For dinosaur fans, the Orlov Paleontology Institute, one of the largest Natural History Museums in the world, is a must-see. It was built in the 1970s, and its pterodactyl-pattern wrought-iron fences and mirrored murals of the pre-Cambrian era are as impressive as its huge collection of fossils and skeletons. What helps to make the museum special is its unique setting in a gem of a park in southern Moscow. This route explores this lovely wilderness, the Theotokos Church, the ornamental ponds and neoclassical mansion of the fascinating Uzkoe Estate before heading to the museum. From Konkovo Metro Station, exit near the front of the train and turn left in the underpass. Walk through the tower blocks away from the main road, following a path through the green area in the middle of two small lanes. At the end of this, go slightly left to find a tarmac path running straight on down the slope toward the forest. On the other side of the street Ulitsa Akademia Kapitsi, you will see a temp tingly shady path going on into the trees beyond. Follow this path along a delightful valley between wooded slopes until you come to a clearing with a more defined stream, the little Chertanovka River, surrounded by pretty, damp-loving plants like lady's mantle and water avens.
Turn right to cross the bridge, and go up the hill into a larger grassy clearing with a young birch grove in the middle. Following the left-hand edge of the clearing, you reach a pond - one of a chain of ornamental lakes that once formed part of the landscape gardens of the Uzkoe Estate. Go left around the pond to the far corner and turn left again up a tarmac road between white gate posts and a black metal fence. Behind the fence, the wilderness of ferns and cranesbill in the grounds of the sanatorium has a primordial lushness to it.
The lovely, old gold-domed church at the top of the hill is dedicated to Theotokos of Kazan. The whitewashed brickwork is typical of seventeenth-century churches, but the tall five-towered design is unusual for Moscow. It was built by the architect, Osip Startsev; another of his churches survives near Taganka Metro Station, but his main work was on the huge baroque cathedrals in Kiev. For fifty years before reverting to the Russian Orthodox Church, this building was used to house part of Hitler's library, brought back from Germany by the Red Army. Although it is currently being restored, you can usually peer inside to see the ornate iconostasis.
The neoclassical mansion opposite was built in the nineteenth century by the Trubetzkoy family, incorporating design features from a seventeenth-century house on the site. The ponds and landscape park were laid out at the end of the eighteenth century. It is still one of the best-preserved aristocratic estates in Moscow, and more estate buildings and gateways can be seen farther down the road beyond the church. The Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov died here in 1900. After 1917, it was given to the Russian Academy of Sciences, who still use it as a sanatorium. The Soviet physicist Lev Landau loved to ski in the area, while the mathematician Kolmogorov favored swimming in the nearby ponds. Just beyond the gates, opposite the church, is a little tarmac path running right along the sanatorium fence. Follow this until it emerges near a ruined brick building, and then turn right again to follow the little road at the foot of the fence past apartment blocks and playgrounds.
When you come to a flight of purple steps on your right, climb them and go through the gates of the Uzkoe Hotel. This imposing 1960s constructivist cube has a pleasant enough cafe on the ground floor where non-residents are welcome. Heading round the right-hand side of the building toward the back corner, follow the fence on the right until you find a missing panel and a mud path leading downhill to the far end of the chain of lakes. The second one has a lovely flight of steps leading down to a rotunda summer house on a platform in the lake.
Turn left along the far end of this second lake, along a tall lime tree avenue and then right again along the far side of the third pond until you come to another missing panel in the fence through which a defined path leads through flowery fields and over streams, parallel to the Sanatornaya Alleya on the right. Eventually you arrive at another fence, where a convenient log and missing railing give you access to the museum grounds. The huge red brick castle of the Paleontology Institute now towers over you. It is worth having a look through the gates into the courtyard on the near side even if you don't plan to pay the 150-ruble entrance fee.
A white stone mammoth, several black dinosaur sculptures and a prehistoric animal frieze set the scene for the captivating ramble through the Cambrian to Cretaceous periods.
Coming out through the dinosaur-pattern gates and red brick gateway beyond the museum, you emerge onto the busy Profsoyusnaya Ulitsa. From here it is ten minutes' walk left along the road to Tyoply Stan Metro Station, or catch a bus back to Konkovo. ■
Family Friendly Features
A lot of kids are natural dinosaur fans, and the size and spaciousness of this museum certainly do the subject justice. There are also a couple of gift shops selling toy dinos, ‘hatching' eggs, wooden puzzles and sweets, as well as a buffet in the basement. The walk is not too long for little legs and has plenty of variety with two playgrounds in the residential streets behind the sanatorium and the museum as a good destination at the end. The only hazards are muddy patches after rain.