Authentic Russia in the depths of the forest

A couple of Muscovites save a wonder of wooden architecture


A sleigh glides across the snow, crushing fir tree branches. One more turn, and a stunningly beautiful wooden palace will appear before you in the midst of a field. The forest completely surrounds you here. The closest train station is a two-hour drive away. Moscow? It’s not even worth mentioning. Here, in the depths of the forests, it’s hard to believe in its existence.

Astashovo Palace, named after the village that had once been located in this place, might have turned into ruins ten years ago. A couple of young Muscovites discovered it in deplorable condition in 2006. «There was a hole in the roof, the interior was completely ruined, and the little cupola was about ready to fall down,» Olga Golovicher recalls. Her passion for nature outings, which she shares with her husband Andrey Pavlichenkov, brought her to this place.
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Financiers by profession, each Friday night, they put their suits away into the closet, put on their outdoor coveralls and take the night train to the destination—real Russia. Their goal: to explore abandoned estates. «I somehow came across a book listing the most interesting monuments in Kostroma region, which is 550 kilometers north-east of Moscow, and I wanted to go see what remained of them,» says Andrey.
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A fairy-tale palace


When the couple finally found the palace after two hours of walking through the forest, they were only able to record its miserable condition and return to Moscow. «At first, we had no intention of doing something with it,» admits Andrey, who later went on to devote 10 years of his life to the palace’s restoration. «But the palace kept returning to us in our thoughts. At some moment in time, we realized that we couldn’t just abandon it.»

After all, even in its half-destroyed state, its magnificence really strikes you. It seems as if an entire magical universe lives in its traditional ornaments, multi-colored stained-glass windows, and warm-toned wood. «We discovered a real fairy-tale castle,» Olga recalls. You would think that this is the home of a prince. Nothing of the kind. The terem (the word in Russian means a ‘wooden palace’) was built by a simple peasant in 1897. Martyan Sazonov was a carpenter, a profession that all the men from the Kostroma region are masters of till this day. Sazonov made a fortune by building summer cottages near Saint Petersburg. He returned to his native village with the money he earned, as the custom was back then, and built a small palace as a gift for his young bride. Yes, like something straight out of a fairy tale.
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Challenge: 100% restoration


Today, Andrey and Olga are trying to recover the story of the couple who spent the most beautiful moments of their lives in the palace. Their photographs adorn the walls of a carefully restored living room. «Sazonov died shortly before the revolution and then his wife was expelled from the home, which became the property of the state. The terem was transformed into a village club, and was later abandoned,» says Andrey. «The thread of the family’s history was cut. Now, we’re trying to reconnect it.»

However, the idea of restoration did not come to them immediately. Andrey and Olga started by bringing their friends to the site: the lot had to be cleared of brushwood and what remained of the home had to be cleaned. Then they went to the authorities and tried to convince them to take responsibility for the palace but the regional budget was limited. The local museums did not have many funds. Meanwhile, the terem’s condition was getting worse. They had to act quickly! During various meetings, Andrey finally found a specialist who was ready to restore the palace. «The idea was to reconstruct the home to how it initially was. Everyone told me that this was impossible. I wanted to prove otherwise,» shared the present owner.
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«If we’re going to do it, we should do it properly»


When the project was being finalized, Andrey and Olga forked over 2,000 euros to buy the site on which the terem is located from the authorities. The restorer made an estimate. Andrey showed the estimate to his banker friends and invited them to take part in the construction. But they merely smiled. Restoring a home hidden away in the taiga? Now that’s an idea! Nonetheless, Andrey and Olga love difficulties. They were prepared to rise to the challenge.

The final estimate was four times the initial amount. «British or Germans might not have surpassed the established budget. But Andrey and Olga acted like true Russians,» jokes Andrey Zavyalov, a great friend of the couple and the terem’s current director. «Every time the estimate increased, they said, well, what should we do, we’ve already invested so much money. If we’re going to do it, we should do it properly. For example, the builders suggested they build an imitation stove in order to save money. But this would have been a sacrilege for Andrey and Olga. They built a real stove, using several pieces of tile from the original stove to recreate it.»
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A museum where you can touch everything


You get a sense of attention to detail everywhere in the terem: there are no modern insulating materials. A thick felt, a natural material that was originally used in the terem, helps to retain warmth. The walls of the living room are covered with the same wallpaper that Sazonov chose once upon a time to please his spouse. Andrey and Olga had to turn to the Wallpaper History Society in the UK in order to recreate the wallpaper from a couple of pieces of the original wallpaper. «They were the only ones capable of carrying out a real restoration,» ascertained Olga.

The furniture in the bedrooms would be the pride of any museum. «You are sitting in a 19th century rocking chair,» says the guide, who was showing the terem to a group of people from Kostroma.
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«We never wanted to hide from the world in a beautiful palace,» Olga explains. «On the contrary, we wanted to create an accessible and comfortable place full of curious objects.» They succeeded in doing this. All you have to do is open the cupboard doors to discover ancient household utensils, the purpose of which is difficult to guess today.

Here, you don’t need special permission to sit on an antique sofa. «This is not a museum, although we conduct excursions here,» Andrey clarified. «This is a place where you can be inspired by the local culture.» The owners don’t hide the fact that they are primarily interested in the history of the local peasants. It is precisely this history that they want to save.
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Authentic Russia


The idea to convert the terem into a hotel and regional cultural center came naturally. «We wanted to show the palace to as many people as possible,» said Olga. We hired an administrator and a cook who has a small farm and who supplies us with fresh milk and vegetables." Most of the terem’s employees and suppliers are local. «Blending in with the local community was one of our priorities,» clarified Andrey.
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Today, city dwellers in search of authentic Russia come from all over the place to stay at the terem. Authentic Russia can be found externally, in the surrounding forests that are worthy of Pushkin’s tales. It can also be found inside the palace, where food is prepared on a real stove and guests dine at a common table with a view of the field, which is covered by snow in the winter and filled with flowers in the summer. Here, family life, interrupted at some point, has again resumed its course. Here, you can drink tea on the terrace under an orange lampshade, you can play the piano, and you can look into a mirror, in front of which your grandmother may very well have got herself dressed up for the village ball.
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For the convenience of their guests, the couple decided to install washrooms in the terem—this was the only concession they made with respect to the original project. Of course, there were no washrooms in Martyan Sazonov’s terem. But, if he would have built the terem in our time, of course he would have equipped it with washrooms!


Inna Dulkina
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