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Yasnaya Polyana Museum of Leo Tolstoy

Today is the 9th of September, the birthday of the greatest Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. Almost everyone who knows something about Leo Tolstoy can recall the name Yasnaya Polyana, which is the place where the author was born and lived with his whole family. Yasnaya Polyana Museum-estate is pretty close to Moscow (200 km from the city) this is a nice occasion for a weekend. So let’s start our tour to Yasnaya Polyana Museum.
“Without my Yasnaya Polyana, I hardly can imagine Russia and my attitude to it. Without Yasnaya Polyana I may clearly see the general laws, needed for my fatherland, but I won’t love it to addiction…”
Leo Tolstoy

Beginning of the travel

Thousands of tourists are attracted by the eminent Red Square and Kremlin in Moscow. But very few know that just two hours away from Moscow a priceless gem is located – Yasnaya Polyana Museum, where the famous writer Leo Tolstoy was born, lived more than 60 years of his life and created his world-recognized novels.
So, let’s just imagine that we are going on this wonderful trip right now, on the pages of this article.
We are going by the fast train with a romantic name ”Swallow” through Moscow and Tula region passing by little towns, villages and just beautiful forests either completely green or white from the snow like in a fairy tale. And in two hours we come to our goal – Leo’s family estate.

a large long train on a railroad track

When we pass the main 200-years old gates to enter the estate, we start to travel back in time to the years when Tolstoy lived here. Amazing, but it is possible because everything is preserved here and kept alive since Leo’s time. Now Leo’s family estate is a state museum where all things are original. With the help of a local tour guide, it is possible to experience the atmosphere not only of a great writer’s life but also typical aristocratic homestead. Now let’s look at the history of this place, what it is eminent for and why it had played such a significant role in Leo’s work and life.

Leo Tolstoy life outside Yasnaya Polyana 

a man sitting on a bench
Yasnaya Polyana initially was the Volkonskiy family estate – Leo’s mother’s line – very rich and noble. Leo’s grandfather built the main complex of the family estate with the big main house, two guesthouses, and several parks and lakes. 
One year after the old earl Volkonskiy died, his daughter married count Nikolay Tolstoy, who also was from a noble and famous family, originated to Peter the Great time, but not so wealthy anymore. Lev Nikolaevich (Leo) Tolstoy was born in Yasnaya Polyana on September 9, 1828, he was the fourth child in the family. Unfortunately, Leo orphaned when he was just a 2-year-old child. But he always remembered and loved his family and immortalized them in the shape of the main characters in “War and Peace” (for instance, old earl Bolkonsky-grandfather from mother’s side, Mary – his mother, Rostov – grandfather from father’s side).

War in the life of Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy had gone a long way in searching for his vocation. Initially, he was interested in eastern languages. Then he took up studying law but faced problems with history (which is difficult to believe taking into account how historically precise his books are!). He did not finish his education at university. However, it was during that time that Tolstoy started writing his diaries, which gave him inspiration later when he became a writer. His next choice was military service. He participated in the Crimean War (1853-1856) as a soldier. During that time he tried to start issuing his own literary journal and even had to sell the main house in Yasnaya Polyana, where he was born. Neither the journal was a success nor the military service was satisfying. Nothing seemed to be going in Leo`s favor.
After 1856 Leo finally came back to Yasnaya Polyana, made a home in one of the guesthouses (the main house had already been sold) and lived there for more than 60 years.

Tolstoy and Yasnaya Polyana (Peace in the life of Leo)

Walking around the park, we can see everything that mainly was created by Leo and his wife’s hands. The atmosphere of Yasnaya Polyana seemed to have brought Leo the biggest inspiration. He wrote his most famous novels here, while also keeping improving the family manor. This way he opened a school for peasant children and among other things taught them gymnastics and math. During his time the territory of Yasnaya Polyana renown apple gardens was expanded from 10 to 40 hectares, and the land started to bring quite a lot of money.
But money was not a value for Tolstoy at all. At some point, Leo understood that he and his family should not live so luxuriously. He wore simple peasant clothes and loved to cut hay together with the peasants. Tolstoy’s house doesn’t make an impression of a rich man’s mansion. It’s very simple but cozy. And everything that he was doing, including writing, was not for earning money. Tolstoy tried to teach people, to share his opinion on how people can escape some life mistakes and find their happiness.


Books of Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy had one odd habit, to work in different places, transferring only his favorite sofa and the working table, this is all he needed for productive work. Inside the memorial museum, we can see rooms, where he wrote “War and Peace”, and “Anna Karenina”. These rooms are extremely simple, nothing distracted the great mind from the intensive work.
On each shelf around the house there are tons of books, Leo’s precious private collection. This library, which started forming in the time of his grandfather, contains 22 thousand original books including 5 thousand written in 25 other languages. This collection is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list and can be seen now in Yasnaya Polyana Museum. Tolstoy desired to be precise in the historical facts as he was writing his novels, for example while writing the “War and Peace” he read many books on the Great Patriotic War of 1812.

End of life

Seems that Tolstoy was quite happy here, however, when he was 82 years old he made a hard decision to leave home and his family due to different reasons. Unfortunately, he died a few days later on the way, not too far from Yasnaya Polyana. His wife kept everything in the house in the same way as it was left by Tolstoy. In his study there is a small table where Tolstoy liked to read, the Dostoevsky “Brothers Karamazov” is still lying there opened on page 359, waiting to be finished, but the owner will never come back…


After Tolstoy (Post scriptum)

One of the favorite stories of Leo Tolstoy was the one made up by his beloved brother Nikolay about “a green stick”. Nikolay told this story to young Leo and his siblings as they were playing together in the forests. The legend told that there was a secret in their big old forest, on the edge of a ravine, where a green stick was buried in the ground. The one, who would find it and read what was written on it, would discover a way to make all people happy and healthy, and eliminate all the sorrows. And people would be united and live like “ant brothers”. And Nikolas and Leo were in charge of keeping this place in safety. Before his death, Leo bequeathed to bury him in a simple grave exactly in the place where the green stick was buried according to Nikolay’s story. 
And walking through the forest in some distance from the manor house, we can see simple knoll covered with grass, where Leo is lying guarding the secret of happiness. There is not any monument around for him, and Tolstoy definitely does not need it as far as his books are the best memorial for him and his perception. 


We can feel an ambience of incredible calm at Tolstoy’s estate. Even though centuries have passed since the day of his death, a stroll along the soundless Birch Alley makes you feel that literally in a moment an old gentleman with wisdom in his eyes will appear from a small but pleasant house where he spent his preeminent years. If you want to fully experience the time of Tolstoy and see what brought him the most inspiration, you definitely need to visit Yasnaya Polyana Museum!