Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Tsar's residence where tsars never lived

On the southern outskirts of Moscow lies a place that is steeped in history and overflows with majestic beauty and architectural masterpieces – the Tsaritsino Estate.

Of all the suburban Moscow estates built as royal residences Tsaritsino is the only one that has survived, but its palaces have never been used for their intended purposes.

The history of the Tsaritsino Estate begins as far back as the sixteenth century and many legends and stories are connected with this place.The wives of Russian tsars and many other famous women in Russian history drank water from Tsaritsino springs, which in those times was known as Black Mud, believing it would help them conceive an heir to the Russian throne. And it worked!
By 1526, Grand Prince Vasiliy had been married to the then 47 year old Solomonia Saburova for over 20 years with no heir to his throne being produced. Conscious of her husbands disappointment, Solomonia tried to remedy this by going on pilgrimages and drinking water from Tsaritsino springs. When this proved unsuccessful, Vasiliy consulted the boyars and they suggested that he take a new wife.

Despite the opposition from the clergy, Vasiliy divorced Solomonia and married Princess Elena Glinskaya, a daughter of a Serbian princess. Vasili was so smitten that he defied Russian social norms and trimmed his beard to appear younger. But Elena appeared to be just as sterile as Solomonia. The Russian populace began to suspect this to be a sign of God's disapproval of the marriage. However, to the great joy of Vasiliy the new tsaritsa gave birth to a son, who succeeded him as Ivan IV – Ivan the Terrible. According to a story, Solomonia Saburova also produced a son in the convent where she had been confined, just several months after the controversial divorce.

Tsaritsino belonged to many noble people, dukes, princes. Enchanted by the beauty of the estate Catherine the Great purchased it from Prince Kantemir, in 1775, renamed it and commissioned Bazhenov, a Moscow architect, to build a palace that would become her Moscow residence.
Bazhenov worked diligently on the project for 10 years, using elements of ancient Russian architecture, later called Moscow baroque. Catherine the Great, however, was displeased with the palace and Bazhenov’s love for ancient Russian traditions was alien to her. She ordered that the palace be dismantled stone by stone and re-assigned the job to architect Kazakov. He remained on the project until Catherine’s death in 1797, after which the estate fell into disrepair.
Tsaritsino lay abandoned for two hundred years and the palace ensemble had turned into majestic ruins (and mountaineers used them for training).

Recently most of the historic buildings have been restored: rooftops, interiors and decorations have been added and their historical appearance has been altered.
In 2004 the Tsaritsino Grand Palace became property of the city of Moscow and restoration work started. It was decided to renew the roof with copper due to its elegant appearance and technical features. Despite a few changes, the main elements of the roof were built according to the original design. Almost 20,000 square meters of 0.7 mm copper were used in the roof. Restoration of the Grand Palace was complete in 2007 and it is finally reopened in the glorious form that was designed over 200 years ago.

The Tsaritsino estate houses the Russian museum of Russian and Central Asian folk and applied art. The estate boasts an impressive collection of antique tapestries, contemporary glassware, ceramics, furniture and paintings, which are featured in temporary exhibitions throughout the buildings on the estate.

The atrium of the “Bread House” and The Opera House are used for concerts of Moscow musicians and classical music concerts. Just beyond the Opera House you'll find the charming Grape Gate, the Belvedere Temple and Artificial Ruins (follies), which were popular in country estates at the end of the 18th century.

The grounds of the estate are magnificent, with landscaped gardens, dense forests and rolling, green fields. Tsaritsyno stands on a steep hill descending to a cascade of ponds which gives a character of real splendour to the palace ensemble itself.

Amongst the natural beauty visitors can discover romantic grottos, pergolas, stone bridges and one of the most fascinating fountains of Moscow which was opened last summer in Tsaritsino park. People from the whole city come to see unforgettable show - streams of different colours and shapes dance to various musical compositions.

There is so much to do and see at Tsaritsino throughout the year whether you like sightseeing or just walking in the fresh air, cycling or boating. Whether you want a place for quiet contemplation or to marvel at beautiful Russian craftsmanship and icon painting the church of St. Nicolas is a place to see. There can be no more romantic sight than the dozens of newly weds strolling hand-in-hand around the park moments after taking their wedding vows at St. Nicolas church.

Tsaritsino hosts a range of exciting events including open-air concerts and theatre on the Grand Palace meadow in the summer time. In autumn Tsaritsino Park hosts All-Russian Honey Festival. Visitors can sample different types of honey that all of Russia has to offer. Some 250 exhibitors from over 60 of Russia's regions participate at the festival offering their honey for sampling and sale.

Tsaritsino park provides idyllic walks with amazing scenery and wildlife. It occupies over 700 hectares and has a diverse range of habitats. Many rare species of wildlife live in Tsaritsino park, including red squirrel and some rare species of birds. You feel as if you are actually in the wilderness opposed to bustling Moscow metropolis.