Triton House and mansion of Peter the Great’s teacher: My Street programme offers exciting guided tours

Triton House and mansion of Peter the Great’s teacher: My Street programme offers exciting guided tours
Streets in Moscow have been turned into real open-air museums full of history, architecture and literature. This story discusses locations mentioned in the famous satirical novel “The 12 Chairs” and visited by its main protagonists, con artist Ostap Bender and his hapless accomplice Kisa Vorobyaninov. It tells the story of the outbuilding, “Ruin” and how it became a museum. Another chapter deals with a local restaurant whose owners paid wages to waiters at a time when their colleagues at all other city restaurants had to share incomes with their superiors.

The My Street programme includes various improved parts of the city with pedestrian zones, such as the Museum Park near the Polytechnic Museum, Zaryadye, a footpath linking the Varvarka and Nikolskaya streets, the Museum Town on Volkhonka Street, Khokhlovskaya Square with ruins of the Bely Gorod (White Town) district, as well as 12 renovated embankments. As well as this some other improved areas will be added to the list before the year is out.

Its main stage was launched 10 April on central city streets, and the Garden Ring joined the programme in the early hours of 17 April. The list includes 87 landmarks. Some of them are being improved, with experts preparing to launch work in other places. Therefore we can walk around streets that have been improved over the past few years which have wider pavements, signposts, street furniture, new trees and shrubs and lamps. They now handle two-four times more pedestrians than before.

Triumfalnaya Square: from marketplace and circus to swings and festivals

The improved Triumfalnaya Square has become a favourite recreational area, with 60 percent of the Active Citizen website’s voters giving its new image excellent marks; and another 26 percent gave the square good marks. Today, the square has swings, benches, parking space for bicycles and lots of trees and shrubs.    A special pavilion houses cafés and an information centre for tourists. In addition to this, people can buy Moskva cakes near poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s monument.

Triumfalnaya Square has existed in its present boundaries since 1805. Over the ages, it has accommodated a circus, a film studio, a marketplace, restaurants and over ten theatres. Its current architectural image is formed by the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, the Moscow City Committee for Architecture and Urban Development, Beijing Hotel and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall that were built in the 1940s and the 1950s. The monument to Vladimir Mayakovsky was unveiled here in 1958, and the square became a traditional place for meetings and poetry recitals.

Today, the square is becoming a major cultural venue. Earlier this year, it hosted Library Night, and Easter Gift festival guided tours also started from this point. In 2016, a restaurant offering ancient Russian cuisine opened here during the Our Food festival.

“House under the Petticoat” and firebirds on tiles

This year, the city will improve a section of Tverskaya Street between Triumfalnaya Square and Nastasyinsky Pereulok, and a section between Nastasyinsky Pereulok and Mokhovaya Street was renovated in 2016. An alley lined with limetrees was planted here, and new lawns were cultivated. Tverskaya Street received signposts, street furniture and LED lamps. Local pavements became almost 100 percent wider and were covered with granite paving stones. All cables have now been buried underground, and the façades of Stalin-era buildings and older buildings that survived the upheavals of the early 20th century can be seen more clearly.

On the right side, we can see three buildings from the 1940s, followed by Pushkinskaya Square with its monument to the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin by sculptor Alexander Opekushin. Initially, the piece of sculpture stood on Tverskoi Boulevard and faced the Convent of the Icon of the Mother of God of the Passion. In 1950, the city upgraded Tverskaya Street, formerly called Gorky Street, demolished the convent and replaced it with a public garden. The Pushkin monument was relocated there and rotated by 180 degrees. The monument which is now being restored has been fenced off, and there are plans to upgrade it completely in the run-up to City Day celebrations.

Designed by architect Arkady Mordvinov, Tverskaya Street No.15 was completed by 1940 and replaced old low-rise buildings. Its central section’s top structure features an arcade, and faceted towers decorated with fish-scale ornaments. Famous tenants include Marshal of the Soviet Union Konstantin Rokossovsky, opera singer Sergei Lemeshev and poet Alexander Tvardovsky. Mr Mordvinov also designed House No. 17, also known as the House under the Petticoat”. Before 1958, its corner tower was adorned with a sculpture of a ballerina with her hand pointing towards the sky. Although the sleek female has long since been dismantled, old-timers still recall the building’s nickname.

The famous Yeliseyev Food Hall, an 18th century architectural landmark, is located on the other side of Tverskaya Street. This building has repeatedly changed its image, owners and designation. The most profound changes took place in the early 20th century. Classicism gave way to the Neo-Baroque style, the basement and the first floor above the ground (second floor) merged into one single whole. A white-marble staircase was dismantled, and the arched entrance to the courtyard became the main entrance of the shop.

