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Friday, 19 January 2018
Old Russian Country Estates Growing in Popularity with Foreign Visitors
Topic: Country Estates

Serednikovo Estate
This article was researched from Russian media sources and written by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2018

Old Russian country estates, which not only survived revolution and war, but have been restored to their original grandeur, are attracting a growing number of foreign visitors to Russia. The head of the Russian Ministry of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, said this week that the ministry’s Russian Country Estate Project attracted three times more tourists from abroad last year than the year prior. The Minister made the statement during the Forum of Small Towns and Historical Settlements in Russia, held in Kolomna.

Medinsky noted that the project which originated three years ago, has attracted a growing number of foreign visitors. In particular, the number of French, German and Italian tourists has doubled. Visits by Chinese and Korean tourists has also increased.

The minister also called for the participation of private estates in the project. Medinsky praised the initiative and dedication by private investors to reconstruct and restore ruined estates. As an incentive, the government is charging a minimal rent on ruined country estates for a period of 99 years, on the condition that it be reconstructed and/or restored to it’s historic appearance. Investors are further encouraged to set aside rooms for museum space, in order to take advantage of further government benefits.

"I appeal to the heads of municipalities. We must do everything in our power to restore our ruined estates to benefit local economies and preserve history," said the head of the Russian Ministry of Culture.

Sixteen regions, in three federal districts are currently taking part in the Russian Country Estate Project. More than 200 tour routes of the project include old Russian estates, where famous politicians, outstanding scientists, writers, artists, and musicians lived. 

Click here to watch a video of the Russian Country Estate Project in the Tula region.

Abramtsevo Estate
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 19 January 2018 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:04 AM EST
Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018 10:27 AM EST
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Thursday, 24 December 2015
How to Revive Russia's Country Estates
Topic: Country Estates

A recent State Council Presidium meeting on domestic and foreign tourism in Russia was largely devoted to creating so-called ‘route brands,’ meaning the routes that would be most attractive to both foreign and domestic tourists. The Russian Estates project was recognized as one of the most promising routes.

The number of such routes in Russia has been rather small until recently. Moscow. St. Petersburg. The Golden Ring. Lake Baikal. The Trans-Siberian Railway. The latter two are quite expensive. Following the State Council Presidium, the list was expanded through the ‘Northern Necklace’ comprised of the sightseeing attractions near St. Petersburg (in the area that used to be called Ingria), the Silk Road and—most notably—the ‘Russian Estates.’

Letters Patent to Estates

The Russian estate is a unique historical and cultural phenomenon that has next to no equivalents in Western Europe. Russian estates started rapidly developing in mid-18th century after Emperor Peter III’s manifesto on exemption of the nobility and Catherine the Great’s Charter to the Gentry. Of course, tsars did grant land plots of varying sizes, known as votchinas, to the gentry before, but prior to the well-known decree the nobility had to toil away as civil servants throughout their lives, having little time to work on their estates.

After the decree, landlords received the right to live their whole lives at their estates, and many of them used that right, only coming to capital cities in winter. The tradition survived into the 20th century when it all ceased for well-known reasons. As a result, out of thousands upon thousands of ‘homes of the gentry,’ merely dozens were not destroyed.

Today, about a half of the existing 41 museum estates are located in Central Russia. Two of the most famous ones—Yasnaya Polyana and Polenovo—are situated in Tula Region whose authorities were among the initiators of the Russian Estates project.

It should be noted that the two estates are quite different in terms of origins. Yasnaya Polyana was an old ‘home of the gentry’ for the Volkonsky family that Leo Tolstoy’s mother and grandfather descended from. There are similar and richer estates in Tula Region, like the Bobrinsky palace the town of Bogoroditsk was built around; there are 305 estates in various conditions in the area. Polenovo, however, is a late 19th-century estate, one of those built by successful members of the creative community for summer vacations, not by rich landlords looking for income.

This year, experts started to develop the route on a ‘monument-to-monument’ basis in four areas of the Central Federal District, with the Tula Region joined by the Moscow, Tambov and Tula Regions. The regions have already built the infrastructure required for tourism.

