"The architectural riches created by the Tsars in the two great cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg still exist for everyone to see. The grandeur of the Hermitage, Pavlovsk Park, the Bolshoi Theatre and the Tsaritsyno Palace remain as symbols of a far-off age, but as we entered the countryside, away from the obvious tourist trails, we encountered a very different world. The further you drive out of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the more desolate and derelict the landscape becomes. Endless potholed roads pass through one dead or dying village after another, whose vandalised churches are now the refuge of owls and pigeons, their crumbling cupolas symbols of a broken age."
The above is an excerpt from the introduction to Russia: A World Apart, a haunting evocation of the ruined country estates of the Russian aristocracy of the 18th and 19th centuries by Simon Marsden and Duncan McLaren. It is their third book together, others being the In Ruins: The Once Great Houses of Ireland and Beyond the Wall: The Lost World of East Germany. It will be their last, too, for Sir Simon Marsden, 4th Baronet, died in January 2012. He leaves quite a legacy: examples of his work are held by the Arts Council, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Saatchi Collection, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and the J Paul Getty Museum in Malibu. And of course, this book, published posthumously, full of the most beautiful photographs, all of which make me want to pack up the children and set off on a road trip across Russia right now.
The Terrace, Arkhangelskoye Estate, Moscow Region
Chernyshev Estate, Yaroplets, Moscow Region
Graveyard of the Fallen Monuments, outside the New Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Stepanovskoe-Pavlishchevo Estate, Moscow Region
The Church, Podmoklovo Estate, Moscow Region
Astronaut Tomb, Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow
Ancient Walls & Tower, Goncharov Estate, Yaroplets, Moscow Region
Soviet military leader on the ‘phone, Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow
"It is not my intention to try and convince you that ghosts exist," Marsden is quoted as having said in his Daily Telegraphy obituary, "but rather to inspire you not to take everything around you at face value. I believe that another dimension, a spirit world, runs parallel to our own, and that sometimes, when the conditions are right, we can see into and become part of this supernatural domain. The mystical quality of my photographs reflects this ancient order and they attempt to reveal what is eternal."
Russia: A World Apart, by Simon Marsden and Duncan McLaren, is published by Paul Holberten Publishing, retails at £25 and is out now.