Lenin's Last Refuge

Travel back in time at Gorki Leninskiye, the revolutionary leader’s dacha.

Just a short taxi ride from the Domodedovskaya Moscow Metro station, the Gorki Leninskiye museum complex appears a remnant from a bygone era – it's if you've arrived via a time machine. The first thing you encounter upon entering the park is the Lenin Museum, a modern version of the Parthenon. But leave that for the moment and head for the main attraction: the mansion where Vladimir Lenin spent his final days.  

After Lenin was shot by Fanny Kaplan, his comrades searched for a place where he could recuperate and hide from another possible assassination attempt. Gorki was “discovered” in 1918 by the prominent Bolshevik Timofey Sapronov. The mansion was conveniently located just 32 kilometers from the Kremlin and was converted into Lenin’s dacha. Before the revolution it had belonged to Zinaida Morozova, the widow of Savva Morozov, one of Russia's best known industrialists and a patron of the arts.

Following her husband’s suicide in 1905, Zinaida Morozova remarried, this time to the prominent city official and aristocrat Anatoly Reinbot. Morozova bought the estate in 1909 and hired Fyodor Shekhtel, a fashionable architect known for his penchant for art nouveau, to redesign the main building.

The mansion had originally been built in the classical style by previous owner Alexander Pisarev, who also designed the park surrounding it. Pisarev used an unorthodox, asymmetric plan for the park, which resulted in the main alley circumventing burial mounds of the Vyatichi, a Slavic tribe that inhabited the area in the 9th-12th centuries. 

When Lenin first arrived at at the estate in 1918, the heating didn't work in the estate’s main building, so he moved in the northern wing, a smaller building where Lenin and his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya settled in an enfilade of rooms on the second floor. The space was full of art nouveau furniture acquired by Morozova, and in his otherwise ascetic bedroom, visitors can view the vanity that Lenin used as a work desk. Also on display in the northern wing are his rifle and fur coat, as well as two wolf skins – gifts from hunters to the revolutionary leader and his wife. Lenin was an avid hunter and in 1918 his health still allowed him to go on hunting trips. 

It wasn’t until May 1923 that Lenin was advised by doctors to leave the Moscow Kremlin and settle full-time at Gorki in semi-retirement. He moved into the main building where Shekhtel's renovation had added a winter garden and a large terrace, as well as bas-reliefs depicting Greek myths and an ionic columned portico. The mansion housed an impressive amount of empire and neo-classical furniture, huge mirrors and remnants of Morozova's extensive collection of paintings and Meissen porcelain. The writer Maxim Gorky used to call Morozova's mansion a “china shop.” When staff tried to remove a painting, Lenin specifically instructed them not to change anything about the rooms.

Lenin's study was on the second floor, with grand sweeping views over the park. The windows face the Vyatichi burial mounds, which, along with the Lenin’s deathbed, his death mask and a page-a-day calendar frozen on January 21, 1924, render the whole scene rather ghastly.

Beyond the mansion are Lenin's favorite gazebo and a group of maintenance buildings with a water tower, which had been improved by Shekhtel. It also contains Lenin's garage with a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, hunting sleds, a boat, and a custom-made wheelchair. 

Another highlight is a recreation of Lenin’s Kremlin office in one of the estate buildings. Lenin's original office at the Kremlin was open to the public until the early 1990s when the decision was made to move it to Gorki. The centerpiece is the meeting room of the “Sovnarkom” (Council of People's Commissars). You can see the chairs that Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev used to sit it. 

The Sovnarkom room is very popular among filmmakers, and a scene with a group of Soviet politicians planning a coup against Khrushchev was recently shot here for the television series “The Optimists,” a show about the lives of Foreign Ministry workers during “the Thaw” period in the 1960s. A musty smell lingers here, like that of an old library, which can be explained by the fact that Lenin's actual books have been transferred here.

The tour guides can give the impression of having worked here since before Lenin's office was moved from its original location in the Kremlin. Their speech is littered with Soviet remarks such as “Comrade! You can't go there!” or “According to our new, Soviet Constitution.” When talking about the 1920s brochures used to raise literacy levels in the countryside, the guide assures visitors that they were “simply unputdownable.”

On the walk back to the Lenin Museum make sure to check out some of the finest examples of “monumental propaganda” – rows upon rows of gleaming white sculptures of Lenin, Stalin and other revolutionary leaders. Since Lenin was the one to come up with strategy of using sculpture to promote revolutionary and communist ideas, it's only fitting that such a collection should be gathered here. Goats and sheep from a neighboring village wander among the statues, soaking in their share of “monumental propaganda.”

The Lenin Museum was built by Leonid Pavlov in 1987, when the sun was already setting over the Soviet empire. But that's something you would never guess looking at this building. Pavlov called his creation “My Parthenon” and it does have the feel of an ancient temple. Consisting of eight white cubes, a dark red cylinder, and a columned portico at the front, it looks like an incomplete cross from above.

Upon entering, you must climb the tall marble staircase carpeted in red. It leads to a large seated statue of Lenin in the main hall and the feeling that you are in a place of worship intensifies. In the marble exhibition rooms that encircle the main hall, you can watch black-and-white films about Lenin's life and the early years of the Soviet Union. Or just walk around the cavernous building, contemplating the fate of empires. It's quite a labyrinth, so take care that you don’t lose your way.