Castles are quite a rare architectural feature for Russia. There are plenty of churches, fortified hermitages, well-preserved military fortresses, and ancient manors of the nobility, but the castles are the great wonder.
Here you can see three castles, but can you really guess which one is located in Russia?
This our trip was postponed several times during two long years, and who knows, maybe the beautiful mellow autumn gave us a shove to hit the road. Here it is, the château formerly owned by Count Khrapovitsky in the Vladimir region of Russia.
The creation of this masterpiece on the Russian land is unique. These latitudes are known for a completely different architecture, and the appearance of such a castle in Russia is an anomaly. However, it exists, and we decided to find it, explore, and show you.
Muromtsevo is located 220 kilometers from Moscow, in the Vladimir region. The distance from Moscow is not that far, but also not close enough for a day trip. Unfortunately, everything that you will see on your way would better passed over in a supersonic fighter. There is nothing worth seeing within these two hundred kilometers. Moreover, you will not find the basic civilization facilities here. Well, this is the modern Russian reality: the difference between city and country continues to grow.
By the way, Chateau Vallon de Pierrefonds in France (you can see it on the first photo of this post) was lying in ruins only fifty years ago.
Now, though no historical interiors are preserved, it has been restored and continues to exist.
I wish the Muromtsevo castle, unusual for Russia, would also find a generous owner who could return it to its former glory and beauty. Is it an age–130 years? This house could faithfully serve its owners for centuries.
The castle has a remarkable history. It appeared in the Russian village of Muromtsevo thanks to an ordinary man of great enthusiasm.
The Hussar’s Colonel Vladimir Khrapovitsky belonged to a famous noble family. His parents bequeathed him a property with extensive lands near the old Russian city of Vladimir. Count Khrapovitsky turned out to be a good entrepreneur, and his timber factories produced, what were for that time, huge profits.
As the existent legend says, Vladimir Khrapovitsky spent 1880 travelling around France where he admired its medieval castles. The remarks of his French fellows that there were no such things in Russia wounded the Count and had very interesting consequences. Khrapovitsky made a wager that he would build a gothic castle in Russia as beautiful as the famous Loire castles.
Five years passed. He invited his French fellows to his estate to show them the new palace and after all the compliments, he said, “Oh, no, gentlemen! My horses live here. This is my stable yard. The castle is a bit further.”
The discouraged guests were amazed when their carriages brought them to a real French chateau. The owner demonstrated not just a castle but a “Gothic” palace with a park and a cascade of ponds near the main house.
The illusory outlines of the desired goal were brought to life by the famous Moscow architect Petr Boytsov, a talented master of the bygone art of building, who preferred to work in the style of the later French Gothic, the Renaissance, and the English Gothic.
From 1884-1889, in Muromtsevo, Petr Boytsov constructed the main house with a cascade of ponds in front of it, a stable, a lodge, a steward’s house, music and boat pavilions, a wharf at the pond, and a water tower. However, the most unusual thing was the building of a theatre which was a miniature copy of the Maly Theatre in Moscow. Nezhdanova, Sobinov, and Chaliapin were frequent guests there during the classical music evenings.
Initially the main house was a two-storey. The right wing with its high tower was built last. The castle was equipped with all needed facilities: plumbing, drainage, and telephone line! There were only a few noble estates in Moscow with the same conveniences.
The castle had about 80 rooms. Many of them were made in a particular way. For example, the famous mirror room with walls lined only with mirrors, or the Countess’s bedroom with the aquarium under the glass floor. Khrapovitsky ordered the furniture from Schmidt–a fabricator for the Imperial family. The house was decorated with Bott’s sculptures, collections of pictures and arms, porcelain, mirrors, bronze from Ebert – the Tzar’s manufacturer – and silver cutlery by Fabergé.
Guests were entertained with boating, balls, and fireworks. The visitors glanced with admiration at the miniature copy of Versailles: ponds, fountains, gardens–and all this in the deep forests of Russia outside Vladimir.
Khrapovitsky built two schools for the education of the peasant children: the elementary (four-years) and the music (school of art). Both schools provided free education. Near the main house, the Count also built the Church of the Holy Martyr Empress Alexandra for all villagers. The church was a gift to the Russian Royal House because it was dedicated to Alexandra Fedorovna, the wife of Emperor Nikolai II.
But the true passions of Vladimir Khrapovitsky were the park, the gardens, and the greenhouses. They became the base of the whole architectural composition. Khrapovitsky approached the park development in all seriousness. Regel, Kufelt, and Enke were considered to be the best park constructors back then, so they were invited.
Look at several monochrome photos preserved from the beginning of the last century. They depict the Russian castle in Muromtsevo.
1884 can be considered as the year of the gardens’ foundation, when the “French garden” in the form of an eight-pointed star surrounded by paths was plotted near the main house of the castle.
The park consisted of the three parts:
– the Italian, contained water cascades on the terraces and water level spaces,
– the French, with fountains, greenhouses, and playgrounds,
– the English, with paths, meadows, and ponds.
Look at these old walls and this park. It’s so hard to believe that one hundred years ago the pathways in the park around the castle were already lit up with electricity and decorated with sculptures from the Bott Brothers Saloon and Viennese furniture by Thonet. The fountains had sculptures by A.S. Kozlov. In summer, they were surrounded by palms, yuccas, boxwoods, and other heat-loving plants from the greenhouses.