The Oryol and Bryansk Regions will likely join the project. It is easy to explain in case of Oryol, since very many acclaimed Russian writers were born or lived there. The Bryansk Region, on the other hand, has never participated in tourism projects—or exhibitions, for that matter—despite Tyutchev’s Ovstug and Alexei Tolstoy’s Krasny Rog estate being in the area.

Yesenin’s Skyline

It is noteworthy that the government has finally paid attention to Russian estates, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. It will help solve the main problem of the ‘homes of the gentry’—their physical preservation through budget funds or public-private partnerships.

Preservation in the broadest sense of the word. Yesenin’s Konstantinovo might be the clearest example, with almost 500,000 people visiting the estate in the year of the poet’s anniversary. Strictly speaking, Konstantinovo is not really an estate: it is a large village on the bank of the Oka River, adjacent to the Kashin family’s midsized estate (Lydia Kashina was Anna Snegina’s prototype).

A high-level decision—a legally enforceable one—was made to preserve the village exactly as it was in late 19th century, during Yesenin’s childhood, and the fact that the poet’s home is a modern replica doesn’t really matter. It is essential to preserve the young poet’s surroundings. The parochial school. The landlord’s house. The church above the steep slope. The priest’s house. The neighboring izbas.

It is especially difficult with izbas. Slowly but surely, ‘luxury cottages’ that do not fit in there at all have been built in the place of many historical buildings. “The most interesting thing is that in case of conflict between the museum and cottage owners, our ‘independent court’ tends to side with the owners,” says Boris Ioganson, director of the Konstantinovo museum and the famous painter’s grandson. “And even if the court rules in favor of demolition of an illegally-built house, we don’t see court officers hurrying to the owners.”

Speaking in broader terms, Konstantinovo’s most precious treasure is the Oka River expanse, seen from the high river bank. Unfortunately, today there is always a possibility that Yesenin’s cherished skyline could be ‘adorned’ with a random high-rise building. Alas, the notion of a ‘historical landscape,’ a major component of every Russian estate, is yet to be spelled out in Russian laws...

Access Code

Another recent example is the revival of the palaces that belonged to Aseyev brothers, textile factory owners from Tambov. The palaces built by famous Moscow architect Lev Kekushev represent another example of Russian estates—mansions, mostly town-based, built by self-made men who grew rich after the abolition of serfdom. One of such mansions, located in Tambov on the bank of the Tsna River, has lately been restored by best Russian masters financed from the state budget. The newly-minted museum was granted the status of a Petergof branch. In addition, a land plot has been allotted for a fountain park around the museum—a Tambov Versailles of sorts.

The situation is less clear for the second palace saved from the ruins through budget funds. The palace, located near the town of Rasskazovo on the outskirts of Tambov, might eventually be closed to the general public. Which brings us to another problem of estate revival—their accessibility. Non-picturesque ruins of certain estates are quite often loaned or sold to new owners, with encumbrance—the legal liability on real property that allows non-owners to visit the property—either not mentioned in the documents or described in rather uncertain terms.

Fyodor Shekhtel’s first major creation was the Kiritsy estate in Ryazan that belonged to the von Derwies, a family of wealthy philanthropists. The estate was recently restored to great results by a rich Russian agency. Still, even now tourists have access to nothing but the main building—and only at the front.

Meanwhile, tourists ready to pay for a visit could also contribute to financing the estate project.

“We have finally learned how to create high-quality tourist product,” says Maya Lomidze, director of the Association of Russian Travel Companies. “But when it comes to selling it, we are still far away from all international methods and practices.” As for now, many sellers consider the perfect the enemy of the good.

© Russkiy Mir Foundation. 24 December, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:22 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 24 December 2015 6:25 AM EST
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Sunday, 2 March 2014
Reflections of a Bygone Era - Country Life at Liublino Estate
Topic: Country Estates

A new exhibit has opened at the Liublino estate near Moscow. The exhibit reflects on the bygone era of Russian country life in the first half of the 19th century. The collective image is showcased at the former manor house of N. A. Durasov at Liublino. Visitors will view portraits of the people of the era, their hobbies and passions, among other objects from the collection of the Moscow State Integrated Museum.

