Tsaritsino

Tsarytsino, meaning "Empress's village" in Russian, is an intriguing example of a grandiose Imperial summer residence that was never completed and never lived in.

The site, situated just 3 kilometers south of Kolomenskoe, dates back to the 16th century when Irina, the wife of Tsar Fyodor, owned an estate there. After passing through a number of hands, including Peter the Great's and the Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir's, the estate was eventually sold to Catherine the Great in 1775. The Empress changed the site's name from the rather inelegant "Black Mud" to "Empress's village" and sought to build a magnificent palace there to match her favorites on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

The design of the estate was entrusted to Vasily Bazhenov who was told to create a park with pavilions in the Moorish-Gothic style that was so popular in Europe at the time, as well as separate palaces for the Empress and her son, Paul.

Catherine returned to the site to see how the project was developing ten years later only to order that the nearly completed main palace be torn down and rebuilt by Bazhenov's young colleague, Matvei Kazakov. Whether this decision was due to her dislike of the building's design, or the growing hostility between herself and her son and their reluctance to live together on the same estate, we do not know.

Kazakov proceeded to spend another decade working on the project until it was abruptly terminated in 1797 when funds were redirected towards the war with Turkey and the Empress's interest in having an estate outside Moscow finally began to wane. After that the estate was very much left to nature, with only a brief spell as a museum under Stalin. Today many of the pavilions are under restoration and there are plans afoot to renovate the main palace and open it to visitors.

Visitors enter the ground by passing under the Patterned Bridge, made from pink stone and ornately decorated with white stone pinnacles, Gothic arches, Roscrucian blooms and Maltese Crosses, an architectural combination that is echoed throughout the buildings at Tsaritsyno. The estate's Great Palace features two imposing 130-meter wings, each replete with rows of lofty arches and pilastered corner towers. During the 19th century the palace's roof beams and tiles were purloined by a nearby factory but work is currently underway to rebuild the roof and restore the palace to its former Gothic glory.

Behind the palace and near the woods stand the ornate Bread Gate and Bread House, an imposing oval building that was originally intended to be the palace's kitchens. Exhibitions are held in the crenellated Octahedron, although the nearby First Kavalersky Korpus is closed to visitors and houses the estate administration.

Apart from the estate's newly restored and working Church of St. Nicholas, all of the above buildings were designed and built by Bazhenov.

At the opposite end of the park stands the semicircular Small Palace, also designed by Bazhenov to feature a light and airy vaulted ceiling, which should prove an excellent venue for further exhibitions of Tasitsyno's artistic collections.

Next visitors will find the architect's perfectly proportioned Opera House, intended to host operatic performances but unfortunately never finished. The hall is beautifully and simply designed and now plays host to the occasional live classical music concert aimed specifically at the estate's richer visitors.

Just beyond the Opera House you'll find the charming Grape Gate, the derelict Belvedere and an artificial Ruin, which were curiously popular in country estates at the end of the 18th century. Visitors can then walk along an elegant avenue of lime trees, which lead to the edge of the estate and to Orekhovo Metro Station.

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