Yasnaya Polyana – visiting Tolstoy’s estate

This is one of the loveliest estates I have ever visited. Despite the number of visitors it receives, it is remarkably unspoilt and treated like a place of pilgrimage for many visitors. There are birch trees everywhere and lilac grows in profusion, especially around the manor house itself where the lilac scent is very strong.

Beyond the white and green post of the main entrance is a long drive (known as the preshpekt in Russian), lined with beautiful birch trees, leading towards the manor house itself. The lower park is called the English Park and the upper park the French Park. Walking up the drive there is a big lake off to the left and two old ponds on the right.

The first place we visit is Tolstoy’s grave. Since he was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901, he was not allowed to be buried in the churchyard at Nikolskoye Slovo. The grave is out in the forest surrounding the manor.

The grave itself is very simple and as he wanted it: a stone block with nothing on it to indicate who lies there. Some people have laid small bunches of flowers near it. As a mark of respect we stand there for a while, heads bowed in silence. However, keeping still is a big challenge as there are lots of mosquitoes and they are vicious, even by the standards of Russian mosquitoes.

On the way back we see a strange natural phenomenon where two trees, a birch and a lime, are growing together as if in an embrace.

You get the impression that Yasnaya Polyana is still a working estate, with vegetable gardens. orchards and stables.

The old coachman’s cottage from Tolstoy’s day has been kept and the interior shows what the living conditions would have been like.

The picture above shows an old Russian stove inside the coachman’s cottage with the little wooden ladder leading to a bedspace over it. As this was probably the warmest spot in the cottage it would normally have been reserved for elderly parents to sleep on.

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