by Liliana DONSKIKH, deputy director of the Historical Preserve of Kolomenskoye,
Vladimir SUZDALEV, senior researcher of the same museum
One of Moscow's famous historical sites located in the city's south is an ancient village and royal country estate of Kolomenskoye. Located in a spot of rare natural beauty on a high bank of the Moskva River, it is a unique monument of its kind, a place where treasures of worship and veneration were created and preserved over the centuries and revealed to the Russian faithful. The land, suffused with ancient tales and fascinating legends, has preserved to this day some unique masterpieces which belong to our national and also universal cultural heritage. In 1925 the architectural ensemble of the royal manor, which belonged to Russian grand princes and tsars, was turned into a small museum. Later on the estate received the status of what was called a historical-architectural and natural Museum-Preserve of Kolomenskoye.
A unique landscape of the country estate of Kolomenskoye was shaped over the centuries by the life and activities of many generations of its dwellers. Within a stone's throw from its center is the village of Dyakovo or "Dyakovo Gorodishche" * located on a round hill with a flat top, one of the oldest residential areas near Moscow which "sprung to life" no less than 2.5 thousand years ago. But a team of archeologists doing some digging at a nearby site, called the Ascension Garden, discovered the ruins of a settlement which was 500 years older than Dyakovo. Specialists also think much of their "finds" of early medieval settlements (8-10th centuries) and of what they call a unique village dating back to the 11-12th centuries at the foot of the Dyakovo Hill.
The earliest mentions of the village of Kolomenskoye in writing date back to 1336 and 1339 and were found in the testament letters of Prince Ivan Kalita. According to historical sources the troops of the Moscow Prince Dimitry Donskoi made a stop at Kolomenskoye on their way back from their triumph in the historic Kulikovo Battle (1380). This was also a regular assembly point for the regiments of several Moscow princes, and the army of Peter the Great made camp in the village after the famous Battle of Poltava (1709).
From the 16th century Kolomenskoye became an "official" summer- time country estate of the Moscow princes. Its architectural ensemble-of great artistic and historical value-took shape from the 16th to 17th centuries as a vivid embodiment of royal majesty and splendor.
The 16th century in the history of Russia was a time of the final unification of Rus and of the assertion of its sovereign statehood. This spirit of the age found its architectural expression in what are known as tent or hipped-roof churches. The first and finest structure of this kind-the Church of the Ascension-was built in Kolomenskoye in 1532. It towers over a high bank of the Moskva as a most perfect gem of the whole architectural ensemble. The church has been drawing the attention of whole generations of scholars not only by its architectural perfection, but also by the mystery of its origin which remains obscure. "Was it erected by the order of Grand Prince Vasiliy III to mark the birth of his long-awaited son and heir - the future Ivan the Terrible? Or was it built in memory of the smashing defeat of the 40- thousand strong Tatar "horde" of Islam Girey in 1528? Why was the royal manor chosen in 1532 as the site for this unusual piece of church architecture - so different from Russia's traditional "cross- shaped and dome-topped" temples? And who was the architect who dared to break away from the national canons? Were there any murals or frescoes in the interior of this church and, if so, what kind of murals were they? All of these questions practically remain unanswered to this day.
The church has a height of 62 meters and its walls are 2.5-3 m thick. But the monumental splendor of the building does not oppress the viewer with its mass. The stringent architectural logic of the Church of the Ascension - consisting as if of several geometrical volumes placed on top of one another (crosswise base, an octagon, a tent-like pyramid and a small octagonal cupola) - are all submitted to the central idea of striving up into the sky. A rare unity of architectural shapes and decor generates that "harmony of beauty of perfect forms" which aroused the admiration of the 19th century French Romantic composer Louis Hector Berlioz. This breath-taking striving up into the sky drew quite a number of enthusiastic comments from the amazed spectators, starting from a cry of delight of the enraptured chronicler: "And that was a church of exceeding high and radiant beauty, something that had never been seen in Rus before", in the words of a "herald" of the Old Moscow - the painter Alexander Vasnetsov (1856-1933) who described the church as a magic flying carpet.
The Church of the Ascension marks the beginning of what we call a "tent, or hipped-roof trend in the Russian stone architecture of the 16- 17th centuries. Churches of this style continued to be built in Russia for a little over 100 years and they were usually erected in the family estates of grand princes and tsars, or prominent noblemen-"boyars"- to mark some important events and occasions. An expert in Russian architecture, our contemporary Mikhail Ilyin, expressed the view that the unusual tent-shaped roof was a symbolic expression of the idea of heavenly blessing over such churches and also of the "proud spirit" of Russian statehood and authority The interior of the Church of the Ascension occupies but a limited space, but is high and full of light, exhibiting a unique blend of architectural and painting skills, interior decor, hymn singing and Christian worship.
