Extravaganza of water: Moscow’s most beautiful, old and unusual fountains

Extravaganza of water: Moscow’s most beautiful, old and unusual fountains
This year, the fountain season in Moscow will kick off on 28 April, which is earlier than usual. During the opening ceremony, the first to reopen after the winter months will be the fountain in Pushkinskaya Square. After that, almost all of the city’s fountains will start running within 30 seconds of one another.

In the summer, both tourists and city residents cannot wait to feast their eyes on fountains-cum-monuments and on illuminated, musical and even dry fountains. Public gardens and squares around fountains have become the public’s favourite recreational locations. People are fond of meeting here, celebrating holidays, walking with children and taking photographs.

In all, there are about 600 fountains in Moscow, including the city’s 58 largest fountains managed by Gormost, a government-funded enterprise, such as those at Poklonnaya Gora, Gorky Park, VDNKh (the National Exhibition of Economic Achievements) and Pushkinskaya Square. Other municipal organisations manage 347 fountains, including small bowls, while another 247 fountains are owned by restaurants and business and shopping centres. 

In the run-up to the new season, the fountains have been given a thorough cleaning and returned to working order. Also, water spouts have been installed and the illumination of each fountain adjusted. The fountains in Manezhnaya Square, at Poklonnaya Gora and outside Kievsky Railway Station will be flowing round-the-clock and people will have the chance to see other fountains in action from 8 am until 11 pm on weekdays and until midnight at weekends.  

From aqueduct to artwork: Moscow’s first fountains

Until the 18th century, only the Kremlin’s royal gardens had small fountains. Ponds and fountains at country estates and on the grounds of mansions came into fashion during the reign of Peter the Great. On the emperor’s order, during the construction of a palace on the other bank of the Yauza River in Lefortovo, a garden with nine ponds and a host of fountains, waterfalls and grottos was created. This hydro-engineering work was carried out on a scale the city had never seen before.

Prince Gagarin built fountains in the park behind his mansion in Tverskaya Street, which failed to survive until present day but some of the fountains and ponds on the Arkhangelskoye, Kuskovo, Marfino and Tsaritsyno estates have been preserved.

The first fountains appeared in the streets of Moscow only in the 19th century during the construction of the Mytishchinsky aqueduct. They were not used as a decoration but rather as hydrant systems.

The first fountain of this type – in the form of a rotunda – was built in Trubnaya Square close to the Rozhdestvensky (the Nativity of the Mother of God) Monastery. Several more fountains decorated Neglinnaya Street all the way to Kuznetsky Most Street. During the renovation of the water duct in 1830–1835, more fountains were built, including the famous Nikolsky (Lubyanskaya Square), Petrovsky (Teatralnaya Square), Voskresensky (at the entrance to the Alexandrovsky Garden) and Varvarsky (in the vicinity of Varvarskaya and Slavyanskaya squares) fountains.

Sculptor Giovanni Vitali’s fountains

The Petrovsky fountain – the centrepiece of Teatralnaya Square since 1827 – is believed to be Moscow’s oldest flowing fountain. It was designed by Giovanni (Ivan) Vitali, a Russian sculptor of Italian descent. Water tumbles from a bowl installed on a base. Four cupids symbolising music, poetry, comedy and tragedy are hiding under the bowl by its stem. The fountain was used by a famous debtor’s prison, Yama, which had its own Russian bathhouse.  

The formal name – Petrovsky – did not catch on, so people referred to it as the Vitali fountain by the name of its sculptor.

Ivan Vitaly designed some other fountains as well. In 1838, Moscow’s Governor-General Dmitry Golitsyn commissioned him to design a sculpture of “a Kievan youth breaking the news of a siege laid by the Pechenegs to Kiev to the troops of Grand Prince of Kiev Svyatoslav Igorevich”. The sculpture was cast in metal and installed at the Voskresensky fountain.

The Nikolsky fountain with bronze figures in Lubyanskaya Square had turned into a meeting place of cabmen who let their horses drink there. The sculpture consisted of two round bowls made of red granite. The bigger bowl was supported by four youths symbolising Russian rivers – the Volga, the Dnieper, the Don and the Neva – and the smaller bowl was supported by three bronze eagles which were lost later. In 1935, during the construction of a metro station the fountain was moved from Lubyanskaya Square to Alexandriisky Palace in Bolshaya Kaluzhskaya Street.

Moscow traditions

The fountain in Pushkinskaya Square has already become the traditional meeting place for several generations of Muscovites. Having an exquisite design in the style of Stalinist Empire, the fountain lacks pomp. Designed by Abram Zaslavsky and Mikhail Minkus, it was built in 1950. Its rectangular bowl lined with red polished granite can hold 180 cubic metres of water, and 325 water jets shoot up from ornamental cast-iron bowls.  

Youth like to meet in the evening by the fountains in Manezhnaya Square. The Geyser, or Four Seasons, fountain is believed to be the main fountain in the square. Since 1997, fountain opening ceremonies have been held there almost every spring. Initially, water jets resembled crystal wine glasses, but ahead of the celebration of Moscow’s 850th anniversary, the fountain was renovated and now it alternately shoots up water or bubbles gently, very much like real geysers do. The fountain sculpture is also remarkable: four galloping horses symbolising four seasons of the year.

The Clock of the World fountain is located at the most elevated section of the square. It has the shape of a glass dome, which serves as a roof for the Okhotny Ryad underground shopping centre, with the map of the Northern Hemisphere showing the names of large cities. In daylight, this map can be seen from inside the shopping centre. The dome gradually rotates clockwise, and the time it shows is accurate down to five minutes. At the top of the dome is a sculpture of St George the Victorious slaying a dragon.  

