Ring of changes, or history of the Garden Ring from 16th century Skorodom to 21st century observation points

Ring of changes, or history of the Garden Ring from 16th century Skorodom to 21st century observation points
View of Smolenskaya Square (skyline). A. Zhilyakov. 1967
The Garden Ring celebrates 425 years today. Archival footage, poems and scenes from plays will tell the history of the ring that sprung up at the site of former fortifications. Mos.ru is looking back at over four centuries of history of one of the city’s arteries.

In the summer of 1591, Khan Gazi Giray brought a 150,000 strong army of Crimean Tatars and Nogais to the Moscow walls. The army was defeated but it was still decided that the city borders needed to be reinforced. In the History of Moscow, Ivan Zabelin wrote: “As soon as the khan was defeated, Godunov immediately ordered that all the peasantry in the city be involved in building a wooden town around all the suburbs to secure Moscow from another invasion.” The town walls had towers both with and without openings. An earth mound was built at the bottom. Outside the walls, a moat was dug and filled with water. The five-metre long wall stretched for over 15 kms.

The fortifications took only a year to be completed (1591-1592), for which they were called Skorodom (“fast town”). According to another version, the areas between the White Town and the Earth Town were sometimes built in a hurry and offhandedly because that part of the city would suffer from frequent fires or destruction by enemies.

However, official order books and chronicles say that the Wooden Town existed in Zamoskvorechye even before the Tatar invasion. The name is mentioned in an order book entry saying that Boris Godunov was instructed to “fortify the area beyond the Moskva River, beyond the Wooden Town, between Serpukhovskaya and Kaluzhskaya roads.” In the same book, the May 1591 entry reads: “In the same year was built a wooden town beyond the Moskva River by okolnichy (courtier) Ondrei Kleshnin, along with city governor Vasily Yakovlev’s son, Shchepin Volynskoi, and Matvei Pavlov’s son, Proyestev.” It is likely that the Wooden Town first appeared only in Zamoskvorechye and three years later, the rest of the city was surrounded by fortifications.

Wooden Town in the ring of fires

In 1611, the major part of the Wooden Town burnt down except for the sections between Myasnitskaya and Pokrovka streets and between Pokrovka Street and the Yauza River. Between 1638-1640, the destroyed fortifications were replaced by Zemlyanoi Val (“earth mound”) moved further away from the city centre. A moat was dug in front of the reinforced mound. Later, in 1659, a wooden fence was erected. Between 1638 and 1742, the mound served as Moscow’s customs border.

In the 18th century, Zemlyanoi Val completely lost its significance as a defensive structure. Some sections collapsed while the others were leveled to the ground and turned into wide roads and squares. Markets sprung up in many places. The buildings on both sides of the Earth Town were mostly wooden and almost completely burnt down in the 1812 fire when Napoleon’s army occupied Moscow.

Garden Ring. Author unknown. 1930s

Gardens and squares on the ring

The Moscow Construction Commission established immediately after the 1812 war determined the fate of the Earth Town. The mound was flattened and the moat was filled in with soil. Half of the space was taken over by roads and pavements (sidewalks). Building owners planted vegetation on the other half and they were the ones to decide which plants to grow although there was no common landscaping plan.

By 1830, the mound renovation project had been completed. Only a few sections in Zamoskvorechye and squares lacked gardens. Zubovsky Val and Smolensky Val became public boulevards while Novinsky Val remained a wide square and a venue for public festivities up until 1877.

Aerial view of Novinsky Boulevard. Author unknown. 1930s

From ‘konka’ to ‘bukashka’

Boulevards were short lived. In the late 19th century, tracks were laid along the ring for horse trams (“konka”) that was launched on 25 June 1872 (7 July in the Julian calendar) on the temporary section between Iverskiye Vorota (lIberian Gate, now Resurrection Gate) and the area where the Belorussky railway station is now located. The first permanent tram line was built by 1874 and ran from the Iberian Chapel to Petrovsky Park via Strastnaya Square and Tverskaya Zastava Square. In 1912, konkas were replaced by electric trams. The route (tram) was labeled “B” and got the nickname “bukashka” (“bug”). Twenty-five years later trams were replaced by trolleybuses.

