New life breathed into an old street: The past and future of Tverskaya Street

New life breathed into an old street: The past and future of Tverskaya Street
Tverskaya Street has always been a trendsetter in Moscow. People who played a key role in Moscow’s history lived there and architectural innovations were first tested in this street.

Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s main thoroughfare, will be seeing dramatic changes this year that have been initiated by the My Street project. These will include renovating the pavement, planting trees, putting up installations with the city map and installing Wi-Fi access points.

Beginning at Manezhnaya Square, Tverskaya Street runs northwest of the Kremlin and ends at Triumfalnaya Square. It has two squares: Tverskaya Square opposite the governor-general’s home, which is now the seat of the Moscow Government, and Pushkinskaya Square at the intersection with the Garden Ring. 

The Road of Tsars and Triumphs

The street evolved from the main thoroughfare to Tver, which in the time of the Moscow Principality was the capital of the neighbouring principality. In the 15th century, it merged with the road to Novgorod and was built up with rows of houses on both sides as far as today’s Pushkinskaya Square. Farther north there was no road – only fields and groves all the way to Tver. 

Since the 17th century Tverskaya Street has been the city’s principal artery, used by Russian rulers, foreign ambassadors and foreign royalty to make a ceremonial entrance to Moscow.

Following the foundation of St Petersburg, Tverskaya Street became a starting point for all trips to the new capital. In Peter the Great’s times, triumphal arches were installed in the street on special occasions such as major holidays, victories in wars or coronations: these arches were made of wood and were dismantled after the festivities. They gave their name to Triumfalnaya Square. At the time ceremonial processions to the Kremlin were surrounded by great pomp. For example, one procession pulled a real warship installed on a wheeled platform. 

Back then, Moscow’s main street was only eight and a half to 15 metres wide. In the 18th century, major streets were at least about 20 metres wide but Tverskaya stayed narrow by comparison until it was renovated in the Soviet times.

Houses along Tverskaya Street were built by nobility and wealthy Muscovites. Those were large mansions with parish and house churches. The 17th century was the golden age of construction, when Moscow’s most famous families settled down in Tverskaya Street, including the Gagarins, Dolgorukovs, Demidovs and Trubetskois. In 1782, a house was built for Count Zakhar Chernyshev, who after the administrative reform was appointed commander-in-chief of the Moscow Province; today, the building houses Moscow City Hall. Later, Tverskaya Square was built in front of it. In 1780, the building of the English Club with the famous lions on its gates appeared in Moscow: it was designed by Domenico Gilardi and was a place for the city’s high society to meet.

Several monasteries that have not survived have gone down in the history of Tverskaya Street. Moiseyevsky Monastery located down the street in what we call Manezhnaya Square today was shut down in 1764 and demolished shortly after that. The Voskresensky (Resurrection) Monastery was located at 6 Tverskaya Street from the 15th century until the mid-17th century and was later converted into the town house of the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery. The Strastnoi (Lord’s Passion) Monastery in Pushkinskaya Square was closed in 1919 but nuns continued to live there until 1928. The building was torn down in the late 1930s.

Two parish churches – the Dmitry Solunsky Church at the corner of Tverskaya Street and Tverskoi Boulevard and the Annunciation Church (at the corner of Blagoveshchensky Pereulok, where a house number 25/12 now stands)  were also demolished.

 

Straight and wide Gorky Street

At the beginning of the 20th century, Tverskaya Street featured Moscow’s most fashionable shops and hotels. Hotel National, which for a long time remained the most prestigious hotel in the city, opened in 1901. The Yeliseyev Food Store and Russian and Foreign Wine Cellars opened in the same year.

All the latest urban innovations were usually tested in Tverskaya Street. In 1820, the first intercity coach service was launched there. Coaches carried passengers to St Petersburg until 1851. In 1872, to celebrate the opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition horse-drawn carriages started running on rails along Tverskaya Street; in the early 20th century they were replaced by trams.   In 1933, a trolley bus service was launched in Tverskaya Street. It was the first street in Moscow to be paved and get electric lighting.

At the beginning of the Soviet era, Tverskaya Street changed dramatically. In 1932, it was renamed Gorky Street to mark 40 years of Maxim Gorky’s work. Simultaneously, a massive renovation project was launched to straighten and widen the street. Also, 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street was made part of Tverskaya Street to extend the latter from Triumfalnaya Square to Tverskaya Zastava Square.  

Gorky Street was 40 metres wide at the time after some houses had been demolished, much wider than the old Tverskaya Street used to be. Also, for this purpose, four large buildings were moved to a new place: the Savvinskoye townhouse (6 Tverskaya Street, Bld 6), Mossovet (Moscow City Hall in Soviet times at 13 Tverskaya Street), Eye Hospital (7 Mamonovsky Pereulok) and house number 21 in Bryusov Pereulok. In 1979, another building – the house of publisher Ivan Sytin at 18 Tverskaya Street – was also moved to a new location.

Not a single church remained on Tverskaya Street after the renovation. At the site of the demolished Strastnoi Monastery a public garden was created and the famous monument to Alexander Pushkin was moved there from Tverskoi Boulevard while Strastnaya Square was renamed Pushkinskaya Square.

City residents responded differently to the idea of moving the monument to Pushkin to a new location.  Given below is what the official in charge of monitoring the public discussion learned about people’s sentiments:

“A middle-aged grey-haired man said that moving the monument to the square was the right thing to do and that city residents supported this idea. Surrounded by greenery, the monument will look much better and more attractive in the new place. The opening of the public garden and the monument in the square is a great occasion for Muscovites, which they are likely to celebrate by holding a meeting in the square. 

