Last Updated on April 20, 2020 by Irena Domingo
The Tsaritsyno Museum & Nature Reserve in Moscow is a picturesque group of palaces, bridges, pavilions, ponds and gardens. It is a unique place in Russia’s capital city and will be a very pleasant surprise for you. Admission to the park is free, although you pay for the palace tours. I invite you to join me on this dream tour of Tsaritsyno that you can combine with the visit to Kolomenskoye.
I'm going to talk about ...
- 1. What is Tsaritsyno? A park, palace and museum all in one
- 2. The History of Tsaritsyno: the Empress’s Caprice
- 3. Practical information for organizing the visit to Tsaritsyno
- 4. A complete tour of the best of Tsaritsyno
1. What is Tsaritsyno? A park, palace and museum all in one
The Tsaritsyno Museum & Nature Reserve (Царицыно in Russian) is a complex of palaces and parks, built by Empress Catherine the Great as her country residence.
In this area covering 405 hectares what stands out is its architectural complex from the 18th and 19th centuries, most of it completely rehabilitated and restored for public use in the period between 2005 and 2007. The main palace, Tsaritsyno, is the only pseudo-Gothic palace in Russia. The buildings house various museums and exhibitions.
Meanwhile, the green area occupies most of the park and includes gardens, forest, ponds or ravines. Its surface is not completely flat and the little elevations you will find give it even more variety.
Although Tsaritsyno may give you enough for half or even a whole day, my preferred option would be to combine this tour with the tour of the Kolomenskoye Park.
2. The History of Tsaritsyno: the Empress’s Caprice
In 1775, Catherine the Great bought a large piece of land in southern Moscow with greenhouses that produced grapes and lemons, etc. The location began to be known as Tsaritsa, “the Tsarina’s Town”.
Empress Catherine II wanted to have a suburban palace on this estate because of its magnificent natural setting. So she engaged the services of architect Vasily Bazhenov who began the construction in 1776. The edifice, which was part of a group of buildings, was intended to symbolize Russia’s recent victory over Turkey.
Making an irrational decision that’s still not understood today, the empress, because she did not like the work and had serious differences with Bazhenov, ordered it demolished and fired the architect. The remains are still visible in Tsaritsyno.
He was replaced by Matvey Kazakov, another very highly regarded architect, whose work had evolved into a style called Russian pseudo-Gothic. The Empress died while it was being built (1786-1796), the almost finished palace remained unfinished and Tsaritsyno was abandoned.
Because of all this, the Grand Palace is known as “the Empress’s Caprice.”
With the passage of time, what remained of the Grand Palace and the remaining the buildings in the complex, whether started or planned, deteriorated completely.
Since the middle of the 19th century Tsaritsyno has been occupied by dachas, a kind of country house where many Muscovites still spend the summer or weekends. This is something you should know because the “dacha culture” is widespread in Russia. The term covers houses ranging from simple cottages to other houses that are larger and more comfortable.
In addition, the park became a fashionable place for taking a walk through the countryside.
During the Russian Revolution, Tsaritsyno was turned into a museum and the tour of the burial mounds, piles of earth and stones raised on the tombs of the Slavic Vyatichi people (8th to 13th centuries) was very successful.
Between 1987 and 1995 the restoration of some of the ancient monuments was completed by Polish and Russian specialists. Tsaritsyno came to be called a Museum & Nature Reserve.
Later, at the beginning of the 21st century, between 2005 and 2007, the Grand Palace and other ancient ruined buildings, such as the Bread House, were rebuilt. The park space was also greatly improved.
Today, there is the memorial statue to Catherine II that you will find in the main hall of the Grand Palace.
3. Practical information for organizing the visit to Tsaritsyno
3.1. How to get to Tsaritsyno
Tsaritsyno is located in the south of Moscow a little less than 20 km by car or bus from the center of the capital, but the best option for the tourist is to take the Metro to get there in less than 45 minutes.
You can stop at the Tsaritsyno or Orekhovo Metro stations (Metro Line no. 2, Green). I recommend stopping at the Tsaritsyno station since it is the one that is closest to the main gate, although once you have done the tour you can go back using the Orekhovo Metro station.
At this link you have the official map of Tsaritsyno.
3.2. Tsaritsyno Opening Hours
The park is an outdoor space with free admission and is open from 6 in the morning to 12 at night. It can be accessed by any of its 11 different entrances.
Tours of the Grand Palace and the buildings of the architectural complex require payment. Their opening hours are as follows:
- Tuesday to Friday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Closed on Monday)
- Saturdays 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- Sundays 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
3.3. Tickets to Tsaritsyno
You can purchase tickets online at http://tsaritsyno-museum.ru/the_museum/tickets/, although currently only in Russian. Then you must redeem your voucher for tickets at the ticket window.