A huge building, a city in itself, built between1937-1939 and designed by Arkady Mordvinov, occupies several blocks on the same side of Tverskaya Street between Kamergersky Pereulok and Tverskaya Square. It conceals tile ornaments, multi-colour tiles with flowers and firebirds, gables and the tower-chamber roof of the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery’s town residence. It was built in 1907 for this monastery and leased out to tenants. The Alexander Khanzhonkov Film Studio had its office here until the 1920s, and all offices were converted into communal flats during the latter-day Soviet period. The street was widened in the 1930s, and this building was moved further away inside the block, together with many other buildings. Workers moved the building at night, and none of the tenants even noticed.

Following the “12 Chairs” and the owner of the Sanduny steam-baths

Tverskaya Street begins near Okhotny Ryad. People entering the nearby Teatralny Proyezd should turn left onto Neglinnaya Street near the Metropol Hotel, an Art Moderne masterpiece. Neglinnaya Street was improved in 2015 together with other streets around the Central Children’s Shop on Lubyanka Street. The city’s oldest streets with a rich history, including Rozhdestvenka, Pushechnaya, Myasnitskaya and others, acquired a new image.

Let’s turn from Neglinnaya Street into the famous Petrovsky shopping mall that was built under the supervision of engineer Vladimir Shukhov. This location is mentioned in the famous satirical novel “The 12 Chairs”. Its main protagonists, con artist Ostap Bender and his hapless accomplice Kisa Vorobyaninov, came here to get the above-mentioned chairs. An imposing building on the other side of the street houses the Central Bank of Russia. Designed by architect Konstantin Bykovsky, it’s got tall windows, columns and allegorical sculptures and ranks among his best works.

The house at 14 Neglinnaya Street rivets the eye with its intricate decorations, including tritons on the dome, the sculptures of swimming boys on the roof, lion masks and the sculptures of a mermaid with a lyre in her hands and a young man blowing a horn. The mansion was built over 100 years ago for Vera Firsanova, the last private owner of the famous Sanduny steam-baths, located right behind this building. Writer Anton Chekhov and his wife Olga Knipper-Chekhova rented a flat here in the early 20th century.

Background for “Troika” picture and unique restaurant with paid waiters

Neglinnaya Street links up with the Boulevard Ring. Part of the Ring’s streets and boulevards will be improved throughout this year, and its inner (anticlockwise) rim between Arbatskaya Square and Pokrovka Street was renovated last year. So, here is where we are going.

On the right, we can see Rozhdestvensky Boulevard named after the Convent of the Nativity of the Mother of God (Rozhdestvensky Convent). In 1386, Princess Maria Kestutyevna, the wife of Prince Andrei of Serpukhov and the mother of Prince Vladimir the Brave, who fought in the Battle of Kulikovo Field (1380), laid the convent’s cornerstone here. The original wooden convent was replaced by stone buildings from the early 16th century. Alterations continued until the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and the entire architectural ensemble now includes buildings completed between the 16th and 20th centuries. A 19th century gallery encircles the cathedral. A building with nun’s cells, a parish church school and the Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God was completed near the convent’s northern wall overlooking Rozhdestvensky Boulevard between 1904-1906. This wall forms the background of Vasily Perov’s famous 1866 “Troika” picture which, of course, does not show any structures of the early 20th century.

A garden with motley grass was laid out near the convent wall under the My Street programme and  a small city square with flowerbeds and leisure areas is now located on the corner of the 214 metre long Sretensky Boulevard, the shortest boulevard on the Boulevard Ring. Built in 1830, this boulevard begins at a monument to Nadezhda Krupskaya, the wife of Vladimir Lenin, who worked at the nearby People’s Commissariat (Ministry) of Education where the Saratov tavern, one of the most famous in the city, once stood.

“Tavern and restaurant waiters never received any wages, and they paid part of their incomes to their bosses. In some cases, they paid preset fees, beginning with three roubles per month or even more, and they could also deduct 20 percent of their tips. The Saratov tavern was the only exception. Dubrovin and Savostyanov who owned the tavern never demanded any money from their waiters, and they paid three roubles a month to every waiter and assistant waiter until the tavern was shut down,” Vladimir Gilyarovsky wrote in his essays “Moscow and Muscovites”.

The boulevard also ends at a monument to engineer-mechanic Vladimir Shukhov. The inventor’s figure stands on a pedestal resembling the famous Shukhov Tower in Shabolovka Street. It is decorated with the images of tools and components of various units and structures developed by Mr Shukhov, including the above-mentioned radio tower, floors and ceilings of the Kievsky Railway Station and the State Department Store (GUM), oil pipelines and also tankers.

Mercury’s masks and Chinese characters

Sretensky Boulevard ends near Turgenevskaya Square where the Boulevard Ring intersects with Myasnitskaya Street that was improved in 2015. All local buildings are architectural landmarks. In the 19th century, every Russian knew that House No. 7 contained the then largest library dealing with the country’s history collected by Alexander Chertkov.

The Porcelain House at 8/2 Myasnitskaya Street featuring masks of the god Mercury, the patron of trade, was designed by architect Fyodor Shekhtel. A residential building at 24 Myasnitskaya Street belonging to the Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts is leased out to tenants. Its façade is decorated with ceramic panels based on drawings by Shekhtel.

