Stone chambers and princes’ manor houses: how the Orlov-Denisov house at Bolshaya Lubyanka was changing

May 12

Bolshaya Lubyanka is one of the oldest streets in Moscow, once a part of Sretenka Street, and now it has become a separate street continuing the latter. The street was on the way from Kiev to Vladimir-on-Klyazma. The Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God was taken along this road to Moscow in the 14th century. It was that icon, which Muscovites prayed to for protection from Tamerlane’s hordes. Since then the famous icon has never left the capital.

The toponym “Lubyanka” was known since the 15th century, when inhabitants of the Novgorod district of Lubyanitsa who were brought to Moscow by Ivan III after the conquest of the Novgorod Republic, settled here. However, there is a story that the name of the street is associated with the trees that grew on this place are were a source of bast (in Russian “lub”), that is the bark for making bast shoes and matting.

Artisans and merchants settled at the Lubyanka in the 15-16th centuries, and since the 17th century in was inhabited by the Moscow nobility. The land plot at Bolshaya Lubyanka, where house No. 14 is now located, originally belonged to Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, who built stone chambers there. It was here that the prince and his associates fought against the Polish invaders, and Pozharsky was severely wounded.

From Pozharsky, the property was transferred to his wife's brothers, the Golitsyns, and in the 1780s — to Prince Volkonsky. The prince rebuilt the chambers, turning them into a manor house, which was decorated by the famous Italian sculptor Francesco Camporesi.

The layout of the manor house was typical for the middle of the 18th century. The main house, deep in the courtyard, had avant-corps attached to its back side. The ground floor of the building was at that time uninhabited, as there were storerooms. A wooden staircase led to the first floor. The residential wings flanked the front yard and faced the street with identical blind ends.

In 1811, the estate was bought by the Moscow Governor-General Fyodor Rostopchin. A year later an event happened here that was immortalized in “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy. Right outside the Rostopchin house angry mob tore to pieces for treason the merchant's son Vereshchagin, who translated a letter from Napoleon into Russian, where the emperor spoke negatively about Russia. Shortly after, Rostopchin left the manor house and Moscow that was invaded by French troops. His house was occupied by Henri-Francois Delabord, a general of Napoleon’s army. It was thanks to this that the manor house survived the Moscow fire of 1812.

In 1843, the ownership passed to Count Vasily Orlov-Denisov, who formed the existing architectural ensemble in the 1860s. Impressive outbuidlings were built on the sides of the main house. Their architecture reproduces the general forms of the main building of the manor house, thus creating a single ensemble with rich and abundant architectural forms. It was the same time when the elegant pylons of the gate appeared that survived to the present day.

Workshop of D. Dow. Portrait of V. Orlov-Denisov. 1820-1825

In the early 1880s, the manor house was sold to the state councilor Mattern, from whom it passed over to the Moscow Fire Insurance Company. Later, the building hosted the Russian Society for Capital and Income Insurance, and the outbuildings were rented out. After the revolution, the former Orlov-Denisov manor house was occupied by the All-Russian Emergency Commission — the future State Security Committee of the USSR.

The only renovation in this building was made in the 1970s. Research by the designers of the restoration project allowed to clarify when the manor house was initially built. The building and its lavish decor, which is influenced by Dutch and French architecture, white stone columns, entwined with vines, cartouches with grotesque masks and intricate ornaments also made of white stone, were dated to the end of the 17th century.

New life of the old building

In the 1990s, the former estate was used as commercial premises. Because of its active operation the unique architectural ensemble fell into disrepair by the early 2000s. There was a threat of its complete destruction and the city could lose the old building. However, restoration work began in 2016 and was completed a year ago.

Specialists restored the white stone walls of the chambers, brick vaults, cast-iron columns in the basement of the former manor house. Walls and arches, window sills, brickwork of pillars and arches of the balcony were restored on the ground floor with reconstructing elements that were lost. All the brick and metal Monnier vaults, the dolomite steps and the cast-iron railing of the grand staircase, and the stucco cornices were restored as well.

During the restoration, the workers were able to reveal the historical apertures that were covered in the Soviet era. The stucco was restored on the walls, ceilings and cornices of the enfilades of the halls on the second floor with reconstructing the lost details. The parquet floors in the halls were renovated, and the artificial marble walls and window slopes were also restored. In addition, paintings on the walls and ceilings of the entire building were recreated, stoves and fireplaces brought to their original appearance, just like the mirrors of the 19th century above them.

Specialists restored the plaster plinth on the main facade of the Orlov-Denisov’s house, and window pits at the plinth level. The portico with arched apertures, which supports the second-floor balcony, also returned its original appearance. Cast-iron railings were repaired on the balcony. Ceramic vases of 19th century were restored on the roof fence according to the existing samples, the brickwork of the walls was repaired, and the elements of stucco and white stone decor were cleared.

Interestingly enough, there is still an old and very rare tree for Moscow, Rhamnus dahuricus, grows in the courtyard of the manor house. It is a protected natural monument.

As a result of the restoration work, the Orlov-Denisov estate once again appeared before Muscovites and guests of the city in its former splendor. Last year, it won the award of the Moscow Restoration competition in three categories: for the best organization of repair and restoration work, for the best restoration project and adaptation to modern use, for the high quality of restoration work on picturesque shades.


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