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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Old Town of Many a Mystery

For MT
The golden peacock on the flag of Serpukhov is only the first of this 668-year-old town's mysteries. As the legend goes, peacocks were bred within the walls of Vladychny monastery, home to 400 nuns before the Bolshevik Revolution. When heraldry designers learned of the monastery's hobby, they decided to make the bird that embodied vanity into the town's symbol.

Vladychny monastery, along with Vysotsky monastery and the Serpukhov Kremlin, served as the town's infallible triangular defense against Moscow-bound armies. The historic shallow water crossing over the Oka River was not far from Serpukhov, so it became a strategic point protecting Moscow lands from Crimean khans and Tatars who inevitably passed through.

Serpukhov's Kremlin today exists in name only. Its walls made of limestone natural to Oka geology once encircled the town, but only two small sections remained after they were dismantled in 1938 to be used in construction of the Moscow metro. Tragically, the stone never made it to the capital, and so the fate of Serpukhov's Kremlin walls is another mystery. Their historic location -- Red Hill -- is now a peaceful spot with several churches among trees and meadows.

Views from the town's three hills onto each other -- and onto the rivers and the houses below -- is the main charm of Serpukhov. When the boundary of Moscow tsardom moved south to Tula, Serpukhov's genius defense system became redundant, but the pretty scenery continued to inspire artists. Serpukhov has the same classic middle-Russia beauty as the painters' haven Polenovo, located on the Oka River only 30 kilometers away.

Natalya Beskhlebnaya / For MT
Vladychny monastery, which was once home to some 400 peacock-breeding nuns.
Nikolai Andreyev, a photographer who became known in the 1920s for his black and white poetic images of the Russian countryside, did most of his work around Serpukhov, his hometown. Using elaborate printing techniques, Andreyev transformed negative images into impressionist works of art. Vasily Ulitin, another Russian photographer, was also from Serpukhov. Young Ulitin and Andreyev studied in Serpukhov's prominent icon-painting workshops and were later part of the Russian pictorial photography group that made a splash in European art circles before the lid was slammed on New Economic Policy freedoms. After art photography was considered outdated in the new planned economy, Ulitin went on to teach and was eventually repressed, while Andreyev's studio was closed and equipment confiscated. In the 1990s a museum opened in the house where Andreyev had lived.

One kilometer from Serpukhov's city limits is Pushchino-na-Nare, the ruin of a little-known former palace. To get there, cross Nara River in Serpukhov and turn right after the bridge. Continue along Proletarskaya Ulitsa, which will take you out of town and across the railroad tracks. On your right you'll see the carcass of the estate that belonged to Sergei Vyazemsky, uncle of the poet Pyotr. When he acquired the land in the late 18th century, aesthete Vyazemsky created what was probably one of the most gorgeous structures in the Moscow region, complete with Corinthian columns, floral molding and a mosaic floor. Time and neglect have reduced its state to that of a vandalized Roman ruin. Bathed in the evening light, it resembles the remains of a Tuscan abbey out of an Andrei Tarkovsky film, defiantly beautiful and beyond repair.

How to Get There

By car: Drive 99 kilometers from Moscow along Simferopolskoye Shosse, the M2.

By train: There are about 30 trains a day from Kursky station straight to Serpukhov, a two-hour trip.

By bus: Bus 458 leaves approximately every 30 minutes from Yuzhnaya metro station.

What to See

Serpukhov Art Museum -- a cozy museum with a good collection of European and Russian classics, housed in a former mansion.

87 Ulitsa Chekhova, (4967) 35-26-70, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mon. and last Thu. of the month.

Peacock Museum -- everything you ever wanted to know about peacocks. Among the exhibits are historical documents, photographs, and peacock sculptures from different materials.

5B Ulitsa Gorkogo, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mon.

Nikolai Andreyev Center of Photographic Culture -- this is the house where the internationally acclaimed photographer lived. Biographical exhibits are on view along with Andreyev's work.

39 1st Moskovskaya Ul.,(4967) 72-78-59, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mon. and last Thu. of the month.

Where to Eat

Zabava ice-cream cafe, 155 Ul. Voroshilova, (4967) 375-037.

Matryona blini house, 7 Ul. Revolyutsii.

Rus restaurant, 2/20 2nd Moskovskaya Ul., (4967) 726-602.