“Another cultured man, responding to a woman’s words that the Pushkin monument standing in the square would be more visible, said that Pushkin was a great poet and he could be seen from everywhere, so there was no need to move the monument to the square because they could damage it in the process. Before the 1917 Revolution, during the transportation of a monument to Gavriil  Derzhavin to Kazan, one of the statue’s fingers was broken off. There are no monuments to Maxim Gorky, Viktor Nogin and Vladimir Mayakovsky as yet although the foundations for these monuments have long since been laid.”

The redesigned street began with buildings by Arkady Mordvinov. The architect’s first project was a house number four, which occupied two blocks of the street. Aiming to create an ideal residential environment, Mordvinov combined external pomp with convenience and functionality. Later this new style started to be referred to as Stalinist Empire style.  

To build the famous building of the Izvestia newspaper editorial office, the 18th-century house owned by the Rimsky-Korsakov family was pulled down. In Moscow it was also called the Famusov House, as its owner was the prototype of the main female character in Alexander Griboyedov’s comedy “Woe from Wit”. The city authorities decided that “the construction of a new building for the Izvestia newspaper editorial office and publishing house, as well as the architecturally consistent development of Pushkin Square and Gorky Street required that this house be pulled down.” Earlier, it was decided to demolish the Strastnoi Monastery’s wall and the neighbouring buildings to widen the driveway.

In the 1940s, Moscow was already struggling with traffic jams, and its main street underwent many changes to alleviate traffic congestion. During a renovation it was widened to 40-50 metres, except for the stretch between Pushkinskaya and Mayakovskaya squares. This bottleneck obstructed traffic at peak hours and to eliminate it, the decision was made to move two buildings – numbers 73 and 69 – and demolish three further buildings – numbers 75, 71 and 67, which were deemed to be of no value.

 

There were also plans to move the former Ars cinema and even the Museum of the Revolution building to a new location. An address by a Communist Party group in the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet reads: “The flanks of the Museum of Revolution are to be cut to line up the building with the rest of Gorky Street and all finishing work on the flanks is to be carried out. At the next stage scheduled for 1941 and 1942, the building of the Museum of the Revolution is to be moved 25-30 metres away from Gorky Street and a new block of flats with a large arch that will offer a view of the central part of the Museum of the Revolution to be built in front of the museum in line with the rest of Gorky Street.” 

In the 20th century, Stalinist architecture was typical of buildings that lined the city’s main street. Only several buildings, including, for example, the Yermolova Theatre, the governor-general’s house, the Yeliseyev food store and the English Club, have avoided radical changes.

One of the most unusual landmarks is located at 6 Tverskaya Street, Bld 2: a house from the time of Tsar Alexei Romanov that has been preserved underneath a huge Stalinist building. In the 2000s the renovation of the Aragvi restaurant revealed brick walls and décor dating back to the 17th-18th centuries. The plaster concealed vaulted ceilings, the remains of frescoes, doorways decorated with icon cases and niches for icon lamps.  

City residents were not always enthusiastic about the new names brought along by the revolution. There had always been those who did whatever they could to bring back Moscow’s historical names. For instance, in 1986, composer Nikita Bogoslovsky wrote a letter to First Secretary of the Moscow City Communist Party Committee Boris Yeltsyn that reads as follows: “I would like to bring to your attention the abundance of references to Maxim Gorky in the city where he lived for just a few years at the end of his life. Judge for yourself: a street, a lane, a theatre (which should be named after Anton Chekhov), a park, the Institute of World Literature and the Institute of Literature (there must be other places as well) are named after Gorky. Of course, Gorky is a great writer but that really is too much.”  

It was through the efforts of these people that the street got back its historical name – Tverskaya Street – in 1990.

The future of My Street

In the 1990s and the early 2000s, Tverskaya Street retained its status as the city centre’s main thoroughfare. Cars had gradually taken over the whole of the street, squeezing out both trees and pedestrians. 

In 2016, Tverskaya Street was included in the My Street improvement project and it was decided to restore its status as a pedestrian-friendly street. Work will be carried out on a 1.3-kilometre stretch between Mokhovaya Street and Nastasyinsky Pereulok. After the work is completed, the number of pedestrians is estimated to be 2.5 times the current number. 

In the summer of 2016, the linden trees that were cut down in the 1990s will be restored to Tverskaya Street. Overall, 86 trees are to be planted out along the street. A double kerbstone will protect the trees from pollution. Experts believe that the new trees will absorb up to 12 tonnes of dust a year.

New public transport stops will be installed in the street. They will have comfortable wooden seats, real time information on the timetable and free Wi-Fi and USB ports to charge mobile phones. To help you get your bearings in central Moscow, installations with the map of the area that will also provide access to Wi-Fi will be put up along the street. 

The facades of 14 buildings in Tverskaya Street will get a facelift under the My Street project. In addition, 80 historical lampposts that have been reconstructed using old drawings courtesy of the Ogni Moskvy (Lights of Moscow) Museum will be installed. They will have energy-efficient LED lamps using eight times less energy.

In all, over 50 streets in Moscow were included in the improvement project this year. For more details and photographs of the projects please visit the special project page on the mos.ru website.

Archive documents and photographs courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate