Episode #10 Top 5 Moscow parks – №2 and №1

Episode #10 Top 5 Moscow parks – №2 and №1

July 30, 2018 0 By Gigi Green

For my favourite Moscow parks number 5, 4 and 3, please, listen to the previous podcast episode, that would be #9. You can listen to this one as a stand alone too, though. Because I talk about parks separately, they each have their own story. The two in this episode are connected with each other way more than they are with the other three. And the ranking is just my personal opinion anyway. Ok, let’s begin!

This episode may contain explicit language. And a lot of my feelings and opinions 🙂

To recap the previous episode, my favourite Moscow park #5 is Gorky park, number 4 is The main botanical gardens of Russian Academy of sciences. And #3 is Aptekarsky ogorod, another botanical garden. We are getting really close to our winner! But first, let me tell you about

#2-  Коломенское/Kolomenskoye

Kolomenskoye is a former royal estate in the south of the city. It’s not just a pretty park, it’s a park/open air museum. Its name is not translatable in a usual sense. The estate just stands on the way to the town of Kolomna, so it is named Kolomenskoye.

It was an estate of Grand dukes of Moscow since the 14th century. But none of the building had survived that long. The earliest and the coolest existing structure that still stands in modern Kolomenskoye is the Ascension church. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is magnificent. It stands in a perfect spot on the high bank of the Moskva river, it’s all white and looks very light and  weightless from afar. It has an interesting shape and unique architecture. None of that cake-like cupolas of Russian churches that you might have seen. It’s more like a space rocket with all the ground support attached. But way way prettier! (By now you’ve guessed it’s the one in the beginning of this post right?)))

You can’t go inside except into the lowest level of the church. Because it stands on the river bank that is prone to landslides. But even from the outside it’s one of the most beautiful Russian churches that I’ve even seen.

Grand dukes of Moscow enjoyed staying in this place, and so did their descendants who became the tzars or цари/tsari in Russian. Even when the Rurikovich dynasty ended and the Romanov (which is actually pronounced RomAnov) began, the estate was not forgotten.

The second Romanov tsar built (well, ordered to build, of course) an amazing wooden palace there. If you can’t imagine a wooden palace, you should come to Kolomenskoye and see for yourself! To give you some idea of what to expect: it’s like the palace from Aladdin met a pagoda and they had a baby in Russia. Which grew up to look as if it was made out of whole  tree-trunks de-barked and sand-papered (which it was) and it has a lot of pointy towers.

The original 17th century structure didn’t survive. But the plans for it did. And in 2010 the palace was rebuilt, in a slightly different place but still in Kolomenskoye.

To us it kinda looks like a very old traditional rural Russian wooden house but on steroids! And it is decorated with wooden carvings and painted in places. So it does look like a palace too. A whimsical Russian fairy-tale-ish palace.

And you can go inside to check stuff there because it’s a  museum. I haven’t been inside yet, because the park is so pretty I never can tear myself away from it. Maybe I should try going in autumn.

A history buff paradise

Also in Soviet times there was a guy, who was an architect and a restorer. And he organised for various old wooden buildings and artifacts from around the country to be brought to Kolomenskoye. So now there’s a really interesting collection of historical stuff along with three other old fancy churches, fancy gates and other buildings that remained from a different royal palace that was there but was deconstructed.

You can also check out two small houses of Peter the Great, small and very old cemetery, archeological sites and an imitation of the wooden village complete with a – completely unauthentic – bunch of shops and cafes.

So, a bit of a history buff paradise. If you don’t like history, there’s also some courts and free sport facilities, nice river bank with benches, a meadow with wild grasses and a hill with a great view of the river bank, the foresty part of the park and the surrounding parts of Moscow.

Oh, and of course there’s a lot of gorgeous old trees.

What happens in Kolomenskoye stays in Kolomenskoye

By the way, I haven’t mentioned that you can get yourself a guide and have a proper guided tour. Maybe even in an eco-friendly electrocar type of vehicle. You have to pay for it, but they would be able to provide you with a ton of historical context and info. Same goes for Aptekarsky ogorod from the previous episode. But without a car part – it’s too small for that.

Kolomenskoye on the other hand is plenty big for that and anything else you might want to do. Including riding various stuff and having picnics. Also some Moskva river cruises start from there. Concerts, lectures and other events also definitely happen there from time to time, so look for their schedule. And use google translator, I guess. Or you can write to me. I wouldn’t mind translating something short for you. For free obviously.