Since 1997, people usually meet in Stary Arbat Street next to the exquisite gold-plated Princess Turandot fountain.

The fountain featuring son et lumiere in Gorky Park has become a traditional bathing place for the city’s school-leavers in June and paratroopers on Airborne Troops Day. In the evening, the colours of the lighting change to the strains of classic music.

Every year on 9 May, veterans of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) gather at the fountain in the public garden in front of the Bolshoi Theatre. Meetings are traditionally held at Poklonnaya Gora by the fountains, which is a system of 15 bowls, each having 15 water jets shooting out vertically. Their overall number symbolises 225 weeks, the period of time that the Great Patriotic War lasted. This place is worth visiting not only in the daytime but also when darkness falls and the lights go on. This is the location of choice for skaters and skateboarders.

VDNKh fountains: Druzhba Narodov (Peoples’ Friendship) and Kamenny Tsvetok (Stone Flower)

City residents are also fond of taking a stroll around VDNKh. The fountains will start flowing there at the beginning of the summer season, that is, on 30 April, so that as many Muscovites and visitors to the city as possible can see the opening ceremony.

Fountains are among the park’s main attractions. Overall, there are seven fountain complexes, including Druzhba Narodov (Peoples’ Friendship), Kamenny Tsvetok (Stone Flower), Zolotoi Kolos (Golden Ear of Wheat), Malchik i Ryba (A Boy with a Fish), Alleya Fontanov (Fountain Alley), which consists of 14 fountains, fountains outside Pavilion 66 and the Raketa (Space Rocket) composition. Seventy fountains have lighting, including over 7,500 lighting units installed under water and 627 on the water surface.

The Druzhba Narodov fountain was unveiled at VDNKh in 1954. Designed by architects Konstantin Topuridze and Georgy Konstantinovsky, it was initially called A Golden Bundle of Wheat. Shortly before the exhibition opened, the fountain was given a new name. It was built at the centre of an octahedral pond. Surrounding the bowl of the fountain are the figures of 16 young women, each symbolising a national republic of the Soviet Union.

Designed by Topuridze, the Kamenny Tsvetok fountain is the USSR’s and the world’s first fountain to feature lighting that changes colours in time with music. The fountain is shaped like a flower bursting into bloom, with the figures of birds, fruit and ears of wheat installed on the edge of its basin. Water jets shoot up from spouts fixed at the foot of each figure.

Moscow’s new fountains

The Alexander and Natalie fountain inside a rotunda was put up next to the Voznesensky (Ascension) Church to mark the bicentenary of Alexander Pushkin’s birth. It can be described as one of the purest sources of water in Moscow, as the water in the fountain is treated with charcoal filters. 

The Rape of Europa fountain designed by Belgium sculptor Olivier Strebelle sits in the new square outside Kievsky Railway Station. The design is based on a mythological story telling about the abduction of Europa by Zeus who assumed the appearance of a bull. The structure made of stainless pipes is accentuated by water jets of various colours.

The Adam and Eve under a Tree in the Garden of Eden fountain was installed next to the entrance to the Novokuznetskaya metro station ahead of the 860th anniversary of the founding of Moscow. Until 1930, this was where the St Paraskeva’s Church stood. 

The idea for the fountain was prompted by the Bible story of Adam, Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. During the day, people can take delight in the play of light on the water – the effects produced by eight pumps ‒ while in the evening special lighting shows the fountain off best.

The fountain which is associated with the monument to Mikhail Sholokhov cannot be seen from afar, however, it is no less interesting. The author is sitting in a boat with horses’ heads installed on both sides of the monument to give the impression that the horses are sinking. The animals symbolise the Red and White armies from the time of the Civil War in Russia. 

The fountain featuring dynamic lighting was built in the Tsaritsyno State Museum and Protected Nature Area ahead of the 860th anniversary of the founding of Moscow.

The fountain features a musical installation, about 1,000 water jets and 3,000 light fittings. The fountain lighting and water jets can change slowly or abruptly in time with the music. Normally, people have the chance to see the beautiful singing fountain during the warm season in the evening until 11 pm.

There are four floating fountains in the Vodootvodny Canal between the Small Moskvoretsky Bridge and the Small Kamenny Bridge. They first appeared in 1995, and in 2006, their design changed, as unsophisticated high jets of water gave way to intricate patterns resembling shrubs.

Dry fountains for children and adults to enjoy splashing water 

Dry fountains are becoming increasingly popular with the public. They have no basin, and water jets shoot up straight from the ground. Moscow’s largest dry fountain can be found in Muzeon Park on the Krymskaya Embankment. You cannot bathe in this type of fountain, but you can run around it trying to avoid water jets, ride a bicycle or simply splash around in hot weather. A fountain can consist of separate rows of water jets coming one after another along its entire length or water can simultaneously shoot up in several places. In the evening, when the multicoloured lighting goes on, the entertainment is even more spectacular. 

Another dry fountain is located in Babushkinsky Park. It can shoot up 12 two-metre-high jets of water. Its programme includes seven music collections, one for each day of the week. Tunes have been selected so as to create an illusion of dancing jets of water. 

Glimpse of the future: tropical rain in the Botanic Garden and the Firebird in Lubyanskaya Square

New fountains are to open in Moscow. In particular, at present the idea of bringing the fountain back to Lubyanskaya Square is being considered. A modern 25-metre high column, the Firebird, is planned to be installed there.

Next year, a fountain with a water cascade will be created next to the main entrance to the Botanic Garden. In addition, a new greenhouse will open there: its guests will be able to learn what it is like to live in the subtropics and be caught in a true tropical shower. A park with a fountain will also be created close to the Butyrskaya metro station.