Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940), the author of internationally renowned works The Master and Margarita, The White Guard and Heart of a Dog, was one of the most prominent Russian writers of the 20th century. Moscow was the central city in his life and career. He lived here for 18 years, from the age of 30 until the end of his life; this was also where he wrote his major works. Bulgakov captured Moscow effortlessly in his works, describing many locations with pure authenticity. Today, the writer’s fans come to Moscow to see the ‘haunted flat’, which is now home to the Mikhail Bulgakov Memorial MuseumRussian: memorialnyi muzey Mikhaila Bulgakova or мемориальный музей Михаила Булгакова, relax in Patriarch’s PondsRussian: Patriarshie prudy or Патриаршие пруды and see the house whose basement once served as the Master’s dwelling.
Born in Kiev, Mikhail Bulgakov came to Moscow in September 1921. ‘I arrived in Moscow at the end of 1921 without money or belongings and stayed there forever,’ the writer recalled. He wore a flimsy woolen coat throughout the winter season. ‘Wool, wool. Oh, goddamn sackcloth! There are no words to describe how cold I was. Cold and on the run, always…’ Bulgakov’s relatives arranged a dwelling for him and his wife Tatyana Lappa in a student dormitory (18 Malaya Pirogovskaya StRussian: Malaya Pirogovskaya ulitsa or Малая Пироговская улица, now a public building).
Bulgakov started looking for a job straight away. He had abandoned his medical education in 1919, so now he combed through Moscow publishers in search of a reporting job, or similar. He was hired as a secretary by the Literature Department of the GlavpolitprosvetRussian: Главполитпросвет (Main Political and Education Committee) of the People’s Commissariat of EducationRussian: Narodnyi Komissariat prosvescheniya or Народный Комиссариат просвещения (6/1 Sretensky BlvdRussian: Sretenskiy bulvar or Сретенский бульвар, now a residential house). He was charged with keeping minutes of meetings, creating slogans, and preparing collections of classical writers’ works for publication. However, he only worked for a few months in this magnificent former lodging house of Russia Insurance CompanyRussian: strakhovoe obschestvo «Rossiya» or страховое общество «Россия». This job was followed by a period of working for a number of newspapers and journals. When Bulgakov recalled this period, he would say: ‘It was a long period of torment in Moscow; to sustain my existence, I had to work as a reporter and feuilletonist for newspapers, and I came to hate those jobs, deprived of any distinction.’
10 BOLSHAYA SADOVAYA ST (THE 302-BIS HOUSE, OR THE ‘HAUNTED FLAT’)
Bulgakov’s sister and her husband left for Kiev in October 1921, allowing the Bulgakovs have their former room at the now famous address: 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya StRussian: Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa or Большая Садовая улица (or 302-bisRussian: 302-бис, as the house is referred to in The Master and Margarita). It was not easy to obtain authorisation to live in apartment No.50, and the writer appealed to Nadezhda Krupskayapolitician, and the wife of Vladimir Lenin, Soviet Union's Deputy Minister of Education out of despair. Back then, Lenin’s spouse was in charge of the Glavpolitprosvet, where Bulgakov worked as a desk clerk. The housing issue was resolved successfully with her approval.
‘An abominable room of an abominable house’—that’s how Bulgakov would always refer to this dwelling, which he had gone to such trouble to secure. While rejoicing with all his heart at having shelter, the writer was truly shocked by the others living in the building. His neighbours in other rooms of the communal flat included a wife-beating baker, a son-beating brawler widow, a family of heavy drinkers, and suchlike. The prostitute Dusya was the most harmless of all, as she didn’t beat anyone or run out into the common hall yelling. However, in the evening she was visited by clients, who would often confuse her door with the Bulgakovs’.
This house was built in 1902–1903 by Ilya Pigit, the owner of the tobacco company DucatRussian: Дукат. When it was built, however, it was a very difference place to what we now see. The solid building with its impressive bay windows and balcony mouldings was designed in the modernist style, which was very popular back then. Pigit only leased the flats in his house to affluent intelligentsia: only doctors, lawyers and artists inhabited the building before the 1917 Revolution. However, revolutionaries squeezed Pigit’s inhabitants out of the house and replaced them with workers. Bulgakov described in detail the horror of having such neighbours in his short stories 13, the Elpit-Rabcommune Building and Moonshine Lake. It is hardly a coincidence that he settled Woland and his retinue in this hated flat, which appeared as No.50 in The Master and Margarita.
Yet, Bulgakov wrote a lot in this room, despite his living conditions and the fact that his fingers were stiff from cold – it was so cold that his wife continuously had to bring him hot water to warm them up. Sitting by the window overlooking the courtyard, the writer worked on Diaboliad, A Country Doctor’s Notebook, Morphine and The Fatal Eggs. Finally, it was there that he developed the concept of The White Guard, one of his most famous works. This novel was about his native Kiev, champagne curtains, and the turbulent years of the Civil Wara multi-party war in the former Russian Empire immediately after the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Bulgakov lived in the ‘haunted flat’ from 1921 to 1924.