Since 1994 the church, by agreement with the Moscow Patriarchate, has been a "common possession" of the local museum and a metochion (podvorye) of the Moscow Patriarchate. And this "approach" is supported by some historical facts: on March 2 (15) 1917, when Emperor Nicholas II resigned from the Russian throne, the last of the 10 famous miracle-working icons of this land- the "Sovereign" Icon of the Mother of God - was found in the basement of that church. As legend has it, the icon was rescued from a great Moscow fire and hidden there during the Patriotic War of 1812 with Napoleon. And it was also in 1994 when the remarkable architectural monument was put on the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage.
Located right on the same square not far from the Church of the Ascension is a round Belfry of St. George. As legend has it, after his historic victory over the Tatars in the Battle on the Kulikovo Field in 1380 Prince Dmitry Donskoi ordered the construction in Kolomenskoye of a church dedicated to St. George - the heavenly patron of Russian warriors. That church must have been destroyed by the middle of the 16th century Which is not surprising bearing in mind the continuing frequent inroads of Tatar hordes. And when another small round "church cum belfry" (with the belfry located on top of the church building) was erected there, it was traditionally dedicated to St. George (it was originally connected with a low wooden refectory with the church bells hung in special arches accessible from outside by a wooden staircase).
The reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible continued for more than half a century - from 1533 to 1584 - and chronicle records of that period mention frequent visits of the tsar to Kolomenskoye. He stayed there together with his wife during a Moscow fire of 1547 and it was by way of Kolomenskoye that the tsar later led his armies to the conquest of Kazan
* See: N. Krenke, "From Neolithic to the Middle Ages", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1996. - Ed.
in 1552. During his stay in Kolomenskoye in 1554 the tsar received the news of the capture of Astrakhan in 1554. In December 1564 he retired to Kolomenskoye with all of his household and later moved to Alexandrova Sloboda near Moscow from where he launched his oprichnina campaign (of terror and eradication of dissent). During that period the village was part of a rather large manor which included a "poteshny dvor" (amusements place) of the sovereign of which no more or less authentic pictures have been preserved.
And it was in the reign of Ivan the Terrible that a church dedicated to the Beheading of St. John the Baptist was built in Dyakovo - a village located next to Kolomenskoye. No written records about the history of this temple have been preserved and it is traditionally assumed that it was designed and built by two Russian architects - Barma and Postnik - two commoners who also built the historic Cathedral of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God in Moscow's Red Square (commonly known as the Church of St. Basil the Blessed). As legend has it, both architects were blinded by a special order of Ivan the Terrible when the construction was completed. As wrote the poet D. Kedrin (1907-1945) this was done "so that no superior church could be built somewhere in Suzdal, or Ryazan or any other places". But, as proved by historical research, the drama is nothing but a legend and there was only one architect whose name was Barma Postnik. And the persistent popular support for the tragic tale speaks volumes of the prevailing popular attitude to the person of the "terrible" tsar and also to the remarkable and unrivalled creation of the craftsmen- architects.
In reality, the Dyakovo church was built before the cathedral in the Red Square and is, in fact, its architectural forerunner. Its construction must have been associated with some personal event in the life of the tsar, such as his ascension to the throne in 1547 or the approaching birth of his son and heir (in that case the church must have been built in 1553-1554). Side-chapels of the church were named in honour of the patron saints of members of the royal family.
At first sight the architecture of the church looks stem and heavy; it towers on top of a hill like a mighty castle. But its general architectural layout, which includes five octagonal pillars, and decors of its walls have much in common with the festively colorful Cathedral of the Protecting Veil in Moscow's Red Square. This "community" becomes even more apparent if one bears in mind that back in the 16th century both of these churches were decorated in the same colors-red with white details.
Today the massive impression of the Church of St. John the Baptist is produced by its low, as if pressed-down, domes which are the result of subsequent alterations. Some experts reconstruct the original as having a hipped roof on the central building, and even on top of all of its five "pillars". Several years ago the church was handed over to the Moscow Patriarchate and regular services of worship are conducted there now.
The "golden age" of Kolomenskoye covers the 16th and 17th centuries. Frequent chronicle mentions of it during that period bear witness to the construction of its fine architectural landmarks, a really eventful life of the manor which attracted a number of prominent figures of Russian history and culture. It was then that the royal manor reached its heyday and its architectural ensemble - the summit of artistic perfection.
The royal palace stood in the center of it all-on the very top of the hill. Since the palace is no more, one can get an idea of its splendor by taking a look at its scale model built from pictures in the 19th century which is now on display in the museum.