In addition to family portraits of the noble houses are carefully hung portraits of Russia’s sovereigns. The living room is decorated with formal portraits of Emperor Paul I and his consort, the Empress Maria Feodorovna (from the collection of the Ostankino Museum-Estate in Moscow). Empress Maria Feodorovna visited Liublino estate in May of 1818.

Another room has been recreated to reflect the living room of the family of Nikolai Durasov, the original owner of the estate during the early 19th century.

The acquisition and development of the Durasov manor began in the early 19th century - during the Napoleonic wars. A large section of the exhibition is devoted to this period, including events and heroes of the Patriotic War of 1812. On display are engravings depicting the main events of Tilsit in 1807, and the anniversary tea set with military subjects. Portraits (including members of the Durasov family), porcelain, costumes and uniforms are also presented.

The museum has plans to expand this exhibit in the future, which will incorporate the historical narrative of various stages of the life of the Liublino estate, up until 1917 when the former "nobles nest" was the property of the merchants Golofteev.
For more information on Liublino estate, please refer to the following article;

Tea on the Estate Exhibition Opens at Liublino

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 02 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:08 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 5 March 2014 6:23 PM EST
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Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Kuskovo: The Grotto
Topic: Country Estates


Kuskovo, the mid-18th century retreat of the Sheremetyev family near Moscow, has the expected neoclassical palace, gardens and pond. But among the white columns and gilded parlors is a more unusual bit of architecture: a fantastical grotto inspired by Neptune’s underwater kingdom.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, lavishly decorated grottos were a popular feature at the estates of European elites. Among the most famous was the grotto at Ludwig II’s Linderhof in Bavaria, a watery den inspired by Wagner’s “Tannhäuser.”

German architect Fyodor Afgounov built Kuskovo’s grotto between 1756 and 1761. It lost some of its treasures when the French ransacked the estate during the War of 1812, but most of the pavilion survived intact. Today, it’s the only one of its kind left in Russia. Here’s a look at the seashells, seaweed, dragons and other curiosities inside.

1. Pavilion

The lavish Baroque structure is composed of a main room (meant to be Neptune’s throne room) and two side wings, with marble laid over the walls and floors. The grotto’s cool temperature made it an inviting place for guests to seek respite during the summer months. The green-and-gold iron grilles on the windows and doors, intended to look like seaweed, were made by serf artisans in the town of Pavlovo.

2. Cupola

The circular windows ringing the base of the cupola were once entirely open, which helped keep the temperature low. The pictures of whales and sea turtles that now cover them are remnants from a recent exhibition about sea creatures.

3. Walls

The fantastical flowers, birds and plants that ornament the grotto’s walls took 14 years to complete. To create them, artisan Johann Focht used seashells, moss, mother of pearl, glass shards and tuff (a rock made of volcanic ash). The seashells, which number 26 types in all, come from the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Black Sea, as well as bodies of water outside Moscow.

4. Paintings

The central room holds three genre paintings that are heavily studded by shells; they depict a deer, a romantic meeting by a fountain and a comedic scene involving a noblewoman slaying a pheasant. Iron garden furniture next to the panels encouraged noble visitors to put up their feet.

5. Statues

Statues of Greek and Roman deities such as Juno once occupied the empty pedestals along the walls. Some statues fell prey to theft, while others have lost limbs. But a variety of sculptures remain to guard the grotto’s peripheries, including a dapper monkey in a hat and an armless noblewoman carrying a basket.

6. Creatures

A number of animal figures are hiding amidst the swirling shell patterns on the walls. In the room to the right, a pelican perches above a window, while a gaping white seahorse bobs by the main window of the room to the left. Look up: in both side rooms, dragons writhe on the ceiling.

