I’ll be honest, I didn’t know a lot about Leo Tolstoy until I learned about Yasna Polyana in Bulgaria. Of course I knew about the books, that was pretty much it.
What does Bulgaria have to do with a Russian philospher?
Well, I’ll tell you!
What is Tolstoyan Yasna Polyana
Yasna Polyana literally translates to “clear meadow” in English. It is a tiny village in Bulgaria, not far from the Black Sea.
It used to be known by the Turkish name Alan Kayryak, which means “a place of sunburn,” so the name change in 1934 was an improvement.
Yasna Polyana was named after the Russian birthplace of Leo Tolstoy: Yasnaya Polyana, his family’s estate.
What is Tolstoyism
Tolstoyism is a sect of Christianity practiced by those who follow the teachings of 19th century Russian author and philosopher Leo Tolstoy.
While Tolstoy himself was known to encourage people to not follow him, but rather their own consciences and the teachings of Jesus Christ, people devoted themselves to his writings anyway.
Tolstoy’s main teachings are of pacifism and the Bible. Tolstoyans are often described as Christian anarchists because they do not believe in government.
Tolstoy also believed in vegetarianism due to his stance on violence.
Why the Tolstoyan Community?
Tolstoyan communities began springing up in the early 1900’s, not just across Russia and Europe (including Bulgaria), but throughout the world.
Followers of Tolstoy acted almost as missionaries as they spread out to establish communes.
The village of Yasna Polyana (then Alan Kayryak) was joined in 1906 by just a handful of Leo Tolstoy’s followers. They established a farming commune, looking for a life of freedom outside of Russia.
Local legend is that one of the founding members was a Russian prince.
I could only find one source with a name, which was “Prince Gavril Wolf.”
I don’t think this person existed, since the only prince I could find with a similar name was Prince Gavril Konstantinovich, who was decidedly not a pacifist, and seemed to be in cadet training at the time.
It would be interesting to know who it may have been. Perhaps someone reinventing themselves?
Other Yasna Polyanas
Tolstoy was born into a family of Russian nobility, which is why he grew up on an estate, the original Yasnaya Polyana.
The Russian Yasnaya Polyana where Leo Tolstoy was born is not the only other one.
There are another 11+ villages and settlements in Russia also bearing that name in honor of Tolstoy.
In Ukraine there is also a small village named Yasna Poliana.
Tolstoyan Yasna Polyana Today
Although the village’s name was changed in 1934, Yasna Polyana as a Tolstoyan commune actually disbanded in 1908, just two years after it began.
So, what happened in 1908?
1908 was the year that Tsar Ferdinand declared himself the ruler of the independent Kingdom of Bulgaria.
Because Tolstoyists didn’t believe in government, they were probably broken up. Unfortunately there is not a lot of documentation about what happened.
Tolstoyism in Russia was banned outright in 1933.
Today the village is home only to the museum, and no humble vegetable farming Tolstoyists.
The Tolstoyan Museum in Bulgarian Yasna Polyana is located in the heart of the village, in the community hall.
Hours are known for being irregular, so check Google maps before you go!
The museum has photographs, books, art, and sculptures all about Tolstoy.
Although it has been described as a not-as-good version of the Tolstoy Museum in Russian Yasnaya Polyana, this museum gets rave reviews from visitors, and the curator is very friendly and knowledgeable.
Visiting the Town of Yasna Polyana
The village of Yasna Polyana is nestled in the forested valley of a river. It’s a cute town, if very sleepy.
There is not a lot of places to eat or stay in the village, so you would want to stay in the nearby beach town of Primorsko.
Getting To Yasna Polyana
The village of Yasna Polyana is about a 12 km drive from Primorsko on the Black Sea.
I don’t know that there are any easy ways to get there via public transit, but a cab would be possible and not too expensive if you don’t want to rent a car.
(Just make sure your driver uses the meter!)
Good news! There is always lots to see in the Black Sea region of Bulgaria.
Here are a few nearby sights that you can visit:
The seaside town of Primorsko is a beautiful city set on a peninsula with 10 kms of sandy beach surrounding it.
While I won’t say that Primorsko isn’t touristy, because it really is known as a resort town, it is far less popular than other beach towns like Sunny Beach.
Sozopol is a must-see in Bulgaria. This ancient city has been around since Thracian times!
The charming old town of Sozopol will take you back to medieval times.
Sozopol is about 30 minutes drive from Yasna Polyana.
Castle of Ravadinova
Ravadinova castle is actually a modern construction castle, built in a field just outside Sozopol.
The castle is not built for any purpose other than to entertain and take pictures, but it is a spectacular property.
They keep saying “build it and they will come” is a fallacy, and yet I keep discovering places like Ravadinova and Lisbon’s Pink Street!