Leo Tolstoy is one of the world's best know and most beloved writers. His novels have brought joy and wisdom to the lives of untold millions. Yet his final years were a time of personal turmoil and family discord.
Fleeing what he considered to be an intolerable domestic situation in the fall of 1910, the great writer met death not at his estate of Yasnaya Polyana, but at a distant railway station known as Astapovo, some 250 miles southeast of Moscow in what is now Lipetsk Region.
Much has been written about these final days of the writer's life, but little attention has been given to the physical setting in which these momentous events occurred. The nearby village of Astapovo is known to have existed since the mid-17th century.
Its name derives from Lake Ostapovo, in turn related to the name "Ostap," pronounced "Astap" in standard Russian. With its small church, Astapovo had little to distinguish it from hundreds of other such villages in south central Russia.
This rural backwater was transformed in 1889-90 with the building of Astapovo Station as part of the new Ryazan-Kozelsk Railway. By the late 1890s, traffic through the station increased significantly with the development of what had become the Ryazan-Urals Railroad system. The station complex underwent a major expansion, which began in 1898 and extended through the next decade.
By 1910, Astapovo was hardly the tiny station mentioned in some Tolstoy biographies. Quite the contrary, it could be seen as a model project for provincial stations within the rapid growth of Russia's rail system.
The Astapovo complex consisted of several buildings, including a substantial two-story brick station constructed in 1903 next to the original wooden station. Behind the station buildings and slightly to the right are two one-story wooden structures: a house for the stationmaster and a first aid station, now used as a pharmacy. Nearby is a low brick building that housed the telegraph.
To the right of these buildings was a railway technical school connected to the Church of the Trinity, both built of brick between 1905-09. Used as a warehouse during the Soviet period, the church has been cleaned and reconsecrated.
Behind the station on the left stand two brick water towers, whose size reflects the rapid expansion of Astapovo Station. At the back of the complex across a small square is an attractively designed row of buildings for railway workers.
A park with an entrance gate was laid out next to the station area. Such was Astapovo Station when Tolstoy arrived on Oct. 31 (according to the Julian calendar, which was still used in Russia at that time. The date was Nov. 13 according to the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere.)
In his latter years, Tolstoy had become increasingly distraught by what he felt was a lack of sympathy for his social and moral views on the part of his devoted wife, Sophia Andreevna (Sonya). This tragic discord was inflamed by some of Tolstoy's closest associates, who encouraged the writer to make a public gesture, such as leaving Yasnaya Polyana.
The most prominent among these associates was Vladimir Chertkov, a controversial figure who gained Tolstoy's trust and engaged in tireless organizational activity to promulgate the writer's late work and teachings.