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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Street by Any Other Name

Stand on Ulitsa Vozdvizhenka outside the Museum of Architecture and look towards Ulitsa Granovskogo, which could perhaps have been justifiably renamed Razumovsky or Sheremetev instead. In the 18th century the Razumovskys, who owned two splendid mansions on this street, belonged to the highest society. They owed their rise to Alexei Razumovsky, a choir singer from Ukraine who became the lover of Empress Elizabeth and perhaps even her morganatic husband.


The first grand house has been hidden for the last 60 years by the grey stucco of the elite Kremlin hospital that in 1930 was built firmly in the forecourt of the great mansion. You have to peer very hard down the lane and over the wall of the hospital to see the upper part of this splendid single-story palace. To view it better, open the first door on the right, go straight on ignoring the hospital entrance, and continue on through the back door. You will find yourself in the courtyard of the old Razumovsky palace. The splendid reception rooms, now sometimes used for exhibitions, are entered through the front porticos which are brought up short by the wall of the hospital.


The lovely Church of the Sign tower behind belonged to the palace and was linked to it by galleries. The mansion was rebuilt after 1760 for Kirill Razumovsky, the younger brother of Alexei, from an older palace belonging first to the Romanovs and then the Naryshkins.


In 1799 the property was purchased by Count Nikolai Sheremetev, in whose family it remained until the revolution. The Sheremetevs leased it to various institutions such as the Hunt Club, the Duma and to Stanislavsky, who in the 1890s used the premises to hold rehearsals, including that of Chekhov's "The Sea Gull." The writer himself came to watch and it was here that he set eyes for the first time on the lead actress, Olga Knipper, who later became his wife.


A second mansion, No. 8 Vozdvizhenka, on the corner with Ulitsa Granovskogo, is also connected with the Razumovskys and Sheremetevs. Its corner rotunda on three floors is flanked on either side with identical facades but it is now clothed in green netting, undergoing much-needed repairs. It was built for Alexei Razumovsky, son of Kirill, in the 1790s. The central rotunda on the second floor was originally entered directly from the street via steps to what is now the balcony. It opens onto a round hall or vestibule which leads to smaller rounded salons on either side.


The Razumovskys had a difficult family life. Alexei was a highly sociable person who made life difficult for his wife, the painfully shy Varvara Shere-meteva. They became estranged and she left to live alone in a mansion strikingly similar to this house which still stands at No. 2 Ulitsa Maroseika. Her husband even denied her access to her children, although he demanded payment from her for their education.


Alexei went to live in his huge mansion by the Yauza River and the Vozdvizhenka house was purchased in 1799 by Varvara's brother, Count Nikolai Sheremetev. The Count used it as his winter residence and it was here he brought his wife, the actress and singer Praskovia Zhemchugova, a serf whom he had married in spite of the disapproval of Moscow society. Sadly, they enjoyed the lovely house for only two years before her untimely death in 1803. Look behind for yet another 18th-century mansion. Now the Museum of Architecture, the grand house was built in 1787 for the courtier and officer, Alexander Talyzin. He is famous for his chivalry in giving the Empress Catherine his uniform to wear as she rode out secretly to take the throne from her husband, Peter III. The mansion follows the tenets for a large house of the time.


With time the gates were filled in and another floor added to the wings, making the street facade rather heavy. The early 19th-century interiors of artificial marble, columns and painted ceilings survive rather well. The courtyard behind still has the stables and service buildings and an ancient 16th-century apothecary shop which was incorporated into the newer house. At the end of the 19th century the mansion was taken over by the Kazyonnaya Palata or Revenue Department. After the revolution until 1923, the Communist Party's Control Committee Secretariat, in which Stalin played a leading role, was located here. In 1945 a more sympathetic landlord, the Schusev Museum of Architecture, moved into the premises. (Metro Arbatskaya, Borovitskaya, Alexandrovsky Sad, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina)


©Kathy Berton Murrell