This wooden palace was built for Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in the late 60s and
early 70s of the 17th century by the combined talents and skill of teams of carpenters, blacksmiths, wood carvers and painters- decorators who all worked in the best cultural traditions of their land. And we do know some of their names, including those of the carpenters Ivan Mikhailov and Semyon Petrov, and the "foremost court painter of icons" Simon Ushakov who supervised the work of his subordinates. The fine job of wood carving was done by Klim Mikhailov and an elderly monk Father Arseniy A gifted mechanic from Byelorussia, Pyotr Vysotsky, produced some fine mechanical toys and gadgets to entertain the sovereign in his leisure time. When the royal palace was completed, the famous court poet Simeon Polotsky extolled it in a special poem written for the occasion as a fitting addition to the Seven Wonders of the World. The fabulous beauty of the royal manor delighted its contemporaries. Foreign visitors were stunned by the architectural diversity of the 24 royal chambers, unusual for European traditions, and the dazzling maze of porches, galleries, attics and inner yards. The roofs of different shapes and sizes were really dazzling - there were "tents", "barrels", "twin tents" and "cubes". A common color was conveyed to all these architectural forms and shapes, which were not supported by a common facade, by their bright decor, wood carvings and ceramics. The 270 rooms and chambers of the royal palace had a total of 3 thousand windows, glassed with coloured mica. All sections of the palace were linked by passages and covered galleries.
The sovereign, his wife and children occupied separate chambers. Tsarina Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina was confined to an uneventful life of seclusion in the central and biggest chamber of the palace. The mother of Peter the Great seldom left her abode and even watched the receptions of foreign dignitaries from an adjacent room since she was not supposed to appear at formal functions. And she even went to pray in the Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God straight from her chamber through a covered gallery with walls draped with cloth "for comfortable passage in winter time". This domestic church is the only building in the palace ensemble - built of bricks and not wood - which has been preserved to our days and the chiming of its bells still calls the faithful to services of prayer and worship. The icon- stand of the church boasts some really precious icons, and the two pillars supporting the vaulted ceiling contain two special niches which were originally intended for the seats of the sovereign and his spouse.
The exterior of the Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, built in the middle of the 17th century, lacked the dazzling decor of the royal palace. The church with its five domes, two side-chapels, belfry, porch and an open circular gallery is adorned with typical decor of that period made of molded brickwork.
The palace was surrounded with service premises like storages, kitchens and guardrooms. All were encircled by walls with several parade entrances and only one - Vodovzvodnaya (water-supply) Tower, stood outside this enclosure. Some of these service premises have been preserved to this day.
In the 17th century visitors to the royal palace entered its grounds from the river bank through the Perednye (front) or Palace Gates which had two arches-one for carriages and the other for pedestrian guests. Most of the visitors had to enter the palace grounds on foot and leave behind their weapons. They were usually received on the Red (parade) porch in keeping with their rank and title. In front of the gates and in the inner yard there were life - size copper lions, clad in sheepskin, which stunned visitors by their realistic roar. The mechanical lions, and the clocks above them, were designed and built by craftsman Pyotr Vysotsky. None of these mechanical wonders have been preserved to this day Today the clock over the Front Gate is activated by a mechanism brought from the Sukharevskaya Tower in Moscow after its demolition (1934). The clock chimes every quarter of an hour.
When digging a trench for some communications in front of the Perednye Gate in the late 1970s, archeologists stumbled upon some burial grounds dating back to the 14th and the first half of the 16th centuries which were there before the construction of the Church of the Ascension. Also found there at that time were bits and pieces of a unique engineering structure - a white-stone duct of the 17th century which drained water from the ice - houses of the palace.
Out of other 17th-century buildings two have been preserved (of the original four). These are the Prikaznye Palaty - the offices of the management of the estate. One of them offers visitors a glance at the 17th-century office interior with all of the furniture reconstructed on the basis of some detailed inventories of that time.
Located on the other side of the Perednye Gates were the Polkovnichyi (regimental) chambers which housed the palace guards, ice chambers, a dry cellar and storage rooms with fruit dryers. Together with the Povarennaya (kitchen), Uksusnaya (vinegar) and Kluchnichyi (steward's) chambers they all belonged to the Sytny Dvor (brewery) which produced beverages for royal meals. Preserved to this day are but some of these premises and facilities. In the 17th century there were also a number of other rooms and chambers occupied by kitchens and food storages such as the Kormovoi (foodstuffs) and Khiebny (bakery) yards located in the
western part of the palace perimeter next to the Spasskie (Saviour's) Gates.
