Neglinka, Crimea and the pet market: the story of Trubnaya Square

Neglinka, Crimea and the pet market: the story of Trubnaya Square
Located in a lowland area, Trubnaya Square was for centuries vulnerable to flooding after almost every heavy rain, a geographical nuisance that lasted until the 1970s. The area was also long considered to be a social underbelly of the city, and was known as one of Moscow’s most popular drug haunts.

Before the construction of the walls of Bely Gorod (White City) in the late 16th century, Trubnaya Square was a lowland area with the Neglinka [Neglinnaya] River flowing through flood plains, which to the north were bounded by primeval forests, and to the south, by an urban area consisting mostly of churches.

Following the erection of the walls, a belfry was built there. A market sprang up at the bottom of that belfry, which, before long, got the name Lubyanoi Torg. It was a timber market, but in autumn, it also sold hay. The forest on the lowland’s northern fringe gave way to a new residential district that was initially called Skorodom, and was later renamed Zemlyanoi Gorod.

In the pipe

Only the river remained unchanged, flowing from the district currently known as Maryina Roshcha. At Trubnaya Square, the river transformed into Verkhny Neglinensky Pond, which had become shallow by the end of the 18th century, and continued to flow towards the Kremlin, skirting around it to the north to flow into the Moskva River. 

Trubnaya Square owes its name to the Neglinnaya River. Opinions differ on the exact reason for the name Trubnaya, which means “pipe.” Recently, the most common explanation has been that the river flowed through pipe through a Bely Gorod wall. However, the hypothesis put forward by Ivan Kondratyev in his book “Moscow in the Grey Days of Yore,” published in 1893, seems to be more credible: “Along with Kuznetsky Bridge, another highly important bridge over the Neglinnaya was a bridge built in what we today call Trubnaya Square. Made of wood, it was built a very long time ago on tall piles, and to facilitate the flow of water under the bridge the river was diverted through a huge wooden pipe: hence the area’s name, which means ‘pipe.’” 

The name caught on so much that the square lent its name to a local church: the Church of St Sergius the Miracle-Maker on the Pipe. In official documents, the area was also often referred to in this way.

An impassable swamp throughout the summer, in winter, the Pipe was famous for its Maslenitsa (Butter Week) ice slides and arm wrestling matches, which were invariably at the centre of every winter holiday in Moscow.

In the early 19th century, two very important events in the life of Trubnaya Square and the whole of Moscow took place. After 1812, a decision was taken to divert the Neglinnaya River, in which “Muscovites in ancient times had the habit of dumping rubbish,” through a pipe, and to fill the riverbed with earth. In 1823, a proposal was put forward to extend the boulevard and, accordingly, pave the square.

On 13 June 1824, the peasants Terenty Andreyev and Alexei Kolmogorov won a tender to make a plan for the square. They had to fill a trench about one metre deep with almost 250 cubic sazhens (approximately 2,500 cubic metres) of earth.

Acceptance statement for the development plan of Trubnaya Square. 1824. Courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate

During the first summer, 125 cubic sazhens of earth was brought to the site: sandy and sludgy deposits from the bottom of the Neglinnaya. After the soil had settled, the remaining 125 cubic sazhens of earth was added, and the surface of the square was levelled off.

This did not stop the flooding, however. Even in the 20th century, despite all the work that had been carried out periodically to clean up and improve the Neglinnaya riverbed, flooding left Trubnaya Square under water three times: in 1960, 1973 and 1974. The last flood became the final straw, and the next year, a new culvert had already been laid with a carrying capacity of 66.5 cubic metres of water per second. 

A new life

After the river was diverted through a pipe and the square was paved, work to develop the site began with the construction of a pool for the Mitishchinsky Aqueduct. The pool started to supply water to a fountain, which was previously fed by the spring next to the Convent of Nativity of Our Lady. In the 1840s, a flower market moved to the Pipe, or, rather, to the beginning of Bolshoi Trubny Boulevard, as it was called at the time. Until 1824, the flower market was located on Red Square by the Kremlin wall, but was then moved to Teatralnaya Square.

In 1851, Ivan Zelenetsky wrote: “Now in the evenings, big crowds gather here, and waiting by the pool are cabs, by which all these people arrived here to walk around the flower garden, although it is yet to be tidied up and although there are no cafes yet on Trubny Boulevard where you can enjoy tea, coffee or cool drinks, and there is no music; just imagine what the place will look like when it is put in order and the flower garden is finished.” 

