Russia: A Moscow literary walking tour

When I travelled in Russia one of my priorities was going on a Moscow literary walking tour because I have a great love for Russian fiction.

As Mark Twain once said, through the words of his immortal hero Tom Sawyer: “There ain’t nothing that is so interesting to look at as a place a book talked about.”

I couldn’t agree more. Or equally, a place where a great writer crouched over a desk to deliver words that have moved or inspired me. So with a bit of research I made up a literary tour of Moscow, mainly in the leafy quarter southwest of Tverskaya.

The photo above is of a peaceful little park where I started my walking tour. It’s called the Patriarch’s Ponds and this is where the opening scene of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is set. Here the mysterious Woland warns two literary hacks sitting on a park bench “at the hour of the hot spring sunset” that one of them will die soon.

It wasn’t sunset but early morning and I surprised the green-overalled street cleaners busy transforming Moscow from a rubbish-cluttered mess into a pristine Russian city.

Nearby on Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa is the apartment where Bulgakov lived in Moscow, which has now been made into a small museum. The satirical writer never saw his masterpiece published, being blacklisted by Stalin. The exterior is rather plain, apart from this at the doorway:

Moscow, Russia

Next on my Moscow literary walking tour was a pink two-storied building on Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya. Anton Chekhov lived here for 24 years and managed a prolific output of stories and plays (as well as letters discussing his very active sex life) while practising as a doctor. The house has been turned into a museum.

Moscow, Russia

Much grander, and an architectural site in its own right, is the Gorky House Museum. The Ryabushinsky mansion was built in Moscow by a pre-revolution millionaire and is an Art Nouveau gem awash with delicate mosaics, curving walls and wrought iron curlicues.

Moscow, Russia

Despite criticising the Stalinist regime, Gorky was installed here in 1931 and the weight of ‘social realism’ hung about his neck. It is difficult to imagine him writing a revolutionary novel like his famous 1906 work The Mother once ensconced here under the watchful eyes of the NKVD.

In Nikitsky Boulevard a museum honours the memory of Nikolai Gogol. You can see where he flung a manuscript of one of my favourite Russian novels – Dead Souls – into the fireplace in a fit of depression. There’s also a very sad looking monument.

Moscow, Russia

At Nikitsky Gate there is a statue of Pushkin and Natalya Goncharova in the park outside the yellow Church of Feodor Studit where they were wed. The figures are almost dancing inside the collonades.

Moscow, Pushkin

To take you deeper into Moscow’s bourgeois days, just a little further on is leafy Tverskoy Boulevard, a famous 18th century promenading street. This is where the fictional Kitty Scherbatsky – Anna’s defeated rival for Vronsky’s affections in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina – and her sister take their afternoon walks accompanied by a footman in a gilded cockade.

Moscow, Russia

Now it’s more likely to be women clipping along in Zara shoes. How Moscow has changed!?

By Natasha von Geldern

As well as following my Moscow literary walking tour, another way to get up close to the Russian literary greats is to visit their graves at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

I love places with literary tours. Have you got any to recommend?

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9 Replies to “Russia: A Moscow literary walking tour”

  1. Sophie

    Very interesting. The Russians seem so very well-read, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, but I remember meeting a drunk on the street who was ready and eager to discuss Ibsen, and he even spoke a few different languages!

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      I think that’s very true, they’re very into their literature. Even in the outposts of the former empire – in the wilds of Kyrgyzstan my semi nomadic, yurt-dwelling host could speak intelligently about Tolstoy thanks to radio programmes!

      Reply
  2. Abby

    What a fun tour… I somehow never read Anna Karenina — maybe I could get through it if I could visualize its history. It really makes books come alive when you’ve been to the places they’re based in, no?

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      I know, I’d not read it either but was inspired to after visiting Russia. I even got quite into Pushkin!

      Reply
  3. Laurel

    I would never have thought about doing a literary tour in Moscow, but I love literary tours as well. I was in Winchester, England last year and they have one for Jane Austen, which I really wanted to do, but due to time limitations settled for seeing her house and her grave.

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      I did the same in Winchester – must get back there and do a proper tour sometime!

      Reply

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