Bulgakov's Moscow

Bulgakov’s Moscow

Published: September 23, 2014

A walking tour for fans of The Master and Margarita. The following has been published in multiple places in Russian online. It was translated by SRAS Translate Abroad Scholar Sophia Rhem.

1. The Evil Apartment

The prototype for the Evil Apartment was 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, Apt. 50 in Moscow, where Bulgakov lived from 1921-1924. The fictional number 302-bis is a cipher of the original building number: 10 = (3+2) x 2. (“Bis” meaning “again” or “encore”).  The fantastically high number (not one house on any of the Sadovaya Streets in Moscow has such a large number) also emphasizes the unreal world of the novel.

These days, visitors to Bulgakov’s apartment leave drawings, inscriptions and wishes on the staircase walls, completely covering the walls on every floor in various colors. It’s said that any wish written here will come true.  The building is often visited by newlyweds, and all those with dreams of love.

2. The Master’s House

The Master’s House is at Mansurovskii Lane, 9.

“‘Ah, that was the golden age!’ whispered the narrator, with shining eyes. ‘An apartment all its own, with a hallway, and a sink with water-’ he emphasized this especially proudly for some reason, “- and a little window just above the pathway that leads from the gate. Across from the window, four steps away and past the fence, were lilac, linden, and maple trees. Ah! In the winter I rarely saw anyone’s black feet in the window or heard the crunch of snow beneath them. And in my little stove a fire was always burning! But all at once spring would arrive, and through the cloudy glass I would see the lilac bushes, first naked and then clothed in green.”

According to his contemporaries, this house once belonged to the Maly Theater stage designer and make-up artist Sergey Topleninov, whom Bulgakov often visited and who was one of the first people to read his novel. “So you described our basement?” his host exclaimed, surprised. “Shh!” smiled Bulgakov, and held a finger to his lips.

It’s hard to believe, but throughout the Soviet era this modest little house in the very center of Moscow remained private property.

The Master's House
The Master’s House

3. The Variety Theatre

The Variety Theater is a fictitious theater in The Master and Margarita which is connected, in the structural design of the novel, with imaginary space. In early editions, the Variety Theater was called the Cabaret Theater.

The prototype for the Variety was the Moscow Music Hall, which existed from 1926-1936 and was situated near the Evil Apartment at 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya. The Moscow Theater of Satire now stands in its place. Until 1926, this was the location of the Nikitin Brothers Circus – the building was built specially for the circus by the architect Nilus in 1911. The Nikitin Circus is mentioned in Bulgakov’s novel The Heart of a Dog.

Sadovaya in Bulgakov's Time
Sadovaya in Bulgakov’s Time

4. Griboyedov’s House

In The Master and Margarita, Griboyedov’s House is the home of MASSOLIT – the huge literary organization, headed by Mikhael Aleksandrovich Berlioz.

With Griboyedov’s House, Bulgakov recreated the House of Herzen (25 Tverskoy Boulevard), which hosted a number of literary organizations in the 20s, such as RAPP (Russian Association of Proletarian Writers), and MAPP (Moscow Association of Proletarian Writers), after which the fictitious MASSOLIT is modeled. This can’t be deduced from the text of The Master and Margarita, but MASSOLIT most likely stands for Socialist Literature Workshop (“Masterskaya sotsiyalicheskoy literatury” in Russian), in the same way that the playwrights’ union of the 1920s, MASTKOMDRAM , stood for Workshop of Communist Drama (“Masterskaya kommunisticheskoy dramy”).


5. Patriarch Ponds

“One spring day, at the hour of an unusually hot sunset, in Moscow, at Patriarch Ponds, two men appeared.” This scene takes place very close to the Evil Apartment. Patriarch Ponds refers to the ponds on Malaya Bronnaya (during the Soviet era this street was called Pionerskiy Pond). “Ponds” is plural because until the end of the 19th century there were three ponds, which extended to Trekhprudnyi (Three Pond) Lane, which still carries that name.

This is where Berlioz is hit by the tram “turning along the newly-laid line from Yermolayevskiy to Bronnaya…and a round, dark object shot under the railing of Patriarch Path and onto the cobblestone curb. Rolling off the curb, it jumped along the cobblestones of Bronnaya Street. It was the severed head of Berlioz. ”

There is one inaccuracy in the narration, however: judging by the transport scheme of the 1920s, there were no tramways directly next to Patriach Ponds.

Patriarch's Ponds
Patriarch’s Ponds

6. Dramlit House

At the end of the alley “her attention was grabbed by the luxurious bulk of an eight-story house, apparently newly built. Margarita flew down and, touching the ground, saw that the façade was faced with black marble, that the doors were wide, that behind their glass the buttons and peaked, gold-braided cap of a porter were visible, and that a gold inscription above the door read “Dramlit House.”

House No. 6 on Vakhtangova Stret is not eight stories, and its façade doesn’t shine with black marble, but this was the building constructed for theater artists in the 1930s. There is also another house, however–almost an exact copy of Bulgakov’s. And its façade is finished with smooth black stone, and apartment 84, where Margarita began to wreak havoc, is on the eighth floor, and the other apartments are even in the right positions and, most importantly, it is a writers’ house. It is located at 17 Lavrushinksiy Lane.

Historic view of the Dramlit House
Historic view of the Dramlit House
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About the author

Sophia Rehm

Sophia Rehm graduated from the University of Chicago in 2012 with a BA in Russian Language and Literature. She studied Russian in St. Petersburg in 2010 and is currently in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan as SRAS's Home and Abroad: Translate Scholar. She hopes to pursue graduate studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures, as well as literary translation.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: Sophia Rehm