Tsaritsyno Park and Estate in Moscow
Tsaritsyno Park and Estate is located in Moscow district with the same name. While I can't say much about that neighborhood, the park itself is a real beauty with a rich historic legacy.
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Apart from the stunning views of beautiful landscapes and ponds, Tsaritsyno Park is also known for its palaces. Get ready to listen, because this story well illustrates something you guys call "the mysterious Russian soul". If that's too boring for you - scroll below to read about how and when you can visit the park.
The place begins its history right from the 16th century. It wasn't built up, basically empty. In 17th century, it changed its name to beautiful "Chernaya Griaz" - "Black Mud". Poetic, isn't it?
The place then changed several owners until in the 18th century, Peter the Great grants this territory to Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir who was back then a Russian ally. It was he who built the first palace there and set up a beautiful park with orchards and alleys.
It seems that Cantemir was a good designer because in 1775, Catherine the Great liked the place so much she decided to buy it. Naturally, it was an offer Cantemir couldn't refuse.
It's funny that right after Catherine bought the new estate, all of the Russian nobility suddenly fell in love with the place as well. Ahh, I guess some things never change...
Naturally, Catherine couldn't have a palace in an area called "Black Mud", so it was renamed to "Tsaritsyno" which means "Tsarina's". She spent quite a lot of time there, and a small, temporary palace was built there for her.
However, it couldn't last like that forever, and court architect Bazhenov was assigned the task of building a real palace complex in the new estate.
Bazhenov was supposed to design everything in a pseudo-Gothic style that was popular back then. Since no one really knew how it was supposed to look, he let his imagination run wild, combining Gothic style with Moscow architecture of red bricks and white stone, plus a lot of other things. He was supposed to build plenty of buildings and make sure they fit the landscape perfectly.
It's hard to list all of the things Bazhenov built - there were palaces, gates, bridges, arcs et cetera, et cetera. Everything fit great with everything, and the place really looked like a true architectural complex "built into" the natural environment.
Plus, when you were approaching the estate, several different buildings would "blend together" to form a large palace - sort of an Easter egg. Bazhenov made a lot more than that, but I don't want you to get bored with all the details.
Unfortunately, with time there began problems with building materials and finances for Tsaritsyno palace (so similar to Soviet and modern times), but Bazhenov went as far as investing his money into the project. He even had to sell his Moscow mansion for that!
However, after 8 years Catherine decided to finish the job, and so she found the money. The construction effort was redoubled, although there were still some financial problems here and there, and the worst part is that most of the money was "saved" on workers salaries. Bazhenov was very frustrated with that, and he even spoke of the problems in letters to his friends.
By the 1785, the project was finally finished apart from the interior decoration, and that's where the fun began. Catherine the Great didn't like Tsaritsyno palace and she suddenly ordered to demolish it!
Nobody knows for sure why it happened, there are many explanations. Some say that Catherine tried to get rid of Bazhenov whom she suddenly stopped liking (he was accused of being a freemason), others claim that the Tsarina was fascinated with the new mansion near Saint-Petersburg. That seems more reasonable to me - it looks like Catherine simply got bored with her old estate and wanted a new toy.
Speaking of freemasons - some people believe that Bazhenov left a lot of hidden clues in the architecture of the palace, sort of like Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code". Well, if you want to try and find one - be my guest
Whatever happened 200 years ago, one thing for sure - the de-construction of the buildings began. The project of the new estate was assigned to Kazakov, a student of Bazhenov.
Kazakov tried to preserve Bazhenov's style, but the original looks of the buildings were still heavily altered. That project wasn't finished as well because of the lack of funds.
Only after 7 years the construction works renewed, with a new project. Afterwards, the Bazhenov palace (the one that Catherine didn't like) was finally dismantled, probably to provide materials for the new one. Well, at least it was there for 9 years.
In 1796, Catherine died, and that was the end of Tsaritsyno project. It was never finished, and the newly built Bolshoi (Big) Palace didn't even have interior decoration. All the later Tsars didn't want to deal with the place because none of them liked it - and who cares how many rubles were invested?
Pretty fast the unfinished buildings started falling apart, making them look like ancient ruins (which granted the place some charm). The gardens started drying up, and eventually the park was open for the noble public.
In the 19th century the gardens were brought back to life, several pavilions were added, and the alleys were cleaned up and decorated. Afterwards, several tea houses were built in the park, where everyone could drink some nice, hot tea. Eventually, the park becomes very popular with Muscovites.
Since no Tsar ever knew what to do with it, the place was eventually given to the state and stopped being a property of the royal family. At some point it was offered for sale, even with option for demolition, but no one wanted to buy it.
Then, in the beginning of the 20th century, most of the territory was given away for dachas - Summer out-of-town houses. It became very popular and expensive, and a lot of famous Russians including Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Chaikovsky lived there. As for historic buildings - well, they just continued to slowly rot and fall apart.
After the revolution, nothing really changed. Tsaritsyno was renamed to Lenino (well, what other options there were, really? :)), and it became a part of another Moscow district.
The palace and other buildings were partially rebuilt and used for all kinds of state bodies, such as the Council of Deputies. Other buildings were even housed communal apartments, and it continued up to 1970s!
Only in 1927 there was a hope of restoration - a historic museum was set up in there, with all the documents and blueprints by Bazhenov. Then, some restoration works began, but afterwards the museum changed its profile and was shut down after 10 years.
In 1960, the park's territory became part of Moscow and was finally recognized as a protected historic zone. A large-scale restoration plan was developed by the government, but - guess what - it was never set in motion.
Finally, in 1984 the estate became a museum, and by the end of 1990s all the buildings were restored excluding the biggest ones like Bolshoi palace (the one originally built for Catherine).
In 2005, another round began. Moscow mayor Yuri Luzkhov showed interest in Tsaritsyno and decided to restore all of the buildings. However, Russian historians and architects objected that move fiercely. They claimed he couldn't restore something that was never finished, and that the government should only maintain what's left from the original buildings in a decent state.
Luzhkov didn't listen, and later on there were lots of indications that the old buildings were being practically demolished and replaced with modern copies, ruining the historic atmosphere.
The opponents of the project went as far as the prosecutor's office, but of course Yuri Luzhkov's side won and finally Bolshoi Palace was rebuilt as well. In 2007, the restored Tsaritsyno Park and Estate was officially opened for public.
If you've read this far then either I'm a darn good writer or you're a true fan of Moscow history. I sure hope it's both, though
If you get there, take your time to walk around the beautiful park, with ponds and lots of historic buildings that still stand no matter what. You can criticize Luzhkov for restoring Bolshoi Palace the way he did, but it surely can't stop you from looking at all those gorgeous arcs, bridges, gates and arbors!
Two Moscow metro stations are located in the area - Tsaritsyno and Orekhovo, both not further then a 10 minute walk (see the map). The park itself is opened from 6:00 to 0:00, although if you wish to attend the museums (and there are plenty of those), you should keep in mind they will have a different schedule. For example, they will most probably be closed on Monday, so make sure you clarify it before your visit.
The ticket prices are very reasonable, there are plenty of guides who speak English and other languages, plus there are lockers where you can leave the bags if you have any.
Pay attention to several restrictions (they are also written on the official site). The most important one - do not walk on the lawns. It's a very common rule in Russia and it may look very strange to you, but that's life. In addition, you can't bring anything in glass bottles, so be careful!
However, I do hope it won't stop you from enjoying Tsaritsyno Park and Estate. By the way, you don't have to visit it in summer as many other places in Moscow like Sparrow Hills - it's beautiful all year long!
Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson, have fun in the park and hey - bring back some photos! 😉
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