Bely Gorod and Chamber of Secrets: exhibits to view at open-air archaeological museums

Bely Gorod and Chamber of Secrets: exhibits to view at open-air archaeological museums
It is getting warm, and it is a must to walk around the city and explore what exhibits the open-air museums offer. Moscow residents have an opportunity to view the unique archaeological sites discovered in recent years in the heart of the city.

The season of walks through archaeological open-air museums has started in Moscow. Their exhibits feature preserved finds made during the improvement and repair of streets and squares in the city centre. These are mostly extant parts of ancient streets, buildings and graves.

Some archaeological monuments are kept behind glass windows, others are located right on the streets. The museumification method depends on how well the monument survived and how much it has been affected by the environment.

Representatives of the Moscow Cultural  Heritage  Department  carefully monitor the state of all museumified findings. Annually, when it gets warm, experts examine the sites: they check for cracks or fractures caused by changes in humidity and ambient temperature and eliminate revealed damages. Regular monitoring allows maintaining proper preservation of archaeological exhibits.

"Open-air exhibition of archaeological finds that are difficult or impossible to transfer to museums began in the 1970s. In those days, a part of the white-stone foundation of the Varvarskaya Tower of the Kitai-Gorod Wall in the underground passage of the Kitai-Gorod metro station was museumified. At present, there are about 20 open-air and indoor archaeological expositions. Almost half of the exhibits have been found in the past eight years," Head of the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department Alexei Yemelyanov said.

According to him, you do not need to buy a ticket or schedule to visit an open-air museum, you may just walk through the historical centre of Moscow at any time. Most of the finds are available for viewing around the clock. Only a few archaeological sites are located on the grounds of museums and churches with certain opening hours. The exhibits have night illumination.

The largest exposition is hosted by the museum-amphitheatre on Khokhlovskaya Square, between Pokrovsky and Chistoprudny Boulevards. It has a fragment of the Bely Gorod Wall's stone foundation. It is a section of the third Moscow fortress wall, next to the Kremlin and Kitai-Gorod Walls, built by the architect Fyodor Kon in the 16th century to protect the capital against the Crimean Tatars.

In the late 18th century, the wall became dilapidated and was demolished. Only a fragment of its foundation, about 64 m long and 1.5 m high, has survived. You may view this archaeological monument while sitting on one of the museum-amphitheatre benches.

A fragment of the Bely Gorod Wall was revealed more than 10 years ago during the Khokhlovskaya Square construction.  This unique find stopped it for many years. In 2016, Moscow residents voted in the Active Citizen project for a part of an ancient wall to be left open for public view instead of burying it in the ground. In 2017, the archaeological monument was cleaned of dirt and dust, the wall section was covered with a special protective coating to prevent moisture accumulation, and an amphitheatre was constructed around it.

You can take a walk on the old pavement on Pushechnaya Street, not far from the building of the Central Children's Store. During its improvement in 2016, old clinker pavement dating back to the late 19th century was revealed. Experts believe that it used to be a perimeter walk, adjacent to the ancient Cathedral of St. Sophia, the Wisdom of God (Pushechnaya Street, building 15). A 40 sq m fragment of historical pave-stones has been preserved; they have been built into the present-day paving.

On the grounds of the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery on Petrovka is a fragment of a white-stone underground part of the Naryshkin Chambers of the 17th century, put under glass. The archaeological find of 2017 features an areaway with floor and two basement window openings.

Another white-stone foundation of an ancient structure that has not survived until present can be viewed in Maly Zlatoustinsky Pereulok, opposite building 7/2. There is a part of the preserved foundation of the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Stolpy of the 17th-18th centuries in a glass showcase. It was destroyed in 1938.

There are also nine 15th-17th century tombstones displayed. Most of them are decorated with carved triangle pattern. On of them has an ornamental script saying 'boyar's widow'. The cobblestones of the 19th century surround the museum showcase. It was recreated from the remains of the historical pavement and curb stone found by archaeologists, partially survived under the present-day road surface.

One of the arches of the Kitai-Gorod Wall in the Kitaygorodsky Proyezd has a Chamber of Secrets of the 16th century, or a 'listening gallery', under glass. Moscow defenders could eavesdrop on the enemy located on the other side of the fortress. For example, during a military siege, they could hear the enemy's activity outside to prevent it from digging a tunnel. It was possible due to the vaulted walls of the 'listening gallery' that produced a special acoustic effect. In peacetime, the 'listening gallery' was probably used to store supplies in.