What I like: the combination of gorgeous architecture and a gorgeous park. Also that riverwalk embankment is so wonderfully peaceful. Even if there are people around.

Oh! And there are orchards there, and once I managed to come there in spring when all the cherry trees and apple trees were blooming, and it honestly made me feel so happy I can’t even describe it properly. You know, how in the first Harry Potter he says that he was so happy he felt like he swallowed a balloon. Well, that park on a sunny day makes me that happy.

What I don’t like: I’m not really sure. I don’t like that someone is planning to build something on the opposite River bank. But it’s hardly the parks fault.

And finally – after all that we’ve been through in two episodes – here’s my number

#1 Tsaritsino/Царицыно


Omg, I love that place so much! This is another former royal estate and park/museum and it has such a long and fascinating history that I wonder why no one has made a BBC-like period drama about it! There’s definitely plot for at least four parts. Maybe even six!

But let’s start from the beginning. There were some burial hills in that region which means people have lived there for thousands of years. But the most interesting stuff (from my point of view, of course) started to happen in the 18th century BC.

If I were a tsarina

First, the name! Царица/Tsaritsa is a female version of царь/tsar. So, a Russian female royal. It translates into English as tsarina. Which… I don’t know…. Why bother with translation, if you only change one letter? Anyway, Tsaritsino is basically something that belongs to a tsaritsa or a tsarina.

There’s a very famous moment in The tale about Tsar Saltan by Pushkin where three sisters are sitting together and imagining what they would do if they were tsaritsas. Their lines (cause it’s actually a very-very long poem) go like this: Кабы я была царица… (Kabi ya bila tsaritsa)  – If I were a tsarina, I would…

And they wanted to do some silly shit, in my opinion. Because if I were a tsaritsa, I would build myself Tsaritsino. And reform the hell of our  country!

Unfortunately or fortunately, I’m not really sure, I’m not the first one to get this idea. One Russian tsarina did precisely that! And that was Catherine the Second otherwise known as Catherine the Great.

Meet cute

This is how it happened: she came to Moscow in 1775 and was staying in Kolomenskoye. Or rather she wanted to stay in Kolomenskoye in the original wooden palace of Aleksey Mikhailovich that I’ve mentioned. But it was in a very dilapidated condition. She refused to stay there and ordered to take it down actually.

She ordered a new one, but that part is not as interesting as what happened when she and her entourage moved on to touring the neighbouring countryside.

The thing is Kolomenskoye and Tsaritsino are very close. By Moscow standards. There’s just two metro stations between them. Kolomenskoye is closer to the city center, btw. And actually there’s an entrance to both parks close to the metro stations named after them.

So she basically was travelling around a bit and at some point went through the estate of duke Kantemir.

No, wait, first ditch the ex previous owner

He also has a fascinating story. And come to think about it, I’m not sure I’ll get a chance to tell it any time soon. So here is a relevant part of it.

The ancestor of then-duke was Dmitriy Cantemir and he was actually from Moldavia. He was a ruler there, when Peter the Great (of Russia) decided to wage some wars against the Turks. Moldavia was then under the control of Ottoman empire (a.k.a Turkey). But Cantemir decided to side with Russians. And unfortunately, they lost.

So he and 600 hundred of his warriors had to leave their country with their wives and children and move to Russia. Peter the Great didn’t forget the guy though. He gave him and his people some land and the estate that later became Tsaritsino.

Then it was called the Black dirt. Which doesn’t sound like much, but the place really is lovely. It belonged to one of the earlier tzar’s sister and it already by then had a gorgeous cascade of ponds. That just means that they are all connected by the way.

Cantemir build himself a nice palace, a church and worked on a park to make it prettier. And his descendants built upon that. Actually a lot of them were well-known and kinda important people in later Russian history. And the duke himself was an interesting multi talented and restless person. I’ll leave the link to his bio below.

How to choose an architect for your palace 😉

So, Catherine the Great sees the place, thinks it extremely lovely and buys it for 25 000 рублей/rublei (rubles). Fun fact: the owner was ready to sell it for 20 000. So… that’s some weird bargaining there.

She has a small temporary wooden palace built for her and her current boyfriend duke Potemkin and starts to think what kind of proper palace she would like to have in this place.

About this time there were some great celebrations in honor of the peace treaty in another war between Russia and Turkey. That one Russians won.

Celebrations basically included a reenactment of the war and the decorations were built by a very interesting Russian architect Vasiliy Bazhenov and his apprentice Matvey Kazakov.

The empress really liked what she saw. So she ordered Bazhenov to built her a palace in a neo-gothic style.

