In the times of Russian Empire, the Chicherins‘ Karaul family estate was known even outside of Tambov province. Many outstanding statesmen and public figures holding prominent positions were the descendants of the old noble family. The Karaul estate was not famous only for its owners‘ noble origin and their high level of education but also for the exceptional richness of the estate. Behind the walls of their residence many generations of the Chicherins had been gathering a rich collection of valuable art pieces and books. The architecture and landscape complex of the estate, church and park represent a historic and culture value on their own.
The history of Karaul village dates back to the beginning of the 17th century when Karaul was just a look-out station arranged on the high bank of the Vorona river. Its purpose was to patrol and protect the southern borders of Russia from nomadic raids. The look-out station was based on the hill entering the Vorona floodplain in the form of a cape. The hill was about 70 meters high above the level of the river. The view from this hill still opens for many kilometers in southern and eastern directions. Later on, in the 30s of the 19th century, this hill became the foundation ground for the Chicherins‘ future estate.
The first owners of Karaul estate were the noble Arbenievs family. Under them, in 1806 the estate got its church built and consecrated in the name of the Holy Trinity. In 1818 Karaul estate was sold to the landlords Vysheslavtsevs. In 1837 the estate was bought by the famous Tambov nobleman, Nikolay Chicherin. It was him who started the construction of the new estate complex on those lands.
Famous architect Miller was invited to construct the buildings of the estate. In 1849, the main building of the estate was built. The Master’s House became the center of the whole archetectural and landscape ensemble. The House was a 2-3 storey stuccoed building made of bricks and wood in the English cottage style. The stone terrace joined the house from its South-Eastern side. The total area of the house was more than 1500 meters. There were 38 rooms in the house. Besides the Master’s House, there was also a farmyard with the building for servants, a guest house, a housekeeper’s house, greenhouses, a family tomb near the church, a mill, a school and park summer gazeboes.
All the service buildings of the estate, the master’s house and church were connected with each other by a complex system of underground passages. There was also a separate passage exitting to the river bank. Some parts of these underground passages, especially the huge well-preserved basements can be seen now.
Talanted gardener and designer Maczig was invited to make a project of the landscape ensemble. The park layout was based on two alleys: linden alley, leading to the house, and a birch tree alley – to the church. There was also a pine alley separating two orchards. Besdies the mentioned ones, the park had oak, elm, chestnut, larch and plum tree alleys. A part of the park surrounding the house and church was symmetrically designed (in French style), further closer to the river the park was turining into a landscape (English) style finally merging with the natural woods in the floodplain. The total area of the estate together with the park was about 1700 hectares.
Karaul estate was at its best under Boris Chicherin. Born in Tambov, Boris Chicherin, being a famous Russian lawyer, historian, philosopher and publicist, held important state and public posts and was an outstanding representative of Tambov nobility in Russia. Under Boris Chicherin Karaul became one of the most famous culture centers in Russia. Many famous artists, novelists and musicians used to be frequent guests in the estate. One of Boris’s close friends was A.N. Tolstoy.
Boris Chicherin started his considerable collection of valuable art pieces that he kept in Karaul. Having returned from his trips abroad, he used to bring engravings by old masters of Italian and Dutch schools – by Mark Antony, Dürer, Rembrandt, Bergem, paintings by Veronese, Velazques, Ribeiro, Lievens, Flinck, Young Palma, Van-Goyen, Peter Nason, Steen, ter Borgh. In Russia, he bought the paintings by Bryullov, Serov, Aivazovsky, Borovikovsky, Shebuyev, Kamenev, Vasiliev, Tropinin. Practically, the Chicherins’ house was a museum of the outstanding pieces of art.
In 1872, the famous Soviet political figure, diplomat, G.V. Chicherin, was born in Karaul, in his uncle’s estate, where he spent his first years of life.
After the revolution, the main building of the estate was turned into the museum displaying the way of life of a noble family. In 1927, the museum was closed down. The collection of books was included into funds of Lenin library (modern Russian state library). The collections of paintings, graphic pieces, chinaware, sculptures, furniture, interior objects moved to the leading Russian museums.
By G.V. Chicherin’s 100th birthday in 1972, the memorial museum was opened in the estate. From 1934 to 1992, the Chicherins’ estate was functioning as an orphanage. After the orphanage moved to a new building, the main building of the estate was left unattended. The old buildings soon became dilapidated. On November, 2nd, 1996, the Master’s House was destroyed by the fire.