Moscow Boulevards: from Gogolevsky to Tverskoy

Moscow boulevards are much more recent than the capital city, which surrounds them. Up until the end of the 18th century, this was where the walls of the Bely Gorod (White Town), the ancient defense structure, stood. It wasn’t until the reign of Catherine the Great that the Empress ordered the demolition of the decaying wall ring and the planting of the green ring of boulevards. It took another century before the Boulevard Ring became the favorite strolling ground for the Muscovites, but by the end of the 19th century, the boulevards, especially the festive and fashionable Tverskoy Boulevard, were full of people. This walk traces the boulevard-bound promenade of young Leo Tolstoy, which he later described in his books, and will take us from the Prechistensky Gates, where the Prechistensky (now Gogolevsky) Boulevard began, all the way to the end of Tverskoy Boulevard that used to end at the gates of Strastnoy Monastery.

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The city manor had been built here back in the mid-17th century, when this place belonged to Prince Peter Menshikov. Since then, the house had several owners and went through reconstructions. In 1871, it was acquired by the prominent merchant and patron of the arts Sergei Tretyakov, brother of the gallery owner Pavel Tretyakov. After the purchase, Tretyakov commissioned his son-in-low Alexander Kaminsky to fully rebuild the house. Drawing his inspiration from the best examples of the ancient Russian architecture, Kaminsky had built a grandiose building with richly decorated facades. The two-storey annex housed Tretyakov's art collection, which joined his brother's Tretyakov Gallery after the merchant's death. In 1894, Tretyakov's widow sold the manor to another famous industrialist Pavel Ryabushinsky. It was here that the country's richest industrialists gathered to discuss their plans to "strangle the revolution with the bony hand of hunger." Despite all the attempts to contain them, the revolutionaries overcame, and used this building to set up the revolutionary tribunal, dispatching the orders to shoot those who tried to resist. But after many years the building was able to return to its cultural mission that was set for it by Tretyakov. In 1987, it was transferred to the Soviet Cultural Foundation headed by academician Dmitry Likhachev, and today it is the headquarters of the Russian Cultural Foundation.
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Even as far back as the 18th century, this famous house was considered one of the masterpieces of Moscow architecture. It is believed to have been built by architect Matvey Kazakov, but there has been no proof. After the fires of 1812, the building underwent reconstruction, and the stucco work with wall piers was replaced with a full-scale Classical portico with six columns. The building was owned by Varvara Naryshkina, nee Volkonskaya. Her son, Mikhail Naryshkin, the head of Moscow secret society Alliance for Prosperity, also lived here. A marble memorial plaque in honour of Naryshkin with shackles wreathed in laurels still adorns the house's wall. Even though Naryshkin's secret society organized its meetings in the neighbouring house No. 12, he was actually arrested here. Today, the building is home to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.
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Legend has it that the outstanding Russian architect Lev Kekushev built this house in 1902 for himself, which is why originally the building's facade was decorated with a giant figure of a lion. But in the end the building was bought by Bocharov brothers who organized a tenement house here. Despite its prosaic function, this is one of the boulevard's most stately buildings. The facade is decorated with stucco in form of Egyptian male masks and the sculptures of owls, which seem to carry the ledges of bay windows on their outstretched wings. Despite the later additions, the building's facade has been preserved with minimal changes to our day. The spacious apartments that were once meant for the wealthy tenants are now occupied by Rostec Corporation.
In the 1870s, this humble three-storey building housed a revolutionary private high school for girls, which was the first in the country to teach the girls the full course of the classical boys' grammar school. The two-storey building in the courtyard keeps the memory of Moscow's literary history. In 1910, this was the meeting place of the Symbolist poetry society "Musaget," headed by Andrei Bely. Leonid Andreyev, Konstantin Balmont, Ivan Bunin, and Igor Severyanin frequented this house. It was here that Alexander Blok gave his first Moscow reading of The Lady Unknown on November 2, 1910.
