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Vagankov Cemetery, Russia

Experienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyager Joshua Brook
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The beautiful Vagankov Cemetery is located in the quiet Krasnaya Presnaya district of the city and is a pleasure to wander around. Almost as prestigious as the Novodevichy Graveyard, where the majority of Moscow's major political, literary and historical figures were laid to rest, the cemetery dates from 1771, when an outbreak of plague compelled the authorities to dig up all the graveyards in central Moscow and establish new ones beyond the city limits. The cemetery's name derives from the parish graveyard that belonged to the Church of St. Nicholas in Old Vagankov, which stands near the Borovitsky Gate of the Kremlin where a village of the same name stood in medieval times. Of the many distinguished figures buried in the Vagankov Cemetery of particular note is the grave of the maverick actor, poet and drunk of the Brezhnev era Vladimir Vysotsky, whose melancholy ballads and lyrics have become part of the national consciousness.

Closely linked with Moscow's Taganka Theater, where his performances of a black-jeaned, guitar-playing Hamlet stunned audiences in the 1970s, Vysotsky sang of disillusionment and the seedier side of Russian life and found fame and popularity throughout the country. His death during the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980 was unpublicized but hundreds of devoted fans still turned up to his secret funeral in the cemetery, although no monument was permitted on his grave until five years later with the advent of perestroika. Today the grave is marked by a statue of the great singer, shrouded in a cloak with his guitar forming a halo behind his head.

Another significant grave is that of the striking but volatile young poet, Sergei Yesenin, whose final verse (To die is not new - but neither is it new to be alive) was written in his own blood just before he hanged himself in a hotel room in St. Petersburg. Having grown up in the archaic provincial setting of traditional rural Russian life, the young poet spent the rest of his life trying to adjust to the new age of social revolution and upheaval, which he communicated through his popular and poignant lyric poems. After a stormy marriage to the American dancer Isadora Duncan, during which the poet became increasingly mentally unstable and turned more and more to alcohol and drugs to quell his disquiet and dissatisfaction with life, and a brief second marriage to one of the granddaughters of the great writer Tolstoy, Esenin became so tormented by guilt at his inability to fulfill the messianic role of a poet of the people that he tragically took his own life. His grave is marked by a dashing sculpture of the poet carved from white marble. One of the poet's many admirers, a Galina Benislavskaya, shot herself on his grave a year after his death and was buried in the plot behind him.

Visitors should also look for the graves of the great Russian historical painter Vasily Surikov, which is marked by a sculpted palette and brush, the famous lexicographer Vladimir Dal, whose work is known to and probably the bane of every student of the Russian language, and the Mafia boss Otari Kvantrishvili, who was shot by a contract killer in a traditional Russian bath house back in 1994 and whose funeral was shown on television accompanied by the theme tune from the film The Godfather. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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