Art and architecture in an ancient fortress town Start and end: Serpukhov railway station (trains from Kursky Vokzal) Distance: about 7km
The old town of Serpukhov, 100km south of Moscow, is now a sprawling, industrial settlement. But at its heart you can still find the grassy hill where the 17th century kremlin stood, surrounded by richly decorated churches and wooden houses with carved window frames.
Trains to Serpukhov leave from Kursky Vokzal and take about two hours. A comfortable variation, however, is to catch the 458 coach from Yuzhnaya metro. It departs frequently, costs 160 roubles and can often make the journey in just an hour and a half.
From the railway station, where the coach terminates, you can catch bus 3 or 8, or take a taxi, to the lovely town museum on Ulitsa Chekhova. Alternatively, you can ask the Moscow coach driver to stop in the middle of town near the “Rynok” (market) and walk. To reach Ulitsa Chekhova, turn right along the Borisovskoe Chaussee, past the market stalls (1), selling freshwater fish and golden tubs of honey, then right into Ulitsa Revolutsii and left into Ulitsa Lunacharskogo. At the second crossroads, turn right through the town park (2) to emerge onto Ulitsa Chekhova and turn left.
Anna Maraeva, the widow of a rich textile merchant, built the pink mansion on the left, which houses the museum (3), and also the brick Intercession church next door. The Maraevs were old believers, like many merchant families. Turn right opposite the museum and left at the end of the lane to reach the Vysotsky Monastery (4). Walk around the white walls to reach the entrance on the far side, near the belfry. Prince Vladimir the Brave founded the monastery in 1373 on this steep bank above the river. The name “Vysotsky” comes from the high up location and there are views from here towards the town and across the valley to the Vladychny Convent (5).
Tsar Alexei, the father of Peter the Great commissioned the angel-topped, fortified towers. Inside the walls, the blue domed 16th century cathedral dominates the space, but the only generally accessible interior is the smaller Intercession, at the top of the steps by the icon shop. The pseudo-byzantine building in scaffolding covers the tomb of another cloth manufacturer, Nikolai Konshin, whose old factories you can see later near the kremlin. Returning to the lane behind the monastery, turn left down the hill and take the track leading left again to see the dam across the Nara River (6). Adventurous walkers can follow the fishermen’s path right along the riverbank to the bridge (7). Despite the mud and rubbish, it affords some good views back to the monastery and some pleasant waterside moments. To avoid the mud or take a short cut to the kremlin, return to the lane and turn left, following the roads nearest the river until you reach Ulitsa Voroshilova and cross left over the Nara. Turn right along Proletarskaya Ulitsa, past picturesque wooden houses and dilapidated churches until you come to the next bridge and cross back over the river.
Go on up busy Ulitsa Volodarskogo, passing three lovely churches, and turn right along a little lane just before the third church, with its ornate crosses. None of the churches is generally open, but they make an interesting architectural ensemble as you walk back along the far side of them towards the green hill of the old kremlin. The gabled Trinity church (8), with its five green domes and steepled belfry is typical for the late 17th century, while the yellow Elijah church opposite, built in 1748, sports the classic 18th century dome. Finally, the orange and white Assumption church, dating from the 1850s, is decorated with exquisite limestone carvings.
Climb up Krasnaya Gora for the classic panorama of all three churches and of the white Trinity Cathedral on top of the hill. Follow the edge of the green ramparts clockwise until you reach a chunk of the old kremlin walls (9). Serpukhov was a strategic medieval fortress, protecting Moscow from the Tartars. Ivan the Terrible ordered a walled kremlin to be built here, but nearly all the stone was taken in the 1930s to build the Moscow metro. There is a great view to the south, towards the church of St Nicholas and the dilapidated dome of the Crucifixion monastery.
Walk back towards the Trinity Cathedral through a miniature farmyard, where horses and chickens wander around the hilltop wooden houses. There is a war memorial on the edge of the hill behind the cathedral. Follow the lane down the hill and cross over the little Serpeika stream. Go on along Ulitsa Sverdlova, past the atmospherically crumbling tower of the Crucifixion Monastery (10) and turn left along Ulitsa Aristova to reach the central Ploschad Lenina. The building in the middle is the old trading rows. In one corner of the square, you will find the Hotel “Rus” with its good restaurant and own microbrewery. There are usually several taxis waiting in the square, which can whisk you back to the train station for 100 roubles. If you need more adventure before heading back to Moscow, you could get a taxi to take you all the way to the Prioksko-Terrasny Bison Reserve near Danki (about 15km and 400 roubles away). This 10,000-acre nature reserve is only accessible with a guided tour (until 3.30pm), but the bison are magnificently primaeval and the woods are mossy and still.
Landmark of the Week – Serpukhov Art and History Museum, 87 Ulitsa Chekhova, Serpukhov (number 3 on the map)
Maraeva’s mansion, on a pleasant tree-line road in the southern part of the town, was designed Roman Klein in 1900. Klein was the architect of Moscow’s Pushkin Fine Arts’ Museum and the TsUM department store. Maraeva’s collection of paintings and furniture formed the basis of what is now one of the finest regional museums in Russia. There are pictures by Shishkin and Polenov, Vasnetsov and Levitan. The battle-scarred German gun in the courtyard is a reminder of the two months of heavy fighting that took place near here in 1941. The museum is open 10am-5pm, Tues-Sun.