04/06/2009 | Moscow News №21You don't have to go all the way to St. Petersburg to find palaces and landscaped gardens. Moscow's very own Versailles lies just a few kilometres west of the city in the woods near the Staritsa Moscow River. In the early 19th century, Arkhangelskoye's status as a tourist attraction had already been recognised. The travel writer Georges de Laveau noted in his 1824 "Description de Moscou": "As Arkhangelskoye abounds in the beauties of nature, so it is noteworthy for its works of art." It opened as a museum almost exactly 90 years ago.
Only a fraction of Prince Yusupov's huge collection of paintings is on show here these days, but there is a special exhibition dedicated to Arkhangelskoye porcelain and a programme of classical concerts throughout the summer. The annual Usadba Jazz festival also takes place this weekend. Tickets start from 800 roubles. The actual evenings of the jazz festival might not be the best times to try out the full route of this walk since the ticketing system limits access to particular stages, but it would be a great time to visit and soak up the atmosphere.
To get to Arkhangelskoye, take the metro to Tushinskaya (on the purple line) and exit near the front of the train, turning left and left again out of the station. Catch the Nos. 541 or 549 bus or minibus to the "Muzei Arkhangelskoye" stop. The journey takes about 20 minutes (more if the traffic is bad) and costs 40 roubles. The entrance to the park is just across the road from the bus stop and costs 240/80 roubles for foreigners/Russians. If you have proof that you live in Moscow, you can usually pay the local rate.
Straight ahead inside gate is the 18th century palace with its belvedere and colonnaded wings. Turn right just before you reach the palace, towards the lawns. The estate belonged at various times to several of Russia's aristocratic families including the Golitsyns, but it was the wealthy Prince Nikolai Yusupov in the early 19th century who gave it the style it has today.
The poet Alexander Pushkin was a guest in 1827 and 1830. He wrote a poem to Prince Yusopov, declaring: "...This palace will I see,/ where builder's compass, palette, knife,/ obeyed your wise caprice/ and, inspired, vied to make magic."
Looking down from the terrace, between the Italian statues, across a wide and wooded view, Pushkin's lines seem more than flattery. Turn right from the terrace to find a temple-monument to Catherine the Great built in 1819. To the left, you reach two small 18th century buildings: the Tea Pavilion and the diminutive "Caprice" palace, built for Golitsyn's wife.
Heading on across the lawn, you reach the buildings of a neoclassical 1930s sanatorium which blend so well with the original architecture they are often mistaken for the main palace. After admiring another great view from the terrace, walk down the steps, through the wilder park by the water and turn left along the bank of the old Moscow river, looking out for the resident frogs. When the path runs out, turn left back towards the gardens and right along a wooded valley. Take the right fork to emerge under the picturesque storehouse bridging the ravine. Turning right again through the Holy Gates and along an avenue, you reach the many-gabled Church of the Archangel Michael which was built in 1667, predating the rest of the estate.
Emerging through the Holy Gates again, turn left to reach the colonnaded mausoleum. The architect, Roman Klein, who also built the Pushkin Museum, finished it just a year before the Revolution so the family was never buried there, but the courtyard makes a great concert venue and the ornate upper chapel houses some of Yusupov's gigantic masterpieces by Tiepolo (50 roubles).
In the nearby Office Wing, there is an interesting exhibition of porcelain (100 roubles). The 400 pieces on show were all specially made in the Yusupov family's workshop between 1818 and 1836, mainly as presents.
This unique collection has been gathered together from 11 different museums and includes imperial dinner services and the lovely Rose series of plates. The curators have also assembled many of the original paintings copied by serf artists onto the delicate gold-rimmed teacups.
If you feel in need of refreshments by now, go left again, towards the river, to find a cafe, a food shop and a makeshift summer beer garden. Heading back towards the main palace, you pass the Rose pavilion with its statue of a boy with a goose. Walking round to the right of the house, you find the Pushkin Monument, at the end of an avenue of busts, inscribed with lines from his poem. He envies Yusupov's state of "noble idleness", concluding: "You know life's reasons; happy man/ You live for life." Beyond the monument, a curving trellised walkway leads up to the house.
Coming back out of the gate and crossing over Ilinskoye Shosse, the Gonzago Theatre is a couple of hundred metres to the left along a forest path parallel to the road. This wood and stucco building was designed in 1817 by the architect Osip Bove, who also built the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He was helped by the Italian artist Pietro Gonzago. After lengthy reconstruction, the theatre is due to reopen for tours this month.
Landmark of the week
The Church of Archangel Michael, Arkhangelskoye
This beautiful 17th century church, on a cliff above the river, gave its name to the whole estate. Its tiers of "kokoshniki" gables and onion domes were remodelled in the 19th century, in keeping with the neoclassical fashions of the day. The original form was restored in the 1960s.