The other option is to buy tickets on the day of the tour at the entrance to the grounds. To do this you have to go through access control at the main gate of Tsaritsyno and once you have passed the control turn to the right where you will find the Tsaritsyno Information Center and ticket sales.
Tickets may be combined or for one site only:
- Grand Palace and the Bread House: 400 rubles. Buying this ticket is the best option if you don’t have much time.
- Grand Palace, Bread House, Greenhouses (all three), Middle Palace (or Opera House), Third Cavalry Building and Small Palace: 890 rubles. This is the best option if you don’t want to miss anything in Tsaritsyno.
- Middle Palace (or Opera House): 150 rubles.
- Third Cavalry Building: 150 rubles.
- Small Palace: 100 rubles.
- No payment for the First or Second Cavalry Building.
For the greenhouses you also pay (250 rubles), but they have slightly different opening hours: from Wednesday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., or on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
On the third Wednesday of each month admission to the palaces and exhibitions is free and in this case you have to collect the free ticket at the ticket windows.
3.4. Exhibitions and access rules
Most of the buildings in Tsaritsyno have exhibitions, either temporary or on-going, that are part of the Tsaritisyno Museum program.
This extensive and varied museum has a wide collection of items, the result of its different historical circumstances. Some of the themes and items that you can see inside its buildings are the following:
- 20th century Soviet decorative art.
- Traditional arts and crafts of the Slavic people and other ethnic groups.
- Russian jewelry from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
- Archaeological finds, from burial mounds to everyday objects of the Vyatichi people (11th and 12th centuries), to tiles, coins or fragments of buildings from the 16th century or from the time of Catherine II.
- History of Russia and the Tsaritsyno of Catherine II.
You cannot take bag bags and backpacks into the palaces and exhibitions. They have to be left in lockers.
You may take pictures but without using flash and tripods.
3.5. Services and Specialty Items
Tsaritsyno has different services available for its visitors, such as restaurants, playgrounds, a sports area, boat rides, bicycle and scooter rentals, or small electric cars.
You have up to six stores or places to get souvenirs. The main store is in the underground space of the Grand Palace.
For specialty items, in the Third Cavalry Building you can buy different jams made using the 19th century recipes and three types of very original herbal tea, as well as unique games for children related to the location.
But the most typical thing in Tsaritsyno for visitors is to rent period costumes from the 18th century and take pictures in them with either family or friends in the Tavrichesky Hall of the Grand Palace, (between 300 and 400 rubles per person).
4. A complete tour of the best of Tsaritsyno
On this map you can see the route I recommend for you to take in Tsaritsyno, arriving at the Tsaritsyno Metro station and returning from the Orekhovo station. This walking tour from station to station is about 3 kilometers.
4.1. Entering Tsaritsyno: the musical fountain and the ponds
On leaving the Tsaritsyno Metro station you will have to walk only 3 minutes until you reach the main entrance to the complex, where you can buy tickets to the palaces.
In front of the main entrance is the Musical Fountain. It dates back to 2006 and has a diameter of 55 meters; its more than 800 water jets can reach 15 meters high. It offers a spectacular combination of music and matching underwater colored lights, more than 3,000 in total. It is one of the park’s main attractions with day and night shows in the summer time.
During this tour you will enjoy the beautiful ponds of Tsaritsyno, especially the Upper one and the Middle one (where the musical fountain is located), along with the alluvial plain of the Yazvenka River. They’ve had different names and changes over time. You can take a boat ride on them.
Further away from the architectural complex are other bodies of water until you reach the Borisovsky Pond (Moscow’s largest), but this tour that I’m proposing doesn’t go that far.
4.2. The bridges of Tsaritsyno
The bridges give Tsaritsyno a lot of character and connect different areas. Before heading to the architectural complex, you can cross the most important bridge, which is the Big Bridge over the Ravine. It is 80 meters long and is a true masterpiece of engineering. Its decoration with arches stands out and it has retained many similarities with the portals of the Gothic cathedrals.
It was erected between 1778 and 1784 and was part of a road layout. It was even crossed by tanks during World War II. Today you can enjoy it, thanks to a major restoration carried out in the period 1985-2007.
Next, you will see the Ornate Bridge, which looks like a fortress because of its tall towers. It has fantasy decoration (hence its name) and was one of the few well-preserved structures from the beginning of Tsaritsyno in the 18th century. It is situated on a slightly steep hill. It underwent large-scale restoration work from 1987 to 1992.
It marks the beginning of the entire architectural complex of Tsaritsyno.
