MOSCOW’S HIDDEN GEMS: CHAMBERS of the ROMANOV BOYARS

Chambers of Romanov Boyars 3

Before they became Tzars and Emperors of the Russian Empire, the Romanovs were prominent boyars (nobles) and lived in Moscow. Their house in Moscow’s oldest neighborhood, Kitay Gorod, was built in the 1500s out of stone – a rarity at that time – and was practically a palace in those days. It was painstakingly restored and converted to a museum on the direct orders of Emperor Alexander II in 1859.

The house is tucked away on one of central Moscow’s oldest but quietest streets, Varvarka, and is rather unremarkable from the street side. Though they is part of the massively popular State Historical Museum complex, the Chambers do not see a lot of visitors. And too bad, because this small museum is absolutely fascinating and charming. Carefully preserved, restored and reproduced interiors and artifacts tell stories of medieval Moscow and of the life and customs of wealthy Russian families during that time. It’s as close to authentic Old Russia as you are likely to get in Moscow.

Courtyard of the House of the Romanov Boyars

The part I enjoyed the most was exploring the contrast between male and female domains of the house. The first floor is broken down into small, cavernous studies with heavy furniture and leather-clad walls. The upstairs spaces are much more open, light and airy, to accommodate not just several generations of women in the family, but also small kids.

Although I did an unguided tour of the Chambers, a couple of times I crossed paths with a small tour group lead by the most adorable Russian Babushka. She was dressed in a modern version of a traditional Russian peasant dress, and she was really passionate about the lore of the place and Russian history. For any foreigner I highly recommend arranging an English-language tour, or bringing along a friend who can translate all the interesting bits and bobs.

The Dining Hall is thing of beauty.Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Dining Hall 1

Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Dining Hall 2

Armory and Utility Spaces on the Ground Floor. Some archeological evidence points to the fact that a stone structure might have already stood there in the 1400s, but it is unknown whether it was linked to the Romanov family at that time.

Chambers of Romanov Boyars household 1

Men’s spaces featured ornately painted leather wall coverings, fanciful Dutch-style tile stoves depicting scenes from Russian history and folklore, and precious books. During the time of the Romanov Boyars the price of one book was equivalent to that of a herd of cows. Any kind of reading was surrounded by ritual: men would situate themselves behind a reading table (most books were large and heavy), brush out their long, lush beards (a boyar must-have) and pick out the wax from their ears, because reading was done out loud, in a sing-song manner. There was even a special tool for that – check out the fancy ear pick next to the beard comb on the table.

Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Study 1

Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Study 6

Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Study 7A woman’s room is called Svetlitsa – room of light. This is where the ladies of the house passed away the days engaged in crafts and playing with children.

Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Svetlitsa (Room of Light) 2

Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Svetlitsa (Room of Light), loom

Chambers of Romanov Boyars - Svetlitsa (Room of Light) 1More details about the museum and how to visit it are here.

Chambers of Romanov Boyars 4

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30 thoughts on “MOSCOW’S HIDDEN GEMS: CHAMBERS of the ROMANOV BOYARS

    • Before the introduction of Domostroy – codified household rules that institutionalized tyrannical patriarchy esp through 16th and 17th centuries – Russian women took a much more active role in the social life of the city. But then yeah, they were pretty much put in a tower… it was almost a harem-like segregation that stemmed from Christian fundamentalism.

  1. Siiiiiiiiiigh. You know it’s going to be a rough week when I already have alcohol on the brain – I read this as “Romanov BARS.” And I got REALLY excited! Anastasia’s family was a big lot of BOOZERS!?!? (And I read it that way twice.)

    That desk! Those bowls and baskets! I would love those in my future house πŸ™‚ They’re gorgeous.

  2. Dad blang it, we were meaning to do the tour but didn’t have enough cash between us, it was the ice cream at GUM that did us in financially I think. Now I have to come back to Moscow. πŸ™‚

    • Jeeez, how expensive was that ice cream? NM, it’s the GUM…
      Yes, this place is fantastic. I want to visit the Teremnoy Palace at the Kremlin too, but I am not sure it’s open to visitors.

      • Well if you asked the Prez nicely. πŸ™‚ I was interested to read about domostroy, it seems that the de-emancipation of women has been recurring theme in the church from Hypatia onwards..

  3. You totally stole my idea! πŸ˜› But I love the photos so it’s all good, haha. Also, I kept reading “the Romanov boys” the whole time.

  4. Pingback: Travel Dreams Come True: NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE | Home & Away

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