It's history goes back to the sixteenth century, when Tsarina Irina, the wife of Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, had an estate here.
In the seventeenth century this area was the property of the boyar family Streshnev, and later of the Princes Golitsin. In 1712 Peter the great presented the estate which was then called Chornaya Gryaz (Black Mud), to the Moldavian Prince Kantemir, whose writer son sold it to Catherine the Great for 25,000 rubles in 1775. She changed it's name to Tsaritsino, and envisaged an estate to match her glorious summer palaces outside St. Petersburg.
Catherine entrusted the building task to Vasily Bazhenov, whom she had commissioned to rebuild the Kremlin, a plan which was never accomplished. His plans specified a park with pavillions in the pseudo-gothic style that was fashionable at that time, and adjoining palaces for the Empress and her son Paul. He worked diligently on the estate for years.
When Catherine returned to inspect the nearly completed buildings she ordered that the main palace be torn down. Some believe that this was because Catherine objected to the Masonic symbols used as ornamentation; others that she could no longer bear the idea of living with Paul, who had grown to loathe her. Construction work was resumed in 1786 by, Matvei Kazakov who was another prominent architect of that time. Kazakov devoted over a decade to the project until it's abrupt termination in 1797 after the Empress's death.
After that, Tsaritsino lay abandoned for years. A museum was established here in 1984, and several of it's buildings have been restored and are being used for various purposes.
Two of Tsaritsino's highlights are Tsaritsino Ponds, where people swim in the summer, and the Patterened Bridge, (Figurniy Most) which is built of pinkish brick, and ornamented with white stone pinnacles and Gothic arches.
Of course, the most imposing structure is the Grand Palace (Bolshoy Dvorets), whose twin wings stretch for 130 meters, replete with pilastered corner turrets and rows of pointed arches. In the nineteenth century it's roof tiles and beams were purloined by a local factory, leaving a two-storey shell, crumbling and weed-choked.
The Bread Gate (Khlebniy Vorota) leads to what would have been the palace courtyard. There is also Bread House (Khlebniy Dom) or kitchens.
Sitting apart from the Grand Palace are the Palace Administration (now a music school), the Octahedron or servants quarters, (I think it is now a police station, at least that is what my friend thought it was going to be used for when we were there in 1994), The Church of St. Nicholas, the Third Kavalerskiy Building, and the Large Bridge. All except the church are the work of Bazhenov.
The complex also contains the Semi-circular Small Palace built for gentlemen-in-waiting, the fantastically carved Opera House (Operniy Dom), the Patterned Gate (Figurniy Vorota),and a Classical Belvedere overlooking the pond.
As you walk through the woods, it is somewhat surprising to come upon an Artificial Ruin, Nerastankino, and the Temple of Ceres. The Belvedere, temple, and Nerastankino were built by Yegotov in 1803 when there was a brief revival of interest in Tsaritsino, and when you come on these follies by surprise when walking, it is like finding a treasure in the woods!