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A Literary Pilgrimage to Moscow

A passion for Russian literature inspires many a trip to the world’s largest country, and literary pilgrims have many places to visit in Russia’s sprawling capital city.

Moscow was founded in 1147 by Prince Yuri Dolgoruki.  It emerged as the leading Russian principality at the end of the 300-year Tatar Mongol Yoke (1237-1380), but was supplanted as Russia’s capital when Peter the Great moved the government to his newly-constructed ”Window on the West” in St. Petersburg in 1703.  For much of the Silver Age of Russian literature, Moscow was considered the conservative, traditional, and very Russian capital of the country, a juxtaposition employed by many Russian authors as a literary device.

Count Leo Tolstoy’s preference for Moscow is a major theme running through both of his epic novels.  His sympathetic characters all live in Moscow (or better still, as he did, in the surrounding countryside), while the antagonists all inhabit decadent St. Petersburg. 

Devotees of Tolstoy’s War & Peace will recognize the elegant classical building of the former English Club on Tverskaya Street where Pierre Bezukhov and Count Rostov host a dinner to honor Field Marshall Kutuzov.  Today the building houses an awkwardly-conceived, but nevertheless interesting Museum of Modern History, focusing on key political events and daily life in imperial, soviet, and federal Russia from 1861 - present, including an entire room dedicated to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. 

At the beginning of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, as his eponymous heroine is chugging towards her destiny on the St. Petersburg - Moscow express, the novel’s other protagonist, Konstantin Levin makes his way to the lovely Novodeyvichy Convent where his beloved, Kitty Sherbatsky is ice-skating.  The convent’s graveyard is the final resting place of numerous Russian literary giants including Gogol, Chekhov, Mayakovsky, and Bulgakov, as well as the legendary theatre director, Stanislavsky. 

Anton Chekhov, Russia’s beloved playwright, practiced medicine from his modest two-story home on Moscow’s Garden Ring, which today houses a museum in his honor.  Those who enjoy plays such as The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, and The Seagull, all of which are set in provincial Russia, should pay a visit the Moscow Arts Theater where Chekhov’s plays all premiered. 

Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago looms large in the minds of many travelers to Russia.  Pasternak wrote the novel at his dacha, located in the charming writers’ colony of the Moscow suburb of Peredelkino, which is an easy train or bus ride from town.  Pasternak’s grave, which is visited by tens of thousands of his readers - both Russian and foreign, is nearby.  Pasha Antipov (later Strelnikov) and Lara’s gritty, lower-class neighborhood of Petrovka street is today one of Moscow’s elegant restaurant thoroughfares, but wander into some of the inner courtyards for a glimpse of what the pre-revolutionary buildings looked like.  The Gromeko’s well-appointed home in which Yuri and Tonya grow up, and which is later turned into a communal apartment, is vaguely located at Smolenskya Square, today home to the imposing Stalin skyscraper that is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  For a better idea of what Zhivago’s formative years might have looked like, stroll down pedestrian Arbat Street, lined with antique stores, cafes, and souvenir stores.

No visit to literary Moscow can be considered complete without a visit to elegant Patriarch Ponds where much of Mikhail Bulgakov’s fantastical Master & Margarita takes place - look for the sign warning against black cats that pays homage to the writer, who lived around the corner.  Fans of Fiddler on the Roof should continue to Malaya Bronnaya to the delightful statue of the Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem, the author and creator of Tevye the Milkman on which the musical is based.

To learn more about how you can customize your trip to Russia, contact one of Alexander+Roberts’s knowledgeable reservation agents and ask about our flexible private tours, or our popular Moscow + St. Petersburg with never more than 16 guests.

Posted: 2/16/2017 10:24:02 AM by Alexander + Roberts