The Artists' Village in Sokol celebrated its 85th anniversary this year. This village-within-a-city, built in the 1920s, was built as a visionary cooperative settlement just before the grand era of apartment blocks. The years have not been kind. The little cluster of wood and stone houses is becoming gradually overshadowed by soaring tower blocks. But Sokol village is still a pleasant place any season and looks even better decked out in snow. This walk celebrates some of its remaining historic and aesthetic treasures. Leave Sokol Metro Station by the stairs in the middle of the platform. From this vantage point, you get an excellent sense of the station's design. The two tunnels are elegantly divided by curving pillars that support a series of domes.
Follow signs to Ulitsa Alabyana, turn left onto the street and almost immediately left again before the pedestrian footbridge. You should find yourself in front of the yellow All Saints' Church. This gem of a parish church is now a popular oasis from the mayhem of the Leningradsky Prospekt, and the recently restored interior often glows in the light of hundreds of votive candles.
Going out through the little church shop, on along the lane and round the edge of the bus station beyond, you continue right along Peschanaya Ulitsa (‘Sandy Street') next to a park with war memorials and a view of the monstrous Triumph Palace. Or, alternatively, catch any trolleybus from the bus station; one stop will deliver you to the start of Ulitsa Levitana (All the streets were named after famous Russian artists in 1928). If you decide to hike it, you need to walk left along busy Ulitsa Alabyana as far as the pedestrian crossing and then double back past the kiosks to turn left along Levitana.
The original house at number 4, surrounded by a craggly bunch of old fruit trees, was destroyed in 1935 by the huge "Maxim Gorky" plane that cra shed near the colony. The castle at number 6 belonged to the artist, Alexander Gerasimov, who built it in 1936. Gerasimov painted numerous heroic portraits of Soviet leaders and led the Union of Artists and the Academy of Arts, but he also produced impressionistic landscapes, some of which are currently on view in the local library (see 5 below). Turning right into Ulitsa Polenova, you can immediately see how the atmosphere of the village is deteriorating. The delightful wooden houses on this short lime tree avenue were designed by the Vesnin brothers (who also built the contructivist Post Office on Myasnitskaya). The one in the far corner has been replaced by a much larger house, while the wooden cottages on the right have been torn down to make way for a huge neo-classical monstrosity that swamps the neighborhood.
At the end of the road, the village center is marked by burning logs and a playground. From here you can see clearly how the roads, each planted with different trees, are designed to radiate and narrow from this point in order to give the illusion of rural space. Turning left into Ulitsa Surikova, you pass more houses by the Vesnin brothers, including their erstwhile family home in the izba, or log cabin, at number 23. The brick cottages were built by Rosenfeld, a prolific architect who later designed the Stalin-era apartment blocks near the metro and on Ulitsa Levitana.
Turn left again, passing the home of the Faidish family at number 27. This family contained several sculptors including Andrei Faidish who carved the figures round the base of the striking Cosmos monument near VDNKh. Several sculptures are visible through the windows of this house, which was designed by the architect, Nikolai Markovnikov. He designed the majority of houses in the village, as well as many of the stations along the railway that runs nearby. Turning right into Ulitsa Kiprenskovo, you pass several more Markovnikov houses and their newer replacements and, at the end of the road reach the library and turn right past it onto Ulitsa Vrubelya.
Take the second right turn down broad Ulitsa Polenova back to the heart of the village. The green building behind the playground houses a small museum, which is officially open on Tuesday mornings and Thursday eve nings, but in practice could probably be opened at other times if you ask nicely. Continue along Surikova, where you can compare the original wooden houses with the over-sized, fenced-off structures opposite. Turn left along winding Ulitsa Vereshagina, past the 1930s maternity hospital to emerge onto Ulitsa Shishkina. Turn right past the new administrative building, from where the village has been governed since it was granted autonomy in 1989.
The silver birds on the nearby gate posts are a reference to the name Sokol, (‘falcon'). Just across the road, "Jack Rabbit Slims", a trendy pub with billiards, is a good place to end the trip. From the Volokolamskoe Shosse just beyond, catch any trolleybus one stop back to Sokol metro. Or, ride trolleybus number 12 to Kitai Gorod. Next week's tour will provide commentary on this scenic and historic trip.
If you happen to be passing on a weekday, you might like to check out one last treat before departing. Turning left along the Volokolamskoe Shosse as far as the neo-classical temple at number 9, you arrive at the ‘Stroganov Arts and Crafts Institute', where students can sketching the houses in the Artists' Village.
On the third floor, there is a "Mu seum of Decorative, Applied and Industry Arts," a treasure trove of ceramics, carvings, furniture and photographs. Ask to see the museum and you should be able to have a look round. If you want to make sure, it is better to call first [158 1568].
There are also frequently changing art exhibitions on the second floor and a fantastic back staircase that has been painted with experimental murals by the students.
Family friendly features
If you want to get creative yourself, there are Art Supplies' Shops in the Institute and in the basement of the ‘Universam' at Ulitsa Alabyana.
If you don't want to take the kids to the pub, you could check out Maxima Pizza next to Sokol Metro on the far side of Leningradsky.