Make me something… Neo-Gothic

Now, when I say Neo-Gothic you probably think Houses of Parliament in London. And that’s not at all what Catherine ment.

I’ve learned so much new and fascinating stuff while preparing to talk about Tsaritsino, it’s mind blowing! Probably why it took me so long too.

Anyway, did you know that Gothic and pseydo-Gothic style in architecture means different things now than it did during Enlightenment? (which is 18th century more or less) I does make sense when you think about it. Like… people who lived during Middle-ages didn’t know they were living in Middle-ages. The term appeared later. And god only know what our age will be called…

In any case, during the Enlightment the period of antiquity and its art and architecture were considered an ideal of grace and refinement. As opposed to Gothic, meaning something that came from the Goths, the barbarians, something Medieval. Or basically everything that was created between the antiquity and the Renaissance or even the Age of Enlightenment.

In terms of building palaces this translated into the following: since you are not working in the classicist style which tried to imitate antiquity, anything goes. Well, within reason. You can mix styles, make something exotic or whimsical, probably even whatever you personally think is beautiful.

And if you are an architect and the empress asks you to make her something Gothic, that means she gives you carte blanche.

Neo-Gothic AF

And boy, did Bazhenov took it. He synthesized whatever he liked of Western architectural traditions with Russian architectural traditions. He was basically creating a new architectural language.

It’s also important to know that he was the first Russian architect who was tasked with building a royal palace since the times before Peter the Great. So since the late 17th century. The rest of the royal palaces built during those years were created by foreigners.

I used to think that because the new Tsaritsino palace is built out of red brick and white stone it means the thing is inauthentic. Because no palace that I’ve seen in Russia looks like that. Turns out, I was wrong. And Bazhenov actually chose chose to built a palace with those materials on purpose. It is connected to the old Russian architectural traditions, of which Moscow Kremlin is a prime example aparently. It’s a part of the so-called Moscow barocco (and we actually have a church in Saratov built in this style. Or close to it)

He also planned a palace ensemble (because it couldn’t be just one building, you know. Various other building were needed for some other things, like, I don’t know, the stables or kitchens) He also planned a park with orchards and conservatories and bridges across several ravines. And his ensemble was supposed to fit into the landscape and absorb existing parts and to be in harmony with it, rather than change it too much.

WTF just happened?

The empress saw the project, approved and the building process began in 1776. Then 9 years later, in 1785, when it was almost finished she came for a surprise visit, said it was horrible and stormed off. And after some time she ordered to demolish the palace.

The palace which exterior was finished and interior was already on the decorating stage. Like, they had ordered mirrors for it and were laying parquet floors. That kind of finished. I mean, that bitch!

What the heck had happened that she had changed her mind so much? Of course, it wasn’t just foul mood or PMS or any variations on the hysterical woman trope. And if you think that, this is not cool!

We only have one written account of the event and a lot of mythology surrounding both Catherine the Great and Bazhenov. Not to mention the fact that history is laughingly easy to rewrite. Especially, if that’s something that happened centuries ago.

Conspiracy theories

There are – I’m serious – at least 30 theories about the Empress’s reasoning. I’ll tell you a couple of my favourites.

One of them is that shit went down because Bazhenov had become a member of a Masonic lodge. He really did, that’s a fact. And I’m pretty sure there were conspiracy theories going around about that particular bunch of old white dudes even in those days.

But to make matters worse the only son and heir of Catherine the Great was also a freemason and, rumor had it, he and Bazhenov had communicated quite a bit.

The important thing to understand here is that Catherine the Great hated the guts of her son, future emperor Paul the first, and it was completely mutual. I’ll save that charming family story for another time. But suffice it to say, she did everything she could so that he would not become an emperor. And he would have loved to overthrow her and finally get the throne.

They were a little bit like the Queen of England and Prince Charles in the sense that the guy has grandkids but he’s still not the king. Long live the Queen, btw. Don’t like prince Charles, sorry.

So Catherine suspected a conspiracy and Bazhenov in her view might have been a part of it. Hence his epic fall from grace and the demolition of the palace.

Collateral damage

Why couldn’t she leave the palace along? Ironically, because of its unique architecture. In Bazhenov’s plan there was no main big building. Rather there was a central part for official events and two equal parts on each side of it – one for Catherine and the other for her son. And it was the equal thing that got the Empress so riled up. Equality with him was the last thing she wanted to promote. I mean she went out of her way to not let him have any say in her policies. So to let him have an equal part of the palace? It just wasn’t going to happen.

