Moscow archaeologists have discovered the foundations of four old churches that were torn down in the 1920s – 1930s: the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple, the Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, St Nicholas’ Church and the Transfiguration Church in Pushkari.
The churches date back to the 16th – 17th centuries. Fragments of their foundations were found while utility infrastructure was being replaced under the My Street programme in the area of Bolshaya Lubyanka Street (Vorovskogo Square), Sretenka Street and Gogolevsky Boulevard.
Also, while working near 26 Sretenka Street, experts discovered a well which used to be part of an aqueduct whose construction was ordered by Catherine the Great. It was the first water pipe in Moscow meant for public use.
Among the unique finds are a Finno-Ugric noise-making pendant on Sretenka Street, and a personalised fishing weight and a solid ( a Polish coin) around Lubyanka Square.
Ruins of churches
On Vorovskovo Square archaeologists have found a fragment of the white stone foundation of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple. The fragment dates back to 1514-1519 when the church was built. Italian architect Alevisio Novy supervised the construction. The church is well-known because it housed the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan after the Time of Troubles. The church was reconstructed in the 17th century and demolished in the first half of the 20th century.
In a trench near the Sretensky Monastery archaeologists have discovered the foundation of St Nicholas’ Church and an arched aqueduct – a sewer looking very much like an underground passage. In the southern part of the church they found fully preserved brickwork and in the northern part only disintegrated bricks. This is because there was a drain pipe in that area used to discharge excess water from the monastery grounds.
According to chronicles, the Sretensky Monastery was founded in 1397 to commemorate Moscow’s miraculous salvation during the invasion of Mongol conqueror Timur. While the exact date of the construction of St Nicholas’ Church is unknown, historians believe that it was built in the 17th century at the latest. According to official data, the church was demolished in 1927-1930 “for street widening.”
Near the entrance hall of the Kropotkinskaya metro station on Gogolevsky Boulevard experts traced the base of a wall of the Church of the Holy Spirit that used to stand there until 1933. The church was first mentioned in chronicles in 1493. The stone building was constructed in 1699 and significantly renovated in the early 19th century.
Near 20 Sretenka Street archaeologists have discovered the ruins of the foundation of the Transfiguration Church in Pushkari and white-stone tombs.
“From a historical perspective, the finds are just ruins. We will preserve and suspend all the foundation fragments that were discovered and cover them with pathogen-free soil so as to return them to their normal environment. They are underground parts of buildings that were never meant to be in the open,” said Alexei Yemelyanov, Head of the Department of Cultural Heritage. “They are very difficult to exhibit from a technical point of view.”
According to Yemelyanov, all the fragments of foundations will be registered and marked on the archaeological map of Moscow.
A Polish solid, a noise-making pendant and a personalised fishing weight
Experts consider the Finno-Ugric noise-making pendant discovered in a trench on Sretenka Street to be a unique find and a stroke of luck for archaeologists. The bronze piece of jewellery is about four centimetres long and two centimetres wide.
It was called noise-making because of the sound it emitted when in motion. Two bells are attached to the lower part of the pendant that ring when in motion. One theory is that such pendants protected women from evil spirits and led to good luck and happiness.
“This find dates back to the 10th-12th centuries. We are always interested in artefacts associated with Finno-Ugric tribes because they tell us something about the settlement of Moscow. One theory, for example, is that Finno-Ugric people were the oldest inhabitants of Moscow,” Yemelyanov said.
The solid coin discovered in the area of Lubyanka Square was minted in 1580 when Stephen Bathory reigned in Poland. He is known as one of Ivan the Terrible’s fiercest rivals. The bent coin is 1.6 centimetres in diameter.
“Most likely, the Polish coin was brought to the square either by a Polish soldier who had taken part in the Livonian War (1558-1583) or someone who had contact with prisoners of war,” Yemelyanov said.
He said that a solid was a low value coin equivalent to half a kopeck at that time.
In the same area archaeologists discovered a fragment of a white-stone fishing sinker with the owner’s name written on it: “Property of Ivan Mikhailov.” This device was used to prevent the net from floating to the surface. The find is supposed to date back to the 17th century. The fragment is 6.8 centimetres long and 1.7 centimetres wide.
“This is a rare occasion when history puts us face to face with our ancestors. Many finds are usually impersonal but here we find someone’s personal belonging, Muscovite Ivan Mikhailov. For example, he cast a net while fishing and left. And his personalised sinker lead proves that this is his fishing gear and catch,” Yemelyanov said.
All the finds are being examined now and in the near future will be sent to a Moscow museum to be displayed.
Well from Catherine the Great’s time
A well dating back to the middle of the 19th century was found near 26 Sretenka Street. It is part of the two-metre wide Mytishchi aqueduct. Catherine the Great ordered it built in 1779 and it was opened in 1804.
“This was a technological breakthrough when the city got its first water pipe for public use. People did not have to carry water from wells any more. Before that there was an intermediate arrangement: water came to fountains and then local people either carried it in buckets themselves or asked other people for help. Water carrier was an occupation at that time,” Yemelyanov said.
He said that the well will not be displayed but certain parts, after being examined, may be donated to the collection discovered during work under the My Street programme.
In addition, three latticed windows have already been found under the streets of central Moscow. They were very popular in Moscow architecture at the turn of the 20th century. Such windows were placed on the pavement level.
“A latticed window was discovered under the road surface on Sadovaya-Karetnaya Street. It carried an inscription, ‘8 Nikolskaya Street, Moscow,’ which allowed us to establish its historical whereabouts. Another latticed window was discovered under the paving right where it was originally mounted near the western façade of the Petrovsky Passage building (10 Petrovka Street). A similar window was found near 13/6 Bolshaya Lubyanka Street,” the head of the department said.
Archaeological surveys are carried out on all the My Street construction sites. Thanks to archaeologists’ work under the My Street programme, over 1,000 artefacts were found in previous years and hundreds of finds were registered this year. Among other things, experts have discovered buried copper coins, secret rooms in a Kitay Gorod wall and hidden silver in a chessman from Ivan the Terrible’s time.