Domestic Architecture of Pre-Revolutionary Moscow 2

This series of posts comprises a few loosely translated extracts from Bolshoi Gorod, a fine Russian magazine of art and culture. In April this year, they did a small series on pre-Revolutionary private dwellings in Moscow, and these seemed of artistic interest in this blog. The tragedy is that it’s impossible for the average man-on-the-street to enter these residences, which are closed to the public even on the two days of the year (April 18, May 18) that are named Days of Culture, and it took nearly half a year of attrition and persuasion for Bolshoi Gorod to obtain access.

The Townhouse of the Turgenev-Botkins

This Imperial-style manor on the Petroverigsky Lane was built at the turn of the 19th century, and rebuilt after the great fire of 1812. The building is special for the calibre of its residents over the years – it was occupied by the likes of Karamzin, Zhukovsky, Gogol, Fet, Herzen, Belinsky and Tolstoy. Between 1803-1807, the estate belonged to the Director of the Moscow University, the mason and translator of mystical writings Ivan Turgenev. His children (the Decembrist Nikolai and the historian Alexander, a close friend of Pushkin’s, who after the latter’s duel was the sole escort of his body to the monastery of the Holy Mount) spent their early years at the homestead. In 1805, Alexander had written that from his house he could see both the Zamoskvorechie and Sparrow hills.

In 1832, the palace was bought by the tea-merchant Pyotr Botkin, and it remained in the family’s possession till 1917. Botkin had 26 children, twelve of whom perished in childhood. His seventh son, Sergei Botkin, began his medical career during the Crimean war, after which he became a world-famous medic. Nikolai Belogolovy recalled the atmosphere in the house thus: ‘The Botkin family appeared in Moscow as a bright oasis in which any intellectual from home or abroad always felt himself welcomed warmly.’

The elected mayor of Moscow occupied the house between 1905-1912. After the revolution, it was nationalised and became a training centre for the Comintern and the Red Army. Until 1970, it was a kindergarten; today it serves as the premises for the Mostourism travel agency.

In 1970, when the travel agency took over the building, it was in a sorry state. The restoration took nearly 22 years; they were able to replace the parquet floors and revert to the old layouts of the rooms; they reinstalled the cast-iron staircase, and they organised a fund for the conservation of the Botkin house.

Although the building is not open to the public, Natalia Kozhevnikova, the director of Mostourism, said that she had never been invited by the organisers of the Days of Culture to participate. She would welcome visitors and excursions, she said.

Meanwhile, Mostourism arranges for literary evenings and concerts, charitable gatherings and educational works.

Petroverigsky lane. Photo from the end of 19th century from the E.V. Gauthier-Dufay collection.

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