Why Bazhenov hadn’t considered it? Didn’t he know? Well, the building took 9 years! The family feud wasn’t quite so bad when he started. I mean, the Empress had approved the blueprints herself.

There were other reasons too. Catherine enjoyed building palaces, and she didn’t sit around for 10 years waiting for Tsaritsino to be finished. She had new ideas for residences in the meantime. And building palaces has always been expensive, even if you are the ruler of the Russian Empire.

At least, some of Bazhenov’s buildings and one wonderfully pretty bridge had survived but the palace was taken apart. And even the blueprints sadly were lost.

You have to understand, by the way, that this was as unprecedented as it sounds. Absolute monarchs were capricious, but taking apart almost finished palaces is not usual even by their standards. And we will probably never know the real reasons behind it, so it is… well, one of the Tsaritsino mysteries.

The new guy

That was a great blow to the architect and the rest of his life was kinda tragic. And to add insult to an injury, Catherine appointed his former apprentice – Matvey Kazakov, who became a famous architect in his own right by then, the new head of the project.

Kazakov did his best not to be a dick in this situation. He tried to help Bazhenov gain Catherine’s favor back and allowed him to present reworked plans for the palace to the empress ahead of himself. But it didn’t work and Bazhenov was essentially fired. And he never worked for the royal court again.

A year after that whole thing Kazakov’s plan was approved and  the deconstruction and building began. Again.

The ex-apprentice was as respectful as he could with his teacher’s ideas. But he couldn’t save it all. Also the fashions had changed in a decade, and classicism was the new black. So he had to make his version of the palace way more classical. And monumental.

He didn’t forget the Gothic but he made it more gothic-gothic with towers and stuff. He kinda made it look like a very long castle.

Kazakov wasn’t as passionate about the whole thing as Bazhenov though. And neither was Catherine at this point. It’s not like she even needed the thing all that much, because her capital was in St. Petersburg, and she rarely came to Moscow. Not to mention she had tons of other stuff on her plate including some wars and rebellions.

So Tsaritsino project wasn’t financed properly and in 1790 the work stopped. And then Catherine’s boyfriend Potemkin who was behind the whole idea and had always supported it had died. All hope seemed lost but three years later this slow torture had begun again. And I didn’t even talk about how Catherine made the architect rework the plans while the long-suffering palace was already being built!

Finally Kazakov’s version of the palace was almost finished, all the exterior work was done and there was even a roof on the building when… Catherine herself suddenly died in 1796. It’s like she did it on purpose! I hope they hadn’t ordered the mirrors this time!

This is the end. Or is it?

Because that’s when the work in Tsaritsino had stopped for good.

Paul the First certainly wasn’t going to spend money on something that his mother liked. It’s not like he became sentimental about the woman just because she died. Emperors who came after him also didn’t want to deal with it. So Tsaritsino is a royal residence in which no royal has ever lived.

Without any care the buildings started deteriorating fast. Soon the place looked like one of those faux ruins. Which strangely enough was considered kinda cool because the artistic musical and literary movement called romanticism became all the rage. And romanticists liked them some tragic ruins.

In the beginning of the 19th century the park was improved a bit and open to the genteel public. And it immediately became popular.

It sounds almost unlikely, doesn’t it? But when I first came to Tsaritsino, I didn’t even go near the palace and I still fell in love with it. The park itself with large ponds, tall trees and lovely views no matter where you look is enough.

Romantic ruins

Throughout the 19th century it continued to attract visitors, even more so after it and Kolomenskoye were opened to the general public in the middle of the century. But the palace itself was  deteriorating further and further and no one was doing anything about it. At some point they only took off what remained of the roof so it wouldn’t cause any accidents.

It stopped being the property of the crown in 1860, but that didn’t help much. Government department just sold part of the land to people to build dachas. That’s basically a summer house with some land attached to it. A whole bunch of famous Russian people stayed in those dachas at one point or another. Including but not limited to Chekhov, Dostoevskiy and Chaikovsky.

When Soviet era came about… well, if you’ve heard what happened to other parks I’ve mentioned in the previous episode, you don’t expect much, do you? It wasn’t all that bad though. In 1927 park pavillions were reconstructed, ponds and the park cleaned out. Even the palace ruins itself were strengthened a bit.

There was a museum of history of the estate there, some government offices and even a cinema at some point. One of the buildings became almost unofficially inhabited. It was doing fine all things considering.

And in the 1960 Tsaritsino and the surrounding district finally became a part of the Moscow proper. Because it had grown a bit. Or a lot. Soon it received an official museum status and restoration of it had began.

