http://www.mnweekly.ru/travel/20080904/55345055.htmlNew article on 04/09/2008 | Moscow News №35 2008
Muromtsevo Paradise lost
Traveling through the heartland of the Vladimir region
, with its rustic villages and dilapidated towns, the last thing one would expect to stumble upon are the remains of a medieval French chateau
on the grand scale of the renown castles of the Loire. The majestic building in Muromtsevo
could have become a grand landmark of the famous Golden Ring towns, but in the second half of the 20th century it seems to have lost its appeal and is now in complete disrepair. However, for the adventurous, it is still worth a visit. It all began in the late 19th century
when a wealthy Russian nobleman and timber trader Vladimir Khrapovitsky traveled through France and allegedly made a bet with a French rentier that he could build a castle that would be of the same splendor as the best examples of Europe. Khrapovitsky won the bet, and even invited his French friend for a visit. The rentier was said to be fascinated when they approached the first building of the estate, admitting that Khrapovitsky constructed something magnificent in the middle of nowhere. The host retorted haughtily: ‘This is my pigsty, the house is still a ways off.'
Khrapovitsky bought his palatial property near the small town of Sudogda, Vladimir region, and with great passion set to work and leisure. He continued his timber business, which was a natural occupation for the region rich in primeval forests. He also employed the best architects, most notably, Peter Boitsov, an estate master, landscape designers and engineers to construct a masterpiece of an estate, which features a medieval-like castle, fountains, ponds and an arboretum where the passionate collector gathered all sorts of trees that are native to the region. In 1884-1889, the estate of Muromtsevo got a mansion, hunting house, manager's house, summer theater, stables, coach house, wooden music and boat pavilions, pond and water tower.
Just try imagining how all this struck the local population. However, the local peasants and artisans were only too happy to have such an eccentric landlord. Khrapovitsky, a well-educated and sophisticated person, invested much into the region's development and gave jobs to many in his woodworking enterprises, as well as on construction sites of his estate. Thus, over time, the region became one of the most prosperous and fast growing in central Russia. Incidentally, Khrapovitsky paid for the first railroad in the region.
As one of the richest entrepreneurs of his époque, Khrapovitsky's grand family estate eventually competed with the best mansions of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg
. Numerous luxurious bedrooms and knights halls adjoined one another to form a magnificent enfilade, facing a row of circular basins cascading downwards to a large pond where guests could entertain themselves by strolling, boating or fishing
. Certainly, being a very successful person, Khrapovitsky had no shortage of enemies, therefore, the castle was equipped with all of the latest security means available at that time, as well as Cossacks who kept watch from the castle towers and subterranean passages. Some of the underground passageways are now visible, having collapsed years ago. After the revolution in 1917, the Khrapovitskys were forced to abandon the estate and the country for France, where they would die in p
overty. The mansion became nationalized and since 1921 hosted a forest college, a logical choice for a region with the most developed wood industry. Imagine those first students studying in a Hogwarts-like edifice, situated in a breathtakingly picturesque place amidst ponds, gardens and deep forests. Although the house suffered over the years, the interiors still preserved an artistic and noble touch. But after a couple of devastating fires, the last one occurring in 1958, and a lack of funds and will to restore the castle, the building soon fell into complete decay. Year by year the castle came into its present state - a romantic wreck.
Surprisingly, nobody seems to care much about the once-grand castle today, either. But for the more adventurous tourists, it is possible to explore the dilapidated castle inside and out
(the rusty bars in the windows present no obstacle). Visitors do so at their own risk; entering the ramshackle mansion and climbing the steps is a risky venture, indeed.
The interiors present a eerily powerful atmosphere, with piles of timber and brick piled up here and there. Holes are scattered on the floors, while the basement is full of rainwater.
It seems that the only ones trying to make at least something of the sprawling ruins are local schoolboys who greet any tourist venturing to the castle, where they insist on payment for a guided tour.
One must admit, however, they know their job well, and can show all the ways in and out in the ruins, point out unique trees in the vicinity and all other buildings on the territory while giving a surprisingly good insight into the history of the estate. The obtrusive service is worth the rubles. Despite the current conditions (some investors recently fixed the roof of the house), Khrapovitsky's mansion gives a strong, unforgettable impression, and one that nicely contrasts with the typical Russian countryside surrounding it. Brave ones willing to reach Muromtsevo by themselves should first take a train (or a bus at Shelkovkaya metro) to Vladimir, then change for a bus to Sudogda and 30-minute walk - or a hundred ruble taxi ride - to Muromtsevo. Good luck!
TO GET THERE
Getting there may present a big challenge and can become an adventure itself. The best way is by car. Take Entusiastov Shosse and head two or three hours to Vladimir. Reach the central Cathedral square of the city (just do not turn anywhere) and then turn right to take the road to Murom. Another hour to reach the town Sudogda, turn right when you see a big sign of Krasny Khimik (Red Chemist) and in a minute you will find yourself in Muromtsevo. Notice a weather beaten archway Tekhnikum (technical college) facing the road and in the end of a narrow alley you will face the mansion. One day will be enough to see Muromtsevo and have a short sightseeing stop in Vladimir city.
By Alexander Usoltsev http://www.towns.ru/other/muromtsevo.html