Sergei Sobyanin orders creation of open-air archeological museums

Sergei Sobyanin orders creation of open-air archeological museums
Photo: Photo by the Mayor and Moscow Government Press Service. Denis Grishkin
An archeological park - a first - with an amphitheatre, will open on Khokhlovskaya Square. The largest surviving section of the Bely Gorod (White Town) wall will be displayed.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has given instructions to preserve the unique artifacts unearthed during the My Street programme, at open-air archeological museums.

“This place actually contains parts of the unique Bely Gorod (White Town) wall that was built about 500 years ago. The city is creating its first open-air archeological park where old artifacts will be displayed and cultural events can be held. The city had planned to build an entertainment centre here, but now it will be an interesting open space, one of the most unique places in the city,” Mr Sobyanin said.

About 10,000 artifacts have been found during the My Street programme; they have been sent to city museums.

“We want to turn about 15 locations in the My Street programme into open-air archeological landmarks, and some will be showcases. We’ll create unique places where people will be able to see these old architectural elements and other items and learn what the streets looked like centuries ago,” Mr Sobyanin noted. He also thanked archeologists who were involved in the programme.

Chief City Archeologist Leonid Kondrashev told Mr Sobyanin about various interesting artifacts, including a Bronze Age stone axe, women’s glass bracelets, contemporaries of Prince Yury Dolgoruky, the founder of Moscow, and a 15th century copper-melting pot. “We are excavating large areas under the My Street programme, and we are unearthing large structural elements, and we can pinpoint long-term trends. This is an important part of the My Street programme,” he noted.

One purpose of the programme is to return the historical past, the old façades and boulevards to the city’s residents, Mr Sobyanin noted.

On 15 August, a large exhibition called “Secrets of Moscow’s Underground Mazes” will open at the Museum of Moscow. It will feature the most interesting items out of the approximately10,000 artifacts found during the street projects. “It appears that not a single city in the world works in this “real-time” mode, that is, contractors and archeologists finding these old items, and then processing and immediately displaying them. But we are doing this especially in the run-up to the city’s 870th anniversary,” said Museum of Moscow Director Alina Saprykina.

These items show the city from another angle, where we can learn many new things about its history and the everyday life of its residents, she noted.

“I believe, two-thirds of your exhibition space will be filled with artifacts unearthed during the My Street programme,” Mr Sobyanin added.

The Boulevard Ring is among the most important historical places in the city, Mr Sobyanin said. “We have been restoring this unique area for many years. In the first few years, we restored the central section, boulevard after boulevard. Actually, we created pedestrian streets, planted trees and installed new street lamps. During the next stage we upgraded the Boulevard Ring’s inner side. This year, we started upgrading the outer side, and hopefully all the main work will be over in the next few weeks,” he said.

Museum to replace shopping mall

The Bely Gorod wall was built in the 1580s to a design by architect Fyodor Kon. In 1610-1612, during the Time of Troubles, the Bely Gorod became a battleground  and defensive belt and that happened  only once in the city’s history. As per Empress Catherine the Great’s rescript, the wall was torn down in the 1780s and taken to bricks. Now this site is replaced with the Boulevard Ring, a popular pedestrian street and leisure/recreational area.

Named after a nearby side street, the small Khokhlovskaya Square is 95 metres long and 45 metres wide, and this is where Pokrovsky Boulevard begins. The square is open to pedestrians alone.

In 1994, it was decided to build an underground car park at Khokhlovskaya Square. And a shopping mall/entertainment centre was added to the project some time later. The city signed an investment contract with a private developer to build the facility.

But in 2007-2008, builders unearthed a unique 64-metre long section of the Bely Gorod wall dating to the late 16th century on Khokhlovskaya Square. This unique historical landmark received federal cultural landmark status.

The 336-square metre stone wall was built about 500 years ago. Carved white-stone elements, presumably made by Italian masters from dismantled Kremlin buildings dating to the first half of the 16th century, were found in the rubble.

The cultural landmark was fenced off in 2008 while the city decided the future of Khokhlovskaya Square. They studied various options, such as filling in the pit and the wall and reinstating the square’s original looks or keeping the wall open, so everyone could see it.

