 18 Коломна, Московская область
Official website: www.kolomnamilo.ru
The House of Samovar (Дом Самовара)
Last but not least is an absolute must-see for all lovers of tea traditions, the Samovar House. Founded and funded by local residents, the Burov family, this museum hosts one of the biggest collections of samovars I’ve seen so far. The collection embraces over 500 samovars of different shapes, sizes and purposes, dating from late 17th to early 20th century. All items were purchased and restored by the family itself. Among the highlights are a 250 year old sbitennik (the samovar’s ‘ancestor’ used for keeping sbiten’, a traditional hot honey drink) and the huge barrel shop samovars, as well as a number of oriental samovars. A traditional tea ceremony is a must! A photo shoot in traditional Russian costumes is much recommended!
Where: ул. Посадская, д. 11 Коломна Московская область
Official website: www.domsamovara.ru
The history of Moscow city illumination in medieval chambers: The Lights of Moscow museum
A precious little museum is located in a very historic part of Moscow, hidden in one of the backyards of Armyanski side street. This interactive museum is called Lights of Moscow and it tells a story of Moscow house lighting and street illumination from medieval times’ whicker lamps to modern age technologies. The museum tour guides do an excellent job revealing fascinating facts about old times lighting, like using splits and chips to light homes (hundreds of these were needed to light a small part of a house for three hours) or magnificent 19th century illumination shows on Maslennitsa or Easter days when hundreds of thousands of cup candles were used to decorate Moscow cathedrals.
A truly unique feature of the museum is that it is housed in the 17th century boyar chambers that once belonged to Ivan Protopopov who was a Tsar stolnik (or a cup-bearer, a high-rank officer in medieval royal court). The chambers, with their tiny windows, beautiful vaulted ceilings, secret passageways and alcoves in thick walls, are fun to explore. The exposition of the museum fits very well into these medieval interiors. Don’t miss a gift shop on the second floor!
Where : Armyanski pereulok, 8 Moscow Russia
Official website: www.ognimos.ru
Photos by Lyubov Zolotova
Folk Graphics Museum: learn about lubok, a popular art of the XII-XIX cc. Russia
This is a lovely little museum in the historic center of Moscow which hosts a precious collection of Russian popular art prints known as lubok that were extremely popular with the Russian folk before the Soviet revolution. This unique folk art dates back to mid 16th century, when the first printed books came around. The first lubok prints were religious in nature, printed by Vasili Koren’, a craftsman from Belorussia who created a series of prints called “The Bible for the poor” (in other words, for people who couldn’t read or write). Thus, lubok essentially was a story in pictures. Later, secular themes also followed, but the prints maintained its moral tone, though shifting more to humorous mockery of people’s sins and shortcomings. A lot of them depicted scenes from city and country life, illustrated proverbs and biblical parables, monthly calendars, curious events and happenings, and even political themes with funny and satirical comments. They were a kind of popular comics for simple people, and became extremely popular, serving educating, information, entertaining and even aesthetic purposes, as were a very cheap way to decorate one’s home. The print cases were made of wood, printed on paper and then colored by hand. Interestingly, the lubok craftsmen lived around the same area where the museum now stands (close to Pechatniki street, named after ‘pechatniki’ – printers) and very close to the former Sukharevski market on Sukarevskaya square, where prints were sold in abundance.
How to get there: Malyi Golovin pereulok, 10/9 Moscow. Metro station: Sukharevskaya
Official website: www.naive-museum.ru
The 8th wonder of the world: the wooden palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in Kolomenskoye
One of the most stunning medieval wonders, the Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich palace in Kolomenskoye, Moscow, was reconstructed a few years ago at its original location. This magnificent work of art of the 17th century never ceased to cause awe and admiration of foreigners living in or visiting Moskovia (Moscow), and was “branded” as the eighth wonder of the world. It was extravagant both on the outside and the inside. Its scale and external décor was beyond impressive; its interiors were lavish and elaborate, all intended to demonstrate the Tsar’s power, influence, and opulence.
Here are some most unusual facts and highlights of the palace
- the numerous and very elaborate system of rooms, passages and ‘klet’ ’ (kind of storerooms) – a typical feature of Russian wooden architecture, especially impressive in this case considering the scale of the palace
- sophisticated wooden carving throughout the Palace’s exterior
- the unique scaled roof made of wood across the entire palace
- extravagant interiors, with gilted walls and ceilings (works conducted by famous Russian and Armenian icon painters including Simon Ushakov and Bogdan Salanov)
Alas, at the end of the 18th century the Palace was demolished, with only the foundation surviving. However, its descriptions survived in numerous documents, memoirs, paintings and drawings, measurement diagrams etc. In 2010, a model of the Palace was constructed in the vacant area of the Kolomenskoye estate. Today, it is one of the most impressive living museums of medieval art and history. Its collection includes authentic interior artifacts, icons, wooden sculpture, furniture, household items etc.
