As Shakespeare is to England, so Pushkin is to Russia. He was born in Moscow in 1799 into an impoverished noble family and is most famous for his poems – many of which are considered masterpieces. He was also the author of the first major Russian works in several other genres including one of the first important Russian plays, Boris Godunov.
Built in 1820 this building used to house the Yar restaurant. Pushkin was a regular visitor and mentions it in many letters. He even included it in his poetry:
“Must I for a long time observe the anguish of the involuntary fast and reminisce about the cold veal truffles of Yar?”
The Yar restaurant was such a special place for Pushkin that it was where he and three close friends chose to come to mourn the death of Pushkin’s former school friend Anton Delvig (who had introduced him to Gogol).
Built in the 1770s this was the home of the Club of the Nobility from 1784 which organised balls, concerts and receptions. Pushkin wrote that:
“in the hall of the club of the Nobility five thousand people would meet twice a week. Young people would meet each other here; marriages were arranged. Moscow was as famous for its brides as Vyazma for its honey cakes.”
And indeed in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Tatyana is brought here by her matchmaking aunt to find a husband.
Retrace your steps back up the hill and continue along Bolshaya Dmitrovka before turning left into Glinischevsky Pereulok stopping outside number 6. This was once a hotel called the Angliya. Pushkin often stayed here and in 1829 it was where he met the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. To commemorate the meeting of Poland and Russia’s greatest poets there is a plaque on the wall. Beneath the two figures are the lines Pushkin wrote in dedication to Mickiewicz afterwards :
“He spoke about a future when people, forgetting their differences would join together as one great family.”
Continue along Glinischevsky Pereulok and turn right onto Tverskaya Ulitsa stopping at number 14 (photo at top of page)
Built in 1790, this building became the home of Princess Zinaida Volkonsky where she held a glittering literary salon that Pushkin regularly attended. In 1825 Volkonsky’s brother-in-law Sergei Volkonsky was exiled to Siberia for his part in the failed Decembrist plot to overthrow the Tsar. Pushkin was close friends with a number of the Decembrists (it is said they deliberately did not tell Pushkin of the plot because he was a terrible gossip!) and he had known Sergei Volkonsky’s wife, Maria, since before her marriage. Some believe that Pushkin was in love with Maria (although he apparently fell in love fairly frequently) and she is said to be the inspiration for a number of his characters including Princess Maria in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai. Maria chose to go with her husband into exile but before she left she stopped here at Zinaida Volkonsky’s Moscow home to say farewell. Zinaida organised a concert in Maria’s honour which Pushkin attended. Zinaida chose to sing an aria from Paer’s opera Agnese but she struggled to finish and Maria was moved to tears. Pushkin was later moved to write the poem Message to Siberia, of which the final lines are:
Each hateful manacle and chain
Will fall; your dungeons break asunder;
Outside waits freedom’s joyous wonder
As comrades give you swords again.
A year later Sergei and Maria’s young son tragically died and Pushkin wrote an epitaph to him:
“At the throne of the Eternal Creator, he looks on earthly exile with a smile, blesses his mother and prays for his father.”
This statue of Pushkin was the first monument to a literary figure in Russia and the unveiling ceremony in 1880 was a huge public event. Amongst others Dostoevsky gave a speech in which he began by saying:
Pushkin is an extraordinary, perhaps unique, manifestation of the Russian spirit, said Gogol. I will add “and a prophetic manifestation.” There is in his life, for all us Russians, something incontestably prophetic… He set down a very gallery of exquisite types drawn from the Russian people. The exquisiteness is in their truth, their positive and undeniable truth. You cannot deny them, they stand as though in stone.
This recently restored building was mentioned in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and housed the English Club from 1831 to 1917. At the time it was a highly exclusive gentleman’s club popular with the Russian nobility. It was described by Captain Charles Colville Frankland who dined there with Pushkin in 1830 as “a splendid establishment, upon a large scale, and is clean, and cool and comfortable”; but he remarked with irony that the title of it must be because “hardly any Englishman belongs to it”. He described Pushkin’s conversation as “entertaining and instructive. He seems to be thoroughly versed in the political, civil and literary history of his country.”
Retrace your steps and turn right to walk all the way down the tree-lined Tverskoi Boulevard [if you are coming with children you’ll find a castle-shaped playground for them to play in, or for smaller ones there is another playground at the other end]. When you reach the end of the boulevard, turn right where you’ll find the Church of the Great Ascension.
After two years of trying to gain consent from her parents, Pushkin finally got what he wanted and married the beautiful Natalya Goncharova here in February 1831. At the wedding ceremony one of the rings was dropped and as Pushkin bent to retrieve it, a candle was extinguished – both of which he considered to be bad omens. Shortly after his marriage Pushkin wrote: “My only wish is that nothing will change in my life – I could not expect better. This condition is so new to me that I feel reborn.” The couple were married for six years and had four children. Pushkin died in a duel defending Natalya’s honour over an alleged affair with the son of the Dutch Ambassador.
If you want to find out more about Pushkin you can catch the number 15 bus from Tverskoi Boulevard to Prechistenka Ulitsa 12 where you will find the Pushkin Museum. You can also visit the apartment where Pushkin and Natalya lived for a few months after their wedding – at Arbat Ulitsa, 53.