He was born here, in October 1814, studied in the university and returned here between periods of exile. In his poem, "Sashka", he wrote: "Moscow, Moscow, I love you like a son, Like a Russian - strongly, fierily, tenderly"
These lines are inscribed behind the statue of the poet, which stands near the site of the house where he was born, outside Krasniye Vorota metro station. This monument is the starting point for an urban ramble, which will follow Lermontov and other literary figures through the streets and boulevards of the historic city.
Cross under the garden ring, walk along Myasnitsky Proyezd and left into Myasnitskaya Ulitsa. You pass, among the grand villas and mansions that line the street, the 18th century house at No. 42 (now the offices of the newspaper Argumenti i Fakti), where the playwright Griboyedov wrote his masterpiece, "Woe from Wit" in 1823. At the end of the road, turn right into Sretensky Bulvar with a statue of the engineer, Vladimir Shukhov, at the start and another of Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, at the far end.
Continue to follow the Boulevard Ring as it curves gently along the former line of the city walls. The intersections are awkward to cross, but the boulevards themselves are pleasantly green and lined with autumn trees and elegant buildings. House No. 14 on the next section, Rozhdestvensky Bulvar, was the home, in the 1830s and 40s, of the poetic Pavlovs, Nikolai and Karolina, who hosted an influential literary salon on Thursday nights. Lermontov was a guest here in 1840 just before his second period of exile in the Caucasus. Karolina Pavlova wrote "A Dual Life", a novel in prose and verse, set in Moscow.
Just beyond the junction, the School of Modern Plays stands near the site of the old Hermitage restaurant where playwright, Anton Chekhov used to dine. The figure with his arms outstretched after the next crossroads is the Soviet actor, poet and singer, Vladimir Vysotksy. House No. 10, at the far end of this section of Strasnoi Bulvar, housed a bookshop in the early 19th century, where Lermontov was a frequent customer. Next door was the university print works, which published Gogol's "Dead Souls" and other famous tomes.
Turn left down Bolshaya Dmitrovka, past a green house at No. 15, which housed the Literary-Artistic Circle where symbolist poets gave readings in the early 20th century. At the end of the road on the right, the classical building with columns, designed by Matvei Kazakov, was home in the 18th and 19th centuries to the Nobility Club. Pushkin wrote that: "In the hall of the Club of the Nobility, 5,000 people would meet twice a week..." Lermontov came to masquerade balls here in the 1830s. He arrived at the New Year's ball in 1832 dressed as an astrologer, carrying a book of poems, dedicated to his friends, disguised as a volume of oriental mysticism. You can see the book in question in the house-museum at the end of the walk.
Turn right along Okhotny Ryad and cross under Tverskaya Ulitsa. Glancing right up the street, you can see the constructivist edifice of the Telegraph Office. This building stands on the site of the 19th century boarding house for aspiring students to Moscow State University, including several future writers like the Griboedov. Lermontov stayed here and wrote several poems including the famous "Demon".
The old buildings of Moscow State University at Nos. 11 and 9 Mokhovaya Ulitsa were another crucial place in the lives of several famous Russian writers. Originally mansions by Kazakov, they were rebuilt after the fire of 1812 by the architect Domenico Gilliardi. In "Sashka", Lermontov describes the university as "a sacred place. I remember, like a dream, your departments, auditoriums, corridors, your sons' arrogant debates." Chekhov recalled the same buildings as dilapidated with "gloomy corridors, grimy walls, bad light and cheerless stairs...," holding them responsible for "shaping the history of Russian pessimism." These days, the buildings seem cheerful enough. You can check out the interior by visiting the cheap Stolovaya (canteen) at No. 11, open to the public between 10 am and 3 pm Mon.-Sat. There is a statue of Mikhail Lomonosov, who founded the university in 1755, outside No. 9.
Turn right at the statue of Dostoevsky outside the library on Ulitsa Vozdvizhenka. You could pop into the Museum of Books on the fourth floor of the section behind the colonnade. The museum is free and contains several fascinating volumes, including Moscow's first printed book. There are two early editions of Lermontov's poems, published in 1842, the year after his untimely death in a duel. One of them belonged to the critic Vissarion Belinsky and later made its way back to the woman who had given it to Belinsky, who used the pages to curl her hair.
Ulitsa Vozdvizhenka is noisy, but full of interesting buildings. On the far side of the huge intersection, follow Novy Arbat as far as the lovely green-domed Simeon Church, then turn right along little Ulitsa Molchanovka behind the church.
Just beyond a garden full of strange bronze sculptures, the wooden house where Lermontov lived with his grandmother in the 1830s huddles under the looming tower blocks. The museum is open 1 pm-6 pm Wed.-Sun. and costs 50 roubles. The display is sparse, but charming, including portraits of the young Lermontov and his relatives, the poet's study and some of his own paintings.
Landmark of the week
The statue of Lermontov in Lermontovskaya Ploshchad
The winged demon and other characters from his poems provide a backdrop for the haughty figure of Lermontov on a tall pedestal. The monument was built in 1964 near the site of the house where Lermontov was born 150 years earlier.