KolomenskoeRussian: Коломенское is an area in the south of Moscow which served as a residence for Russian grand princes and tsars for many centuries. Today, it is home to the Kolomenskoe Historical, Architectural and Natural Landscape Museum Reserve. Its unique collections of treasures, art objects, and authentic household items attract thousands of visitors yearly. The park covers an area of about 390 hectares and regularly serves as a venue for exhibitions, historical reconstructions, fairs, and festivals. The museum opened in Kolomenskoe in 1923; at that time, it housed exhibitions of Russian arts and crafts.
In Kolomenskoe, you can forget about the hustle and bustle of the city. The alleys and partially preserved tsar’s gardens take visitors back in time to the 16th and 17th centuries and help them understand a lot about their history.
The origins of Kolomenskoe
According to popular belief, the village of Kolomenskoe was founded in the 13th century by residents of the old city of KolomnaRussian: Коломна located near Moscow, who moved there during the invasion of Rus’ by Batu Khana Mongol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde, division of the Mongol Empire’s Tatar army. Yet, the history of this place spans a much longer period; early in the 1st millennium AD, it was inhabited by the dyakovtsy, a tribe of allegedly Finno-Ugric origin. Their ancient hillfort on the bank of the Moskva RiverRussian: Moskva-reka or Москва-река and some other archaeological landmarks have survived to this day. Although the mysterious dyakovtsy left this area around the 7th century AD, a whole archaeological culture was named “dyakovskayaRussian: дьяковская” after their settlement.
Over the last five hundred years, Kolomenskoe was a court village; it was first mentioned in the will of Prince Ivan DanilovichGrand Duke of Moscow from 1325 and Vladimir from 1332, nicknamed Kalita, who was the founder of the dynasty of Moscow princes and a grandson of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevskyknown by his military victories over German and Swedish invaders. From then on, Kolomenskoe was owned by Russian tsars and emperors until the early 20th century. Almost every new ruler of Russia left their trace in Kolomenskoe by constructing one or several buildings there. Tsar Ivan the Terrible and Tsar Alexis Ithe tsar of Russia from 1645 until 1676 loved spending time there; Princes of Moscow Dmitry Donskoythe first prince of Moscow to openly challenge Mongol authority in Russia and Ivan Kalita also paid visits to Kolomna. Even Crimean Khan Devlet I Giray positioned his headquarters in Kolomenskoe during his raid on Moscow. Kolomenskoe’s vast Kozhukhovskoe fieldRussian: Kozhukhovskoe pole or Кожуховскоe поле served as a stage for mock battles of teenage Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725’s toy army with assaults on fortresses; in fact, this laid the foundation for the new-model Peter the Great’s Russian Guard in the late 17th century. In modern history, Kolomenskoe served as home for Empress Catherine the GreatEmpress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, the country's longest-ruling female leader and its most renowned and her grandson Emperor Alexander Ireigned as Emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825.
The Church of the Ascension
Unique architectural and historical monuments dating back to different epochs are located in the vast park area. Kolomenskoe metro station will be the best starting point for your journey. A short walk along the walkway will take you to a small hill topped by the majestic Church of the AscensionRussian: khram Vozneseniya or храм Вознесения. This is a true gemstone of ancient Russian architecture listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
The church was built in 1533 by Italian architect Pietro Francesco Annibale, who arrived in Moscow among Pope Clement VII Medici’s other court artisans; he became known as Petrok Fryazin in Russia. The church was built to honour the birth of the son of Grand Prince Vasily Ivanovich in the village of Kolomenskoe in 1530. The boy was given the name Ivan. Years later, he made history as Ivan the Terribleruled from 1533 to 1584. At the time, those who saw the church were amazed at its unusual architecture and its tented roofs. The church is 62 metres high, but the inside space feels rather confined due to the three-metre thick walls. The church is encircled by a covered arch gallery, has a few open arcades, and features decorations typical of the 16th century. There is a tsar’s throne made of white stone and depicting the double-headed eagle in the gallery. The throne design is very unusual too: it is shaped as a semi-circular conch shell. Inside the church, you can see a 16th-century iconostasis (reconstructed). The church holds services and houses a permanent exhibition called Secrets of the Church of the Ascension. In 1917, one of the most revered icons, the Reigning Mother of GodRussian: "Derzhavnaya Bogomater" or "Державная Богоматерь", which is considered the patron of Russia, was uncovered in the basement of this church. This icon is now displayed in the Church of Kazan Mother of GodRussian: khram Kazanskoy Bozhiey Materi or храм Казанской Божией Матери in Kolomenskoe.