© Moscow News. 22 January, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:54 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2013 6:00 AM EST
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Saturday, 22 December 2012
Russians Invited to Buy Back or Rent Their Old Family Estates
Topic: Country Estates


Khvalevskoye, former estate of Nikolai Kachalov 

The Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky has begun a campaign to auction pre-revolutionary estates and mansions to save them from potential ruin. He said that architectural monuments in the worst condition would be a priority and would be offered for long-term rent or even sale to those who can demonstrate that they are committed to restoration.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia rejected the idea of property restitution to descendants of the noble families and wealthy merchants who owned such homes before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Medinsky said that the government had failed to follow through on previous plans to manage the properties and that the situation had reached a crisis point.

“There are 150,000 [architectural] monuments in the country,” said the minister according to the RIA Novosti state news agency. “Some of them are in private hands, a majority are in state hands and even more are in a state of ruin. About ten years ago there were instructions to hand over about 2,500 monuments to the monuments administration agency. [But] the government’s instruction was not carried out. Two hundred and forty-one monuments were handed over. The monuments are in [a] horrific condition.”

Medinsky said that the ministry had already proposed that Rosimushchestvo, the state property agency, auction the right to rent those sites that are in good condition at market rates, on the condition that they are properly maintained. Sites that are in a ruined state would be leased at a peppercorn rate. Olga Dergunova, Russia’s deputy economic development minister and the head of Rosimushchestvo, said firm plans were yet to be put in place, however.

Many of Russia’s historic properties were allowed to crumble in the post-Soviet bureaucracy of the 1990s and 2000s to make way for more lucrative residential and commercial buildings.

The city of Moscow is now actively employing the new scheme to auction monuments, which has already resulted in some positive examples of restoration. But in the regions the situation is more complicated for preservationists and potentially easier for those who want to purchase outright a monument.

Yevgeny Sosedov, the deputy chairman of the Moscow region branch of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments, is leading activists in a fight to save Arkhangelskoye, the Yusupov family estate, famous for its palace, grounds and art collection. Since the 1990s, a state museum has shared the grounds with the ministry of defence, which runs a convalescent hospital there. It is ironic, Sosedov said, that estates that survived the Revolution have suffered greater damage in the post-Soviet era because in Soviet times they were, at least, in use as pioneer camps, sanatoriums or collective farms. Local officials, he said, are not interested in dealing with the smalls sums of money needed to conserve estates that have fallen into ruin. “Everyone is waiting for big money,” he said.

Some of the descendants of the pre-revolutionary elite have bought back family properties. Yury Voicehovsky-Kachaloff and his wife, Vera, spent around $100,000 to buy the remains of the mansion and grounds of Khvalevskoye, an estate in the Vologda region, which was used as a government office and school in the Soviet era. Vera Voicehovsky-Kachaloff is a descendant of Nikolai Kachalov, an official who was close to the future Tsar Alexander III. The family rediscovered the estate after being sought out and invited to the local village’s anniversary celebration in 2006. The cost at auction was high, said her husband, because a local hunting organisation was eager to purchase the territory to develop as a hunting grounds.

It cost the Voicehovsky-Kachaloffs around ten times more to restore the mansion. Financiers now based in Moscow who spent ten years living in London, they were inspired by the UK's National Trust. They plan turn the mansion into a local museum, cultural centre, Sunday school, a base for their family gatherings, and possibly as a small hotel for those interested in the culture and lifestyle of pre-revolutionary estates.

© The Art Newspaper and RIA Novosti. 22 December, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:06 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 22 December 2012 7:12 AM EST
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Monday, 10 September 2012
Golitsyn Palace Near Moscow Restored
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 4 minutes
Topic: Country Estates


The Golitsyn Palace at Bol'shiye Vyazemy has reopened as a museum after an extensive restoration. Situated near Moscow, the palace of Prince Boris Vladimirovich Golitsyn has a rich history


A portrait of the Emperor Paul I maintains a place of honour in the main hall of the palace, who visited the palace. The palace includes two floors, and each room includes portraits of famous nobles associated with Golitsyn.


