A literary and architectural pilgrimage to Tolstoy's House Start and end: Park Kulturi Metro Distance: about 3km
The author of “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace” died 100 years ago on November 20th. The wooden house in Khamovniki (the old weavers’ district) that he bought for his town-loving wife is now one of Moscow’s most atmospheric house-museums. On the way to it, this winding route, looping past art nouveau mansions and empire style mezzanines, discovers further traces of Tolstoy and other writers and artists.
Exit from the red line station at Park Kulturi onto Ostozhenka, emerging from one of the original 1935 metro pavilions. The huge pale blue and white mansion nearby is the old Katkov Lyceum, now the Diplomatic Academy with a memorial plaque to the 19th century diplomat, Alexander Gorchakov, a schoolfellow of the poet, Pushkin. Cross under the flyover towards the white walls of the Proviantskie Sklady (1). These massive 1830s provisions warehouses now contain a branch of the Moscow History Museum. You can find out more at http://www.mosmuseum.ru/eng/moscow/proviant.shtml
Across the road, you can see further 19th century buildings, painted yellow and decorated with columns and friezes. The more dilapidated and overgrown house (2) at number 49 was home to the Slavophile Kireyevsky brothers. Peter Kireyevsky collected and transcribed folk songs, insiting that they expressed the traditional “Russian soul”. Detour left into Kropotkinsky Pereulok to see the monumental Derozhinskaya mansion (3) at number 13, designed by the great art nouveau architect, Fyodor Shekhtel.
Further along Ostozhenka, the dark grey block at number three Pomerantsev Pereulok was where the tragic love poet, Sergei Yesenin, lived in 1925 with his fifth wife, Sophia Tolstaya, granddaughter of the writer. Yesenin’s previous marriage had been to the ballerina, Isadora Duncan and their tempestuous relationship played out just round the corner on Prechistenka. By this stage of his young life, despite Sophia’s attempts to help him, Yesenin’s alcoholism was uncontrollable. Later in the same year, he wrote his last poem (Goodbye, my friend, goodbye”) in blood in a hotel in Leningrad before committing suicide, aged 30.
The neoclassical palace (4) set back from Ostozhenka by a small park with a war memorial is now the Moscow State Linguistic University (MGLU). It was originally built in 1771 for General Yeropkin, one of Catherine the Great’s advisors, but became a school in 1805. Ivan Goncharov, author of the classic Russian novel, Oblamov, studied here. The ornate neo-Russian building next door is also part of University. The pillared wooden house across the road is the Turgenev Museum (5). Ivan Turgenev’s mother owned this house, where her son joined her in the early 1840s. Turgenev, who wrote novels, plays and short stories, spent many years abroad, where his works were translated and became popular, making fame in the west possible for later writers like Tolstoy.
You might like to detour further along Ostozhenka to visit the newly reopened House of Photography (6). Otherwise, turn left into Mansurovsky Pereulok. The wooden house with balconies on the corner is Tiflis restaurant. The turreted art nouveau building beyond is the Syrian Embassy. Further on at number nine, a small wooden house (7) is thought to be the prototype for the master’s basement in Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”.
When you reach Prechistenka, glance right towards the palatial, pink Academy of Artists and the yellow Art Nouveau building across from it and then turn left to the crossing. The 18th century palace (8) opposite belonged to Pavel Okhotnikov, a handsome officer in the imperial guard. In 1879, it became the Polivanov Gymnasium, where Leo Tolstoy’s children went to school. If you detour right round the back, you can admire the curved coach houses, which survive in the courtyard.
This area has artistic as well as literary connections. The statue on the nearby pavement is of the historical painter, Vasily Surikov, and if you continue along Prechistenka towards the garden ring, you pass the apartment (in scaffolding on the corner) where Mikhail Vrubel lived. On the opposite corner, across the garden ring, the master of colourful abstraction, Vasily Kandisnky, lived in another art nouveau block (9).
Continue along Bolshaya Pirogovskaya Ulitsa, on the far side of the garden ring. This busy street, leading eventually to the Novodevichy Convent, is lined with interesting buildings, but for today, turn left at the Tolstoy monument (10) in a corner of ‘Maidens’ Field’. In War and Peace, Pierre sees Napoleons army executing prisoners here. Walk along Leo Tolstoy Street, past Moscow’s oldest brewery (11). Tolstoy used to get up when he heard the factory’s morning whistle and used to come here to make phone calls since there was no telephone in the writer’s house. Opposite the Tolstoy Estate-Museum (12) a branch of the bistro-style ‘Jean Jacques’ chain has just opened.
Further along the road, beyond the Yandex Offices and converted factories, a whitewashed 17th century building with a wooden roof was once the Weavers’ Guild House (13). The weavers also commissioned the colourful Church of St Nicholas (14), at the end of the road. The orange, red and green patterns that pick out the architectural details look like fine embroidery. Turn left after the church to return to the metro.
Landmark of the Week (12 on map) – Tolstoy’s House in Khamovniki, 21,Ulitsa Lva Tolstogo. Moscow’s Tolstoy museum, has three branches across town. The Literary museum on Prechistenka deals thematically with his works and the little house where he wrote the Cossacks, on Pyatnitskaya Ulitsa, has exhibitions. It is this house and garden in Khamovniki, where the writer lived on and off from 1882, that preserves the spirit and atmosphere of Tolstoy’s life. The eighteen rooms are filled with details of family life: the desk where Sophia copied her husband’s manuscripts and the tablecloth where his daughter Maria embroidered over visitors’ signatures. You can see Tolstoy’s bicycle, desk, weights, the skin of a bear that he shot and even hear a recording of his voice. The museum is closed on Mondays and the last Friday of the month.