I personally strongly recommend this highlight for those who wish to immerse into medieval Russia, and admire the specifically Russian grandeur of the Tsar estate, the Versaille a la rus.
For more information visit the official website of the Moscow State Integrated Art and Historical architectural and Natural Landscape Museum-Reserve, www.mgomz.com/kolomenskoe
Where: Kolomenskoye estate, prospect Andropova 39 (проспект Андропова, д. 39) Moscow. Metro station: Kolomenskaya, Kashirskaya
Photo from: http://www.mochaloff.ru/kolomenskoe/dvorec.php
The Pseudo-Russian extravagance: The Igumnov House in Moscow
Some of the most beautiful estates in Moscow remain inaccessible to the wide public. Such is the Igumnov House on Yakimanka street. Known to every Moscovite, this extremely fancy venue is now property of France and is the official residence of the French ambassadors to Russia. The land originally belonged to the family of wealthy Russian merchants, the Igumnov family from the town of Yaroslavl’, where they owned a large textile factory. Around 1885, Nikolai Igumnov initiated the construction of an extravagant family estate in Moscow. The design project was commissioned to Nikolai Posdeyev, the head architect of Yaroslavl’. The building was designed in the so-called Pseudo-Russian style. Its shapes and decorative forms resemble the Russian medieval chambers, partly inspired by the legendary Chamber Palace of the Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in Kolomenskoye (burnt down in the city fire in the 18th century). The town of Yaroslavl’ is famous for its highly decorative ceramic tiles, lavishly used in most of its churches, and you can find plenty of these both in the exterior as well as the interior of the Igumnov house. It is indeed a fairylike house. The interiors, however, are a mixture of the Russian and European classicism styles, which you don’t expect from the first glance at the exterior.
The house was admired by the French architects who had a chance to visit it at the end of the 19th century: “This house is one-of-a-kind. It challenges all the traditional perceptions. And yet, there is no way it could be redone without making it look silly, without interfering into its ancient appearance…”
The building was nationalized after 1917 and hosted a variety of public institutions. It was turned over to the French government in 1938. Since 1979 is has remained the official residence of the French ambassadors to Russia.
Where: Yakimanka street, 43, Moscow
Viewing: limited (options exist during the Moscow Embassies open days).
Additional information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igumnov_House
The Moscow Region Highlight: A Museum of Forgotten Taste, Kolomna Pastila Museum
If you want to explore one of the provincial towns in the vicinity of Moscow, don’t miss the cozy, picturesque Kolomna, and most importantly, its major highlight – the Kolomna Pastila Museum.
The story of this fantastic project, an innovative living museum which promotes the town’s heritage and traditions, is unusual. It was set up as a private museum by Natalia Nikitina, a former music teacher, in 2009, reviving the long-standing tradition of Kolomna’s marshmallow-making: in the 19th century this thriving merchant town was one of the leading centers of pastila (marshmallow) production. The Chuprikov merchant family established their first factory in Kolomna at the beginning of the 18th century. Pastila was a very popular product in the pre-revolutionary Russia and was even exported to Europe. The production ceased after the 1917’s revolution, and the traditional unique recipes were lost for almost a century. The owner’s idea was to revive the original recipes of marshmallow-making in the heart of its home town.
The recipes were restored through archive work. The Kolomna pastila is completely organic, made from fresh apples with added natural flavors (raspberries, strawberries etc), and really does melt in your mouth. The product was promoted in regional and federal media, rapidly gaining popularity, which resulted in the opening of this one-of-a-kind living museum ‘of forgotten taste’. The museum is an award winner of “A Changing Museum in a Changing World Program” (Vladimir Potanin Foundation), as well as a special prize holder of the European Museum Forum 2012.
The Kolomna Pastila Museum is a perfect example of an innovative cultural project: if offers interactive shows with pastila tasting in the19th century reconstructed interiors of a cozy wooden house located in the heart of the Kolomna town, offers insight into the traditions of pastila-making and the 19th century lifestyle of a merchant town. Its highlight is its gift shop with very tastfully done souvenirs – pastila wrapped in old-style boxes which are a hit with visitors. The museum features tours, tastings, music shows and plenty of other activities.
The Museum’s huge success inspired several more projects: The Kolomna pastila Factory (https://www.facebook.com/pastilafactory) The Kalach (Kalach – a kind of bun) museum (http://www.facebook.com/kolomna.kalach )
The Museum is tripadvisor recommended.
