The main decoration of the Staraya Basmannaya: we study the manor house of the Muravyov-Apostols

June 18

This week, the acceptance of applications for participation in the Moscow Restoration - 2021 contest began. Its participants can be restorers, owners and users of cultural heritage sites, restoration workshops and other organizations that preserve the cultural heritage of the capital. Over 10 years, almost 400 people and organizations that participated in the restoration of 182 architectural monuments have become laureates. The new winners will be determined in October, and the award ceremony will take place at the end of the year.

One of the most interesting winners of the Moscow Restoration of previous years is the Muravyov-Apostol’s manor house. The wooden building miraculously survived the fire of 1812. Today, the Memorial House hosts guided tours, exhibitions, and newlyweds play weddings here.

The Decembrists legacy

The main building of manor house, decorated with majestic columns, is located on the Staraya Basmannaya Street. Its appearance is defined by a solemn portico with six columns, an elegant semi-rotunda and bas-reliefs decorating the facade of the mansion. Built in the style of Moscow classicism at the very beginning of the XIX century, it survived the fire of 1812. Although it could easily burn down, since the walls and floors of the building are wooden.

By the time Moscow was recovering from the French invasion, the manor house had changed several owners. And in 1815, the family of Senator Ivan Matveevich Muravyov-Apostol settled here. His name in the history of the country is closely associated with the Decembrists. The senator's three sons, Ippolit, Sergei, and Matvey, were key participants in the failed 1825 Senate Square uprising. Their fates were tragic: Ippolit shot himself after the failure of the Chernigov regiment mutiny, Sergei was executed, and Matvey was sent to Siberian exile.

Since 1844, the manor house was a children's shelter, after the revolution of 1917 - a school, communal apartments and a hostel, and in 1986 there was a Museum of the Decembrists. However, it did not receive visitors for long. In 1991, the exposition stopped its activity because the mansion was in disrepair. No trace of the former magnificence of the manor remained. Muscovites walking past saw the facade with peeling paint, sagging window frames, holes and cracks on the roof and walls.

Man of the World

Only a miracle could save the house from further destruction at that time. And it happened. In 1991, a descendant of one of the former owners of the manor house, Christopher Muravyov-Apostol, came to Russia from Switzerland. Having seen such a deplorable state of the house of his ancestors, he decided to restore the mansion. To do this, the descendant of the famous noble family took the building for rent from the city and began to restore it with his own money.

The restoration, which began in 2001, was based on the historical appearance of the manor house of the beginning of the XIX century. Gradually, the facades and interiors of the house regained their former luster, and by 2012 the work was completed. A year later, the specialists who recovered the historic mansion for a new life were awarded a diploma of the Moscow Restoration contest. When restoring the manor house, the method of scientific restoration was applied with the maximum use of authentic materials, Larisa Lazareva, the author of the project tells.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

"At the first business meeting, we were asked to preserve the largest amount of what was in the house at the time when Ivan Muravyov-Apostol lived here. This is the approach that we followed throughout the restoration, from the archival research to the final flourish," she explains.

Larisa Lazareva calls Christopher Muravyov-Apostol who became the main inspiration of the whole project, a man of peace. The restorer is sure that in addition to his love for Russia and his ancestors, he was motivated by the desire to preserve the house not only for Muscovites, but also for all cultured people in general.

"To preserve it as a cultural center, which it was. After all, when Ivan Matveyevich Muravyov-Apostol lived here, the manor house gathered the best representatives of the capital's nobility of that time," she adds.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

Windows to the past and a dollhouse

To show the results of the successful long-term work of the restorers, Larisa Lazareva invites to take a walk around the mansion. Here, the layout of the beginning of the XIX century was restored, and all the partitions built later were removed.

Going up the main staircase to the hallway, we see the so-called windows to the past (sonder) - in different parts, the fragments of the wooden walls of the house and found wallpaper of the first half of the XIX century are open and placed under glass. On the ground floor, the manor house is made of stone, and the first level and the attic have wooden floors. During the restoration, the logs, especially those affected by rot, pests, mold and fungus, were replaced, that is, the method of prosthetics was used. After the replacement, oakum was laid between the logs, as it was in the house before.

"We have specially musealised the wooden log house so that people can understand what the structure of this house is made of. And the amazing thing is that we managed to preserve it by 90 percent. We only cut out a number of rotting fragments," Larisa Lazareva explains.

We go to the front enfilade and get acquainted with the dance hall - the most elegant room of the house. Its ceiling is decorated with plaster cornices and high reliefs with antique subjects. The stucco was once made by the serfs of the manor house owner. "In some places, it can be seen that these works were made by masters of not the highest level. But that's their value, and we didn't touch them. We only added the missing elements in some cases," the restorer says.

On the wall of the dance hall, opposite the windows, there is an orchestra for musicians. You can climb up there by a small ladder. Such rooms, according to Larisa Lazareva, look like a doll's house because of its intimate atmosphere. They have been preserved only in some Moscow and Moscow region mansions, including the Kuskovo, Ostankino, and Arkhangelsk memorial manor houses.

In the search for balance

The ballroom is followed by a series of living rooms. The tiled stoves have been preserved in them. The enfilade ends with a grand bedroom, which is decorated with artificial marble. At the beginning of the XIX century, this material became particularly popular in the design of Russian manor houses.

The doors and chandeliers in the rooms are old, XIX century. But the parquet in all the rooms had to be completely changed, as it had worn out over the years. The new floor covering, for which larch and oak were used, was made according to exact samples of that time.

"It seems to me that these are the small advantages of the house, when the old does not interfere with the new, and the new does not interfere with the old. This is important for all people, not only for the restorer," Lazareva says.

Like any modern building, the manor house is literally packed with utilities. This is not only heating, but also fire extinguishing systems, video surveillance and other engineering systems. How to maintain a balance between the preservation of the historical heritage and the modern functionality of the building is a difficult question, Larisa Lazareva admits. In her opinion, only the maximum attention to detail during the restoration will allow in the end not to violate the historical integrity of the building.

The mansion for newlyweds and art lovers

Today, the Muravyov-Apostol’s minor house, as in the century before last, lives a rich cultural life. It hosts exhibitions, concerts and film screenings, as well as lectures. The beginning of this in 2012 was a unique exhibition, where fans of painting saw paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt and other masterpieces.

The manor house is also open to Moscow newlyweds who want the registration of their marriage to become especially bright and memorable. The Muravyov-Apostol’s manor house is one of the sites where the Moscow civil registry offices invite the newlyweds to hold a ceremony. Since 2019, about 500 new families have been created here. In addition to historical manor houses, the list of unusual places includes a planetarium, a stadium, a high-rise in the Moscow City business center, the Ostankino TV tower and others.


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