The heart of the museum reserve is the so-called Tsar’s Courtyardussian: Gosudarev dvor or Государев двор, a rectangular space limited by the Palace (Front) GateRussian: Dvortsovyie (Perednie) vorota or Дворцовые (Передние) ворота (1673) in the west and the Saviour GateRussian: Spasskie vorota or Спасские ворота in the east as well as a stone wall and household outbuildings. It was through the Palace Gate that guests and the Tsar himself entered the estate. The gate is thought to have had not only the clock but also mechanic lions designed by Pyotr Vysotskyclockmaker: they welcomed guests with a menacing roar.
The Prikaznye ChambersRussian: Prikaznye palaty or Приказные палаты (the Tsar’s chancellery) adjoin the Kolomenskoe Palace (Front) Gate in the north. Their spacious halls now house the permanent exhibition, Milestones of the History of Kolomenskoe. It presents interesting samples of arts and crafts, icons, homeware, household items, and architectural details from the tsar’s estate and the neighbouring villages.
The Colonel’s (Polkovnichyi) ChambersRussian: Polkovnichi palaty or Полковничьи палаты adjoins the Palace Gate in the south. This is where guards were constantly on duty. Close by, there is the Sytny YardRussian: Sytnyi dvor or Сытный двор—the court kitchen and barn. The Sytny Yard building was one of the main medieval facilities of the tsar’s estate in Kolomenskoe. In former times, the yard included the Povarennaya (Cooking) ChamberRussian: Povarennaya palata or Поваренная палата (recreated in 2006–2008), Fryazhsky (Foreign) CellarRussian: «Fryazhskiy» pogreb or «Фряжский» погреб with the Cooking (Povarennaya) ChamberRussian: Kladovaya palata or Кладовая палата, ice houses and driers for fruit and berries.
The Fryazhsky (Foreign) Cellar has been preserved very well. This unique architectural monument of the 17th century is where dress-up excursions are held to demonstrate the everyday life and traditions of the tsar’s residence. Not far from the Front Gate, you can see the building of the 17th-century wooden Mead BreweryRussian: Medovarnya or Медоварня which was moved from the former village of PreobrazhenskoeRussian: Преображенское.
The cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God
The Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God was built in the mid-17th century as the tsar’s family chapel to commemorate the release of Moscow from the Polesin 1612. It also symbolised the Tsars Romanov dynasty. In the 17th century, the church was adjoined to the palace with wooden passages. This is an active church. To get inside, visitors go up the high ancient staircase covered with a tented-roof porch. In this centuries-old church, you can pay your respects to the miraculous Reigning Icon of the Mother of God (also known as Our Lady Derzhavnaya Icon). The church was richly adorned right after construction; unfortunately, the decorations have not survived. In the tsarist era, floors were covered with felt during the cold months and icons were mostly kept in carved cases.
The existing paintings appeared fifteen years ago and changed the perception of the inner space dramatically. Originally, the walls were clean. The five-row iconostasis is also a relatively recent addition. In the main church, attention is attracted to the astonishingly expressive wooden sculpture The Dungeoned ChristRussian: «Khristos v temnitse» or «Христос в темнице», which used to be located in the side-altar. The Tsar’s Courtyard was moved to another place in the 1760s, and the church became the Kolomenskoe parish church.
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Monuments of Russian Architecture
The famous Kolomenskoe wooden palace used to stand in the tree-lined area close to the Kazan CathedralRussian: Kazanskiy sobor or Казанский собор in the 17th century. At the time, it was considered to be “the eighth wonder of the world”. Built under Tsar Alexis I’s rule in 1668, it had as many as 270 rooms! Empress Elizabeth (Tsar Alexis’s granddaughter and Peter the Great’s daughter) was born in this palace. However, the wooden palace fell into decay and was disassembled by the order of Catherine the Great by the end of the 18th century.
