From a fortress to a promenade, or how the Ilyinsky Garden changed its appearance

From a fortress to a promenade, or how the Ilyinsky Garden changed its appearance
Monument to the Heroes of Plevna. Author unknown. Moscow, 1888. The Main Archive Department of Moscow
The garden will be repaved and get new drainage system and change of lighting.

This year, the Ilyinsky Garden, one of the oldest in Moscow, will be renovated under the My Street programme along with other streets inside the Kremlin Circle – Novaya Ploshchad and the sections from Kitaygorodsky Proyezd to Ilyinka Street.

Today the Ilyinsky Garden has free Wi-Fi and also hosts various festivals. This is a place that has changed its appearance a lot of times during the city’s 900 years of history. This is the reason why it is so interesting for archaeologists .They are certain that they will find fragments of historical treasure between the many cultural layers.

During the years, these ranged from pieces of old crockery to Tartar pipes and slippers, to pomade jars and pharmaceutical appliances, to stone cannon balls and other artifacts. This year, archaeologists have discovered a secret room at the base of the Kitaygorodsky Wall, which helped the city’s defenders in the 16th century to eavesdrop on the enemy on the other side of the fortification.   

Kitay-Gorod towers and preachers

This area developed rapidly in the 16th and the 17th centuries, when the Kitay-Gorod borders took shape. Stone walls began to be built in 1535 under architect Petrok Maly. By 1538, the fortress acquired dead gate towers with a lot of artillery and a moat. According to historians, it was 17 metres wide and about 8 metres deep on Lubyanka Square. The area was named Ilyinka Gate Square after one of the towers, while the tower itself was named in honour of the Ilyinsky Monastery. Soon Streltsi Guard members began building their houses on the other side of the moat, followed by shops and other structures. Novgorod and Pskov joined Moscow in the 15th and 16th centuries, with people who came from these cities settling in an area east of the Kitay-Gorod fortress on what is now Lubyanka Square, Pushechnaya and Myasnitskaya streets and the site of the present-day Polytechnic Museum.

In the early 18th century, Moscow was preparing for an invasion by Charles XII’.. Peter the Great ordered that   fortifications be built as well as earth ramparts around the Kitay-Gorod walls and also that a moat should be dug. Local ramshackle buildings were pulled down after the Patriotic War of 1812 and replaced by shops, some of which sold fish, and there were warehouses too.

After this, shortly before the 1812 war, the wall was put in order as far as possible. Outhouses were pulled down, while the inside remained as it was. Moreover, a flea market sprung up on Staraya Square between the Ilyinsky and Nikolsky gates. It was still in its full ugly glory in the mid-1880s. Vladimir Makovsky painted a good picture of it, which is now in the Tretyakov Gallery. The flea market was shut down somewhat later, but its traces in the form of slums survived until after the Bolshevik revolution. It was only the Soviet regime that got rid of all the shops leaning on the wall all the way to the Varvarka Gate. On the outside was Lubyanka Square with its taverns and rookeries and the famous Shipov Fortress (Vladimir Gilyarovsky, Moscow and Muscovites)

The first large-scale improvement in this area dates back to 1775, when a decision was approved to encircle the Kremlin and Kitay-Gorod with a chain of city squares. In 1806, houses were purchased from the local inhabitants and work began to build a square in their place. However, the effort ran athwart Peter the Great’s fortifications. Between 1819 and 1823, these were razed to the ground and the moat was filled with earth. After this the authorities thought better of building a circle of squares and interspersed these with residential neighbourhoods. For example, apple stalls selling fruit and vegetables appeared where the Polytechnic Museum is now.

The museum project got under way in 1875; seven years later, Yablochnaya (Apple) Square south of the museum was turned into Lubyansky Garden known today as Ilyinsky Garden.  In the early 20th century, it was recognised as the most beautiful small park in Moscow.

In 1887, a monument to the heroes of Plevna, Russian grenadiers who died in action during the Russo-Turkish war, was erected at its northern end. The Russian forces had succeeded in defeating a 40,000-strong army led by Osman Nuri Pasha.

The plan at first was to put the monument near Plevna in Bulgaria, with veterans and other soldiers launching a campaign to collect money for this. However, the sum thus raised proved insufficient for the original design made by the architect and sculptor Vladimir Sherwood, who eventually had to produce a simpler version. Apart from this, relations between the Russian Empire and Bulgaria deteriorated when the monument was ready for transportation to its intended site and someone suggested that it should be left in Moscow. The idea was supported by Moscow residents and the then Governor-General of Moscow Vladimir Dolgorukov.

He was asked to install the monument on a vacant site closer to the city centre. The choice fell on Lubyansky Garden, where 77 square metres of land were allocated in its front part abutting Ilyinka Square. The pig-iron tent-shaped chapel opened on 28 November for the tenth anniversary of the battle. The ceremony was attended by Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich, Moscow Garrison troops and Plevna veterans, with the chapel consecrated by the Moscow Metropolitan.

