Start: Kashirskaya Metro
End: Kolomenskaya Metro
Distance: about 3km
Kolomenskoye in May is one of those annual Moscow treats. The apple trees in blossom and the tulips blazing in the sunshine are attractions enough without the architectural treasures scattered through this rolling park.
This is an evolving park. Over the past few years, Tsar Alexei’s palace has reappeared, the church of John the Baptist has emerged from its scaffolding, new stretches of riverside walkway have opened and there is a new museum in the UNESCO-listed Ascension church The composer Hector Berlioz once described this church as “the beauty of perfection… architecture of a new kind… man soaring on high”.
Exit from Kashirskaya Metro near the back of the train and turn right across the patch of grass behind the station. A tunnel under busy Prospekt Andropova leads you straight into the park, where you are confronted with a massive reconstruction of Tsar Alexei’s summer palace. The original palace, which stood on the far side of the park, was described by the sycophantic 17th century monk, Simeon Polotsky, as an eighth wonder of the world: “Magnificent, like the Tsar’s only glory/ there is nothing better outside heaven.” Architectural historian Natalia Dushkina describes the reconstruction project as “testament to the degradation of the concept of authenticity”, diverting seven hundred million roubles from the restoration of genuine historic buildings.
Keeping the palace on your right, walk past it and continue on a little path along the fences of two small cottages with gardens full of colour. The area you are walking through is the site of the ancient village of Dyakovo, settled centuries before Moscow was founded. The path, partly marked by streetlamps, winds past flowering bushes to an orchard with a pond in the middle. Some steps down to the left lead to the ‘ravine of voices’, where two sacred rocks are still visited by pilgrims. On the far side of the orchard, the Church of John the Baptist has been restored to its 17th-century splendour. So far it’s only open for services, but you can walk through graveyard with its carpet of anemones. Next to the church, there is cliff top viewpoint, where you can look out over a huge curve in the broad Moscow River as it flows southeast out of the city through industrial Marino.
Walk down the steps near the churchyard gate and up the steps on the far side of the valley. Head slightly right at the top of the steps towards Peter the Great’s log cabin. The huge oak trees you pass on the way are several hundred years old. The cabin, where Peter lived whilst supervising the construction of the Russian fleet in 1702, has been transferred here from Arkhangelsk and is open to visitors. Tickets for this and other museums in the park are available from one of the ‘Kassa’s dotted through the grounds.
Turn right through the white gate to reach the blue-domed Church of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan, built by Tsar Alexei in the mid-17th century to celebrate his victory over the Poles. This church used to connect via a bridge with the palace, which originally stood opposite. Turn right again through the green-roofed palace gates for a breathtaking view of the Ascension church and other whitewashed buildings. Tsar Vasily III built the Ascension church in 1532 to mark the birth of his son, Ivan (the Terrible). The unprecedented height of the towering steeple is accentuated by the location above the river. Newly reopened, there is a very small museum inside, showing a film that gallops through the many eras of Russian history associated with the church and surrounding estate.
The museum inside the palace gates is more worth visiting, but the current mark up for foreigners is ridiculous (330 roubles/110 for Russians), especially since there are no labels in English. If you can’t persuade the ticket seller to give you the local rate, try another kassa. The twelve-room exhibit on the history of Kolomeskoe starts with a wooden model of the palace and ends with two rooms of icons from the churches. At the top of the tower, there is a display of clock mechanisms.
If you are tired now, you might like to turn left towards the cafes. Alternatively, take the steps down to the river and turn left there towards the pier for boat trips before heading back up the hill towards grove of lime trees and the Kazansky Garden. This beautifully landscaped orchard behind the Kazan church slopes down to a row of wooden cafes, serving pancakes and shashlik.
Turn left again here, admiring the crown imperials and hyacinths in the borders along the lane, towards a modern administrative block, completed a few years ago. This square building with arched windows has now become yet another well-curated museum space. The basement has displays of ironwork, ceramics and woodcarving, mostly salvaged from churches during the Soviet era. Among the impressive gilded doorways upstairs, there is one of the colourful ceramic fireplaces designed by the artist, Mikhail Vrubel. From here, head diagonally right through the tulips to the park gate and keep going in this direction until you reach Kolomenskaya metro.
Landmark of the Week – The Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist at Dyakovo
Twenty years after his father built the church of the Ascension, Ivan the Terrible built another celebratory church across the valley. This mid-sixteenth century masterpiece is just as innovative as the earlier building, but has been hidden in scaffolding for the last few years. It was almost certainly built by architects from Pskov, including at least one of the designers of Ivan’s next major church, St Basil’s on Red Square. The two churches may look very different, but in both cases, the cluster of smaller chapels around a central core and the exuberant variety of decoration suggest the development of a unique style.