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Tsaritsyno Estate lies in the southern part of Moscow. In the 16 th century Irina, wife of Czar Fyodor Ioannovich, lived at her country estate here and had the Tsaritsyno (Czarina) ponds dug. Later it was the favorite of the Colitsyn princes; in 1712, Peter the Great presented the estate to a Moldavian count.
After Catherine the Great remodeled the Winter Palace and Hermitage in St. Petersburg, she turned her attention to Moscow. In 1775, she bought the estate in the wooded countryside south of Moscow, complete with a palace and miniature opera house. It was known as Chornaya Gryas (Black Mud); Catherine renamed it Tsaritsyno. Her architect Vasily Bazhenow was commissioned to transform the main building into a Moorish – Gothic – style palace, and the 6,200 acres into English – style formal gardens. After ten years of work, Catherine came down from St. Petersburg to inspect it. She commanded that all work be stopped and the main palace torn down. In 1786, Bezhenov’s pupil and main rival, Matvei Kazakov, was asked to redesign the property; these are the buildings we see today. Some speculate that Catherine had the original palace torn down because she had had it constructed in two parts – one for herself and one for her son Paul – connected by a common corridor. After a decade, however, she had come to abhor her son, who held equal contempt for her, so she no longer wanted anything to do with him. She also came to dislike the Freemasons and hated all freemasonry motifs. The rebuilding was halted at the resumption of the Turkish wars and stopped altogether upon her death in 1796.
Intended as the main entrance to the palace, the Figurny Bridge (with stone Maltese crosses – motifs of the Freemasons) separates Tsaritsyno’s two lakes. The main building, through the Grapevine Entrance gates, looks more like a cathedral that a palace. Its windows are broken and the roof is crumbling – in the 19th century, a local factory needed roofing materials and raided the roof. At one time it was also used for mountaineering training, and crampon holes can still be seen in the walls. The Palace has never been lived in and has stood empty for more than two centuries.
Other structures are the Bakery (Khlebny Dom); octahedron, the servants’ quarters; Opera House, where occasional concerts are held; and the small whitewashed church, built in 1722. The strange deserted buildings are fun to explore, and strolling around the grounds is delightful; bring a picnic. (There is talk of restoration and plans for the buildings to house a gallery of modern art.) Boats are available for hire in summer. In winter it is fun to ice – skate, sled or cross-country ski in the area (you need to bring your own equipment).
In 1988, the Russian Church was allowed to build a church in the town of Tsaritsyno to commemorate the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus; it was the first church allowed to be built in Moscow during the Soviet era. The Museum of History, Architecture, Art and Nature is open 11 am – 5 pm; weekends 11 am – 6 pm; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.