Horse-drawn carriages, Russian Wolfhounds and the pet market

In those years, the pet market also moved to Trubnaya Square from Okhotny Ryad Street to sell birds, dogs and other pets. Every Sunday, people from all over Moscow came to the market. There were pigeon keepers with pigeons, bird catchers who sold birds that they caught in a trap and lovers of dogs and aquarium fish. Anton Chekhov and Vladimir Gilyarovsky described the market most vividly. Gilyarovsky wrote: “Bird hunters and bird lovers alike filled the square, dotted with baskets full of hens, pigeons, turkeys and geese. Cages with a vast variety of singing birds hung from the racks. In that very spot you could also buy bird food, fishing tackle, fishing rods, aquariums with cheap golden fish and all varieties of pigeons. The dog market occupied a large area. There was no breed of dog that you could not find there! Russian Wolfhounds, Khortiye Borziye, Psoviye Borziye, all breeds of hound, Great Danes and Bulldogs and all sorts of hairy and hairless little creatures that sellers held in their bosoms.”

In 1872, Moscow’s first line of rails for horse-drawn carriages was laid across Trubnaya Square, drawing idlers, who would sit on iron bollards waiting for horse-drawn carriages. Indeed, there was something worth seeing. Two horses drew a small carriage from Petrovskiye Vorota Square, but to pull it up the steep Rozhdestvensky Boulevard another two or even four horses would be added to the pair. Each horse would be driven by a boy who assisted the coachman, and the carriage would climb at full speed up the hill, to the boys’ whooping and the constant bell ringing of the coachman. God forbid a slowly-moving pedestrian should be standing in their way: the carriage often had to carefully roll back only to make another attempt to climb up the street. 

In 1895, the horse-drawn carriages made way for trams, and a horse-drawn tram station, or a transit station, was built on Trubnaya Square shortly after. However, the switch to electric power did little to change the situation, and the square remained a very difficult section in terms of traffic. The driver of a tram running from Sretensky Boulevard had to make sure that there were no people at the stop on Trubnaya Square and that the passage was safe for the tram. On 24 November 1915, an accident occurred in the square, involving a tram with faulty brakes that rolled down Sretensky Boulevard and ran into a tram standing on Trubnaya Street. Seventeen people were injured, four of them severely.

A licence to build a horse-drawn tram station on Trubnaya Square. 1895. Courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate 

This was not the first time that blood was shed on Trubnaya Square. In 1905, the square saw one of the fiercest December clashes. The 1917 Revolution also touched the history of Trubnaya Square. For example, on 12 November, arms sold at the pet market. Suddenly, sellers started exchanging fire with police officers: one man was killed and one badly wounded. Not long after, the pet market was closed. First, a ban on trade on Trubnaya Square was imposed in 1921, and in November 1924, pet and flower markets traders were banished from the square for good.  

Of course, one of the bloodiest events in the history of Trubnaya Square was the funeral of Joseph Stalin. On March 6, 1953, the number of people who came to bid farewell to Stalin was so great that it led to a terrible crush, in which, according to various estimates, between several hundred and two thousand people died. The event is mentioned in Yevgeni Yevtushenko’s memoirs and in German Plisetsky’s poem, “The Pipe”:

“Forward, free slaves,

Worthy of Khodinka and the Pipe!The passage ahead is closed,

So push forward, open wide your mouths like fish.Forward, makers of history!

You’ll be left with curbstones,

The rib crunching and iron fencing

And the stampede of a panic-stricken herd,

Mud and blood in the corners of your pale lips.The lofty sounds of pipes are not for you.”

Hell at The Crimea

A carefree and extremely racy nightlife makes up a special page in the history of Trubnaya Square. It was not without reason that the legendary Vladimir Gilyarovsky gave a thrilling description of this place. The Pipe and the neighbouring areas were famous for their slums, drug dens, victualling houses and taverns, all very cheap. It was not without risk for a decent person to appear there.

The most popular place of all was, of course, The Crimea. It was referred to as a hotel, tavern or victualling-house – you name it – and had three floors and a basement, which was called Ad (Hell). And that was where the most interesting things happened.

“This was an extremely dangerous place to visit; not a single visitor left without some of their things being stolen or without losing a card game or being beaten… There were several dark passages to exit Ad through its inner courtyard. In those narrow corridors, wooden beams were fixed in different places and at different heights, but lower than human height, and poles dug in in such a way that anyone trying to escape the den would invariably bump into these barriers, hitting themselves and, bewildered, would fall into the hands of swindlers chasing him.”

Ad had two eateries, one of which consisted of four rooms and 14 separate rooms intended for guests who came there with women of easy virtue. All three floors at The Crimea also had rooms, which were let out for a month and were also let out for a short time for romantic encounters.

“The basement is crowded with drunks and lecherous and vicious people; lecherous women who gather there are used as bait to lure inexperienced men; people spend time there drinking, dancing indecently and openly indulging in lust,” a government official wrote to the Moscow Governor-General. “Swindlers make deals there and do not even stop short at pilfering right at the public house.” 

Following this report, The Crimea was closed in 1866. Instead, Russky Traktir opened, and the basement was turned into a warehouse. In 1981, the building was torn down.