Secret date spots: count Orlov's grotto in Neskuchny Garden to be restored

Secret date spots: count Orlov's grotto in Neskuchny Garden to be restored
This garden and park element was built in the late 18th century. This is going to be the first restoration in the grotto's history. Experts will renovate the masonry and restore the historical appearance of the observation deck opening to the Moskva River, Yekaterininsky Pond and the Summer House of count Orlov.

The grotto in Neskuchny Garden, also known as count Orlov's grotto, is to be renovated. The Moscow Cultural Heritage Department has approved its restoration project. The building appeared in Neskuchny Garden at the end of the 18th century, when the land belonged to counts  Orlov. It is designed as a shallow cave or a natural grotto in the rocks.

This sort of arched structures with one wide entrance was typical of estate parks in the 18th century for guests to hide in their shade from the scorching sun. Garden grottoes were erected either as separate pavilions, or built right at the foot of the hills, as it was done in Neskuchny Garden.

"Most of the grottoes were not through. A distinctive feature of the grotto in Neskuchny Garden is that it is a tunnel, so you can enter it from either side. Trees and shrubs growing in this area in the 19th century were much thicker, so the grotto was very difficult to find. At the time of counts Orlov, its location was deliberately hidden, as it was used for secret meetings and negotiations, as well as romantic dates of count Alexei Orlov's guests," the Press Service of Gorky Park told.

In 1804, the grotto was marked on all Orlovs' estate layouts. Together with three bridges, the Large, the Medium and the Grotesque ones, as well as the Summer and the Bath houses, it formed a single architectural ensemble. All buildings constructed in Orlovs' times have survived.

The grotto was made of tuff, a porous volcanic stone. Remarkably, the seams didn't need to be filled with binders during the construction, as the stones of irregular shape were matched to have no gaps in between. By the way, the same technology was applied to build the Large, the Medium and the Grotesque bridges.

Originally, the grotto had two levels: the lower (underground) one with a tunnel and the upper (above-ground) one. There was a wooden gazebo on the top (lost), and a round fenced observation deck, which has lost its original appearance. Even today, it offers a picturesque view of Yekaterininsky Pond with an islet and a Bath House, as well as count Orlov's Summer House and the Moskva River.

"In the 19th century, the grotto was rebuilt twice, in 1836 and 1856. The latest restructuring was conducted by the engineer and architect Pyotr Delsal. The grotto has never had any restorations since that time, and now it is in poor condition. Its stone blocks are covered with mould and moss, some of them partially or completely destroyed, with masonry partially damaged," said Head of the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department Alexei Yemelyanov.

Restorers will recreate the observation deck based on archival documents. It will have a stone fence with metal inserts, with masonry inside and outside the grotto restored.

Experts will use the same stone, lime tuff. The walls inside the tunnel are to be finished with lime-and-sand plaster to reinforce the masonry walls while preserving the texture.

The sites on both sides of the grotto will be paved with cobble roundstones (small-sized smooth stones). The grotto, its interior, and the observation deck will have decorative architectural lighting.

Neskuchny Garden's grotto is a cultural heritage site of federal significance. Any work here is to be supervised by the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department. The historical appearance of the grotto must not be altered.

Soon, the restoration of the Bath House is to launch in Neskuchny Garden. It is a one-storey classicism rectangular building dating back to the late 18th century, with Tuscan order columns, a high dome and a terrace. Both its unique décor and the supporting structures need restoration.

Today’s grounds of Neskuchny Garden, occupied by the House, were formed in the 19th century after merger of three estates.  One of them was centred around Neskuchny country house built by an architect Dmitry Ukhtomsky in 1728 for Prince Nikita Trubetskoy. The estate's grounds were used for entertaining country trips of Prince and his entourage. In the early 19th century, the Trubetskoys sold the homestead to the Court Councillor Vasily Zubov, who later vastly expanded its borders.  He acquired the neighbouring Andreyevskoe estate and a small estate of Lieutenant Goryanov located nearby.

In 1823, Prince Lev Shakhovskoy, the next owner, decided to build a healing water resort here. In 1825, Prince arranged relaxing baths and walking galleries in the Park. However, according to archival records, "local baths stood empty, nobody drank water and walked in the galleries".  Having spent a lot of money in vain, in November 1826, Shakhovskoy sold the estate to the Palace Department for the construction of the Imperial residence of Nicholas I.

The second estate on the grounds of today's Neskuchny Garden was the estate of the industrialist Prokofiy Demidov. In 1756, he divided the site into six rectangular terraces looking over the Moskva River, and laid out a garden shaped as an amphitheatre, with over 2,000 plants and rare birds and animals brought by specialists from Holland. There were palm trees growing in stone greenhouses of Demidovsky Garden. The Park was open to the public.

In the late 18th century, after Demidov's death, the estate passed into possession of counts Orlov. There were walks, hills, and baths arranged here. The garden also had an open 1,500-seat theatre. The estate was added to the Trubetskoy — Shakhovsky homesteads in 1832, after it had been transferred to the Imperial family. 

The estate of princes Golitsyn formed the third part of the future Neskuchny Garden.   Remarkably, from 1798 it belonged to Natalya Golitsyna, who inspired the character of the old countess in Pushkin's 'The Queen of Spades'. In 1843, the estate's grounds were also sold to the Palace Department.

Today, the grounds of Neskuchny Garden are a part of Gorky Park.  Here you can walk along the shady alleys, play tennis or football on equipped grounds, and attend a chess club.  Today, the building of the Alexander Palace houses the Russian Academy of Sciences.