The present-day Solnechnogorsky DistrictRussian: Solnechnogorskiy rayon or Солнечногорский район (Moscow RegionRussian: Moskovskaya oblast or Московская область) located on the road to St. Petersburg abounded, back in the 19th century, with manors owned by Russian aristocrats. The three surviving manors – ShakhmatovoRussian: Шахматово, TarakanovoRussian: Тараканово, and BoblovoRussian: Боблово – have been merged into the Alexander Blok and Dmitry Mendeleev Historical, Literary and Nature Museum and ReserveRussian: Muzey-zapovednik A.A. Bloka i D.I. Mendeleeva or Музей-заповедник А.А. Блока и Д.И. Менделеева, related to the early 20th-century Russian poet Alexander Blok and to Dmitry Mendeleev, the outstanding Russian chemist and discoverer of a number of fundamental laws of chemistry and physics. You can visit these estates if you are interested in these remarkable people, but also because local nature is charming, and the old way of life intertwines with modern entertainment. The best way to get to the museum, located 70 km from Moscow along Leningradskoye HighwayRussian: Leningradskoe shosse or Ленинградское шоссе, is by driving yourself or by taking a bus.
Blok’s estate of Shakhmatovo is arguably the most interesting of the three. It has only become a museum relatively recently, after its restoration was completed in 1981. Apart from the surviving houses, the territory of the museum includes the Church of Michael the ArchangelRussian: Tserkov Mikhaila Arkhangela or Церковь Михаила Архангела, where Blok married Lyubov Mendeleeva. Unfortunately, the church is in an advanced state of decay.
These lands have a long and rich history. The estate of Shakhmatovo was surrounded by the lands of the Tatishchevs, the Fonvizins and other well-known noble families. Shakhmatovo was purchased in 1874 by Blok’s grandfather, Andrei Beketov, the founder of Russian botany, upon the advice of a friend of his, Dmitri Mendeleev, who had earlier settled not far from here. Alexander Blok spent every summer here from 1881 to 1916.
In 1910, Alexander Blok personally redesigned the mansion while keeping some of the original details, such as the large Venetian window above the porch. In a small two-storey annex, Blok arranged a study for himself, and a library in the mezzanine. After the revolution, however, the estate was almost completely burned down by peasants wishing to cover up their looting. The loss of Shakhmatovo, which happened just a year before Blok’s death, was a heavy emotional blow for him.
The woods, lakes, the LutosnyaRussian: Лутосня River and the scenic meadows surrounding the estate are often referred to in Blok’s works, and it was here that he wrote some of his best poems. This place was a mecca for lovers of Blok’s poetry even in Soviet times. ‘A corner of paradise close to Moscow’, said Blok of his estate of Shakhmatovo.
Named after its owner, I. V. Tarakanov, the village of Tarakanovo is known for its fairs, which have long attracted people from surrounding areas. Unfortunately, the estate buildings were destroyed during and after the Russian Revolution, the only two surviving structures being the Church of Michael the Archangel, built in 1777, which is now, as already mentioned, in a state of utter disrepair, and a wooden zemstvo school. However, this site is still worth visiting, as the former school building now hosts interesting exhibitions, and the pond is a lovely place to relax.
The third estate is that of Mendeleev’s Boblovo. The great chemist purchased this estate jointly with his friend Nikolai Ilyin in 1865. Mendeleev carried out many of his science experiments here, relaxed and practiced art. He never lived here permanently; at times he would stay in Boblovo for several months in a row, yet at other times he didn’t show come here for a long time.
At one point, the estate had a summer theatre, where Mendeleev’s daughter Lyubov performed along with her husband-to-be Alexander Blok and their friends. A big house once stood here, but all the buildings were destroyed by peasants after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Today, the Elm AlleyRussian: Vyazovaya alleya or Вязовая аллея planted by Mendeleev, along with an old park, welcome visitors coming to the estate of Boblovo. Of all the buildings in the village, only the house of the Smirnov-Ilyin familyRussian: dom Ilinykh-Smirnovykh or дом Ильиных-Смирновых has survived and now houses an exhibition displaying a wide range of objects related to Dmitri Mendeleev, including costumes used in his home theatre performances, his writings and suitcases manufactured by Mendeleev himself. Suitcase making was a hobby of his, and he produced incredible examples of suitcases which are on display here.
All Mendeleev’s guests, including painters I. Repin and N. Yaroshenko, chemist V. Yaroshenko and inventor of radio A. Popov, are said to have been in for a surprise at his house. First, it was Mendeleev who designed it. Secondly, it was located in a scenic area on top of a hill with panoramic views of valleys, hills and a small river. The same view can be enjoyed today, but, sadly, the house is no longer there. As has been said, Mendeleev did his experiments at the estate and, according to legend, he intentionally purchased the least fertile land possible with a view to develop agro-chemistry and demonstrate the supremacy of science. True or not, but the crops harvested in Mendeleev’s lifetime were impressive, indeed, given the condition of the soil. At Boblovo, Mendeleev also performed his meteorological observations, even flying around on a hot air balloon to do so.
You can familiarize yourself with these estates on your own or join a guided tour. The museums organize big festivities, and on a regular day you can rent a bike or skis, depending on the season, and spend some great time in the countryside.