The pit gradually filled with water, and the sides became overgrown. To save the landmark, the City Department of Cultural Heritage regularly removed snow, waste and plants from the wall, pumped away the water and maintained a protective awning.

In 2014, the city decided to turn the landmark into a museum and cancelled the existing development contract. In 2016, two-thirds of the 169,400 city residents voting on the Active Citizen website supported a proposal to establish an archeological park on Khokhlovskaya Square.

Khokhlovskaya Square, a new city landmark

Since early this year, the city has been renovating Khokhlovskaya Square and turning a section of the Bely Gorod wall into an open-air museum. The white-stone wall section is being strengthened and reintegrated. This new landmark will blend nicely with the cityscape and will allow anyone, including experts, to admire and study it.

A section of the Bely Gorod wall will be upgraded and closed off, and Khokhlovskaya Square will be improved, with an amphitheatre appearing.

The square will be divided into upper and lower levels. The former will be flush with Pokrovsky Boulevard, and the lower level will have the same height as the Bely Gorod wall.

The upper level will receive a wide promenade with summer verandahs, cafés and wooden benches. It will include a bicycle rack, an information marker, and street lighting with energy-efficient LED lamps.

A 693-square metre leisure/recreational area will be built on the lower level near the landmark. Every evening, floodlights and LED lamps will illuminate the Bely Gorod wall. Various open-air events will take place here.

The elevation between the amphitheatre’s upper and lower levels will be almost three metres. Wide stairs, made from high-quality, bright coloured concrete covered with wood planks, will provide access.

An additional retaining wall made from pigmented-concrete resembling natural stone will be built behind the Bely Gorod wall, reinforcing the lower level. Wild grape vines will crisscross the retaining wall’s surface.

Thirty-four new trees, including pines, maple-trees and linden-trees, will be planted on the upper level and on the amphitheatre stairs to provide shade. They will not obstruct the wall.

Pavements (sidewalks), as well as spaces around the archeological landmark and trees, will be covered with a special Terraway artificial material consisting of safe natural and artificial elements, such as sand, glass, and stone crumbs and an epoxide-resin binder. This porous coating is extremely durable and wear-resistant. It quickly absorbs water without puddles, and water evaporates quickly through this wicking material. The square will receive special drainage systems.

The city hopes to complete the square by City Day in early September; the trees will be planted at a later date. The project is now 75 percent complete, and the main construction has been completed.

Open-air museums

Since 2015, over 10,000 artifacts, including coins, household items and various unique finds, such as a tree-bark letter and large elements of past city buildings, have been unearthed under the My Street city-improvement programme.

As per the Moscow Mayor’s instructions, there are plans to turn the most interesting archeological elements into permanent museums that will blend nicely with the cityscape:

These facilities include:

  • artifacts unearthed in Zaryadye Park
  • the Bely Gorod wall on Khokhlovskaya Square
  • the underground section of the Naryshkin Chambers on Petrovka Street
  • a Bely Gorod fortification on Kremlyovskaya Embankment
  • a Mytishchinsky water supply system well on Sretenka Street
  • a brick/white-stone foundations of the Annunciation Cathedral and buildings of the town residence of Volotsky Monastery of St Joseph on Birzhevaya Square
  • an old cobblestone sections on the Petrovka, Zemlyanoi Val, Varvarka, Sretenka, Tverskaya, Prechistenka and Volkhonka streets
  • a brickwork sections of Transfiguration of the Saviour Church in the Pushkari district on Sretenka Street (an information board with photos and description)
  • a white-stone underground listening outposts on Staraya and Novaya squares and Moskvoretskaya Embankment (an information board with photos and description)
  • a white-stone foundation of the Presentation in the Temple Church on Bolshaya Lubyanka Street (an information board with photos and description)
  • a brick/white-stone foundation of the Meeting of the Lord Monastery on Bolshaya Lubyanka Street (an information board with photos and description)
  • showcases with artifacts on Kitaigorodsky Proyezd.

The city will receive several new archeological museums.