If you want to spend an afternoon in the great Russian outdoors without actually leaving the city, Kolomenskoye, on a high bluff overlooking the Moskva River, is just the right destination. The estate was once a favorite summer residence of Moscow's grand dukes and tsars. Today it's a popular public park with museums, a functioning church, old Russian cottages, and other attractions. It's also the site of the city's main celebration of the holiday Maslenitsa, or Butter Week, which usually falls at the end of February or beginning of March. Traditional Russian amusements such as mock fistfights, bag races, and tug-of-war are held on the park's grounds, with heaps of hot blini served as reminders of the spring sun.
As you approach Kolomenskoye, the first sights you see are the striking blue domes of the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, a functioning church that's open for worship. It was completed in 1671. Opposite the church there once stood a wooden palace built by Tsar Alexei, Peter the Great's father. Peter spent much time here when he was growing up. Nothing remains of the huge wooden structure (Catherine the Great ordered it destroyed in 1767), but there's a scale model at the museum, which is devoted to Russian timber architecture and folk crafts. The museum lies inside the front gates of the park, at the end of the tree-lined path leading from the main entrance of the park.
The most remarkable sight within the park is the Church of the Ascension, which sits on the bluff overlooking the river. The church dates from the 1530s and was restored in the late 1800s. Its skyscraping tower is an example of the tent or pyramid-type structure that was popular in Russian architecture in the 16th century. The view from the bluff is impressive in its contrasts: from the 16th-century backdrop you can look north across the river to the 20th-century concrete apartment houses that dominate the contemporary Moscow skyline. In summer you'll see Muscovites bathing in the river below the church, and in winter the area abounds with cross-country skiers.
Examples of wooden architecture from other parts of Russia have been transferred to Kolomenskoye, turning the estate into an open-air museum. In the wooded area near the site of the former wooden palace you'll find a 17th-century prison tower from Siberia, a defense tower from the White Sea, and a 17th-century mead brewery from the village of Preobrazhenskaya. One of the most attractive original buildings on the site is the wooden cottage where Peter the Great lived while supervising the building of the Russian fleet in Arkhangelskoye. The cottage was relocated here in 1934.
There are several tour options available, including a "Fairy Tale Tour," troika sleigh rides, and horseback riding tours. Call the excursions desk for more information.