The flat was handed over in a critical condition to the Mikhail Bulgakov FoundationRussian: Fond M.A. Bulgakova or Фонд М.А. Булгакова in 1994, in order to establish a museum dedicated to the writer. The original doors and door knobs, the oval window in the wall, and even the window latches which Bulgakov must have touched have been preserved to this day. There is a shelf Bulgakov himself purchased above the desk in his room. The desk itself is not the one the writer used, but this is also an important piece of furniture – it was brought from Bulgakov’s uncle Mikhail Pokrovsky’s apartment at 24 PrechistenkaRussian: Пречистенка St, where Bulgakov had been a frequent guest. His authentic belongings are kept in the neighbouring room, whose permanent exhibition is devoted to the writer’s last permanent address in Moscow in Nashchokinsky LaneRussian: Naschokinskiy pereulok or Нащокинский переулок.
Along with the heritage of world-famous people and great museums, there are many sights in Moscow, which are not so popular, but still very remarkable. Beautiful temples in the Orthodox style, the unusual architecture of the Russian Middle Ages or the recent Soviet era, ballet and drama theaters – information about it you can find on our website.
IN THE LANES OF PRECHISTENKA
Bulgakov moved from Bolshaya Sadovaya Street to the Prechistenka District in November 1924, for which was he was extremely thankful. Most of his life was connected with Prechistenka. He lived in Chisty LaneRussian: Chistyi pereulok or Чистый переулок and then in Maly Levshinsky LaneRussian: Malyi Levshinskiy pereulok or Малый Левшинский переулок, spending about 12 to 18 months in each of these locations. ‘The beauty of our dwelling was that all our friends lived nearby. We only had to cross the street and walk along a parallel lane to get to the Lyamins. Serezha Topleninov, a charming and convivial person, a jack of all trades, who played the guitar and knew lots of ancient romances, lived in Mansurovsky LaneRussian: Mansurovskiy pereulok or Мансуровский переулок, which was even closer to us. The Moritses lived in Pomerantsev LaneRussian: Pomerantsev pereulok or Померанцев переулок, and Vladimir Nikolaevich Dolgorukov lived in our Maly Levshinsky Lane,’ Bulgakov’s second wife Lyubov Belozerskaya recalled.
Bulgakov described his friends’ houses and flats in his literary works. The philologist Lyamin’s house at 12 Pozharsky LaneRussian: Pozharskiy pereulok or Пожарский переулок was featured in The Master and Margarita , appearing in the book as House No.13, where Ivan Bezdomny ran into in pursuit of Woland, bumped into a young woman taking a bath, and grabbed an icon and a wedding candle. Sergey Yermolinskyscreenwriter and playwright and the Topleninov Brothers’ house at 9 Mansurovsky Ln was the prototype for the Master’s basement. ‘“Ah, that was a golden age!” whispered the narrator, his eyes shining. “A completely self-contained little flat and a hall with a sink and running water <…>. And there was always a blaze in my little stove!”’. This was how Bulgakov described the Topleninovs’ apartment in the words of the Master. He would often come to the white-stone basement flat of this solid old-Moscow one-storey wooden house, stay there overnight, and go skiing on the River MoskvaRussian: Moskva-reka or Москва-река from there with Sergey Yermolinsky. Bulgakov’s uncle, the gynecologist Nikolai Pokrovsky, lived at the corner of Prechistenka Street and Chisty (ObukhovRussian: Обухов) Lane. This house was the inspiration behind Kalabukhov’s house in Heart of a Dog. The uncle himself appeared in the novel as Professor Preobrazhensky, which he found extremely offensive.
35A BOLSHAYA PIROGOVSKAYA ST
Only two out of Bulgakov’s four residential addresses in Moscow still exist today, one of which we have already mentioned – the house in Bolshaya Sadovaya Street. The other is located at Bld.1, 35 Bolshaya Pirogovskaya StRussian: Bolshaya Pirogovskaya ulitsa or Большая Пироговская улица, where Bulgakov rented a two-bedroom ground-floor apartment in 1927. He spent seven years in this apartment, writing and then burning the first version of The Master and Margarita, creating his plays Flight and The Cabal of Hypocrites, and working on Molière. It was in this apartment at No.6 that Bulgakov received a phone call from Stalin’s Secretariat following his numerous voluntary emigration requests. It was also here that he learned about his nomination to the Moscow Art TheatreRussian: Moskovskiy Khudozhestvennyi teatr or Московский Художественный театр (MATRussian: MKhAT or МХАТ), a ‘gift’ from the Soviet leader. Later on, Bulgakov’s apartment served as a dispatching office of public utilities for several decades. It was then passed to the Mikhail Bulgakov MuseumRussian: Muzey Bulgakova or Музей Булгакова in 2016 to celebrate the writer’s 125th anniversary and will open to the general public after some restoration works.
