Moscow of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”

Мikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) spent ten years – from 1928 to 1938 – working on his most famous novel, the mystical story of The Master and Margarita. The novel reflects his experience in Moscow: his success, his money problems, his difficult relationship with authorities, his love life, his work as a newspaper satirist and experience in a communal flat. One of the main characters of the novel is the city itself: Moscow of the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the addresses associated with The Master and Margarita are still around and the great novel is an excellent looking glass through which you can experience the best places of old-time Moscow – the Patriarshy Ponds, Arbat and Prechistenka.

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In 1892 the First Moscow Electricity Exhibition took place at what in future became the Aquarium Garden. The event was a great success: the course of six months it had about 100,000 visitors. This naturally inspired the owners of the land plot and entrepreneurs. At the end of the 19th or beginning of 20th centuries a garden was planted here, complemented by a wooden theatre, and outdoor stage for an orchestra and a restaurant. In the middle of the garden stood a fountain with a waterfall.

The garden became very popular, attracting performances from Europe's best musicians. In 1923-1924, the winter theatre of the Aquarium Garden became the home of the first Soviet Music hall. It closed its doors less than a year later, but was remembered for outstanding performances, in particular, those by Leonid Utyosov. Some of the action in the Jolly Fellows (Vesyolye Rebyata), a 1934 film with Utyosov and Soviet movie star Lyubov Orlova, took place in the Operetta Theatre that replaced the Music hall. It was here that the novel character Woland gave his performance, while the Variety Theatre administrator Ivan Varenukha met Koroviev, Azazello, Behemoth and Hella.
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A little further, at Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa (Bolshaya Sadovaya Street), 10, apartment 50, is Bulgakov's first Moscow address. Together with his wife Tatyana Lappa, the writer lived in a communal flat that was described in detail in many of his earlier works – Zoya's Apartment, Moonshine Lake and No. 13 – The Elpit Workers' Commune. In the novel, the apartment at building number 302-bis is known as "haunted" or "evil." Among other things, this is where Satan's Ball, described in the book, takes place. Thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts, in the beginning of 1990s apartment 50 was turned into the memorial museum of Bulgakov. In the courtyard you will find the characters of the novel portrayed by sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov. Before revolution, building 10 at Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa was a residence hall for the students of Moscow Higher Women's Courses, a higher education institution for women. The previous reincarnation of the building is visible in the zoning of apartments: a long corridor and lots of small rooms. Today the rooms exhibit the household items of the early 20th century. The residents of one of Moscow's first communes (communal flats) moved into the building in the 1920s, without changing anything. Bulgakov and Lappa lived in the fourth room on the right.
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After walking along Sadovoye Koltso (Garden Ring) to the corner of Malaya Bronnaya Ulitsa (Malaya Bronnaya Street) and turning left, you will find yourself at the intersection of Malaya Bronnaya Ulitsa and Yermolayevsky Pereulok (Yermolayevsky Lane), where the novel begins. It was at the Patriarshiye Ponds (the pond is actually just one, but the name has kept the plural in memory of the three ponds of the 17th century) that one of the novel's characters – an atheist editor Berlioz – lost his life. In the 1920s the Patriarshiye Ponds were encircled with a tramline and there was a cargo streetcar terminal, which is why, as the novel describes it, "the tram suddenly switched its inside lights on" (this happened as the tram left the terminal and went onto the tramline).

There are several signs around the pond, warning people to "never talk to strangers." It is up for debate as to which of the benches on the path that runs in parallel to Malaya Bronnaya Ulitsa was taken up by the Moscow literary men Berlioz and Bezdomny who were later joined by Woland.
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The researchers of Mikhail Bulgakov's works are divided on the topic of Margarita's house. Bulgakov does not specify which of Moscow's mansions it was, describing it thus, "Margarita Nikolayevna and her husband lived alone in the whole of the top floor of a delightful house in a garden in one of the side streets near the Arbat. It was a charming place." In other chapter Bulgakov writes the following about her residence, "Margarita woke up… in her bedroom, that looked out of an attic window of their top-floor flat." In the third chapter her house is described as "lit on one side by moonlight, dark on the other, with an attic that has a triple-casement window – a house in the Gothic style."