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Story has it that Stalin disliked the monument to Nikolai Gogol, erected here back in 1909, on the centennial anniversary of the writer's birth, for its melancholy look. Which is why, in 1952, it was replaced by the more "cheerful" monument designed by Nikolai Tomsky, while the old one was exiled to the courtyard of the former estate of Count Alexander Tolstoy at Nikitsky Bulvar (Nikitsky Boulevard). In truth, both Gogols, who stand practically across the square from each other, have been unlucky. Nikolai Tomsky considered the new Gogol monument his worst work. The old monument – a remarkable, but too way-out project of artist Nikolai Andreyev and sculptor Fyodor Schechtel – was disliked by its contemporaries, who even undertook collection of money to remove the sculpture and replace it with a different one.
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Once upon a time, Nikitsky Bulvar (Nikitsky Boulevard) was fully surrounded with wooden houses, so it should not be surprising that the 1812 Fire of Moscow had wiped them all out. But that was best for modernity, because in the 19th century the empty spaces were filled with some truly outstanding buildings.
Today, this place is a parking lot, but until the end of the 1990s, here was the boulevard's most famous house. In the mid-1820s, the manor of Prince Yakov Shakhovskoy fell into the hands of Fyodor Kokoshkin, director of the Moscow troupe of the Imperial Theatres. Kokoshkin organized a theatrical salon here. The actors of Maly and Bolshoi theatres rehearsed here, and actress Maria Lvova-Sinetskaya held a musical salon, frequented by Alexander Pushkin and Alexander Griboyedov. After Kokoshkin, the house was owned by Alexander Varlamov, who wrote the best known romance songs of the 19th century here. But even this was not the end of the house's glorious story. In the 1920s, it housed theatrical studio of Mikhail Chekhov, a famous actor, who later emigrated and went on to train the Hollywood actors in the Stanislavsky Method. The theatrical reputation of this house in many ways defined the look of the boulevard itself.
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This is the house, where Gogol lived from 1848 to 1852, and where he burned the manuscript of the second volume of his Dead Souls novel. Beginning in 2009, this became Gogol's house museum with a large exhibit dedicated to the nobleman way of life in those years, dramatized tours, and a research library. In the courtyard is a monument to Gogol designed by Nikolay Andreyev. This house, where Gogol lived as a dear guest of Count Alexander Tolstoy, is also one of the best examples of a typical Russian manor, which has been preserved since the 17th century with very little reconstruction.
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The monumental building next to a small manor is the residential house of the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route, popularly known as the House of Polar Explorers. Built in 1936-37, it became the trademark of architect Yevgeny Iokheles, who really became famous after World War II. The House of Polar Explorers is an ideal monument to the 1930s architecture with its fixation on the Classical elements of the decoration. Here, the Classical look was achieved with the help of Corinthian capitals of the central facade, elegant galleries along the top floors, and the sophisticated contrast of the sienna-coloured geometrical pattern and the biege colour of the building itself. Do not forget that the tenants of this Olympus were the true celestial beings of their times, as the polar explorers were the popular heroes of the 1930s. Among the house's tenants were the flying ace Anatoly Lyapidevsky who saved the crew of Chelyuskin icebreaker from an ice floe and explorer Georgy Ushakov whose name was given to an island in the Kara Sea, to the cape and the settlement at Wrangel Island, to a river at the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago and to a mountain range in Antarctica.
The modest building facing out to the boulevard is actually an annex of a large city manor that was built here in the 18th century. The annexes themselves date back to the 1840s. The central building of the manor, deep in the courtyard, has also been preserved. Today, the historical building has been turned into office space, but it had some interesting days as well. Back in the 1910s, it housed the Society for Dissemination of Useful (Practical) Knowledge Between Educated Women, which offered dress-making courses.
Konstantin Leifer, Nataliya Garnelis/ТАSS
Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard) was the first of Moscow's boulevards to become a place for society promenades. Here is a description of the boulevard from Konstantin Batyushkov's essay "Walks around Moscow," dated around the 1810s: "… convergence of the people, beautiful April mornings and quiet May evenings attract the crowds of leisurely residents. Fashion demands sacrifice: dandies and flirts, old dames and fat merchants come from the far corners of Moscow to Tverskoy Bulvar in the early hours of the morning. What strange outfits, what faces!" In the 1920s, the boulevard underwent large-scale reconstruction, and today we are left with remains of the former grandeur.
