The modern Izmailovo is a district in the East of Moscow located between the Shchelkovskoye highway (formerly known as Stromynka) and the Highway of Enthusiasts (formerly known as Vladimirka). The northern part represents a complex of multi-storeyed houses while the southern part is occupied by the Izmailovo Forest, one of the largest green areas in the Russian capital.
The first reliable data on the village of Izmailovo situated 7 versts north-east of Moscow Kremlin go back to the XV century. Izmailovo peasants’ yards were located at the Robka (now Serebryanka) River turn. In 1571, Ivan the Terrible granted the village to Nikita Romanovich Zakharyin-Yuriev, the full blood brother of his wife Anastasia. In 1585, Nikita Romanovich took the monastic vows, and the estate came over to his son Ivan Nikitich. In 1600, the Romanov family fell into disgrace with Boris Godunov, who nevertheless left their vast lands unharmed and in two years, returned the family from exile.
Ivan Nikitich Romanov (Kasha, i.e. « porridge » by nickname) went through the persecution relatively easily. In his time, the Izmailovo estate, which happened to be on the front line during the Times of Trouble, was restored. In 1619-1620, a wooden three-tent Intercession church was built in Izmailovo at his order. The side altars of the church were dedicated in the names of Prince Mikhail of Chernigov and his boyar Fedor. In the very vicinity there was a two-storeyed tower and a povalusha (log-house) that were enclosed by a fence with gates. Profiting by his close family relations with the Tsar, Ivan Nikitich saved a solid capital by the end of his life and considerably expanded his domain.
In the 1640s and at the beginning of the 1650s, Nikita Ivanovich, son of Ivan Nikitich Romanov, who was known for his passion for “western” novelties, was new owner of Izmailovo. His excellently organized hunting farm in Izmailovo was particularly famous. The farm included a “wolves yard” where foxes, wolves and bears were kept for the training of hunting dogs – English bulldogs, beagles and greyhounds. Nikita Ivanovich instilled his love for hunting in the young Alexey Mikhailovich, the future Tsar. He enjoyed great popularity with the common folk and had the reputation of a merry and good-natured man. Yet everybody was astonished at his devotion for the foreign: he preferred European dress and even his servants had to wear liveries. In his house one could hear organs music, religious book neighboured in his library with German and Polish translated secular literature. At the linen yard there stood a light boat that had been brought to Nikita Ivanovich by English merchants. At the yard of Nikita Romanov’s Moscow residence one could see a global map, a clock, arms, tableware, oriental fabrics, oriental and European harness.
Nikita Ivanovich had no children of his own, He died of plague in 1654, and Izmailovo, as a vacant estate, came to the possession of the Palace Prikaz (the office that dealt with the palace economy). After the Copper Riot of 1662, Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich came to the conclusion that the palace household must be reorganized in such a way that it would not only serve the needs of the palace but also permit to introduce a military reform.
In 1663, Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich founded his own households in several districts (uyezd’s) of Muscovy, on the lands subordinate to the Palace Prikaz. In the autumn of the same year Izmailovo attracted his attention.
Izmailovo, which made part of the lands belonging to the palace and was situated on the edge of Maschera lowland, could not be called fertile: the clayed grounds are too humid there. Beside this, even Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich organized 4 settlements in Izmailovo giving land to peasants from neighbouring villages and thus forming the first palace farm. Alexey Mikhailovich continued his father’s undertakings. He wished to create a model nursery garden in Izmailovo that would provide him with the floral riches of overseas countries as well as the remote regions of his own country that were particularly valued in Old Russia. Alexey Mikhailovich not only tries to improve the existing farming technologies but also attempted to naturalize in Moscow region such southern cultures as the mulberry, the vine, water melons as well as Bukhara and Turkmenian melons. According to the Tsar’s conception, the gardeners had to test the date-tree, the almond, the paper-tree (cotton), the Astrakhan pepper, Caucasian cornel and the Hungarian pear. Gardeners from overseas were widely involved.