4.3. The Palaces and the Bread House
The Grand Palace is the authentic gem of the park and its unusual history that I told you about before is already part of the history of Russia.
In the neo-Gothic style with Russian classicist hues, it houses different exhibits and is the place in the museum that holds collections of sculpture, painting, porcelain, clothing and other handicrafts. Concerts are also scheduled there.
The Small Palace was dedicated personally to Catherine II. It has only six small rooms, with an oval lounge and a boudoir. It hosts exhibitions and is located on a little hill.
The Bread House was actually the place intended for the kitchen quarters, although the imperial servants gave it the name that is currently used. However, it has had very different uses since then. The façades are decorated with bread and salt mill motifs. It houses historical exhibitions and is connected to the Grand Palace by an underground tunnel. Concerts and theatrical performances are held in the courtyard. You can also see the monument dedicated to the architects of the complex.
Between the Grand Palace and the Bread House is the monument to the architects of Tsaritsyno.
Near the monument to the architects you will see a glazed pavilion through which you access the tour of the Grand Palace and the Bread House.
The Middle Palace (or Opera House) is one of the most interesting and sophisticated buildings. It was intended for small receptions, official ceremonies and various forms of courtly entertainment. Its overall restoration dates back to 2012. It hosts regular exhibitions.
The Ornate (or Grape) Gate is behind it. It was built between 1777 and 1778 and marks a symbolic boundary between the palace complex and the park. It has also been meticulously restored.
4.4. The Cavalry Buildings
In front of the Grand Palace are the three Cavalry buildings. The First Cavalry Building was also one of those stopped after the death of Catherine II in 1796. Its more regular use began around 1870, when it began to be rented to wealthy people as a dacha or a summer vacation place.
After several changes in the course of the 20th century, since 1995 it has been the location of the administrative office of the Tsaritsyno Museum & Nature Reserve.
The Second Cavalry Building is a small octagonal single-storey pavilion. It did not have a specific function. Like the other so-called Cavalry buildings, it was given this name in 1947.
It deteriorated over the course of 200 years until it ended up in ruins. Its large-scale restoration was completed in 1994. Like many of the buildings in Tsaritsyno, it houses collections of museum art.
The Third Cavalry Building is quite different in style from the other two. It seems that it was used as a restaurant and hotel and then as a country house throughout the 19th century.
In Soviet times, in 1927 the Tsaritsyno Museum of History and Art was officially opened in this building. It is very popular for viewing the archaeological finds of the Vyatichi people as well as the drawings of the architect Bazhenov. It had other uses until 1984 when it housed the All-Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Art, which is now scattered across other buildings in Tsaritsyno. It currently houses an exhibition on dachas.
Between the Second and the Third Cavalry Buildings there is the Church Of The Icon Of The Mother Of God “Life-giving Source”. In the Baroque style with its characteristic white stone, it has its origins in another wooden church from the 17th century before Catherine II, at the time of the Cantemirs, first Prince Dimitrie and then Matvey. It was consecrated in 1765.
After closing in 1938, in 1990 it was returned to the believers. It was consecrated again in 1998 by Patriarch Alexy II.
4.5. The Greenhouses
In Tsaritsyno you can also visit the three greenhouses, which were dismantled, but restored in 2008 after a long history behind them dating back to the early 1740s. There you will see fruits, crops and plants that are alien to the Russian climate next to flowers and other aromatic herbs. It has workshops and educational tours.
The greenhouses are located near the Orekhovo Metro stop so you can take the Metro from there to return to downtown Moscow.
4.6. Other buildings
If you have time, further away from the Grand Palace, on the southern slope of the park you will find other buildings, restored or rebuilt, such as the Milovida Pavilion (early 19th century), the Nerastankino Pavilion (or “Temple of Melancholy”), from the same period as the previous one, and magnificent views of the Upper Pond), the “Temple of Ceres” Pavilion (from 1805, dedicated to this ancient Roman fertility goddess), the Hill Pyramid (on one of the elevated sites in the park ), the Ruined Tower (or Tower in Ruins), or the Island Arch (or Mermaid Gate) in Tsaritsyno’s Upper Pond.
All these buildings will make you experience an environment of beauty and romance.
Dating back to the beginning of the 18th century and very close to the Nerastankino Pavilion are the three grotesque bridges (named that way because of the rough stone used in the construction).
Finally, I should mention the small hills or burial mounds of Tsaritsyno, archaeological remains from the 11th to the 13th centuries that used to be the cemetery of the Vyatichi settlement.
And that’s all for this tour of Tsaritsyno, a beautiful enclave that you should not miss if you visit Moscow. You can help me by sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you very much for reading me