The most fantastic thing is that the work hadn’t completely stopped during the 90s! Sometimes it feels like all things cultural became so unimportant during those times, that it’s sounds unbelievable that Tsaritsino wasn’t left to the mercy of something merciless once again.

The restoration

But it wasn’t! By 2004 it was doing ok, a lot of stuff was already restored and –  miracle of miracles – the reconstruction of the great palace itself was planned. Or rather the rebuilding of it.

Now that one is controversial. Because a lot of respected Russian art historians, restorers and architects were saying that the rebuilding was in violation of existing laws concerning the preservation of cultural sites and heritage. That is was destroying historical look of Tsaritsino.

A lot of experts thought it was wrong to rebuilt and restore something that had deteriorated on its own, just because of  passage of time and the elements. It was not ok to finish something that has never been complete. Architecture historians argued that the ruins inself were a sufficient architectural monument and it was pretty cool by the standards of Romanticism and everything.

A lot of… well, well-educated old dudes mostly criticized the project as being historically inaccurate kind of restoration. Some were publicly protesting it!

This saga seems to go on and on, doesn’t it?


But Russian government is very good at total disregard of citizens’ opinions. And Moscow government is pretty skilled at this too. So for better or for worse, finally, after 231 years in the early September of 2007 the palace was built and the whole ensemble was opened to the public.

Woohoo! Tsaritsino made it!!! Hooray!

The purists were pissed, of course. And I have a friend who grew up in Moscow, and she was a teenager while all of this was going on. She thinks the ruins were cooler.

But I and millions of people a year… don’t give a flying fuck. We enjoy the park, the conservatories, the boating on the pond, all the different events that are happening at the finally complete palace. Oh! And I shouldn’t forget a really big musical fountain. And just being there really.

I get the point of the people who opposed the rebuilding but I’m really not into Romanticism much.  Also I’m so invested in Tsaritsino story at this point that finally becoming complete feels like a happy ending that every historical estate deserves.


So, what do I like about it: everything! Especially the walk along the ponds.

What I don’t like: if I ever seriously decide to move to Moscow, I want to live next to this place. But real estate there is SO expensive!!! Oh, forgot to mention, that entering the park is free and it’s open from 6 a.m. till midnight. But you have to pay the fee to enter the palace and other museum buildings, of course. Cause it’s a museum. Duuuh. It’s slightly less than 5 euros. But I’d say save that option for a rainy day and enjoy the park!

This park, some other park, any park. You know, in Gorky park there are a lot of signs saying Счастье в парке – Happiness is in the park. Should’ve probably called the episode like that!

And now it’s time for the segment: How do you say it in Russian?

I think I’ll go with the classics today. I’m from… That one is easy in Russian too – Я из/Ya iz… But there’s a  catch: nouns in Russian have cases, like Possessive case in English, you know? But in Russian it’s not just adding the apostrophe and and a letter. The ending of the word changes.

Here’s how it looks: My country is Россия. That’s Russia in Russian if you haven’t listened to my episode #7. But if I want to say I’m from Russia I will say Я из РоссиИ/Ya iz Rossii. Not Rossiya.

So, I’m going alphabetical here: I’m from Canada is Я из КанадЫ/Ya iz Kanadi.

I’m from Great Britain is Я из Великобритании/Ya iz Velikobritanii (yeah, have fun with that one, dear British people! Ok, you can sort of separate it into two words like in English – Велико Британии. It will sound weird, but more pronounceable, doesn’t it&)

If you don’t want to get specific you can say you are from Europe – Я из Европы/Ya iz Yevropi. But if I didn’t mention your country and you want to know how to say it, you can write me a comment here or at journeyswithgigi@gmail.com

Two of the following are for my friend Nicole personally: I’m from the Netherlands is Я из Нидерландов/Ya iz Niderlandov.

And originally I’m from the Phillippines is Но изначально я с Филиппин/No iznachalno ya s Filippin. Notice that I changed the preposition from iz to s. That’s cause they are islands.

I’m from the USA is Я из США/Ya iz SeSheA. You just have to name the letters properly to get that one right.

Till next week.


Gigi, from Russia with love and parks!


Wiki about Kolomenskoye

Wiki about Tsaritsino (not much unfortunately)

Dimitrie Cantemir

Battle of the Palaces (Paul and Catherine)

Vasily Bazhenov (the architect)

Kolomenskoye official page in English

Kolomenskoye instagram

Tsaritsino official page

Tsaritsino instagram