The Tsar decided to turn the old village of his boyar ancestors into a gala architectural complex, which was created from 1664 to 1691. The Robka River was dammed, and a new Serebryano-Vinogradny pond was created instead of the two small ones that could be found earlier in the estate. This new pond encircled the Izmailovo Island in the centre of which the Tsar’s estate took shape. To provide entrance to the island, a 14-span white-stone bridge and the Bridge tower that surmounted it and at the same time served as the belfry of Intercession cathedral were built. A Streltsy guardhouse was located at the tower’s lower level while the middle levels, according to a legend, were venues for the Boyar Duma and later for Senate meetings. A similar tower was erected at the entrance to the bridge, but it has not survived.
In 1671 – 1679, a new monumental Intercession cathedral was built by Volga masters, brothers Medvedev, headed by Ivan Kuznechik, apprentice mason, in place of the old wooden tent-roof church erected in the 1620s. The Tsar’s Courtyard was projected in the form of a caré (a closed rectangle) to the west of the Intercession cathedral. The Courtyard, surrounded by a wooden wall with seven gates, comprised the front (gala) and rear (household) parts. In 1676-1678, a wooden palace was erected that consisted of seven separate log constructions joined by passages and antechambers. The palace was three levels high. The lower part was occupied by kitchens, pantries and baths; at the higher levels there were summer living premises. From the second level one could pass into the cosy bright chambers (“garrets”) spanned with roofs different from one another in shape and color. The Tsar’s half of the palace included an antechamber, a “cross chamber” (oratory) and a “room” (a study-room) that were connected with the dining chamber by a front hall that lead as well to the porch. The porch was surmounted by “barrel-roofs” and tent-roofs decorated with double-eagles and tin-plate weathercocks. A staircase lead from the front hall to the “garrets” on the third level. The palace also included the living premises of the Tsarina (the Tsar’s wife), the Tsareviches (the Tsar’s sons) and the Tsarevnas (the Tsar’s daughters). A balustrade went along the cornice of the building. The roofs were surmounted with “crests and domes”.
In the palace one could see glazed and majolica ovens as well as tables and benches covered with broadcloth. The mica windows were shadowed with bright curtains.
Inside the household part of the Tsar’s Courtyard there were one-storeyed stone buildings such as Sitny Yard (the one where mead-based drinks were prepared), Bread and Food Yards, a Coal chamber and two ice-houses for the storage of food, wine and other things. The chambers of private guardsmen (streltsy) and the guard chiefs (“streltsy colonels”) adjoined both the Front and the Back Gate. In the very place one could see horse lines for the guardsmen’s horses. All the peasants’ yards and hunting farms were removed from the island to Khorugovo barrenland, where a New Settlement was founded (now a district of modern Moscow that includes Nikitinskaya and 3rd Pryadelnaya streets and Izmailovsky avenue). A wooden tent-roof church was built by the Tsar’s Streltsy for the residents of the New Settlement. In 1677, this church was dismantled, and a stone church in the Russian ornamental style was built in its place by a team of architects from Kostroma. The church was consecrated in the name of Nativity of Christ and the side altars were dedicated to the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan and St. Nicolas the Wonderworker. Here, the Prikaz House (Chancellery) and the Custody Facility where procedure was maintained for the estate and punitive measures were taken.
To fulfill the Tsar’s conceptions, peasants from all parts of Muscovy were resettled in Izmailovo; besides, foreigners were invited. Linen manufacturers were found in Pskov, cattlemen – in Ukraine; gardeners came from the Lower Volga region. Drovers, trappers, leather-dressers, tanners also worked there. Yet the homage and the volume of work in Izmailovo turned out to be almost beyond the man’s capacities, that is why peasants soon missed their previous life and many resettled peasant families went on the run.
