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.
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.
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.
A 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.
More details about the museum and how to visit it are here.