From slums to palaces: the present and future of Okhotny Ryad Street

From slums to palaces: the present and future of Okhotny Ryad Street
This street has changed names more than once throughout its history: Okhotnogo Ryada Square, Okhotnoryadskaya Square, Okhotny Ryad Square and even Marksa Prospect (when it was combined with Mokhovaya Street and Teatralny Proyezd). Okhotny Ryad is now a 250m long street running from Manezhnaya Square to Teatralnaya Square.

Throughout the years, this place – and later on this street – has had different uses: it was a market square, a hub of princes’ palaces, and even resembled a slum at one point. Following improvements, in the 21st century it will be known as a modern pedestrian area with Wi-Fi access.

Slums and princely palaces

The first mention of the place “Okhotny Ryad” dates back to the 15th century. At that time there were two churches there – of Anastasia and Parasceve Pyatnytsa

 – that did not survive to the present. This district of Moscow always had rows of shopping stalls, including those selling game and poultry, called “hunters’ row”, that gave the place its name.

The square was moved repeatedly: by the late 18th century all rows were located by the Monetny Dvor (Mint) building. The 1812 fire destroyed all the wooden shopping stalls, which were replaced with stone buildings. However, new wooden shops and depots continued to appear there throughout the 19th century. Nearby buildings had wooden extensions as well. By the end of the century the place fell into disrepair. It was considered one of the dirtiest in the city. Cockfighting was held in slums (there were scores of poultry slaughterhouses there). And yet Okhotny Ryad remained a symbol of the city’s prosperity.

Okhotny Ryad Square plan. No date. Moscow Main Archives.

During the rule of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, the nobility took a liking to the northern part of Okhotny Ryad and began building mansions there. By the end of the century Prince Dolgoruky, Boyar Vasily Volunsky, princes Ivan Troyekurov and Vasily Golitsyn built their estates there. According to the writer Vladimir Gilyarovsky, the latter two’s opposite facing palaces symbolised the fight between their owners – political foes – but this is not quite so.  built his palace before Troyekurov and was already in exile when the latter reached the peak of his power. As for Prince Dolgoruky’s mansion, it was purchased by the Assembly of the Russian Nobility. The building was reconstructed under architect Matvei Kazakov. The former courtyard was replaced with a large reception hall (later on it was called the Columned Hall). The building’s façade was re-oriented to Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, while its gable façade with two Toscano columns was turned to Okhotny Ryad.

Plan of Okhotnoryadskaya and Moiseyevskaya squares. 1881. Moscow Main Archives

The latest build of the century

In the early 20th century the market square of Okhotny Ryad was upgraded. It became much cleaner and shops started opening there. However, all trade was discontinued and shopping stalls demolished after the October Revolution. Grandiose construction was launched in Okhotny Ryad in the 1920s: at first the Soviet Government wanted to build a Palace of Soviets there and then a bank. The district’s historical image was not preserved: On 27 June 1928 the Church of St Parasceve Pyatnitsa was knocked down. Golitsyn’s Palace was destroyed shortly after. Troyekurovs’ Palace survived by miracle – it continued to exist

as a residential building (268 people or 89 families lived there in 1956). A bit later, in the 1950s the palace’s restoration was launched under the direction of architect Galya Alfyorova. Until 1980 it housed the Glinka State Museum of Musical Culture. In 1994 the palace found itself on a closed and protected territory and now it can only be seen from behind a fence.

The reconstruction of the building of the former Assembly of the Nobility was launched in 1903, this time under Alexander Meisner. Only the Columned Hall was not subject to any changes. Apart from public conventions, the building of the former Assembly of the Nobility hosted political events in the 1930s, as well as gala concerts and children’s New Year parties.

The construction of two monumental buildings – the Moskva Hotel by architect Alexei Shchusev and the building of the Council for Labour and Defence by architect Arkady Langman – was launched in Okhotny Ryad in 1935. The church and Golitsyn’s Palace were destroyed for this purpose. Under the 1935 master plan, Langman’s building was to start a thoroughfare from Lubyanskaya Square to the Palace of Soviets and shape Moscow’s general contours.  The Council for Labour and Defence determined the shape of government buildings for years to come. A 1937 Moscow guide described it as follows: “One of Moscow’s most beautiful buildings, The House of the USSR Council of People’s Commissars, built under the architect Langman project in 1935, is located on the other side of Okhotny Ryad. Its light grey façade with the Soviet Union’s plaster coat of arms is decorated with natural, so-called Protopopov stone, on three sides. Its basement and three entrances are inlaid with Labrador and Karelian granite. Its interior is very well decorated.” Today the building hosts the State Duma.

Moskva Hotel façade design from Manezhnaya Square’s side. 1932. Moscow Main ArchivesMoskva Hotel façade design from Manezhnaya Square’s side. 1932. Moscow Main Archives

“My Street” – Okhotny Ryad

On 14 May Moscow Government began making improvements to Okhotny Ryad Street under the My Street city programme. It will undergo major changes like all the areas around the Kremlin. Pavements will be broadened and laid with large granite slabs, making it much more convenient for pedestrians to walk. Comfortable ramps will be installed in underground passes for pedestrians with prams and wheelchair users. Trees will be planted along Okhotny Ryad to separate the pedestrian area from the road. This green belt will reduce noise.

Historical lanterns restored from designs of the Ogni Moskvy (Moscow Lights) Museum will be put up. They will be equipped with energy saving LED lamps that will consume eight times less energy than conventional ones.

Okhotny Ryad will also acquire a two-way dedicated lane for public transport, which will pass on the uneven side of the street opposite to the main flow of traffic. The lane will be located in the streets that form the so-called Kremlin Ring – from Bolshaya Polyanka Street to Lubyanskaya Square. Okhotny Ryad has been a one-way street since 1990. The dedicated lane will make it possible to open brief and convenient public transport routes in the centre of Moscow. Traffic on Okhotny Ryad Street will be restricted only partially during the upgrading work.

In addition, the My Street programme provides for the installation of over 100 stands with Wi-Fi access in Moscow’s centre this year, including Okhotny Ryad Street.