Kolomenskoe is one of the most beautiful places in all of Moscow. Although only a short metro ride from the center, and situated close to one of the city's most industrialized areas, the park and its awe-inspiring buildings are so steeped in history that not even the Kremlin itself can quite so well evoke the Russia of old. Arriving at Kolomenskoe along a street of drab Soviet tower blocks, you are first confronted by a rather gaudy collection of "medieval" sideshows and souvenir booths, and part of the magic of the experience is the way that this display of touristy tackiness fades from your memory the further you get into the tranquil, rugged beauty of the park proper.
The village of Kolomenskoe was founded in 1237 by refugees from Kolomna, although archaeological traces have been found here of pre-Slavic civilizations dating back over 2,500 years. In the 15th-17th centuries the village became first a Grand Prince's and then the Tsar's estate. Peter the Great was brought here for his own safety during the streltsy insurrection of 1682, and began his studies here. His daughter, Elizabeth, was also born here. Later, Alexander I studied here on his way to Moscow with his grandmother, Catherine the Great.
In 1923, a museum was founded here that went on to become the Museum of Wooden Architecture. Between 1930 and 1959, various examples were brought from all across Russia to Kolomenskoe, including Peter the Great's little house from Arkhangelsk. Kolomenskoe remained a normal village until 1985, when it became a museum and park complex, after which all the residents were resettled, and the historic buildings extensively overhauled.
The chief attraction of the park is undoubtedly the stone Church of the Ascension of the Lord. It was constructed in 1529-1532 by order of Tsar Vasily III to commemorate the birth of his son and heir, Ivan the Terrible. Its unique blend of architectural styles has been attributed to the copying of much older wooden ecclesiastical architecture and to early influences from Italy. Its asymmetrical structure is formed from an octagonal base topped by a soaring tented roof. Standing right on the banks of the Moskva River, the church has a mystique and stark beauty that is only enhanced by its contrast with the modern cityscape that spreads across the opposite bank.
But there is plenty more to see within in the park, with other highlights including the pretty Church of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan - with its bright azure domes and plenty of gold, a more instantly familiar image of Russian religion - built under Aleksei II in 1644. Further into the park, in the wildest area and surrounded by an ancient cemetery, is the equally charming Church of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, built by Ivan the Terrible to mark his coronation.
In summer, Kolomenskoe is one of the most popular places for Muscovites to come and soak up the sun, although there's more than enough space in the park to find tranquility and solitude. In winter the park is perhaps even more impressive, when there are far fewer visitors and the ancient buildings seem to have been left to the crows and the snow. Whatever time of year you come to Moscow, Kolomenskoe should definitely be on your itinerary.
Getting there: The main entrance to the park is about 10 minutes' walk from Kolomenskaya Metro Station.
Park opening hours: Daily from 09:00 to 19:00 (from April till August to 22:00)
Admission prices: Admission to the park is free, but you have to pay a minimal entrance fee for some of the sights.