Beginning in 1771, this was the location of Golitsyn family city manor, but at the end of the 19th century, the building's new owner decided to unite the manor's annexes and build above them as well, in order to turn it into a tenement house. The reconstruction was overseen by Vasily Zagorsky, the architect of the Moscow Conservatory building at Bolshaya Nikitskaya. The owner's name was Romanov, and the building was nicknamed the "Romanovka." The cheap furnished rooms were rented out to the students of neighbouring art schools and the conservatory itself, and soon "Romanovka" became the center of city's new artistic life. The artists, headed by Konstantin Korovin and Mikhail Vrubel, would gather in one of the rooms, while David Burliuk and Vladimir Mayakovsky would read their poems in the other one. The rehearsal hall in the annex was occupied by the upstart artistic theatre of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, which later became the Moscow Art Academic Theatre. This annex is still used for staging plays and today it is home to the Moscow Drama Theatre at Malaya Bronnaya.
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In the late 19th century, the "Tverskoy Bulvar, 11" ("Tverskoy Boulevard, 11") address was familiar to every Muscovite – it was here that the greatest actress of Moscow's Maly Theatre Mariya Yermolova lived from 1889 until her death in 1928. The crowds of admirers often gathered beneath her windows to see the actress come out to the balcony. Amazingly enough, Yermolova and her husband, lawyer Nikolay Shubinsky, did not change anything in the old-fashioned mansion that was built in the late 18th century and reconstructed in the mid-19th century. The only thing that they did was to replace the parquet floors and to install coloured glass windows on the second floor to protect themselves from the grayness of everyday life.
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If you do not believe the legend of poet Alexander Pushkin sitting under the branches of this very oak tree, there is no direct relation between the famous Russian poet and the tree on Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard). Except for the fact that Pushkin was a frequent visitor to the boulevard, and that he met his future wife Natalia Goncharova at the manor, which stood in place of the modern-day Moscow Art Theatre. Be what may, but the fame of the great Russian poet has helped this honorary tree, which survived the 1812 Fire of Moscow, to remain on the boulevard to this day.
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Vodka magnate Pyotr Smirnov had acquired the old-fashioned mansion at Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard) from the old Russian nobles, the Bazilevsky family, in 1900. The Empire-style building was not to Smirnov's taste, and he commissioned architect Fyodor Schechtel to fully reconstruct the building. This was how one of Moscow's most remarkable Art Nouveau buildings was born with its semicircular windows, flowing soft lines, decorative stucco work and wrought iron balcony that looked like a ship. The contemporaries were even more amazed by the building's amenities, such as steam heating, electricity, and ventilation, and the furnishings of the main halls, each done by Schechtel in its own style. There was a Greek hall, and a Roman hall, and a Egyptian hall for the receptions, and a Gothic-style cabine. The children's room was done in the style of Russian folk tales. Smirnov's children later remembered that they studied the history of art in those rooms. Amazingly, the Military Prosecutor's Office, which spent most of the Soviet years in this mansion, did not destroy the interiors. In 2006, the mansion underwent a large-scale and very thorough restoration, and today various event are held here.
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In the 1910s, actress Alisa Koonen found an old and seemingly deserted manor on Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard). She suggested that stage director Alexander Tairov, who was searching for a permanent residence for his company, organize a theatre there. This was how the house that used to belong to the privy councilor Prince Vyazemsky until the end of the 18th century, and then spent the next century changing hands of different owners, became the site of the Chamber Theatre. The building underwent many reconstructions. Its modern-day facade was done in 1930s, following the design of Konstantin Melnikov, who took away the gaudy columns with portico and gave the theatre's exterior a more laconic and Constructivist look. Once Moscow's most revolutionary stage, the Chamber Theatre managed to survive until 1949, despite persecution, and after that the building was given over to the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre. Despite the continuing reconstruction, the theatre is famous for its outstanding interiors that it strives to preserve. The ceiling stucco work and the marble staircases alone are worth a visit inside.