The best fit for this description is building 17 at Ulitsa Spiridonovka (Spiridonovka Street), two steps away from the Patriarshiye Ponds. This is the mansion of Zinaida Morozova, the wife of entrepreneur Savva Morozov. The mansion was built by Fyodor Shekhtel, who worked in the Art Nouveau style. The interiors of this Gothic castle were done by Mikhail Vrubel. After the death of her husband, Zinaida Morozova sold the house along with all the furniture to the family of another industrialist and philanthropist Pavel Ryabushinsky. Today this well-tended mansion, surrounded by a lawn and a flower garden, serves as the Reception House of the Russian Foreign Ministry, so entrance on the premises is forbidden without a special pass.
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Ulitsa Spiridonovka (Spiridonovka Street) joins Malaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa (Malaya Nikitskaya Street) near Granatny Dvor buildings and Brezhnev-era apartment buildings that along with the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Part and employees of Soviet ministries housed people of art, mostly theatre workers. Across Granatny Dvor, where artillery cannons were made in the 16th century, is the last apartment (and now memorial museum) of the Russian and Soviet writer Alexey Tolstoy. Oftentimes you can see a tour bus made to look like the Annushka tram that killed Berlioz. It was around here that Ivan Bezdomny, who unsuccessfully pursued Woland and his companions along Ulitsa Spiridonovka, totally missed the choirmaster who "with great agility jumped on board a moving bus bound for Arbatskaya Ploschad (Arbatskaya Square)" and saw Behemoth's attempt to board a tram – "No cats allowed!"
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Bulgakov writes, "It was an old two-storied house, painted cream, that stood on the ring boulevard behind a ragged garden, fenced off from the pavement by wrought-iron railings… The house was called 'Griboyedov House' because it might once have belonged to an aunt of the famous playwright Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov. Nobody really knows for sure whether she ever owned it or not. People even say that Griboyedov never had an aunt who owned any such property... Still, that was its name."

The book's Griboyedov House is actually Herzen's House, or, rather, the house of his uncle, senator Yakovlev. The future Russian publicist was born here on April 6, 1812, and spent the first five months of his life in the house as well as visited it later in life. Today the House of Herzen at Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard), 25, is home to the Gorky Literary Institute. Another Master, Andrey Platonov, spent 20 years of his life in the little annex of the Literary Institute, in the writers' residence hall. To feed his family, the writer was forced to work as a yard-keeper. Platonov described his neighbours (other writers) thusly, "Literary men of genius possessed with dignity run around the courtyard."

In Bulgakov's book, the building houses the literary union MASSOLIT and its famous restaurant which doorman would not let Koroviev and Behemoth to enter for lack of proper identification. The fictitious name of the writer's union either means "Mass-scale literature" or the "Masterskaya (workshop) of the Union of Literati" and is a parody of the actual creative union's name MASTCOMDRAM – Masterskaya (workshop) of Communist Drama.

Researchers have long tried to determine who was the prototype for the character of Berlioz who persecuted the Master, paying special attention to various Soviet literati who opposed Bulgakov. The main candidates for this role are the poet Demyan Bedny and critic Leopold Averbakh.
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After walking along the boulevard to the Pushkinskaya Ploschad (Pushkinskaya Square) and turning to the odd-numbered side of Tverskaya Ulitsa (Tverskaya Street), we will see a large archway on the intersection of Tverskaya Ulitsa and Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok (Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky Lane). This is where Margarita and Master met for the first time. Although in the novel the lane is not given a name, it is described as being extraordinarily winded – and this just how Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok is, unlike all neighbouring streets. Also, it was here, at the Nirnzee House (Pereulok Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky, 10) that on February 10, 1929, Bulgakov met his third wife, Elena Shilovskaya, who became the prototype for Margarita.

Connection with Bulgakov and his life is not the only interesting thing about this building with inexpensive apartments that was constructed in 1913 by the architect and entrepreneur Ernst-Richard Nirnzee. For several years this 40-meter (131 feet) house was the highest residential building in the capital and for the lack of the word "skyscraper" in the Russian language of that time, it had a more poetic name – tucherez (cloud-cutter). In the basement of the building was a cabaret show, a Gypsy theatre and a theatre studio, while on the roof one could find a sun terrace, a garden and a movie theatre. The air defence guns that were installed on the roof during World War II were not taken down until the 1960s, and were used for celebratory gunfire.
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After weaving through Bolshoy and Maly Gnezdnikovsky lanes, take Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard) or Leontievsky Pereulok (Leontievsky Lane) to get to the Ploschad Nikitskiye Vorota (Nikitskiye Vorota Square). Either way you will be moving towards the former lands of the Prince Naryshkin family and the lanes with kitchen-related names: Stolovy (Table), Nozhovy (Knife), Khlebny (Bread) and Skaterny (Tablecloth). Building 6 at Maly Rzhevsky Pereulok (Maly Rzhevsky Lane) also could have been Margarita's house – it is located closer to Arbat than Zinaida Morozova's house at Ulitsa Spiridonovka (Spiridonovka Street) and Morozova's house is too big and magnificent to house an engineer (Margarita's husband).

