Archangelskoe

 

The suburban estate of Arkhangelskoe was at the end of the 18th century the most lavish, indulgent and celebrated playground for Moscow's wealthy aristocracy. The estate was owned by Prince Nikolai Yusupov (1751-1831), one of the richest men in the country, who not only took to art collecting and science, but corresponded with the great French philosopher Voltaire, chatted about poetry with Russia's favorite writer Pushkin, spent a fortune on his wonderful country estate and even kept a harem there!Once described as a "corner of paradise", the estate dates back as far as the 1670s, although it is more closely associated with the later reign of Catherine the Great, who put her favorite Prince Nikolai Golisyn in charge of the building project.

After Golitsyn's death in 1809 the grounds were sold to Yusupov, who continued the building work despite a serf riot in 1812 and a widespread fire in 1820 until his own death in 1831. The estate was then largely neglected until early this century, when the Bolsheviks decreed it a public museum in 1919, and a convalescent home was built in its grounds after World War II. Today much of the estate is still undergoing renovation and is off limits to visitors, but it is well worth going out to Arkhangelskoe for a gentle stroll round the architectural follies, pavilions and statues dotted around the gardens and terraces.

The main palace is an architectural marvel embodying five decades of Neoclassical design and contains original paintings by Tiepolo, Van Dyck and Boucher and an entire hall devoted to portraits of the Prince's mistresses and lovers. Outside the palace, visitors can stroll along rather dilapidated terraces lined with Neoclassical busts, statues and urns down to the estate's formal gardens that stretch all the way to the banks of the Moscow River, which rather resembles a lake at this point. The gardens feature a small, two-story Caprice, furnished like a miniature palace to accommodate soirees in the grounds, a charming Rose Pavilion, a small Tea House and a diminutive Temple to Catherine the Great, in which a small bronze statue stands depicting the Empress as Themis, the goddess of justice. Just across the road, which runs through the estate you can see the theater that Yusupov had built especially for his troupe of serf actors and musicians.

At the far end of the grounds stands the looming Palladian-style facade of the Military Convalescence Home, built here during the 1940s and an impressive showcase for the Stalinist architecture of the period. The interior boasts soaring marbled foyers, lavishly furnished interiors and numerous inspirational paintings depicting a victorious Russian army fighting gallantly in various battles. The building's terrace offers magnificent views of the river and surrounding Italian-style gardens.