Masterpieces of wooden architecture. Exploring the open-air museum in Kolomenskoye

November 7

To explore the history and see the original monuments of ancient Russian wooden architecture, you do not have to go to Karelia or the Kola Peninsula — it is enough to get to Kolomenskoye. The open-air museum of wooden architecture has gathered here unique buildings of the 16th-17th centuries. Together with the museum staff, we examine them, explore the history and find out how they were returned to their original appearance.

The monastery gate

The Gate tower of the Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery is one of the first monuments of the saved wooden architecture on the site of "Kolomenskoye". It was transported here in 1933 under the leadership of Pyotr Baranovsky, the first director of the museum-reserve, a famous researcher and architect-restorer.

The tower dates back to the 17th century, it was part of the fence of the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery. The monastery itself appeared much earlier, the first mention of it dates back to the beginning of the 15th century. Before the construction of the Arkhangelsk port, it was the first Russian seaport visited by foreign ships.

The Gate tower, an octagonal structure with a hip characteristic of Old Russian architecture, was located above the eastern gate.


The Gate tower is the only preserved wooden building of the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery. It was discovered during the White Sea-Onega expedition in 1931. Soviet scientists, architects and restorers traveled across the Russian North in search of unique architectural monuments. Arriving at the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery, they realized that the tower had to be taken away and restored: the buildings of the monastery were in poor state. Back in the 1920s, it was closed, and later a large shipbuilding enterprise was built on its territory.

Handling of the ancient wooden monument is not an easy task. First, it must be disassembled into parts, loaded into cars and carefully transported. It is no less difficult to assemble a structure in a new place and restore it. Baranovsky and his team succeeded it.

Siberian fort

Another tower came to the open-air museum from Siberia. Once it belonged to the Bratsk fort, which appeared on the banks of the Angara river in the 1630s, during the active development of Siberia. Moving eastward, the Cossacks built strongholds — forts. Bratsk fort got its name from the word "brat" — this is how the Cossacks called local residents, Buryats. Hence the name of the city of Bratsk that appeared later here.

Bratsk fort was a square of a stockade and four towers. The length of each side is 64 meters. Each tower had two floors, the first was living part, the second was fighting compartment.

“Over time, the fort was partially destroyed and dissolved in the urban buildings of Bratsk. It was very unusual: the city street, and suddenly an old wooden tower! In the 1950s, the construction of the Bratsk hydroelectric power station began, and the remnants of the fort were in the flooded zone. A scientific expedition rescued two towers — the north-west and south-west. The southwestern one was transported to the Angarsk Village Museum in the Irkutsk Region, and the northwestern one was transported to Kolomenskoye. Also, from this expedition, some architectural fragments of the huts of old Bratsk were delivered, they are also very interesting,” says Olga Vorobyova.

According some sources in the winter of 1656-1657 archpriest Avvakum was imprisoned namely in the north-western tower of the Bratsk fort. True, there are inconsistencies: in his life the archpriest writes that the tower was not heated, he was cold. And in this tower, the stove was obviously heated — inside the walls were heavily smoked. Perhaps the tower was simply not heated during the imprisonment of Avvakum, the expert suggests.

Guarding fishery

The next monument, the Mokhovaya Tower of the Sumy prison, was constructed at the end of the 16th century. The Sumy fort was built in the 1580s at the coastal possessions of the Solovetsky Monastery. It was the center of the defense of the Karelian coastal area at the end of the 16th — beginning of the 18th century. The fortress repelled the attacks of large Swedish troops many times, and in 1613 it withstood the siege of the troops of False Dmitry II.

The Sumy fort belonged to the Solovetsky Monastery. Cannons, cannonballs, gunpowder were supplied there on the tsar's order. There was also a garrison of monastery streltsy (Russian guardsmen), who defended the lands and economies of the monastery.


Unlike the tower of the Bratsk fort, Mokhovaya tower, which consists of three floors, is more ambitious. The first floor, where the streltsy were on duty, was storeroom; there were kept traps, pitchforks for fishing and other devices for fishing and weapons. Throughout the tower there were loopholes, the third floor was occupied by gun crew.

“The streltsy of the monastery garrison often complained: their salary was inferior that in Moscow. But you need to take into account that the monastery often supplied them, provided their livestock with feeding-stuffs, the streltsy were engaged in trades and had their own vegetable gardens,” says Alexander Chigrin.

Mokhovaya tower is the only surviving wooden battle tower in the European part of Russia. It was transported to Kolomenskoye in 1931 at the initiative of Pyotr Baranovsky. Experts found out that it was rebuilt many times and was partially destroyed. The first director of Kolomenskoye planned to restore the Mokhovaya Tower, but he failed to do so. The restoration work took place only in 2005-2008. By the way, it was this tower that inspired the management of Kolomenskoye to create a museum of wooden architecture. Choosing a place for its installation after restoration, we decided to collect all the wooden monuments in one area in the northeastern part of the museum-reserve.

Now the Mokhovaya Tower houses an exposition dedicated to the history of the fort in the 16th – 18th centuries. On the first floor, there are objects telling about the life of the archers, on the second — the military history of the fortress, and on the third you can learn about the defense system of the Russian North.

Pearl of wooden architecture

The Church of St. George the Victorious, appeared on the banks of the Erga river near Arkhangelsk at the end of the 17th century. It was built at the expense of parishioners in the center of the Srednepogostkiy, some distance from local villages. In the 19th century, the appearance of the church changed a lot: inside it was plastered, outside it was covered with boards, and the barrel — the roof in the form of a half-cylinder — was covered with iron.

In Soviet times, the church was used as a club, later as a warehouse. And only at the beginning of the XXI century this masterpiece of ancient Russian architecture was restored. The artist Ivan Glazunov drew attention to her. He invited architects, restorers and specialists from Kolomenskoye, who studied the structure and found 17th century logs under the cladding of the 19th century. They decided to dismantle the valuable building and transport it to Kolomenskoye, continuing the work of Pyotr Baranovsky.

“During the dismantling of the church, three important discoveries were made,” notes Olga Vorobyova. “The first is the inscription about the consecration of the temple, thanks to which it became clear that it was built in 1685. The second, absolutely stunning discovery - painting on the outside with "herbs" (a characteristic ornament of rolls of different colors). Previously, such murals had never been found outside. By the way, our restorers restored them. The third opening is the transverse barrel shaped roof of the two-floor temples. It is a feature of local wooden churches. The cantilevered gallery, lost in the 19th century, was also found on the traces on the wall.”

Thanks to the restoration, which took place in 2009–2011, the churches returned to their 17th century appearance. Now it houses an exposition dedicated to the history of the restoration of the monument. It is open to the public during the warmer months.



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