Five stone drying-houses, nine mills with stone warehouses and dams, stables, barley and cattle yards, apiaries, reserve linen and bread yards, huts for servants, soldiers and workmen, 37 ponds, front and back gardens were built and arranged in the Serebryanka River valley. In the deep woods the Strokino brickworks, aviary, distillery, “wolves’ yard” (zoo) and ranges for natatorial birds were situated. All the front and back gardens, the zoo and household premises were connected by roads. The fields were seeded with rye, oats, wheat, barley, panic grass, buckwheat and flax. Vegetables, seasoning herbs, melons and water-melons were grown at the back yards. The Apothecary garden delivered dozens of officinal herbs species. Trailblazing experiments on plants that can be rarely or never found in the moderate climate were undertaken. The famous gardens, the Vine Garden, the Prosyansky Garden, the Merry Garden and the Island Garden, were astonishing by their beauty as well as a variety and abundance of flora. Besides all the above-mentioned, Izmailovo disposed of a flax factory and the first state-managed glass factory where Russian and Ukrainian masters worked together with glass-blowers invited from Venice.
In a quarter of a century, a magnificent Russian architectural ensemble of the second half of the XVII century took shape in Izmailovo. The Izmailovo residence was projected to convey the idea of succession form the Ryurikovich to the Romanov ruling dynasties. The idea was highlighted by the very location of the estate (the village in which it was created was granted to Nikita Romanovich Zakharyin-Yuriev after the marriage of his full-blood sister to Ivan the Terrible). In the reign of Fedor Alexeevich, the Izmailovo estate came to symbolize seclusion and withdrawal from the world, which was expressed in the consecration of the family chapel (not surviving) to Prince Ioasaphus of India who become a hermit. Seclusion was interpreted as an ascent to Paradise visualized in the image of a vine garden laid out near the island. The every-day life at the estate was determined by the ruling Tsar’s preferences. Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich was interested in the household arrangements, Fedor Alexeevich and Tsarevna Sofia Alexeevna paid more attention to building activities, while Tsarevich Peter was devoted to mock military action. The consequent Tsarinas and Tsarevnas also frequented the Izmailovo estate.
The village lost its household importance overtime. Izmailovo became one of the favourite estates of the Tsar’s family. Regular stays in Izmailovo form May to November, sometimes quite long, were not unusual. Overseas ambassadors were received in Izmailovo. During the Tsar’s “marches” to the country estate, heads of most important prikaz’es (offices), viz. the Secret Prikaz, the Prikaz of the Great Palace, Prikazes of the Tsar’s and the Tsarina’s Workshop and the Rank Prikaz, travelled with the Tsar. For the prikaz officers, temporary houses or tents were built in the estate. Boyar Duma meetings would take place in Izmailovo, and the board members were appointed personally by the Tsar.
The Tsar’s “march” to a country estate was a true ceremony. The Tsar could be accompanied by up to 1,000 people. There were no personal belongings stored at the Izmailovo Palace. That is why the “cross”, “reserve” and “bedroom” carts with clothes, shoes, bed linen, beds, carpets, books, spyglasses, writing implements, a chair with a footstep and other necessary things were prepared for each trip. Up to 30 carts could depart at a time.
Overseas diplomats treated Izmailovo as a European type pleasure residence. Italian and French estates, including the Fontainebleau in France, were mentioned as European counterparts of Izmailovo. In May 1688, the sixteen-year-old Peter found an English boat at the old Linen yard and ordered that Izmailovo should be further on called “the cradle of the Russian fleet”. To commemorate this event, a monument to Peter I by Lev Kerbel was erected on the Izmailovo Island in 1998. At the beginning of the XVIII century, the estate was in charge of Praskovia Fedorovna, widow of Tsar Ivan (Ioann) V, and her three daughters: Ekaterina, Anna and Praskovia. They constantly lived in Izmailovo till 1713, and afterwards frequented the estate. In the 1720s, Ekaterina Ioannovna started organizing theatre performances on the island. Actresses were recruited from the ladies-in-waiting and maids of honour, actors were chosen among the serfs. Costumes were home-made. Plays staged on the improvised scene in Izmailovo were typical of the Russian theatre repertoire of the Petrine times. Just in 1702, after a fire, Praskovia Fedorovna had a new stone palace built in a style that was common all over Europe. Emperor Peter II often came to Izmailovo for hunting. It is in his honour that amusement fireworks were organized.