There is no railing, no garden, no big window opening out to the street in the eclectic building No. 6 at Maly Rzhevsky Pereulok that today houses the Georgian diplomatic mission. But it is built in the Neo-Gothic style. And in the times of Bulgakov this house, that originally belonged to restorer and architect Solovyov, did have a garden with a railing. Plus, Elena Shilovskaya, Margarita's prototype, lived with her husband close by, in the 5th House of Revvoensovet (Revolutionary Military Council) at Bolshoy Rzhevsky Pereulok (Bolshoy Rzhevsky Lane), 11.
In order to find the third one of Margarita's possible addresses, you will have to wander around Arbat lanes. Researches had determined this third possible location, based on the route of her flight over night-time Moscow, and believe that it is one of the two houses at Maly Vlasyevsky Pereulok (Maly Vlasyevsky Lane), either 12 or 9A. House 9 or 9A, which no longer exists, was occupied by Olga Bokshanskaya, the sister of "Margarita" Elena Shilovskaya. House 12, although it is not built in a Gothic style, has large windows and is surrounded by trees and railing. The building's size is in line with the social position of Margarita's husband, "a brilliant scientist, whose work was of national importance."

The great American dancer, the pioneer of the improvised dance Isadora Duncan, performed in the mansion's Blue room.
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"Reaching the end of her street, Margarita turned sharp right and flew on down a long, crooked street with its plane trees and its patched roadway, its oil-shop with a warped door…" In the times of Bulgakov, the oil-shop was located in the house 22 of Sivtsev Vrazhek Pereulok (Sivtsev Vrazhek Lane), named after the Sivets River that was put in an underground pipe in the 19th century. Walking along this lane, you can see the intimate proximity of different epochs, architectural and ideological styles, on the streets of Moscow.

The only theatre that existed at Ulitsa Arbat (Arbat Street) in the times of Bulgakov really does stand on a corner, as described in the book, with its main facade to Ulitsa Arbat and the side facades overlooking Bolshoy Nikolopeskovsky and Maly Nikolopeskovsky lanes. The theatre is known today as Vakhtangov Theatre (Ulitsa Arbat, 26).

"Her attention was caught by a massive and obviously newly-built eight-storey block of flats at the far end of the street. Margarita… saw that the building was faced with black marble, that its doors were wide, that a porter in gold-laced peaked cap and buttons stood in the hall. Over the doorway was a gold inscription reading 'Dramlit House'."

Bolshoy Nikolopeskovsky Pereulok (Bolshoy Nikolopeskovsky Lane) ends with a high building, the contemporary of the novel's events. But building 12 only has seven floors, while apartment 84 that was destroyed by Margarita was located on the eighth floor. Most likely that means that Bulgakov took a different building and "moved" it to Nikolopeskovsky Pereulok. The description best fits the House of Writers that was built in 1937 and partly faced with black marble. The building is located at Lavrushinsky Pereulok (Lavrushinsky Lane), 17, and you will have to take a different walk to see it, as it is located in a different district of Moscow. A lot of Soviet and Russian writers lived there – Agnia Barto, Valentin Katayev, Ilya Ilf, Veniamin Kaverin, Boris Pasternak, Mikhail Prishvin, Konstantin Paustovsky, Vladimir Chivilikhin, Boris Shklovsky, Ilya Erenburg – and apartment 84 was actually located on the eighth floor. This was where critic Osaf Litovsky, the prototype of the novel's critic Latunsky, lived.
Not far from the Nikolopeskovsky Pereulok (Nikolopeskovsky Lane) is another important address – the house, where the real Spring ball, which inspired Bulgakov to create his "Satan's ball," took place. Elena Shilovskaya remembered that Bulgakov was greatly impressed by the ball that was given in April 1935 at the official residence of the US Ambassador. House at Spasopeskovsky Pereulok (Spasopeskovsky Lane), 10, which is known as Spaso House, to this day is used as the official residence of the US Ambassador. Back in April 1935, in preparation for the ball, the Embassy rented mountain goats, a bear cub and white roosters from the Moscow Zoo. The workers built an alley out of birch trees, and a faux-meadow was created with the help thousands of tulips and roses stuck in wet felt. An orchestra brought from Prague performed on the balcony. And in the centre of the great hall, under the chandelier (quite possibly the one that was used as a swing by Behemoth), stood a champagne fountain. All of this is very similar to the way the ball is described in the novel.