Zemlyanoi Val Square. Author unknown. Late 1935

A construction boom happened at the beginning of the 20th century. Instead of low-rise buildings, the Garden Ring was lined with commercial, administrative and residential high-rises. After the Revolution, construction of residential and public properties continued. The famous Sukharevsky Market disappeared from the Moscow map around the same time, followed by Smolensky Market.

Smolenskaya Square. Right: Former revenue house that belonged to heirs of Y. Orlov. Author unknown. 1930s.

Tunnels and elevated roads instead of gardens

In the 1930s, the Garden Ring was laid with asphalt and the road was widened at the expense of almost all gardens. In 1934, the Sukharev Tower, one of the ring’s main landmarks from the late 17th century, was demolished. Alexei Shchusev, Igor Grabar, Anatoly Efros and other artists and cultural workers tried to defend the beautiful structure that people called the Ivan the Great Bell Tower’s ‘bride.’ But Stalin had the final word. Rumour has it that the leader wanted to discover Count Yakov Bryus’s Black Book that had been allegedly immured in one of the tower walls.

Kolkhoznaya Square (now Bolshaya Sukharevskaya Square) after the demolition of the Sukharev Tower. Author unknown. 1930s.

In 1937, the entire line of gardens was eliminated. At the same time, new bridges crossed the Moskva River, that is Krymsky Bridge and Bolshoi Krasnokholmsky Bridge. Between 1948 and 1954, three of the seven Stalinist high-rises appeared on the Garden Ring, including the Foreign Ministry on Smolenskaya Square, the residential building on Vosstaniya Square (now Kudrinskaya Square) and the residential and administrative building on Krasnye Vorota Square. In the early 1950s, construction of the Moscow Metro’s Circle Line started and its southern section (between Kurskaya and Park Kultury station) went under the Garden Ring.

The construction of a high-rise ont Krasnye Vorota Square. Photo by G.Korabelnikov. 1950.

The amount of traffic using the arterial road continued to increase and soon the city had to build underground tunnels and crossings, bridges and elevated roads. The construction was particularly productive in the 1950s and 1960s when the capital was making up for the losses of the war. Tunnels, junctions, elevated roads and underground crossings appeared in the busiest areas such as Krymskaya, Samotyochnaya, Taganskaya, Dobryninskaya and Oktyabrskaya squares, Mayakovskogo (now Triumfalnaya) Square and the intersection with Kalinina Prospekt (now Novy Arbat).

The ring’s new life: observation points and skateboarding park under elevated roads

One of the My Street programme’s goals is to bring back the gardens to the Garden Ring. Last year, linden, maple, ashberry, decorative apple trees and others trees  were planted on the streets. This year there will be more, including elms, oaks, more maple trees, linden, ashberry, apple and bird cherry trees.

The 2017 renovation works cover the section between Dolgorukovskaya Street and Smolenskaya Square. The Garden Ring is being landscaped with public gardens. Residential courtyards are being improved. New street furniture will be installed. Pavements (sidewalks) were expanded and repaved. Fourteen observation points with pavilions, vegetation and grounds for mass events and exhibits will appear on the 12.1-km long section.

Flowers and trees will be planted around Samotyochnaya Overpass, along with wooden benches and additional lighting. Paving stones will be used to designate “paths” outside the Atrium mall, with recreational areas, benches and trees. The area around Dobryninskaya metro station will be transformed from a transit area into a meeting point plus a place for performances.

The areas below elevated roads will get a new lease of life and become areas for recreation. For example, a skateboarding park will be created below the motorway at Park Kultury metro station of the Sokolnicheskaya Line.

Photos provided by the Moscow Main Archive