During her rule, Empress Anna Ioannovna stayed in Izmailovo for two years without leaving it. Not far from the estate, maneuvers of guard regiments (Preobrazhensky, Semenovsky and Izmailovsky regiments, the latter established by the Empress) were conducted and the Cabinet of Ministers sit in sessions. At the Bridge Tower, the Senate met (Moscow was capital from 1730 to 1732). A passionate lover of hunting, Anna Ioannovna founded a new large zoo housing various species of animals and birds. The zoo was surrounded by a high stockade, a grove was planted, deer, elks, wild donkeys, porcupines, boars, Chinese cows, antelopes, hunting hens and pheasants were brought. The Empress’ successors and their family members no longer lived in Izmailovo but came only hunting. The zoo was functioning and the zoo assistants saw to it that the trees in the grove were not stumped, kept dogs and birds.
In 1765, the palace on the island was dismantled as worn-out.
During the war of 1812, the Tsar’s estate and the village of Izmailovo were devastated by French soldiers. In several years, the village was re-built but the estate came to be neglected.
In November 1837, Emperor Nicolas I decided to create a largest military alms-house on the island thus preventing destruction of the former Tsar’s residence. The project of organizing a alms-house in the village of Izmailovo in Moscow gubernia (province) was sanctioned on 26 November 1838 by an Imperial Edict. The premises of the former palace complex were assigned to the Department for Military Settlements that started in 1839 the construction of alms-house premises and restoration of the XVII century monuments on the island. The works were financed by the Chapter of Russian Orders, a division responsible for awards. Architect Konstantin Ton worked out the project and supervised the building process. An unusual solution to attach three stone premises, each consisting of three storeys and a basement, to the Intercession Cathedral was prompted by Nicolas I himself. Thus, the Intercession Cathedral became the centre of the alms-house and functioned as its chapel as it became within easy reach for the disabled ex-servicemen who could visit it without going outside. Repatr jobs were done in the cathedral: its rich ceramic décor was restored, the domes, roof and crosses were made anew. Konstantin Ton had to alter the cathedral’s appearance by dismantling its north and south porches that hampered the building process. Having destroyed the worn-out wall of the Tsar’s Courtyard, the architect nevertheless preserved the Courtyard’s configuration and located the alms-house premises in its boundaries. Following his professional tact, the architect built the new complex in a laconic XIX century style and added simple décor elements typical of the XVII century. The chancellery, storeroom, the alms-house officials’ living premises as well as the bath, the laundry, the drying chamber, two ice-houses, stone stables and a coach-house were located within the Courtyard, near the Front Gate. Casernes for the unmarried employees of the alms-house, a smithy, a fitter’s workphop and tinplating workshop were built not far from the Back Gate.
The Nikolaevsky military alms-house was intended for 20 officers and 400 lower-rank servicemen. The alms-house was consecrated in the presence Emperor Nicolas I on 12 April 1849 and opened on 19 March 1850, at an anniversary of entrance of the Russian army to Paris. Ex-servicemen of the Patriotic War of 1812 and the Caucasian War, soldiers and officers who served in Semenovsky, Preobrazhensky and Izmailovsky regiments and seamen were the first wards of the alms-house. Advantage was given to Knights of Saint George’s Cross and the Orthodox Order of St. Anna. Each soldier who had served the established term of 25 (later 20) years and wished to become ward of the alms-house could come to the director with his documents and was admitted on the grounds of a medical survey.