Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda: the residence of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible

Victoria Derzhavina | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda is one of the oldest residences of Russian rulers. It is located 100 km away from Moscow, on the border of Vladimir and Moscow regions. Its status changed through ages from a hunter's lodge to a convent, but the most famous chapters of its history are connected with Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible, who turned this place into a non-official capital of Russia for 17 years. Now, you can find here a picturesque architectural ensemble and rich museum collections. Coming across different scenes of the middle-aged life, you can get a whole picture of that time.

Photo © credits to Wikimedia/kikiwis

A cultural centre

Ivan IV the Terrible was one of the most educated people of his time. On his order, the summary chronicle of Russian history with 16 thousand coloured illustrations was written. His books collection, famous “Liberia”, is thought to contain rare Greek, Latin, and Egyptian works from the Libraries of Constantinople and Alexandria, as well as second-century Chinese texts and manuscripts from Ivan IV's own era. He created a print yard and a chorus, making Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda a cultural centre.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

A cruel time

It was a cruel time. In the fearful atmosphere of the basements, you can hear moans of the prisoners and make out a scene of inquisition in the dim light of torches. People were tortured and executed for the most serious crime of treason, but anyone could be put in the stocks for foul words, excessive drinking or bad behavior.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

Ivan the Terrible prayed for the peace of his victims

Ivan IV the Terrible is remembered as a tyrant, though he was not crueler than other middle-aged Russian and Europeans rulers. At the same time, he was religious-minded and always prayed for the peace of his victims' souls and sent the lists with their names to monasteries so that the monks could also pray for their peace. Try to imagine this scene in the home church of Ivan IV in Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina
Photo © credits to

A native place of Russian aviation

In the 16th century, there were many talented people among peasants and craftsmen. Often, they couldn’t read and write but had many brilliant ideas. Thus, a bondman Nikita, son of Trofim, invented the wings and climbed up the Crucifixion bell-tower in Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda to try them. His flight was quite long. He flew over the fortress wall and landed on a bank of Seraya River. Tsar Ivan IV considered it a challenge against God who didn’t give wings to people and ordered to execute the “Russian Icarus”. However, this wonder was described in the ancient chronicles, and Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda became a native place of Russian aviation. You can also climb up the Crucifixion bell-tower, but only for admiring the landscape.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina
Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

A day started with sunrise

In the 16th century, the Crucifixion bell-tower actually was a clock tower. In the museum, you can see its clock. At that time, there was no electricity, so a day started with sunrise and ended with sunset. The clock showed day time and night time and had 17 hours and not 24. Seventeen hours had the longest day in summer and the longest night in winter.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

Ivan IV died playing chess

The Orthodox Church prohibited playing chess, but this game still was very popular. Foreign travelers described that “in Russia, princes, merchants, warriors, women and children, all play chess very well, and everyone is ready to mate you. People play chess in the streets”. In the museum, you can see chess that belonged to Tsar Ivan IV. He not only liked to play chess, but was a skillful chess player, and even died playing chess.

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Legends connected to Tsar Ivan IV

There are many legends connected to Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. One of them tells that in 1581, in Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda, the tsar killed his son Ivan hitting him with his walk stick in a blaze of anger. We don’t know if it is true or not, but it is a fact that Ivan the Terrible followed the dead body of his son to Moscow by foot (more than 100 km). He ordered to build the churches and monasteries in memory of Tsarevich Ivan, and he had never been to Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda any more.

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A picturesque architectural ensemble, the residence of Tsar Ivan IV, many interesting items and scenes in Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda help to understand what was the middle-aged life. During an interactive guided tour, you can participate in a tsar’s feast, taste traditional Russian drink ‘kvas’, and print a page of a book using an old printing press, as well as learn about tsar's wedding that was held here.

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