Funding for the restoration of the 228-year-old palace was provided from the budgets of both the federal and Moscow region. Parquet floors, similar to that at Pavlovsk Palace were painstakingly restored.


The estate, which is situated on the old road to Smolensk offered the shortest route to Western Europe, and thus played a remarkable role in the events of the War of 1812. Both Kutuzov and Napoleon slept in the palace. It was here that General Kutuzov stopped after the Battle of Borodino, and on the first floor of the palace in which he made crucial decisions. He and his army fled the palace with Napoleon and his troops in pursuit.


Napoleon was visited by his French generals, all of whom were impressed with the palace and its luxurious interiors. Ironically, the palace was spared major looting by the French invaders. Sadly, the palace suffered a much worse fate under the Soviets.


These historic events are commemorated in a unique exhibit dedicated to Russia’s victory in the Patriotic War of 1812. The restorations of the palace are expected to be completed by the end of 2012.


© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 10 September, 2012


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:50 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 11 September 2012 8:54 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Time Running Out for Grebnevo Estate
Topic: Country Estates


Citizens of the Moscow Region are appealing to local authorities to rescue Grebnevo Estate, the security zone of which, though a monument of architecture, culture and history, is being sold out piece by piece. 

They have forwarded a request to draw attention to the situation and to undertake appropriate measures for prevention of destruction of the estate to the regional culture minister A. Gubankov. 

In order to avoid repetition of the situations in Borodino, Arkhangelskoye Estate, and now in Veshki, we request to stop urgently the sale and surveying of sites in the security zone of the Grebnevo Estate and seize all transactions with these lands”- the letter reads. 

Local authorities have transferred a part of lands of Grebnevo from the status of a security zone to the status of summer cottage sites. 

The historical and cultural monument Grebnevo Estate is located 30 km to the northeast from MKAD (Moscow Circle Road) in the vicinity of Fryazino town. The estate was built in 1780-1790 and its main building with two churches has survived to this day.

© Russia Info-Centre. 22 August, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:49 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 22 August 2012 6:56 AM EDT
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Friday, 10 August 2012
Large Scale Restoration at Kuskovo Underway
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 3 minutes, 40 seconds
Topic: Country Estates


The Kuskovo Estate-Museum is currently undergoing a large scale restoration. The restoration of the facades of the historic buildings is expected to be completed by October.

There are further plans to reconstruct the pond and garden, which, when completed will reflect an 18th century formal French garden, complete with alleys of lime trees, flower beds and marble statues.

Further restoration will be carried out on the historic interiors of the main house itself. However, special care must be taken by craftsmen due to the fact that the building was originally constructed out of wood.

Restoration of the ballroom will begin shortly and include the chandeliers, mirrors and parquet floors with a complex pattern, originally made using three different types of rare woods.

Situated several miles east of Moscow, Kuskovo was the former summer country house and estate of the Sheremetev family. Built in the 18th century, it was one of the first great summer country estates of the Russian nobility, and one of the few still preserved in the Moscow region.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 10 August, 2012


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:21 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 11 August 2012 4:49 PM EDT
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Saturday, 23 June 2012
Leo Tolstoy: Russia Unthinkable Without Yasnaya Polyana
Topic: Country Estates


Yasnaya Polyana was the home of Russian writer and thinker Leo Tolstoy, where he was born and spent nearly 60 years of his life. During the distribution of inheritance between the Tolstoy brothers in 1847 Leo Tolstoy inherited the Yasnaya Polyana estate and several villages. Soon afterwards he sold the villages and the more than 1,000-hectare Yasnaya Polyana estate became his only property. The spacious three-storey house with 32 rooms where Leo Tolstoy was born on August 28th 1828 was later demolished. Upon his return from St.Petersburg in 1856, Leo Tolstoy and his family had to occupy one of the two wings which had been built by his grandfather. As Tolstoy’s family became larger, the wing was extended to provide more room. Members of the Tolstoy family referred to the Yasnaya Polyana house as “the big house”. Leo Tolstoy wrote many of his novels at Yasnaya Polyana and the estate bore witness to all the twists and turns of his more than eventful life.

