Passport magazine: Russian lifestyle
Home Archive April 2010

About Us

From the Publisher

Contact Us

Current IssueArchive
Restaurant GuideRestaurant ReviewsInternational Food BlogsWine TastingsTravelMoscow EmbassiesAirlines to RussiaMoscow AirportsCustoms and VisasResidence permitMoscow Phone DirectoryMuseums and GalleriesWi-Fi Hot Spots in MoscowClubs!Community ListingsMoscow Downtown MapMoscow Metro MapRussian LinksInternational Links
Advertise with Us
Our Readers - a profileAdvertising RatesDistribution List
Click for Moscow, Russia Forecast
Our Partners
Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Kolomna: Architectural Treasure
Text and photos by William C. Brumfield

Yes, there is life beyond Moscow in Moscow oblast. Among the many gems scattered throughout the region, perhaps the brightest is Kolomna, located two hours south of the metropolis by ramshackle but generally reliable suburban train. The approach to Kolomna is one of the most compelling views in the Russian heartland. Cupolas and bell towers take shape as in a museum diorama.

View of Dormition Cathedral, with Bell Tower and New Golutvin Monastery

Of course Kolomna is a modern, evolving city of modest size, and closer inspection reveals a sharp contrast of old and new, of the well-preserved and the derelict. A number of churches have been beautifully restored, while others bear the traces of decades of neglect and vandalism. New “cottages” arise in proximity to semi-abandoned houses of historic value. The cause of architectural preservation in Kolomna faces challenges that are common to all of Russia’s historic cities. Yet Kolomna has been favoured by a picturesque setting and the dedication of citizens who have struggled to preserve its rich array of monuments.

The earliest mention of the town occurs in the year 1177 in reference to a struggle between the mighty Vsevolod III (the “Great Nest”), prince of Vladimir, and his rival prince Gleb of Riazan. These battles among Russian princes in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries were followed by the far more devastating Mongol invasion of 1237-41. Kolomna was ravaged in 1237 as a part of this invasion, although not without fierce resistance (Kulkan, the youngest son of Genghis Khan, was killed at Kolomna). In 1380 Kolomna played a significant role in Dmitry Donskoi’s campaign against khan Mamai, which culminated in the battle at Kulikovo Pole.

Interior, Dormition Cathedral, photos by William C. Brumfield

From the beginning of the 14th century, Moscow would closely hold Kolomna, the strategic linchpin guarding its southern border. Advantageously located at the confluence of the Kolomenka and Moscow Rivers, and not far from the latter river’s merger with the Oka, Kolomna served as a transportation pivot for much of central Russia, particularly with the Oka’s position as the major western tributary of the Volga. Trade from several directions moved through the town, which soon developed an enduring merchant culture.

Like many other Russian towns, Kolomna benefited from building projects sponsored by grand prince Basil III (1479- 1533). In Kolomna, he replaced the log kremlin with massive brick walls, a sign of the town’s continued importance as a bulwark against attacks on Muscovy’s southern flank. Indeed, Kolomna’s walls, built in 1525-31 to a total length of some two kilometres, bear comparison with those of the Moscow Kremlin itself. Of the original sixteen towers, seven remain, including one gate tower. The southwest range of the walls is anchored by the massive Kolomna Tower, also known as the Marinskaia (Marina) Tower from the legend that Marina Mniszech (ca. 1588-1614) died a prisoner here after her failed efforts in support of a pretender to the Russian throne during the Time of Troubles.

The last serious military action witnessed by the Kolomna kremlin occurred at the beginning of the seventeenth century, during the Time of Troubles, when the town was taken by a number of factions during a decade of destructive chaos. Although the walls continued to be repaired during the seventeenth century, the waning military significance of Kolomna led to their gradual dismantlement for building materials. Fortunately, the historic importance of the Kolomna kremlin was sufficiently evident to prevent a complete destruction.

Within the kremlin walls and a few paces from the Brusenskii Monastery stands Kolomna’s main cathedral, also dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God. Rebuilt in 1672-82, its structure follows the traditional design of large Russian churches, with six great columns supporting the interior space and a cap of five onion domes. Like many other Kolomna churches, the Dormition Cathedral was frequently modified and “renovated” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A restoration in 1958-63 regained some of the earlier features. The interior has been well preserved, with a late baroque iconostasis from the 1770s and an impressive set of wall paintings in a late academic style executed in oil during the 1880s and closely following an earlier set from 1804.

The monastic ensembles inside the Kolomna kremlin are complemented by two others on the outskirts of the town, both apparently established by Dmitrii Donskoi in the 1380s. To the south of Kolomna, at the village of Golutvin in the direction of Riazan, is the Epiphany-Golutvin Monastery (after 1800 known as the Old Golutvin Monastery), picturesquely situated near the confluence of the Moscow and Oka Rivers. By far the most colorful feature of the Old Golutvin Monastery is its wall towers, which provide a panoply of playful architectural motifs. Built of red brick with limestone details, the towers are firmly in the style of the Moscow architect Matvei Kazakov, who knew Kolomna well, made a series of drawings of the city and was involved in its rebuilding after the 1777 fire.

Saints Cyril and Methodius
Photo by J. Nozdracheva

In its general appearance Kolomna is defined by churches and bell towers. But a walk through the town’s large historic centre also demonstrates the wealth of its secular architecture. The predominant ambience of the historic centre of Kolomna is neoclassical. As in other Russian provincial towns, neoclassicism provided the template for a well-ordered society— or at least its appearance. Houses, hospitals, schools, administrative and commercial buildings—even a fire station— all shared the forms of classical harmony.

In addition to its imposing, if often dilapidated, monumental architecture, Kolomna has a rich array of wooden dwellings: log houses with decorative window surrounds, houses with plank siding, and wooden houses elevated on a high masonry base. Most of these structures were built in the twentieth century, but their designs originate in the nineteenth. Especially popular is a small decorated window gable over the centre of the facade. The town also has a new log church dedicated to St. Sergius of Radonezh in the outlying Kolychevo district. Alas, a charming wooden theatre in the central park was razed six years ago.

During the Soviet period new forms of housing appeared, particularly for workers at the Kolomna Factory, founded in 1863. A major producer of locomotives, the Kolomna Factory sponsored a number of housing projects. Early examples of these, from the 1920s, can still be seen on Kolomna’s main Street of the October Revolution. Yet many workers preferred to live in wooden houses with a small garden plot, and such houses continued to be built throughout the Soviet period.

Current construction in Kolomna (cottages, commercial architecture) shows little architectural distinction, with one important exception. Popularly called the Ice Palace, this modern arena for ice sports is located in proximity to kremlin ensemble—a point criticized by preservationists. Yet its low silhouette, with a suspended membrane roof, makes use of the descending terrain along the Kolomenka River to avoid a direct clash with the town’s historic nucleus. And its design, by Alexander Goder and colleagues, has been praised for functionality, the high quality of materials and workmanship, and its ability to accommodate multiple functions in meeting rooms and an auditorium. Kolomna has gained a civic centre as well as a leading sports facility. As the city moves into a new century, it will continue the delicate balance between necessary innovations and its architectural heritage, the legacy of a rich history spanning many centuries.

 Copyright 2004-2012 +7 (495) 640 0508,,
website development – Telemark
OnLine M&A Russia Deal Book
Follow Us