Its high reliefs symbolised liberation from 500 years of Turkish occupation: a raging Turkish irregular killing a Bulgarian family; an old Russian peasant blessing his son with the Icon of our Lady of Vladimir; a Russian grenadier pinning down a Turkish soldier; a dying grenadier pulling down the chains of slavery from a Bulgarian woman; and a cross on top of the Moon as a symbol of victory. Inside, the octagonal slopes featured the holy images of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, St John the Precurser, and the Archangel Michael, matched below with those of St Alexander Nevski, St Nicholas the Wonderworker and St George the Victorious. There are also icons of the saints worshipped on the day of the seizure of Plevna: St Stephen, St Irenarchus and St Basil, as well as representations of the scholars, Doctors Cyril and Methodius.

The chapel was transferred to Moscow’s jurisdiction and a memorial service for the fallen soldiers was scheduled for 28 November of each year. The so-called box offerings – voluntary donations collected here – were used as allowances shared out between wounded grenadiers and families of those who had perished in the battle of Plevna.  

After the Bolshevik revolution, however, the monument was plundered and turned into a public lavatory.  The interior decorations disappeared as did the slabs with the names of the grenadiers. By the end of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), the monument was redecorated; facelifts were performed in 1959 and 1966. Treated with a preservative, the monument turned black. In 1984, it was decided to restore the chapel. In 1992, it was handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Yet another event of importance for the locality took place in the 1930s: a decision was approved to pull down the Kitay-Gorod wall in the area of the garden for city construction. The nearby Varvarka Gate was dismantled as well. A portion of the gate can now be seen in the underpass of the Kitay-Gorod metro station.

A city map indicating the Ilyinka Gate and the Lubyansky Garden. 1889


A new project to improve the Ilyinsky Garden was developed in 1944 while the war was still being fought. The plan included making iron fencing, granite stairs, terraces, and new plumbing. The old fence was to be repaired too. In 1947, an experimental plant of the All Union Research Institute of Oxygen Engineering (VNIIKAIMASH) received an order to cast pig-iron fences for Ilyinsky, Yekaterininsky, Chistoprudny and Pokrovsky gardens. In 1950, it was decided to install the Ilyinsky Garden’s fence along Kitaygorodsky Proyezd and Proyezd Serova. The entrance to the garden was made on Nogina Square (currently this area is split into Varvarskiye Vorota Square and Slavyanskaya Square).

In the late 1950s, an honours board was installed in the garden, which featured news about the best enterprises and construction projects that won the socialist competition. The board was dismantled in 1992, when it was decided to overhaul the area. Teams of workers planted new trees, rearranged the territory as per the historical plan, restored the fence, made new stairs and ramps, replaced the paving, installed new benches and lighting fixtures, and laid out flower beds. Simultaneously the entrance from Proyezd Serova was closed.

That same year, a second monument – that to the Christian preachers and scholars Cyril and Methodius, who invented the Cyrillic alphabet – was erected in the Ilyinsky Garden. The creation of sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov and architect Yuri Grigoryev, the monument was unveiled on 24 May, the Day of Slavic Writing and Culture. True, some observant Muscovites immediately spotted several orthographic mistakes on the doctors’ monument.

A glimpse of the architectural décor of the Ilyinsky Garden. Unknown author. Moscow. 1950s

From park to park

After improvements, the Ilyinsky Garden will become part of a walking route that will link Zaryadye Park and Museum Park, the two new and unique urban spaces that are certain to attract numerous Muscovites and tourists. The Ilyinsky Garden is likely to enjoy much popularity too.

Its comprehensive beautification is planned under the My Street programme, including the repaving of roads and pavements, construction of electricity and drainage ducts, and a new lighting system. An amphitheatre with a podium and an open-air theatre will be added as venues for lectures and other events and landscape sculptures will be installed. Transparent exhibition boxes will dot the Museum Route .These will be filled with small displays provided by the Polytechnic Museum.

The area will be accessible from the new Zaryadye Park due to be opened for Moscow’s 870th anniversary this autumn. The park is being laid out not far from the Kremlin wall on the site of the former Rossiya Hotel. Thanks to its location, it is likely to be visited by as many as 12 million people a year. The admittance is free 24 hours a day.

Yet another beautification project, Museum Park, can be reached from the Ilyinsky Garden via an underpass. A pedestrian zone is being created around the Polytechnic Museum, centred on the Green Amphitheatre which will host lectures and concerts. A zone for walks will be built in the place of the museum’s basement level.. The street gallery will be four metres lower than the level of the pavements. Visitors will be able to reach it by walking down a flight of wide stairs from the Solovki Stone garden. A green multi-tier wall will separate Museum Park from the pavement and the road.

Photographs contributed by the Main Archive of the City of Moscow