The building at 19 Myasnitskaya Street, known as the Perlov Tea House, is probably the most famous local structure. It is decorated with a pagoda-shaped tower and plasterwork in the form of dragons, snakes, Chinese umbrellas and lanterns. The inscriptions on its façade resemble Chinese characters.

Prague restaurant and an early cinema

Anyone wishing to attend a workshop or a concert should visit the upgraded Novy Arbat Street that has now become a popular venue for city festivals. The street turns into a film set, a stuntman’s paradise or a modern art centre time and again.

It is also famous for the longest bench in Moscow. It measures 300 metres in length. The street also has some older tourist landmarks, including Prague restaurant, built in the late 18th century, early 20th century residential buildings that were leased out to tenants, and famous book-shaped buildings acting as improvised postcards and video screens during bank holidays and other events.

Vozdvizhenka Street that was improved in 2016 is located a short distance away. You should cross Arbatskaya Square with its Khudozhestvenny Cinema, one of the first in the city. Sergei Eisenstein’s famous silent film “Battleship Potyomkin” was first screened here, followed by “A Start in Life”, the first Soviet sound film, and “Grunya Kornakova”, the first Soviet colour film.

“Fool’s House” and “Ruin” outbuilding

The house of Arseny Morozov, one of the most unusual buildings in the city, is located in Vozdvizhenka Street. It is decorated with small towers, columns, balconies and a rope knot, the symbol of prosperity and longevity, and the façade is covered with sea shells. The exotic mansion has features of every conceivable architectural style. Classic columns can be seen in the window openings. Add to this a pseudo-Gothic dining room for official events. The main drawing room is decorated in Empire style. The female owner’s boudoir pays tribute to Baroque art and there are also Chinese and Arab halls. Business woman and patron of the arts Varvara Morozova was unimpressed with her son’s efforts. “In the past, only I knew that he was a fool, and now the whole of Moscow will know this,” she reportedly said after seeing the structure.

An ordinary-looking building at 9 Vozdvizhenka Street has an interesting literary history. It belonged to Nikolai Volkonsky, the grandfather of Leo Tolstoy. This mansion is described in the novel “War and Peace”. Natasha Rostova was introduced here to the old Prince Bolkonsky. It was here that Marya Bolkonskaya and Nikolai Rostov became engaged. In the 1830s, the mansion was purchased by the Ryumin landlord family. While attending a ball here, Leo Tolstoy saw the young Princess Praskovya Shcherbatova, who served as the prototype for Kitty Shcherbatskaya in his “Anna Karenina”.

The “Ruin” outbuilding at 5/25 Vozdvizhenka Street has received a new museum space. Initially, the outbuilding housed a coach shed and a stable. In the late 19th century, another floor was added to the Talyzin family mansion’s outbuilding that was then turned into a government office. In the early 20th century, it housed a research and development institute. A metro line was built beneath the mansion in the 1930s. In the 1990s, the building was gutted by fire, and it has since turned into a museum and architectural landmark after restoration. The building’s name can be explained by its tumultuous history and formerly rundown state.

The imposing Russian State Library towers on the corner of the Vozdvizhenka and Mokhovaya Streets. It is decorated with bronze bas-reliefs of Archimedes, Copernicus, Newton, Lomonosov, Darwin, Pushkin and various scientists, philosophers and writers. The building is faced with limestone and black granite, with its interiors featuring marble, bronze and oak panels. A monument to Fyodor Dostoyevsky is located near the entrance to the library. This place was not chosen by coincidence because Dostoyevsky frequented the library of the Moscow Public and Rumyantsev museums. The Russian State Library still stores his manuscripts.

Mansion of Peter the Great’s teacher and Pashkov House

Let’s turn right near the Russian State Library and walk down Mokhovaya Street towards the Prince Vladimir monument and then enter Znamenka Street. This street’s history dates back to the 15th century, but it was not named Znamenka until the late 16th century. The street owes its name to the Church of the Holy Sign of the Mother of God. At that time, various noble families, including the Shuisky and Rtishchev clans, had built their mansions here. In the 18th century, the mansion of Nikita Zotov, the teacher of Peter the Great, was located near Borovitsky Bridge and the mansions of Count Fyodor Apraksin and General in Chief Matvei Tolstoy stood near the Bely Gorod (White Town) district.

The dazzling-white Pashkov House, mounted on a high pedestal, is the main local landmark. It took only two years to build this house. It was designed by architect Vasily Bazhenov. Under the first owner, Pyotr Pashkov, a statue of Mars decorated the palace’s belvedere, with the family coat of arms adorning its portico. The wooden belvedere and galleries burned down during the great fire of 1812 and were later restored by architect Osip Bove.

You can find even more footpaths on the Moscow tourism website and the “Learn about Moscow” website. The “Learn about Moscow” app will receive an automatic audio-guide by summer, making it possible to tour the city’s historical landmarks. The audio-guide will automatically locate various historical buildings and provide the user with the appropriate soundtrack.