Ostankino

The pink and white Neoclassical Ostankino Palace was one of the many Moscow residences of the Sheremetev family, once one of the wealthiest and more powerful noble families in the country during the 18th century. At the height of the family's success, the Sheremetevs owned an entire quarter of the serfs in the Russian Empire and maintained their fortune by bequeathing the entire estate to the eldest son of each generation, rather than dividing it equally between several heirs.

The palace was built towards the end of the 18th century by Count Nikolai Sheremetev and is inseparably linked to his love of the dramatic arts and his love for his serf bride, Parasha Kovalyova.

Much to the shock and uproar of Moscow high society, the Count fell in love with one of the many serfs that worked on his nearby Kuskovo Estate, supposedly when he saw her for the first time leading a cow home from the woods for milking. Nikolai made sure the young girl was tutored in music and the dramatic arts and she became a very gifted opera singer and performed regularly at Ostankino Palace, which was created especially for staging performances.

Parasha sang under the stage name "Zhemchugova", deriving from the Russian word for "pearl", alongside a cast of fellow serf actors whom the Count had specially trained from the age of 7. The young serf girl became the toast of Muscovite society, but died tragically just 20 days after giving birth to the Count's child, upon which the Count revealed that they had married secretly three years earlier, after fourteen years of living together out of wedlock. The palace was later occupied and raided by one of Napoleon's generals in 1812, but was restored and last inhabited by Count Dmitry Sheremetev in 1856.

It then fell into disrepair until Soviet times when it was renovated and reopened as a Museum of Serf Art, to commemorate the fact that it was entirely designed and built by serf craftsmen. The palace is made entirely out of wood, covered with a thin layer of stucco, and is entirely unheated and has never been electrified for fear of fire. It features some impressive classical 18th century interiors, including the Italian Pavilion, a large room sumptuously decorated with Classical motifs and dotted with fake marble columns, bronze statues and a magnificent parquet floor, made from mahogany, birch and ebony.

Visitors walk through the impressively vaulted Gallery, covered in luscious fake malachite and guarded by large gilt sphinxes, and enter into the Count's most incredible creation - his serf Theater.

Although the hall rather resembles a ballroom today, it was originally designed so that the floor could be lowered and the chandelier lifted into the ceiling, where a copper sheet reflected its light onto the stage. The hall's columns could also alter position to allow for more stage space and various ingenious devices were created to simulate the sounds of rain, thunder and flashes of lightning during performances. The hall now holds occasional classical music concerts and an annual summer music festival. Most of the rest of the palace is still undergoing a long process of restoration, but visitors are free to roam around the estate's formal gardens, which are filled with copies of antique statues and various pavilions and architectural follies.