Start: “Ryabushki” bus stop near Rosha village outside BorovskEnd: Borovsk Bus station, Ploschad Lenina Distance: about 7km.
Just over the border of the Moscow Oblast, in the Kaluga region, 100km south-west, the picturesque town of Borovsk is oozing with autumn charm and historical interest. The beautiful Pafnuty monastery has survived assaults from Polish, French and German forces. A scattering of old churches and mansions, a winding river and a delightful, hilly landscape contribute to a pleasant day out. The young Konstatin Tsiolkovsky, who developed the theories that led to space flight, taught maths in the local school and the house where he lived is now a museum.
The train from Moscow’s Kievsky Station (near Kievskaya metro) to Balabanovo takes an hour and a half; a return ticket costs 350 roubles. A 20-rouble marshrutka runs from immediately outside the station to Borovsk every ten minutes. Get off at the stop called “Ryabushki”, cross the road, follow the sandy lane, turn right onto the tarmac road and you will see the elegant towers of the Pafnuty Monastery below you. Turn right just before the fortified, 16th century walls, to find the holy spring (1), just beyond the huge brick “watch tower”. Follow the wall back round until you find the entrance. Women will need to put on scarves and skirts from the boxes provided at the door.
Founded in 1444 by Pafnuty, the son of a Tartar tax collector, the monastery defended the ancient princedom of Muscovy. The tall Nativity Cathedral (2) has been recently restored and the interior is bright with frescoes and hosts regular services. Fragments of paintings are visible on the outside too and ceramic tiles decorate the 17th bell tower next door. There are still monks in residence and the atmosphere is rich with well-tended gardens and the smell of baking bread. The tiny, single-domed St Elijah church stands in the far corner, behind the rose garden.
Coming out of the monastery gates again, turn right around the walls and follow the track past the pond, enjoying a view of the domes and towers across the water. Walk up a sandy path as it climbs through pine trees. Go on along a little track and cross the road near the whitewashed Nativity church (3), where Tsiolkovsky was married in 1880. There is a great view from here across the fields to Borovsk. Keeping the church on your left, continue along little Ulitsa Molokova through wooden houses and gardens until finally you come to a larger road. Turn left along this and almost immediately left off it again by a green-painted barrier to a little riverside path.
Turn right along the picturesque River Protva (4). When you are level with the bell tower of the bright pink Boris and Gleb church (5) on the hillside above, turn right and then left, following a grassy track that runs parallel to the river. The dilapidated, neo-byzantine church, which is also visible above the track, is the old believers’ Intercession church, built in 1909. At the end of this track, go straight on into Ulitsa Tsiolkovskogo. Tsiokolvsky lived in the handsome grey and white house at number 49. This memorial museum (6) is open Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm and costs 30 roubles to visit. The first rooms show local landmarks, domestic details and family trees.
The next room recreates his laboratory. His first breakthroughs in aerodynamic theory were made in Borovsk by using experimental models. In his own words, “I wrote, calculated, soldered, planed and fused.” Inside the wooden upper storey, is a display dedicated to Tsiolkovsky’s work as a teacher. Through a combination of star-gazing and experimental physics, Tsiolkovsky would eventually help send human beings beyond the earth. He once put a cockroach into a matchbox, hanging from one of his kites, to see how it would survive the flight. Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, later said: “I am happy to have been the first to have materialized Tsiolkovsky’s visions.”
Soon after the museum, a tiny shop in a blue shed can supply some picnic ingredients if you haven’t brought any with you. At the end of the road, turn right near the ornate old believers’ church (7) and left across the bridge into the town. Walk up the hill, past 19th century mansions towards the Annunciation Cathedral at the top.
Local artist, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, has painted the walls of several houses, including a mural of Tsiolkovsky in the lane leading right opposite the cathedral, which also has a Tsiolkovsky memorial (8). The square to the right includes the old school and a chapel and is the place where the town historically began. There are great views across the valley. Going on down the hill, past carved wooden houses, you can cross the river using a pedestrian bridge and turn right to find a grassy beach (9) with benches, a great place for a picnic.
Back at the top of the hill near the cathedral, turn right to find the town’s main square. Ploshchad Lenina, with its cafes, shops and statue of Lenin. The Historical museum (10) is on the right behind the war memorial. It costs 40 roubles and has paintings of local scenes and artefacts from the second world war. The bus stop for marshrutkas back to Balabanovo is on the far side of the square. Looking down the lane beyond, you can see the dilapidated Transfiguration church.
Landmark of the week – Tsiolkovsky Monument in Borovsk
The pioneer of cosmonautic theory, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, died 75 years ago last week. One of the most delightful aspects of Tsiolkovsky’s biography is that this crucial visionary of that most futuristic branch of science, space travel, spent most of his life in a log cabin on the outskirts of Kaluga. You can see a mock-up of the cabin in Moscow’s Cosmonautics Museum and statue of Tsiolkovsky sits at the foot of the monument to the conquerors of space. A far more light-hearted statue in bronze sits looking skywards underneath Borovsk’s miniature version of the monument.