Moscow City Duma history: A silver trowel and a Neapolitan prince

Moscow City Duma history: A silver trowel and a Neapolitan prince
Facade of the Moscow City Duma building on Voskresenskaya Square, by architect Dmitry Chichagov. 1888.
The story of how the city Parliament moved into its own building 100 years after its establishment.

Today in the History of Things, a joint project with the Museum of Moscow, we are telling the story of an item that reminds us about an important event in the history of the city administration. It is a silver masonry trowel, a memory of the day when the foundation was laid for the Moscow City Duma building in 1890. Until 1917, the building was home to the city Parliament. Now the distinctive structure on Revolyutsii (Revolution) Square accommodates the Museum of the Patriotic War of 1812.

The City Duma’s opening ceremony took place on 1 January 1786 in the presence of Governor Pyotr Lopukhin, Moscow Mayor Semyon Sitnikov and 78 voting members of the assembly. The Parliament changed its location several times before the October Revolution, which put a stop to its activity.

Initially, the City Duma building was located at the site of the State History  Museum, between the Voskresenskye Gate and the Kremlin Wall. By 1818, it moved to Count Tolstoy’s house in Solyanka Street, but soon returned to its former location on Voskresenskaya Square, where it remained until 1863. After that, the Duma relocated to Count Sheremetev’s house in Vozdvizhenka Street, from where it moved to its own building on Voskresenskaya Square in 1892.

A separate spacious building was built for the City Duma at the initiative of Moscow Mayor Nikolai Alekseyev. The city officials bought the plot of land that was occupied by the Moscow Governorate building.

In 1888, a contest was announced for Moscow City Duma building designs on Voskresenskaya Square (now Revolyutsii Square). A total of 38 projects were submitted. Architect Dmitry Chichagov took first prize with his design named after the Latin motto “–°edo maiori” (“ceding to the strongest”). Architecture scholars Grigory Kotov and Mikhail Preobrazhensky shared second place with their project, By the Kremlin. The bronze went to architects Alexandre von Hohen and Vladimir Kharlamov (With God’s Blessing No. 1).

A masonry trowel with an engraving: “Laying of the foundation stone for the Moscow City

On 15 May 1890, the foundation was laid for the building designed by Chichagov. The ceremony was attended by several high-ranking officials, including Moscow Governor General Vladimir Dolgorukov, Governor Vladimir Golitsyn, Commander of the Moscow Military District Troops Adjutant General Apostol Kostanda, and Crown Prince of Naples and Moscow Mayor Nikolai Alekseyev. The national anthems of Russia and Italy were played during the ceremony as crowds of onlookers gathered to watch. According to some historians, it was the Crown Prince of Naples himself who embedded the silver trowel into the foundation.

The trowel is now on display at the Museum of Moscow, which recently opened its new exhibition, The 25th Anniversary of the Moscow City Duma: Looking into the Future, dedicated to the past of the city Parliament and its new history that began in 1993.

The exhibition features portraits of historical figures, photographs and documents, including a unique album from the museum collection with all the projects entered in the 1888 contest to design the first Moscow City Duma building. Visitors can see each of the 38 projects on a big screen and imagine what Revolyutsii Square could look like now had there been a different winner.

Duma, 15 May 1890. Silver and wood. From the collection of the Museum of Moscow.

More stories about the items in the Museum of Moscow collection are published in the History of Things project