You will not be able to enter the Ambassador's residence, although you can still take a look from the outside. Architects Adamovich and Mayata built this Neoclassical mansion in 1915 for industrialist Vtorov. After the revolution of 1917, the first Soviet foreign minister Chicherin moved in, and in 1933, after the United States established diplomatic relations with the USSR, the building was given to the first US Ambassador William Bullitt. In addition to phenomenal balls, His Excellency was known for organisation of outstanding concerts. It was here that the rare performance of Sergei Prokofiev's opera The Love for Three Oranges, with orchestra conducted by Prokofiev himself, took place.
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Go towards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, from where take an underground pass to the opposite side of the Sadovoye Koltso (Garden Ring) and take a trolley bus (any route) towards Park Kultury Metro station. Get off at the second stop, across from Ulitsa Prechistenka (Prechistenka Street) and use the pedestrian crossing to get to the opposite side of the Sadovoye Koltso. Walk along Ulitsa Prechistenka to Mansurovsky Pereulok (Mansurovsky Lane). You can also walk to Mansurovsky Pereulok along the picturesque lanes that run parallel to Sadovoye Koltso.

Although there are several "contenders" for the role of Margarita's house, the Master's address provokes no arguments. The two rooms that the Master "rented in the basement of a small house with a garden near the Arbat… gave up his job in the museum and began writing his novel about Pontius Pilate" are located at house 9 at Mansurovsky Pereulok between Prechistenka and Ostozhenka streets. It is difficult to study the house in detail as it is fenced off. Although, you can still see the basement windows – the same "little windows just above the level of the path leading from the garden gate. Only a few steps away, by the garden fence, was a lilac, a lime tree and a maple." It was in this basement where the writer's friends, brothers Toplenin, gave him a room with a stove, that Bulgakov worked on The Master and Margarita novel. It was here that he "lodged" the Master in his novel.
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A walk to the last address in this itinerary takes about 30 minutes. You take a stroll along first the Ostozhenka Street and then the Volkhonka Street without making any turns. There you will see the Pashkov House at Vozdvizhenka, 3/5, across the Kremlin's Borovitsky Gate. This Neoclassicism landmark – an estate intended for Peter Pashkov, the son of Peter the Great's valet – was built at the Vagankovsky Hill in 1784-1786. The house became a Moscow landmark right away. In 1839 the Moscow University used this house, and in 1861 it became a library, first known as Rumyantsevskaya and, in Soviet times, as Publichnaya (Public).

In The Master and Margarita, the roof of Pashkov House is the place where Woland and Azazello meet Levi Matvei. "At sunset, high above the town, on the stone roof of one of the most beautiful buildings in Moscow, built about a century and a half ago, stood two figures – Woland and Azazello. They were invisible from the street below, hidden from the vulgar gaze by a balustrade adorned with stucco flowers in stucco urns, although they could see almost to the limits of the city." Once upon a time, Nikolai Gogol, who was a guest at Pashkov House, noted that the view from the house reminds him of Rome, the Eternal City. Bulgakov, who considered Gogol his spiritual guru, quite possibly knew about this episode. And for this reason researchers of Bulgakov's works have no doubt that it was from this roof that Woland observed as "… the cloud from the west enveloped the vast city. Bridges, buildings, were all swallowed up. Everything vanished as though it had never been. A single whip-lash of fire cracked across the sky, then the city rocked to a clap of thunder. There came another; the storm had begun."
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The residential building, that was mentioned in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, on the corner of Ulitsa Arbat (Arbat Street) and Sadovoye Koltso (Garden Ring) was designed by architects Vladimir Mayat and Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky, and construction was completed in 1928. It replaced the ancient Smolensky Market. Torgsin, which occupied the ground floor of the building, is a short-hand for "trading with foreigners." The store began operations in 1931. Soviet citizens could buy all sorts of goods here, paying for them with pre-revolutionary coins, silver, platinum, gold, and gems. In such a way, over the course of four years, the Soviet people had submitted 100 tons of pure gold to the state coffers. After Torgsin shut its doors in 1936, the store was renamed into Smolensky grocery store, which operates to this day.