Much has changed in Kolomenskoye over the centuries of its eventful history and not all of these changes have been for the better. After the "golden" 17th century the royal manor suffered many losses with the most tragic one taking place in the reign of Catherine II (1729- 1796) when the wooden 17th century palace was demolished. In the 19th century the same happened to two more recent structures-a palace built for Catherine II on the bank of the Moskva River (badly damaged during the 1812 war with Napoleon) and a palace in the Empire style built by the architect Eugraph Tyurin in 1825. Also lost at about that time were many service buildings. The only public building which was added in the 19th century was the Chimlinskaya Prayer House of the Old Believers. Demolished already in our time was an old cemetery attached to the church in Dyakovo and the villages of Kolomenskoye, Dyakovo and Sadovniki.
Fortunately for the estate it was turned into a museum in 1925. And again, as back in the 17th century, Kolomenskoye became a center of collection and preservation of our cultural traditions. The first director of the museum, restorer of its architectural monuments and gatherer of its collections, was a devotee of Russian culture, Pyotr Baranovsky * . Acting often at his personal risk, he rescued from the ruins of old churches, monasteries and country estates all which could still be saved for posterity - a real feat of courage in the troubled 1920s and 1930s. The Kolomenskoye Museum gathered, saved and sheltered many a monument of Russian material and spiritual culture. It was in this dramatic and tragic manner that the foundations were laid for some unique museum collections of icons, old printed books, stone and wood carvings, bells and decorative tiles among which there were some true masterpieces.
The collections gathered by Pyotr Baranovsky and his followers are carefully preserved and restored. Many of the items are currently on display in various museums and exhibitions in this and other countries.
When the Kolomenskoye Museum received its independent status (after being a branch of the State Museum of History until 1971), its staff engaged in planned research activities. They produced and carried out (in 1975-1980) a general plan of reconstruction of the museum, and this country's first specially equipped building for the storage of the museum collections was built in 1983. In the 1990s the publication was started of collections of research works by members of the staff.
When the Executive Committee of the Moscow City Council passed in 1990 its resolution "On the Development and Restoration of the State Historical-Architectural and Art Museum of Kolomenskoye", the museum entered a new period of its history The staff regard as their primary objective for the future a complete restoration of the unique architectural ensemble of the royal estate including the reconstruction of the monuments of the Royal Palace. An architectural project of restoration of the Perednye (Palace) Gates together with the Sytny Dvor has been prepared which includes the rebuilding of the service and storage facilities. The museum staff cherish hopes for the eventual rebirth of the "Eighth Wonder of the World" - the 17th- century wooden royal palaces and some preliminary studies to that end are already in progress.
Since 1999 the Moscow Center for Archeological Studies has been conducting excavations on the grounds of the Kormovoy Dvor and Fryazhskie Cellars near the Spasskie Gates, and the efforts have been rewarded with a number of finds. An extensive program of further studies has been drawn up and preparations were started for turning into a museum the Dyakovo Gorodishche - a monument of great value.
In accordance with several resolutions of the Moscow City authorities what is called an ethnographic zone is to be established in Kolomenskoye with the restoration of the old villages which surrounded the original royal manor; 48 peasant homes will house exhibitions of folk crafts with craftsmen from various parts of this country demonstrating their skills to the visitors, and there will also be souvenir shops and village inns. A Museum of Russian Bread will be opened demonstrating the work of a Russian mill, folk bakery traditions, and there will be a special tasting hall for visitors. There will also be a special Honey Museum, and visitors will be able to see old stables with smithy and falconer's yard (horseback excursions will be provided and falconry hunting shows). And there will be many more attractions with a historical flavour.
Many forms of our traditional culture, which have passed into oblivion, will be revived with time. The program of historical revival of Kolomenskoye will include, as was mentioned before, falconry hunting as practiced in the reign of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, folk calendar pageantry, folk drama shows and shows of the "Theater of Time and Space" on the left bank of the museum grounds.
Today the 390 hectares of land around Kolomenskoye are occupied by a unique historical-architectural and nature preserve. Its collection shall feature everything related to the history of this nation, its customs and traditions, including churches, timber structures, household items, books and also songs and folk rites.
Folklore fans and companies gather for their meetings and shows in Kolomenskoye several times a year now. Their programs include concerts of old Russian songs, and visitors to the museum are invited to take part in festal processions and traditional Russian games. The Church of the Ascension has provided the stage for several festivals of choral music, called "Chorister Rus", with the participation of some of this country's leading stars.
In a word, during the past decade Kolomenskoye has evolved into a truly unique world-famous center of research and educational activities which attracts fans of our national historical traditions and tourists in general.
* See: V. Desiatnikov, " 'Peter Is Stone in Greek", Science in Russia, No. 4, 1996. - Ed.
Опубликовано 07 сентября 2018 года
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