BULGAKOV’S LAST ADDRESS
The last place Bulgakov lived in Moscow is 3/5 Nashchokinsky Ln, the famous writers’ co-op, or ‘writers’ house’, which was demolished due to political insubordination in 1976. A lot of famous Soviet literary figures lived there, and the place was frequented by the likes of Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak. Bulgakov moved there in 1934 and was deliriously happy; he now had 47 square metres to call his own. In his letter to Vikenty Veresaeva Russian writer and medical doctor of Polish descent, he says, ‘I am hoping to show you my new abode before long, as soon as I have settled in a bit more comfortably. An astonishing apartment-block, I swear! There are writers living above and below and behind and in front and alongside. I pray to God the building will prove indestructible. I am happy to have got out of that damp hole on Pirogovskaya Street. And what bliss, Vikenty Vikentyevich, not to have to travel on the trams! It’s true that it’s fairly chilly, there’s something not quite right with the toilet and water leaks on to the floor from the cistern, and there’ll probably be some other problems as well, but all the same I am happy. So long as the building keeps standing! Lord, if only spring would hurry up. What a long and exhausting winter it has been. I dream about opening the door onto the balcony. I am weary, so weary.’
Mikhail Bulgakov was extremely productive in his new flat. This is where he wrote Theatrical Novel and worked on his plays and stage adaptations. It is also from here that he went to work, first at the MAT and later at the Bolshoi TheatreRussian: Bolshoy teatr or Большой театр. But most importantly, this is where he worked on the great novel, The Master and Margarita .
THE MOSCOW OF THE MASTER AND MARGARITA
The Master and Margarita is Bulgakov’s most read book; it took him 20 years to write. Thousands of people come to Moscow to stroll around the Moscow of The Master and Margarita. As a rule, the route begins with the ‘haunted flat’, which is now home to the Bulgakov Museum, while the next entrance leads to Bulgakov’s House Museum TheatreRussian: muzey-teatr ‘Bulgakovskiy dom’ or музей-театр «Булгаковский дом». The route then goes to Patriarch’s Ponds, which are a 5–7-minute walk from 10 Bolshaya SadovayaRussian: Большая Садовая St.
Remember how, ‘At the sunset hour of one warm spring day two men were to be seen at Patriarch’s Ponds’? Patriarch’s PondsRussian: Patriarshie prudy or Патриаршие пруды is now a high-end district of Moscow. Famous actors and businessmen are often seen wandering the streets. Interestingly, this place used to be marshland, called the Goat MarshRussian: Koz'e boloto or Козье болото. The patriarch who had his residence here in the 17th century ordered ponds to be dug to breed fish for His Holiness to eat. Only one pond is left, but the ponds are still referred to in their original plural form.
Officially, the archives say that there have never been any tram lines along the ponds. However, some researchers (e.g. Boris Myagkov in Bulgakov at Patriarch’s Ponds) believe that there were once tram lines running along Yermolaevsky LaneRussian: Yermolaevskiy pereulok or Ермолаевский переулок, turning to Malaya BronnayaRussian: Малая Бронная Street.
Griboyedov HouseRussian: Dom Griboedova or Дом Грибоедова is another landmark of the novel, the building hosting MASSOLITRussian: МАССОЛИТ headed by Berlioz and the restaurant that Fagot and Begemot set on fire at the end of the novel. In reality, this house at 25 Tverskoy BlvdRussian: Tverskoy bulvar or Тверской бульвар once belonged to Alexander Herzenpolitical thinker, activist, and writer who originated the theory of a unique Russian path to socialism known as peasant populism’s parents, and Herzen himself was born there. The building was later handed over to the Maxim Gorky Literature InstituteRussian: Literaturnyi institut imeni M.Gorkogo or Литературный институт имени М.Горького, to which it still belongs.
The next building, the famous Nirnsee HouseRussian: dokhodnyi dom Nirnzee or доходный дом Нирнзее, also known as the House of BachelorsRussian: Dom kholostyakov or Дом холостяков (10 Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky LnRussian: Bolshoy Gnezdnikovskiy pereulok or Большой Гнездниковский переулок), reminds us of the encounter between the Master and Margarita. This is effectively a retelling of the encounter between Mikhail Bulgakov and his third and last wife Yelena Shilovskaya. Moscow’s first skyscraper was built for single men, which is why there are no kitchens. Bulgakov knew the building very well, as the RossiyaRussian: Россия and NakanuneRussian: Накануне Publishing Houses with which he collaborated were situated there. When he came to the Nirnsee House to visit a friend of his, he met Yelena Shilovskaya – she would be his last love. ‘We were walking down a crooked boring lane silently – me on one side of the street, she on the other. And imagine that, there wasn’t a single soul in that lane.’
Bulgakov scholars have managed to accurately identify the street addresses of nearly every building and location described in the novel. There is no place about which they are more certain than the house described as Margarita’s. Bulgakov wrote: ‘Margarita Nikolayevna and her husband lived alone in the whole of the top floor of a delightful house in a garden in one of the side streets near the ArbatRussian: Арбат.’ It is also known that the house was ‘gothic’. Anna Kekusheva’s MansionRussian: Osobnyak Anny Kekushevoy or Особняк Анны Кекушевой (21 OstozhenkaRussian: Остоженка St) is probably the inspiration behind Margarita’s house. The mansion built by the famous architect Lev Kekushev for his wife in 1903 is located within walking distance of the Master’s basement.
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