Russian old country houses – an interesting aspect of Russian aristocrats’ lives

Thinking about the historical past of my motherland (from the architectural  point of view) I found an interesting trend: in 17-18 centuries very rich Russian aristocrats used to build their great summer estates not for living there but just for entertainment.

Can you imagine that? They spent enormous amount of money, invited famous architects, planted fabulous Versailles-style parks  and decorated them with various follies, filled all this with precious art and sculptures, kept an enormous staff for maintaining them – AND THEY NEVER ACTUALLY LIVED THERE! From time to time they held balls and carnivals there, gave dinners and receptions , theatrical performances, brought hundreds of guests- and then just returned home – to even more luxuriant palaces, I presume.

Here are some of such great summer country estates of the Russian nobility I’ve seen.

Kuskovo  was the summer country house and estate of the Sheremetev family. Built in the mid-18th century on over 300 (!) hectares. The twenty-six rooms of the palace were designed for entertaining and impressing guests on state occasions – and that’s all! No bedrooms, no homely living rooms, but absolutely everything is lavishly decorated. The surrounding park is full of other “little” palaces, some were used for storing paintings, some for dining, some for having a little rest while promenading around the park. There were two huge orangeries as well. Count Sheremetev entertained in a grand style; his outdoor entertainments in the park attracted as many 25000 guests. Entertainments included his famous theater and orchestra with serf actors.




Ostankino Palace is another former  private opera theatre of Sheremetev family built in 1792-1798 . The palace is built of wood but you would never guess it. It is masterfully plastered and painted inside and outside to look like stone and marble – amazing! The park, only partly survived, contains several garden buildings such as Egyptian and Italian pavilions.  Again, the Count Sheremetev didn’t LIVE there, he just brought his friends to listen to the opera. But he had to keep and support the actors (serfs) and orchestra, commission stage sets and costumes plus maintain the buildings themselves.





the stage

the stage

Arkhangelskoye Palace (18th-19th centuries) belonged to the Golitsyn and the Yusupovs families. When Prince Yusupov acquired it in 1810 he wanted it just for his vast art collection. He never lived there.



And the last one but not the least – the Petroff Palace. Built in 1776—1780s it was a travel palace on the road from St Petersburg to Moscow. The Tsars and their court used to stop there just before entering Moscow in order to have a rest and to spruce themselves up a little and then to proceed to the Kremlin Palace where they actually stayed.

petrovsky palace2

petrovsky palace1

I wonder if such “entertainment” palaces on the grand scale existed in other countries? Or was it the particular whim of the immensely rich Russian nobility?





Little Dissapointment of London

When I go to London I never usually feel let down by it’s many wonders.

I was a little bit today.

When I was on the train I saw this very intriguing sign:


“Wow!” – thought I – “I wonder what hides behind this board? A Willy Wonka style confectionery sweat shop? An  old fashioned sweets heaven for Big City kiddies?” How exciting! How mysterious!

Of course, when I returned home, I just had to look it up.

It looks like it was just an advert for a London theater. Here what it really looks like:


It is not even close to the location of the sign!

Admittedly, the theater is in the building of the former French  chocolate company called Menier which was opened between 1865 and 1874 and had been derelict since the 1980s, then was re-born as the theater in 2004. Which is wonderful in itself, of course!

But this is not what I expected…

The real Menier Chocolate Factory building is undoubtedly sumptuous and magnificent, but for me  suddenly gone was some enigmatic charm of anticipation of a mystery…

It was just an advertising sign, nothing else…

A bit sad…

My London travels: A department store? Wow!

Still walking around London, looking at wonderful buildings of which there is an abundance.

Look at this one – it is on Wigmore Street,which runs parallel to Oxford Street. But in contrast with the maddening noise and crowds of London’s main shopping venue, the Wigmore Street is quiet and serene.  And what did I suddenly see on the other side?

This majestic building:


It is huge, it occupies an entire block, designed in Edwardian baroque and is very impressive.

It looks quite clean which is unusual taking into account the big city ecology.  As I found out later, it is because it is clad in Doulton’s famous Carrara tiles (yes, the very same Doulton of the celebrated china ware) who guaranteed that his tiles would defy the smog. Which they did.


The building is decorated with several statues symbolizing  industry and commerce (again, my later findings 🙂 ) It is further decorated with angels, wreaths and garlands and a central tower into the bargain.


You could say straight away that it was never originally designed as a town house or an office block, or a government office.

What is (or was) it?!


Well, in fact it used to be a department store. A shop. A branch of Debenhams.

Of course, it was not just ANY shop, any Debenhams branch.

In fact, it was a home to a 200-years business. It started in 1778 by a draper’s business of  one William Clark. William Debenhams became a partner in 1813 and the name was changed to Clark and Debenhams. Then Clement Freebody became a partner in 1851, and the name was changed again to Debenhams & Freebody. Freebody later sold his share of business. At the beginning of the 20th century the firm enjoyed a great success, business expanded across the whole England.

And the building on Wigmore street built in 1907-08 became an emblem of this success.

The building looked very quiet and majestic. I crossed over the road to the grand entrance and peeked through the door. All I could see was an imposing staircase straight in front of me which was unusual for shops of that era.