At present, you can see the restored palace in the south-eastern part of the museum reserve: it is now part of the exhibition of monuments of Old Russian architecture. This is a unique historical and artistic reconstruction, one of the few good examples where pre-Petrine traditions of Russian wooden architecture combine uniquely with West-European architectural canons. A wide array of materials, techniques and styles interweave astoundingly in this palace; their symphony and craftsmanship have become an independent cultural phenomenon. The palace interiors were meticulously reconstructed based on numerous memoirs and descriptions found in documents dating back to that time.
All in all, the permanent exhibition presents 24 interiors of the rooms of the Tsar, Tsarina, and Tsareviches. All the rooms boggle the imagination with their luxury and diversity: intricate woodcarving, Grand Feu enamel, picturesque paintings, rich textiles, carpets, etc. The paintings use traditional Russian colours and ornaments, and the plots involve mythological figures: astrological signs, Biblical kings, and even Alexander the Great. The museum space is enlivened by authentic household items as well as arts and crafts of the 17th–18th centuries. An exhibition of objects of Old Russian wooden architecture is located near the small river ZhuzhaRussian: reka Zhuzha or река Жужа. The masterpieces include the wooden St. George ChurchRussian: khram sv. Georgiya or храм св. Георгия (1685), the Mokhovaya TowerRussian: Mohovaya bashnya or Моховая башня of the Sumsky OstrogRussian: Сумский острог, the 17th-century Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery GateRussian: vorota Nikolo-Korelskogo monastyrya or ворота Николо-Корельского монастыря, and a tower of the Bratsky OstrogRussian: Братский острог brought from Siberia, which are the oldest surviving wooden structures in Russia. Pyotr Baranovskya Russian architect, preservationist and restorator who reconstructed many ancient buildings , the founder of the museum, managed to save them from decay and moved them to Kolomenskoe in 1923.
The Ethnographic CentreRussian: Этнографический центр features the Kolomenskoe Peasant EstateRussian: «Усадьба коломенского крестьянина» (a house and household constructions of a traditional peasant yard) and the Blacksmith’s EstateRussian: «Усадьба кузнеца», where you can see a livery yard, a beekeeper’s farm, a medicinal plant garden, a watermill, and the Falcon YardRussian: Sokolinyi dvor or Соколиный двор complex. Here, you can also try being a craftsman in one of the workshops. The permanent exhibition of Kolomenskoe relics is on display in the AtriumRussian: Атриум, a solid building by the entrance that welcomes visitors approaching from the Kolomenskoe metro station. Items manufactured by Old Russian masters such as stonemasons, carpenters, woodworkers, and others are presented in the exhibition called Masters. Construction Art and Technology in the 14th–19th Centuries.
The Ascension Square Architectural Ensemble
As you walk out through the Front Gate, you will find yourself in Ascension SquareRussian: Voznesenskaya ploshchad’ or Вознесенская площадь with the Water TowerRussian: Vodovzvodnaya bashnya or Водовзводная башня, St. George the Victorious ChurchRussian: khram Georgiya Pobedonostsa or храм Георгия Победоносца, and the St. George Bell TowerRussian: Georgievskaya kolokol’nya or Георгиевская колокольня.
The Water Tower is a unique 17th-century structure, the only Old Russian water tower preserved until today. Water pipes supplying water to the palace and the kitchen used to be connected to it. The tower also served as a gate leading to the Ascension (Voznesenskiy) GardenRussian: Вознесенский сад and the village of DyakovoRussian: Дьяково. The exhibition called the Tsar’s Water Business is now on display here.
St. George the Victorious Church
The St. George the Victorious Church, according to legend, was founded in the 14th century by Prince of Moscow Dmitry Donskoy to commemorate the Battle of Kulikovo. The St. George Bell Tower was constructed nearby in the 16th century, and a wooden refectory was added in the 17th century. That was how the St. George ChurchRussian: Georgievskaya tserkov’ or Георгиевская церковь appeared to be consecrated in 1678. The old refectory building was reconstructed in stone in the 19th century. The years 2005–2006 witnessed a large-scale renovation, during which the St. George Church was restored to its original appearance.
The Church of Beheading of St. John The Forerunner
The Church of Beheading of St. John the ForerunnerRussian: tserkov’ Useknoveniya glavy Ioanna Predtechi or церковь Усекновения главы Иоанна Предтечи is another important church in Kolomenskoe and represents one of the greatest mysteries of this ancient place. It is considered to have been built in the 1540s in honour of Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s heavenly patron, and this is where the Tsar celebrated his saint’s day. This cosy church still retains the memories and spirit of the tsar’s footsteps. Every side-altar in the church is dedicated to one of the heavenly patrons of the Tsar’s family. The church could have been the prototype for Saint Basil’s Cathedral (Pokrovsky cathedral)Russian: khram Vasiliya Blazhennogo (Pokrovsky sobor) or храм Василия Блаженного (Покровский собор) in Red Square.