In Zaryadye Park, you may view a so-called lower loophole of the 16th century. It is a special  ground level space for ammunition. You can find it under glass in one of the arches of the Kitai-Gorod Wall, opposite the building of the Zaryadye Concert Hall.

The Underground Archaeological Museum is open for visitors in the underground passage under Moskvoretskaya Embankment.  It features a part of the authentic 10m-long brick and white- stone foundation of the Kitai-Gorod Wall of the 16th century, as well as artefacts found during archaeological excavations during the recreation area construction.

A unique birch-bark manuscript, namely a letter of complaint, was found among them. Its author complains that he was twice charged, that is taxed, during his trip and he did not know what to do. The underground museum exhibits ceramic vessels containing a treasure of more than 20 kg silver coins. Archaeologists and historians date it to the first third of the 17th century.

"Our Department experts carefully monitor the condition of all the museumified sites of Moscow archaeological heritage. Every year, before the cold season starts, they conduct a routine inspection of the exhibits and check the archaeological monuments for chips, cracks or destruction signs and eliminate any damages revealed. Open-air exhibits are covered with a layer of protective coating, if required. Taking into account the winter cold, experts provide necessary temperature and humidity levels under the glass windows. These protective measures help maintain proper preservation of archaeological finds for a very long time," Head of the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department Alexei Yemelyanov said.

Archaeological finds to observe walking around the city:

- fragment of the underground part of the wall with a double window, late 17th century. Vysokopetrovsky Monastery (28 Petrovka Street, building 6);

- fragment of the historical clinker pavement near the Cathedral of St. Sophia, the Wisdom of God  (Pushechnaya Street, building 15);

- fragment of a stone foundation of the Bely Gorod Wall, late 16th century (Khokhlovskaya Square);

- fragment of the foundation of Kitai-Gorod Wall, 16th century. Zaryadye Underground Archaeological Museum (Moskvoretskaya Embankment);

- bottom loophole, 17th century. Zaryadye Park, arch of the Kitai-Gorod Wall opposite the Zaryadye Concert Hall;

- Chamber of Secrets, or 'listening gallery', in the Kitai-Gorod Wall arch (Kitaigorodsky Proyezd);

- fragments of the Zlatoustovsky Monastery stone wall, early 18th century (Bolshoi Zlatoustinsky Pereulok, next to buildings 3 and 5);

- fragment of a wall foundation of St. Nicholas Church in Stolpy, tombstones (Maly Zlatoustinsky Pereulok, opposite building 7/2);

- part of the white-stone foundation of the Varvarskaya Tower, Kitai-Gorod Wall, 16th century. Underpass of the Kitai-Gorod metro station, exit to the Varvarka Street;

- white-stone foundation of the Holy Trinity Church in Stariye Polya, 16th century (Teatralny Proyezd);

- white-stone foundations and a feed yard ground floor, Kolomenskoye Museum Reserve  (next to Bread and Feed Houses, near the entrance to the housekeeping section of the estate). Opening hours 08:00 am to 09:00 pm (1 October till 30 April) and  07:00 am to 00:00 am (1 May till 30 September);

- wine cellars, Kolomenskoye  Museum Reserve (central part). Opening hours 08:00 am to 09:00 pm (1 October till 30 April) and  07:00 am to 00:00 am (1 May till 30 September);

- white-stone foundations of the Maids of Honour and the Cavaliers buildings, 18th century.  Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve (Palace Square). Opening hours 06:00 am to 00:00 am;

- brick and white-stone foundation of the Gardener's House. Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve (next to the Grape Greenhouse). Opening hours 06:00 am to 00:00 am;

- grotto foundation, Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve (high bank of the Upper Tsaritsyno Pond). Opening hours 06:00 am to 00:00 am;

- brick yard stove. Atrium of the Romanov Dvor Business Centre (4 Romanov Pereulok, building 2). Free for viewing during business centre's opening hours;

- archaeological exhibition. Atrium of the Romanov Dvor Business Centre (4 Romanov Pereulok, building 2). Free for viewing during business centre's opening hours;

Moscow has more than 400 archaeological heritage sites, namely ruins and fragments of ancient buildings and structures, traces of settlements and ancient graves. As a rule, they are found in archaeological exploration or archaeological research during repair, construction or improvement.

After an archaeological monument is found, experts carefully examine it, determine its value and approximate age. Further scientific and methodical commission at the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department  decides on the best way to preserve it. It may be transferred to a museum, an open-air exhibition or placed in a showcase.