Official website: www.kolomnapastila.ru
Where: Posadskaya street 13A, Kolomna, Moscow region (approx. 100 km from Moscow)
ул. Посадская, 13А, Коломна, Московская обл.
The Last Moscow Village: Terekhovo
Although this may seem absolutely surreal, there is in fact a small village surviving within the Russian capital. It’s just 5 km away from the trendy Moscow City business center. It's a secluded, quiet little place, and it’s still inhabited! Rumor has it that it will very soon be gone, so make sure you get a glimpse of this bygone Moscow.
Address: Tehekhovo village, Moscow (Khoroshevo-Mnevniki district, Polezhayevskaya metro).
The 19th century English Club/Museum of Russia's Contemporary History
If you have a little more than a few days in Moscow, and if you’re fascinated with Russia’s Soviet heritage and modern history, then you will enjoy the Museum of Russia’s Contemporary History.
To begin with, the venue itself is fascinating, as it was once a so-called English club (from 1831 to 1917). It was one of the first gentlemen clubs to open in Moscow, and one of the most influential. In his War and Peace, Leo Tolstoi described a dinner party to honor commander prince Petr Bagration at this exact club! The interiors have been partly preserved, and you can check them out while you’re at the museum.
The fancy mansion was nationalized in 1917, and Museum of Revolution was set up instead. It was later reorganized into Museum of Russia’s contemporary history. Today it features some of the key historical highlights from late 19th century till recent times, including abolition of serfdom, the two revolutions, collectivization, the great patriotic war, Gagarin’s flight into space, perestroika as well as some of the very recent events.
You will love the rich collection of Soviet propaganda banners and posters and other artifacts. The museum’s gift shop is humble but still worth checking as well.
Where: Tverskaya, 21 Moscow
Official website: http://www.sovrhistory.ru/
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Medieval Luxury: The Volkov-Usupov Palace
If you’ve always wanted to see the luxurious medieval palaces of the Russian aristocracy but didn’t know where to look fo them, then this is it! I’m happy to share one of my most favorite highlights of medieval Moscow, the Volkov-Yusopov Palace. For some reason, it’s still not quite well-known even among the Muscovites. However, whereas the fancy Tsar chambers of the Kremlin are not easily accessible, this gorgeous house of the wealthy Usupov family has recently opened its doors to visitors.
The legend says there used to be a hunting house of Ivan the Terrible back in the 16th century where the palace now stands, a place where he rested after hunts as well as tortured prisoners. The legend also says there was once an underground network of tunnels that the Tsar secretly used to appear in most unexpected places of Moscow. The Palace was built in 1698, and in 1728 Peter the II granted the chambers to Grigori Usupov-Knyazhev. The Usupov family’s wealth was probably second only to the Tsar, and the “Volkov chambers”, having become their main family estate were extravagantly decorated in a very oriental fashion.
The chambers are one of the only XVII century venues remaining that have preserved their original forms, layout and even parts of interiors including the ancient arched ceilings and glazed tile stoves. The interiors are stunningly beautiful, if slightly too decorative. Don’t miss the Chinese room with its priceless panel boards, elaborate wall ornaments and funny-looking elephants (apparently, the Russian painters had a vague idea of what elephants looked like). You will be blinded by the splendor of the Throne hall (or the Vaulted chamber), 170 sq.m. large with a ceiling decorated with zodiac signs, and other glamorous spaces. You’ll be surprised to know that Alexander Pushkin spent her a few of his infant years together with his family who rented a part of the palace.
The palace was renovated at the end of the 19th century, funded by the Usupov family. It was then that the underground tunnel leading from the palace to the Kremlin was buried.
Usupov family kept the palace until 1917. It was nationalized in the Soviet times and served various purposes: it was a military history museum, a medieval history museum, and even an affiliate of the soviet agricultural academy.
In the post soviet times the palace was leased by a construction company which funded and carried out the reconstruction works. Today the venue can be rented for special occasions (weddings, anniversaries, corporate events), it is often used by the Moscow patriarchy. And, most importantly, we can all come visit it!
Address: Bolshoi Kharitonyevski pereulok, 4 bld 7 (near the Krasnye Vorota metro station)
Adapted from www.liveinternet.ru/users/5679659/post381279567
Learn more at the palace’s official website: www.yusupovpalace.ru
Moscow Highlights: A Hidden Jewel
This site is often missed by tourists, as it's not a must-see Kremlin or the Tretyakov. However, if you want to dive in the medieval Russia and experience the life of its boyars, this is the place! This living museum was set up back in the 19th century and is an excellent reconstruction of the Romanov family estate. The museum staff is simply adorable! My personal favorite :)
Where: Varvarka, 7 Moscow