I could just imagine all those shoppers a hundred years ago trotting upstairs and downstairs, ladies lifting their skirts not to trip over the hem, gentlemen doffing their hats when passing acquaintances…


Well, it is all in the past now. The Wigmore Street address is still used by Debenhams plc, but the building is occupied mainly by offices.


Sic transit gloria mundi

(“Thus passes the glory of the world.”)



My London travels: clean and cleaner

Walking was getting a bit tiring in London. I stopped for a little rest at Cavendish Square – one of many little green oases dotted around London’s centre.


It was lovely! Among all the bustle and noise of the capital I found myself enjoying the sight of the green, green grass and huge old trees.


Then I saw this  monument. Nothing special, I thought, just one of many undistinguished equestrian figures on London streets. It looked quite old, made of some kind of white stone (marble, perhaps) and badly cracked.


The only funny detail was that half of one of his legs was missing.


I went to have a closer look and… I was gobsmacked when I read this inscription! 


Meekyoung Shin

Written in Soap
A Plinth Project

10 July 2012 – 30 June 2013

Written in Soap: A Plinth Project is a new public art commision by the Korean artist Meekyoung Shin.

This one-year project recreates in soap the original equestrian statue of the Duke of Cumberland that sat on this plinth in the square from 1770 to 1868, and which was removed in the nineteenth century due to the widespread disapproval of his actions in Scotland following his victory at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

The new work will make use of the Cavendish Square plinth for the first time in 144 years and bring focus to the passage of time as the sculpture weathers throughout the four seasons. As the sculpture erodes due to the effects of the weather, the scented soap will disintegrate and release a perfumed aroma. The detail of the statue will soften and fade over time, symbolising the mutable meanings we attached to public monuments and our history.


I mean… Is it wonderful or not?!

Could it be that the London  authorities decided to kill THREE birds with one stone – to re-create old statues, hint at the passing of time and make the city cleaner? 🙂

“The night rinses what the day has soaped.”

My London Travels: Duke or no Duke?

Turned off a big busy London road to a small side street.

It was called:


Almost straight away I saw this pub


Hmmm… it was logical to assume that we are talking about the Duke of Devonshire here. Other signs confirmed it.


Perhaps, this place used to be where the good Lord’s town estate used to be? Or his hunting grounds? Or something along these lines. The whole area is one way or another connected with the Cavendish family of which the Devonshires are the members…

And then I saw this inscription… right next to the pub’s door!


Wow! I could JUST imagine …

A Duke, right?

Wikipedia: “This branch of the Cavendish family has been one of the richest and most influential aristocratic families in England since the 16th century, and has been rivalled in political influence perhaps only by the Marquesses of Salisbury and the Earls of Derby”. The title was given in the 17th century, but they were the nobility long before then).  That’s what they looked like:

The 4th Duke of Devonshire

The 4th Duke of Devonshire


The 9th Duke

This is the current Duke:

The 12th Duke of Devonshire

The 12th Duke of Devonshire

Somehow – I don’t really know why – but I doubt that I was looking at his place of residence  there, just above the pub 🙂


I love London!





My London Travels: Architecture

I love London! Not that I would ever wanted to live there, but I really enjoy my visits there every now and again. And I always find treasures of various kinds all over the place.

Today I was paying attention to the London architecture. It is so majestic!

Just walking at the very heart of London you can’t help admiring the splendid buildings everywhere – just lift your head a little bit!

I was walking down Regent Street (named after Prince regent, later George IV) and looking around… Wow! What an architectural feast! Every building in Regent Street is protected as a listed builing with at least Grade II status, the styles varying from classical, Gothic, French neo-classical, Tudor-style, post-Edwardian to art deco! And all of them just beautiful.



I love this round tower at the corner!



Magnificent entrance!


Look how the street curves and the building curves with it

Look how the street curves and the building curves with it


Love the balconies!




I have a weakness for the buildings’ corners – they are not just the boring square “normal” corners but wonderfully inventive ones. And the balconies, of course!



This dome in the corner is so intriguing. What is it for?

This dome in the corner is so intriguing. What is it for?

So, here is my love letter to London buildings.

I have a lot more to say – but later… 🙂



Only in London – the city of surprises

Went to London on Saturday and this time my area of wondering was St James’s Park – a lovely piece of greenery roughly between the Parliament Square, Whitehall (the street where most of the government buildings are)  and Buckingham Palace.

st james's park

I  saw a lot of wonderful things – as usual, London never fails to fulfill my hopes and expectations.

But two sightings – at exactly the same spot, just three hours apart – made my day.

The first one was this:

2014-06-14 15.37.34

They were the the Queen’s Guards quietly galloping back after Trooping the Color event, the military parade hold in the Horse Guards Parade to celebrate the queen’s official birthday.

So far, so good. Very proper sight in the centre of London, near the Queen’s palace among other Royal palaces and parks.

And then, while I was enjoying a quiet moment in St James’s park, I heard strange noises coming from The Mall (wide thoroughfare at the side of the park) and saw a lot of people running towards the road. So I followed them.

This is what I saw:

2014-06-14 17.10.37

2014-06-14 17.11.05 2014-06-14 17.12.44

There were hundreds of them! All stark naked!! All laughing and waving to us!!!

God knows what they were riding for but it was just… hilarious.

Well, this is London for you 🙂