The church is situated quite a distance from the key Kolomenskoe structures, and it seems to sink down into the green and the silence. Its size, however, is the most staggering feature. The 34-metre high octagonal central pillar is adjoined by four 17-metre high octagonal tower-like side-altars. The whole composition is connected by a covered roundabout gallery.
The church has been renovated several times in an attempt to restore its original appearance. Each new renovation posed even more questions than the previous one. For instance, nobody has yet uncovered the true meaning of the original paintings revealed on the recently cleared central pillar.
Curious places in Kolomenskoe
Kolomenskoe has preserved its old oaks, which existed at the time of the Russian tsars Alexis I and his son Peter the Great. Legend has it that the ponds beside the river banks housed fish bred for the Tsar’s table.
Near the old oaks, a visitor will come across the ‘polovetskaya baba’, an anthropomorphic stone figure dating back to the 11th–12th centuries, a huge boulder—the Borisov StoneRussian: Borisov kamen or Борисов камень, which marked the borders of a western Russian princedom in the 13th century, and other historical rarities.
The Kolomenskoye museum reserve has some special sacred sites which tradition links with folk beliefs and superstitions. For example, there are two huge quartzite boulders, the Maiden Stone and the Goose StoneRussian: Deviy kamen’, Gus’-kamen’ or Девий камень, Гусь-камень deep inside the Golosov RavineRussian: Golosov ovrag or Голосов овраг. It is believed that they serve as guardians for men and women, respectively. Women who struggled to get pregnant used to come to the Maiden Stone in former times, seeking relief from their infertility. Underground springs gush forth from beneath the stone and the slopes of the deep ravine. Numerous legends about strange and mystical events which took place in Kolomenskoe shroud this place.
Peter the Great’s Houses
Tsar Peter the Great’s houseRussian: domik tsarya Petra I or домик царя Петра I is located not far from the Tsar’s Courtyard. This is an authentic small house where the Tsar lived for almost two months during his stay in Arkhangelska city and the administrative center of Arkhangelsk Oblast, in the north of European Russia, where he supervised ship construction on the Northern Dvina RiverRussian: reka Severnaya Dvina or река Северная Двина and the creation of the Novodvinskaya FortressRussian: Novodvinskaya krepost’ or Новодвинская крепость. The house was moved to Moscow in the 1930s. The interior has been restored to resemble what it was like when the Tsar lived there. The permanent exhibition features portraits of the Tsar’s family, drawings, maps, books, and other objects.
Tsar Peter the Great’s Dutch House appeared in Kolomenskoe as part of its display in 2013. This is a full-size reconstructed authentic 17th-century house in Zaandam, where the Tsar lived during his visit to the Netherlands in 1697, and where he learned shipbuilding in a local dockyard.
The house presents two rooms with reconstructed interiors, portraits of the Tsar and his wife, drawings, and an icon of the Saviour Not-Made-by-HandsRussian: Spas Nerukotvornyi or Спас Нерукотворный, which Peter the Great would always take with him in military campaigns. The interactive programme will tell you about the Grand Embassy, Peter the Great’s diplomatic mission to Western Europe, and the whole route can be traced on the map.
Recreation activities in Kolomenskoe
Apart from the innumerable architectural and historical monuments, visitors also have access to a well-groomed park and a wonderful embankment perfect for walks. There are all the leisure facilities necessary to relax in summer as well as in winter: cafés and kiosks with food and souvenirs, free toilets, etc. There are information stands all over the museum reserve, providing information both in Russian and English as well as in Braille.
There is a river quay in Kolomenskoe premises. Water trams cruise in the lower course of the Moskva River in summer. You can take a short trip if you get on board a river vessel at the museum reserve quay.
You can go skiing and skating in Kolomenskoe in winter, while in summertime the steep slope of the ravine is used by novice paraglider pilots. The park also offers numerous amusement rides for children. Historical reenactment festivals, musical shows, honey fairs, and open-air concerts are held in Kolomenskoe in summer.