Recently I did a fascinating walking tour along Tverskaya street. Named Gorky Street in Soviet times, it has always been one of the most important streets in Moscow. Leading away from the Kremlin, it heads north-ish; first to the city of Tver (Moscow’s big rival in the Middle Ages) and then onto St Petersburg. In the 17th and 18th centuries Tverskaya Street was at the heart of Moscow’s social life and the fashionable district for the nobility to live. In the 19th Century, Pushkin immortalised the street in Eugene Onegin:
The columns of the city gate
Gleam white; the sleigh, more swift than steady,
Bumps down Tverskaya Street already.
Past sentry-boxes now they dash,
Past shops and lamp-posts, serfs who lash
Their nags, huts, mansions, monasteries,
Parks, pharmacies, Bukharans, guards,
Fat merchants, Cossacks, boulevards,
Old women, boys with cheeks like cherries,
Lions on gates with great stone jaws,
And crosses black with flocks of daws.
During the 19th century Tverskaya Street was about 10 meters wide and lined with a eclectic mix of many beautiful buildings from the past centuries including 5 churches. However Joseph Stalin was not a fan and in the 1930s a project was begun to widen the street by another 7 meters. All the churches and most of the old historic buildings were knocked down to make way for early Stalinist apartments. But two or three of the old buildings were saved by unstitching them from their foundations, putting them on rails, and sliding them back by 7 meters! I have seen this done to a relatively small hospital chapel but I cannot imagine doing this in the 1930’s to a full size apartment block.
Starting at the bottom of the street nearest the Kremlin on the left is the Hotel National built in 1901-1903, a 5* hotel with an Art Nouveau interior. Next to it stands the Ritz Carlton, another 5* hotel. Built to fit in with the eclectic style of its neighbour it is only 18 years old and replaces an ugly 1970’s high rise Intourist hotel – where my husband once stayed. And next to the Ritz Carlton is one of the few surviving 19th C buildings Yermolova Theatre: A beautiful blue and white building.
A little further along is the Modernist Telegraph building built in the late 1920s, decorated with a rarely seen, early example of the Soviet hammer and sickle emblem.
On the other side of the street is the ornately decorated Savvinskoye Podvorye – but you can’t see it. It was an apartment block owned by the church and is one of the buildings that was put on rails and moved. It now stands behind Stalinist block no.6. Do go through the archway to have a look. A little further on on the left is another moved buildin;, the Mayors residence and office, a beautiful pink and white building built in the 1700s during the time of Catherine the Great’s reign. Not only was this building moved but the roof was lifted off and two more stories where added.
Across from the Mayor’s building is a small square with a statue of Yuri Dolgorukiy (Longhands), the founder of Moscow, sitting on a rather grand stallion. The story goes that when the statue was erected the stallion had large genitalia which shocked and offended many and so he was gelded! However after a while people were saying how ridiculous it was that Yuri Longhands was mounted on a mare and not a stallion so his manhood was restored – but smaller!
At the top end of the street on the right – just before you get to Pushkin square – is possibly the best building all on Tverskaya street. It is the amazing Eliseevsky Gastronom. A neo classical style building the outside gives very little idea of the truly fabulous eclectic mix of art nouveau/neo classical inside.
Tverskaya street ends at Pushkin square (although the road continues it has a different name after this point). The square has been extensively re-modelled over the years. In days gone by one of the city gates stood here but was demolished in 1720. However a cathedral, at the same site, was expanded to include a monastery. In the 1930s the cathedral was considered inappropriate and demolished and the statue of Pushkin was moved to the site. As you enter one of the stairways in the square down to the Metro take a look at the mosaics above the entrances which depict Tverskaya street as it used to look.
I can’t of course finish without a quick mention of the obvious elephant in the room – the ‘monumental’ Stalinist blocks. I was told that the red granite around the bottom was originally quarried in Finland by Hitler and transported to build a gigantic memorial in his new city when he reached Moscow. Of course we all know how that ended – the train was captured by Soviet troops who decided to use it. Although the buildings look rather large and brutal if you look up there are some beautiful details on the stone work.
Happy exploring this fascinating street!