Eventually, the garden and park became some kind of collection. Peaches, French plums, and other exotic fruits from the Khrapovitsky’s greenhouses were sent to St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The main house was the final accord in the symphony of the interchanging views. The guests were usually led up to the house from the corner, and it appeared very dynamically with the sharp spires of its Gothic towers like a powerful, yet elegant fortress. After that, the glance of the visitors swept through the mirror-like surface of the water cascades and stopped at the hardly seen Gothic ruin over the big lake. There are no analogies to the scale of the Muromtsevo castle’s planning pattern in the whole Russian history!
Then came 1917. The Revolution. Vladimir Khrapovitsky and his wife were forced to emigrate to France delivering his castle into the possession of the new authorities. The country that inspired the couple to create their estate in Muromtsevo became their last home.
After emigrating to France, Khrapovitsky and his wife finished their life’s journey in a nursing home in a quiet town called Manton. They died in poverty. History preserved the letter written by Elizaveta Ivanovna, Khrapovitsky’s wife, in 1928 to her former villagers.
”My dear peasants,” the letter says, “I am writing to ask you for help: please, collect some money, as much as you can, and send it to me. You took possession of the land of my husband Vladimir Khrapovitsky, who died in poverty, and now I am left alone and without means for existence. I am an old and sick woman of 68. I am happy that you own the land now. We did not have children, and my husband wished to bequeath the land to you. I appeal to your kind hearts asking for help. Please, let me know what happened to our castle in Muromtsevo.
God keep you all!
Elizaveta Ivanovna Khrapovitskaya».
The letter had the return address.
The reply was:
«…Your request for help seemed rather strange to us. The question is: why? We had you on our backs all these years while you were living in idleness, travelling abroad, throwing away handfuls of money earned by sweat of our brow. We obtained this land by ourselves without your bequest. Do not bother us anymore. May 26, 1928.»
The letter was composed by the communist commissary, and the peasants signed it with “X”s instead of signatures.
They simply forgot about the 42 kilometers of railways paved by the Count from the city to their distant villages, two free-of-charge schools built for their children, the hospital in Tyurmerovka village, or the hospital in Muromtsevo.
It was a terrible time when people and buildings had no mercy. Even the church in honor of Alexandra was cruelly destroyed–the belfry was blown up, and the church was turned into a storage place for combustive-lubricating materials.
During the next 56 years this unhappy Russian castle was owned by the forestry technical school. The estate has been plundered and rebuilt in such a way that the former masters would hardly recognize it.
The huge ballroom was turned into a gym with basketball backboards. The parquet floor, the gorgeous furniture, the sculptures, the vases, and the other decorations were simply stolen.
The priceless library of rare books, for which the main tower was built, disappeared to an undisclosed location. The cascades and the ponds dried up. No one cherished the trees, the park was neglected, and the Count’s land was divided into one-hundred-square-meters parcels and grabbed by former vassals.
Now, their curved fences, surrounding lonely pitiful huts, approach almost up to the castle. Only 200-300 meters of the abandoned park-arboretum is preserved.
Only in 1968, the Muromtsevo castle became an architectural monument, but nothing changed. In 1977, the technical school moved to a new building and the castle was left for final devastation. During the next 20 years, anyone could enter it and take whatever he or she wanted. When a house is empty it breaks apart even faster.
Nothing is left there nowadays except chisel traces. Every single fresco was beaten off.
The golden mosaic perished. The main house had a living room with the floors covered with a golden German mosaic; on sunny days its golden patches of light sparkled on the walls reflecting in the Bohemian mirrors. Look at what is left…
The multi-span staircase, leading almost to the very top of the castle is well preserved. You can clearly see the former inner rooms of the house.
The wooden floors tumbled down a long time ago, the rest of the inner planning is well preserved. We managed to count at least three fireplaces that we were able to get to.
Somewhere you may notice the elements of the wall finishings but there are no parquet floors, no decorative paintings of the artist August Tomashka, no pictures, and no mirror room. Everything stayed in the past, and you can only imagine how beautiful it was.
The windows overlook the neglected park, famous for its former beauty.
Back in time there was the Italian garden in front of the main house with a complicated water cascade on the terraces and a view of the French garden fountains. The remnants of this water system can be found today but they are barely distinguishable, and the camera will hardly show them.
The water cascades have long ago become overgrown with herbs and bushes, and the locals have contributed their own corrections to the park structure, dividing it into their garden lots. Only eight hectares were left of the initial forty. If nothing changes, someday the walls will crash down, burying all the remnants of the “royal backyard” so-called by the contemporaries.
The trouble is that it’s not somebody’s memorial backyard. The two hundred kilometers from Moscow was a great distance at any time, and neither Pushkin, nor Dostoevsky, nor Tolstoy strutted along the paths of the castle grounds. However, are the big names of the owners the only real value of any house? This Russian castle was created by dozens of talented and energetic people.
Yes, nowadays the castle in Muromtsevo causes sad feelings. It is a disgrace for Russia. It is not only the castle. It is the common attitude–the whole country is in ruins.
Still, the Muromtsevo castle little by little is acquiring its fame and becoming even a kind of worship place. The Internet is replete with articles about the castle. We visited it on weekdays and were not alone; the castle was explored by a group of teenagers along with us.
I hope the best time for such a beauty will come again. It is really amazing, this French chateau in the very heart of Russia!