A simple stroll through the summer city Start: Trubnaya metro End: Prospect Mira metro Distance: about 3km
Trubnaya metro station, with its stained glass mosaics provides a suitably picturesque beginning for this short exploration of some of Moscow’s hidden treasures. Just north of the garden ring, you will find the rustic cottage of painter, Victor Vasnetsov, and the oldest botanical garden in Russia, planted in the time of Peter the Great.
St George, patron saint of Moscow stands high on a column immediately outside the metro station. “Trubnaya”, meaning “pipe”, refers to the tunnel through which the Neglinnaya River flows underneath this road. Walk along leafy Tsvetnoi Bulvar, past the summer begonias and pansies that have replaced the spring tulips. The name of this boulevard (“Tsvet” means flower) dates from the 19th century flower market that used to line this street. When you reach the playful bronze sculptures and fountain with a unicycling clown and his raining umbrella, take a detour left to have a look at the old circus that inspired them. The original Moscow circus (1) opened here in 1880, built by bareback rider-turned-businessman, Albert Salmonosky.
Salamonsky framed his first ever rouble of profit and put it on the wall of the box office for luck. His catch phrase was “Clowns are good, ticket sales are good”. The circus worked right through World War II; Yuri Nikulin joined it immediately afterwards and worked there for fifty years.
Go on along Tsvetnoi Bulvar to the end of the road and cross over the busy garden ring using the pedestrian crossings to the right. On the far side, take the first right turn, at the top of the bank, off Olimpiisky Prospekt walking through an arch on Troitskaya Ulitsa, named after the nearby church. On the corner, just before the arch, is a pretty, wooden house (2). The next left turn, Pereulok Vasnetsova, leads to the fantastical cottage, which artist Viktor Vasnetsov built for himself in 1894. This wonderful house-museum (3) is open 10am-5pm, Weds-Sun and costs 250/100 roubles for foreigners/Russians.
The ground floor rooms are full of Vasnetsov’s furniture and the spirit of the estate at Abramtsevo, where he lived before. Wooden tables, carved by the artist’s brother Apollinari, ceramic stoves, tiled by Mikhail Vrubel and paintings by several outstanding artists including Vasnetsov, transform the house into an intimate gallery. It is, in fact, a branch of the Tretyakov and visitors will recognise smaller versions of some of Vasnetsov’s paintings there, like ‘Tsarevich Ivan on Grey Wolf’. Upstairs in the wooden attic-studio, there are large canvasses with fairy tale themes, incorporating flying carpets, seven-headed dragons and the child-snatching witch, Baba Yaga. The painting of the sleeping beauty, surrounded by her slumbering court, is mesmerising for the details with which the scene is imagined. Vasnetsov painted it in 1926, just before he died, and it is tempting to read it as a veiled allegory of Stalin’s incipient stifling of creativity.
Turn left out of the museum gates and cross over Meshanskaya Ulitsa at the end of the lane. Going through the archway a few steps to your right, you can wind through the courtyards to come out on Ulitsa Shepkina, named after the great 19th century actor. Cross this road and go on in the same direction until you emerge, through a little park, on Prospekt Mira. The brand new chapel with elongated gold domes (4), across the road, is the family church in honour of the “Synaxis of all Saints of Diveyevo”, whose newly-appointed memorial day will be celebrated on June 27th. The archbishop of Nizhny Novgorod dedicated the foundation stone in 2008 and the church is already a striking addition to the venerable Prospekt Mira skyline.
Turn left, cross at the lights and go on a few more metres, across Grokholsky Pereulok, to reach the entrance to the MGU Botanical Garden, through a glass building full of cafes. This green island in the city was founded as an apothecary garden in the 17th century. It costs 100 roubles to get in.
Turn left after the rectangular pond full of carp to explore the wilder sections around the fruit trees. The tall Siberian larch is supposed to have been planted by Peter the Great. A creeper-covered pergola leads to another pond (5) where a pair of distinctive, orange Shelducks has produced a family of ducklings. The peaceful benches here, surrounded by the very last of the tulips and the first of the peonies, transport you away from modern Moscow outside the walls. You can walk back along winding, wooden walkways through the ferns. The azaleas and rhododendrons are in full bloom around the rockery, the flaming bushes contrasting with the tall, purple heads of the ornamental aliums.
Turning right out of the exit, back onto bustling Prospect Mira, the metro station is just two minutes walk and there are plenty of cafes to choose from in the area. One of the best, is Madame Galife’s, tucked away round the corner on Grokholsky Pereulok and open from noon. The Georgian food, colourful décor and view of the garden are a winning combination. If you have the stamina, there is one last museum to visit before you reach the station. The avant garde poet and historian, Valery Bryusov, lived in the Art Nouveau green mansion, next to the botanical gardens. It now houses a museum of the Silver Age (6), open mostly in the afternoons and displaying an interesting variety of exhibits about Bryusov and his contemporaries. The various strands of art and literature in early twentieth century Russia are arranged around a bust of Alexander Pushkin.
Landmark of the week – Statue of Yuri Nikulin outside the circus on Tsvetnoi Bulvar This bronze monument to the clown, circus director and film actor, Yuri Nikulin shows him climbing out of the convertible used in the hugely popular 1960s Soviet film, ‘The Caucasian Captive’. The sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov created the memorial in 2000, three years after the clown’s death.