This is a true Russian mansion – a huge luxurious house in the centre of a former medieval aristocrat’s estate located only a few hundred metres away from Red Square in the historical district called Kitai-GorodRussian: Китай-Город. Just a stone’s throw away from the Romanovs’ ChambersRussian: palaty Romanovykh or палаты Романовых there is another museum and architectural landmark devoted to medieval Moscow, i.e. the Old English CourtRussian: Staryi Angliyskiy dvor or Старый Английский двор. The building of the Romanovs’ Chambers has long become an iconic sample of 16-17th century Russian architecture. By the way, Varvarka streetRussian: ulitsa Varvarka or улица Варварка itself, where the chambers of the Romanov boyarsmembers of the highest rank of the feudal society in Russia are situated, can also be considered a precious nook: its architecture has not changed since the 17-18th centuries.
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
It is said that five centuries ago there was a large estate of boyar a member of the highest rank of the feudal society in RussiaNikita Romanov in this place. It was in this house that his ancestor – boyar and later Tsar Mikhail Romanovthe first Russian Tsar of the house of Romanov after the zemskiy sobor (the first Russian parliament of the feudal Estates type) of 1613 was born in the 16th century. In the mid-19th century the chambers of the Romanov boyars were restored and turned into a museum. Everything you can see here today is the result of thorough reconstruction carried out by architect F. Richter and painter F. Solntsev.
ITS ARCHITECTURE AND DÉCOR
The chambers are a three-storey building with a ‘podklet’ (a cellar) adjoined to a beautiful front porch with figures of lions. The building is easily spotted thanks to its high peaked roofs and weather vanes, old chimneys, and unusual architecture.
When you are approaching the building, you can see the family symbol of the Romanovs – their coat of arms depicting a griffon gripping a shield and a sword and an eagle. It is placed on the weather vane and the two facades of the building. The Romanovs are considered to be the first of the Russian boyars who were granted their own coat of arms. Such an uncharacteristic for Russia coat of arms is believed to have been adopted from the German lands: legend has it that one of the Romanovs’ ancestors originated from Prussia. The griffon, according to legend, was Nikita Romanov’s war trophy – it is the coat of arms of the city of Pyarna (in present-day Estonia) he conquered.
When you enter the museum premises, why don’t you pay attention to the way the building looks? It was built in the shape of the Cyrillic letter “Г”‘glagol’ and consists of three different parts. The massive white-stone cellar built by the previous owners – the Khovrins merchants – is underground. The ground floor of the building imitates the “diamond-pointed rustication” – the special stonework of the Palace of FacetsRussian: Granovitaya palata or Грановитая палата of the Moscow Kremlin. In fact, the architect aimed to emphasise the link between the chambers of the Romanov boyars and the Kremlin ensemble. The white stone staircase, framed by figures of lions and leading to the main entrance, is nothing more than a reduced copy of the staircase in the Kremlin’s Palace of Facets.
The first floor
The first floor was built in the 17th century. It looks similar to numerous constructions of the time: coupled semi-columns on both sides, a gracious string course above, every window is decorated with profiled window surrounds. The second floor is truly unique for Moscow: it is made of wood! It was built during restoration works over 150 years ago. Although the original part of the building did not survive, narrow stone stairs prove its existence in the past. You can go up the stairs if you visit the museum.
The hefty slabs paving the yard and a small annex to the building are also a result of the 19th century restoration work. Beneath the earth and stones the authentic yard of the 16th century estate can be found. To take a look at it you should visit the unique underground museum. The entrance to it is right opposite the entry gate. There you will see a display of archaeological exhibits excavated locally: crockery, toys, parts of constructions, and many other objects including a reconstructed 16th century outside stove.
Inside the building you will be fascinated by the spacious podklets – several white-stone chambers which are considered to be the oldest civil constructions in Moscow. They are covered by rock-solid vaults of the 15-16th centuries. Supposedly, they were meant to store merchants’ supplies and objects of value and serve as utility rooms.
You will see some small and large rooms on the first floor: the dining chamber, the boyar’s study, his elder sons’ room, and the library. It is the men’s quarters of the house. The “dining chamber” is particularly interesting. It is a spacious room with the walls lined with brocade and the arched ceiling decorated with the tsar’s cypher. In the boyar’s study you are advised to pay attention to the stove, marvellous in its beauty, and the unique wall paper. It was made of tooled leather in the Western Europe in the 17th century. Wall paper like this was very expensive and was considered a fashionable rarity in Russia. Besides, from his study the boyar could walk out onto a tiny balcony, another western novelty of the 17th century.
In every room of the chambers there are marvellous tile stoves with glazed yellow and green tiles – exact replicas of 17th century stoves. All the doors and windows of the chambers are covered with metal, as was right and proper. Some of them are even covered with micaceous windows (which is clearly visible in the dining chamber). They were made of special metal – mica – in the 16-17th centuries. Such windows were solid and durable but not transparent. However, it was not necessary as house inhabitants did not want their life to be in the public eye. In the old days semi-darkness predominated in Russian chambers, but it was warm and cosy inside. It was essential in the times when battles often raged in the streets and human life was devalued.
The second floor
The chambers have a second floor too. However, if you want to see it, you will need to go up one of the world’s narrowest and steepest staircases, not wide enough even for two people to squeeze past. There was a ‘gornitsaRussian: горница’ on the top floor – the boyarynyathe boyar's wife’s own room. Noble women used to be kept far from prying eyes, and they had to live a secluded life. The only place they went out to was a church. The walls of the second floor are wooden. This is the lightest room in the house consisting of a seni and a svetlitsaan entry room and a “bright room”, respectively.
When you get outside to Varvarka street, take another look at the building. Facing the street you will see iron doors and another coat of arms of the Romanov family. All the Russian emperors from Alexander IIthe Emperor of Russia from 1855 until his assassination in 1881 to Nicholas IIthe last Emperor of Russia, ruling from1894 until his forced abdication in 1917 went through these doors when they visited the chambers. Today you have joined the list of honorary guests of the Romanovs’ Chambers in Varvarka.
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