The largest room, “the parlor” as the Tolstoys used to call it in those days, has preserved the interior of the old mansion. Director of the Yasnaya Polyana Museum Yekaterina Tolstaya comments.

"Many heirlooms were passed on from generation to generation. Portraits, mahogany furniture, and the comfy old chairs from the old mansion – all moved together with the family. The writing desk which belonged to Leo Tolstoy’s father is now in the writer’s study. Tolstoy wrote his most significant works at this desk."

Leo Tolstoy preferred to do a large share of work around the house himself and was on good terms with peasants for whom he had infinite respect. Even in his younger years Tolstoy believed that the landlord owed a lot to his peasants. When he was 21, Tolstoy opened a school for peasant children in Yasnaya Polyana and often gave classes himself. The student-teacher relations were built on the basis of equality. Yekaterina Tolstaya comments.

"Tolstoy deemed the ABC book he wrote to be nearly the most important of all his works. While teaching high school, he practiced an individual approach. He knew what the kids’ interests were and read and discussed things with them. His classes were held in a friendly atmosphere so each pupil found them interesting and benefited from them."

In addition to “the big house”, the Yasnaya Polyana estate consists of a huge park with alleys and ponds. One of the most remote alleys has Leo Tolstoy’s favorite bench from which opens a marvelous view on the local landscape. The Tree of Love is another attraction. As the legend goes, if you go around the tree several times and wish for something, your wish will come true.

Despite Tolstoy's views on politics and the church (the latter of which led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901) it is interesting to note that the novels and short stories of Leo Tolstoy were a favourite of Tsar Nicholas II, who used to read them aloud to his wife and children on cold winter nights while in residence at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

© The Voice of Russia and Paul Gilbert. 23 June, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:55 AM EDT
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Sunday, 6 May 2012
Dubrovitsy Country Estate: Baroque-Style Masterpiece
Topic: Country Estates


Dubrovitsy is an ancient Russian village located 20 kilometres south of Moscow. Besides, Dubrovitsy is one of the most beautiful country estates in Russia, where the Church of the Sign of the Holy Mother of God is situated. The latter was consecrated in the presence of Emperor Peter the Great. The baroque-style church in Dubrovitsy resembles an exotic flower and has nothing to do with the traditional Russian churches. The name of its architect has not been established yet, Director of the Podolsk Museum of Local Lore Lyubov Slashchova says.

"We carefully studied the materials of Priest Romadanovsky who lived in the 19th century and who remembered all the events of the past. However, no evidence that would enable us to establish the authorship has been found yet."

As we have mentioned before, the Dubrovitsy church resembles an exotic flower – a quatrefoil, which is an element of Western art. That is why it is doubtful that it is an example of Russian baroque architecture, Lyubov Slashchova says.

"Baroque came to Russia from Western Europe – from Italy, to be more precise – and splendour is its key feature. And as regards the Church of the Sign of the Holy Mother of God, its splendour is proof of this. All the elements of Baroque are represented there. But I wouldn’t say that this is a Moscow or a Russian baroque style."

The church that dominates the panorama of the Dubrovitsy country estate is also its centre and focal point. The second centre of the Dubrovitsy country estate is the palace that most likely was built in baroque style but that was later reconstructed in classical style. At the end of the 19th century Prince Sergei Golitsyn brought luxurious wooden furniture dating back to the 17th century to the Dubrovitsy country estate from a palace in Rome. There is an old lime-tree park not far from the Dubrovitsy Palace. As legend goes, some of the lime-trees were planted there by Peter the Great. Among the owners of the Dubrovitsy country estate were famous of landed nobility, including Golitsyn, Dmitriyev-Mamonov, and Potyomkin. Representatives of the Romanov House as well as foreign ambassadors visited the Dubrovitsy country estate on many occasions.

© The Voice of Russia. 06 May, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:55 AM EDT
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