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Russian writer and thinker Alexander Herzen was born in this house in March of 1812, and only lived here for less than six months. Still, he visited it a lot as an adult, when in the 1840s, a close friend of Pushkin Dmitry Sverbeev changed the location of his literary salon at Strastnoy Bulvar (Strastnoy Boulevard) to this place. On Fridays, the salon's guests included Alexander Herzen and Peter Chaadaev, Nikolai Gogol and Evgeny Baratynsky. In the 20th century, the house was turned over to the All-Russian Union of Writers, and received the Herzen's House name after the memorial plaque that hung on the wall. This was the house that Mikhail Bulgakov portrayed in his Master and Margarita masterpiece as the Griboyedov's House. In the 1930s, the building's annexes housed Osip Mandelstam and Boris Pasternak. Later, it was turned into the building of the Literary Institute, which gifted the Russian literature with many great writers, including Fazil Iskander, Rasul Gamzatov, and Yuri Trifonov.
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The famous monument to Alexander Pushkin by sculptor Alexander Opekushin was unveiled to much fanfare at Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard) on June 6, 1880. Famous men of letters stood at the pedestal, the surrounding space was full of boards filled with poet's words, and the public showered the new monument with violets and lilies-of-the-valley. In 1950, the government decided to move the monument to the other side of Tverskaya Ulitsa (Tverskaya Street), and since then, Pushkin has been standing there all alone, lost in deep thought, torn from the boulevard that he so loved and in whose manors he had experienced so much. And this forced solitude completes the history of Tverskoy Boulevard: everything here has changed.
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The simple archway of the Kropotkinskaya metro station pavilion frames the entrance to one of Moscow's finest boulevards. This is one of those places where fires of the past contributed to beauty of the present. The boulevard appeared here after Napoleon, retreating from Moscow in 1812, had torched the city, burning to the ground, among many things, the overgrown local estates. Up until the 1870s, there was Chertolye stream running through the boulevard, known for its horrid character: in the spring it overflowed, swamping the surrounding areas, and in the fall, a poisonous fog rose up from the waters. Today, the stream is hidden underground, but its presence can be felt in the strange, three-level structure of the boulevard. Gogolevsky Bulvar (Gogolevsky Boulevard) alone could serve as a wonderful manual on the 19th century history of Moscow. Ancient manors stand side by side with tenement houses, and the refuges of the Decembrists are next to the literary salons. All sorts of people had left their mark here.
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The main house of the city manor of Alexander Yakovlev, the president of the Collegium of Justice, the main member of the Moscow Mint Yard, and the grandfather of the revolutionary theorist Alexander Herzen, was built in the 1770s. For a while, the house was passed from one noble family to another, and was fully reconstructed after in burned down in the fires of 1812. In 1831, the state treasury had bought the house, and opened the City's First Boys' Grammar School there. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, this was the principal breeding ground for Moscow's intellectual elite. Among the grammar school's students were anarchist Peter Kropotkin and playwright Alexander Ostrovsky. In 1872, the Higher Women's Courses had opened in the building. Even today, the estate continues to be one of Moscow's intellectual centers and houses V.V. Vinogradov Russian Language Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
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The noble Volkonsky family used to own a large part of this neighbourhood, which had preserved their memory in its name, Volkhonka. The famous Volkhonka drinking den used to be just around the corner, and today this building belongs to the Museum of Private Collections. The Gogolevsky Bulvar (Gogolevsky Boulevard) has preserved the memory of another Volkonsky family scion: the main house of Princess Sofia Volkonskaya city manor was built in 1795, and she had lived here until the war of 1812. After the war, the Princess rented the building out as a pub. In the 1890s, the house was bought by the family of baker Filippov. The ground floor became a store, selling the famous Filippov baked goods, and the new annex housed the candy manufacturing facility. It is quite possible that the house was preserved in its current state thanks to Filippov's annexes and additions.
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The city manor of Prince Obolensky appeared at the Gogolevsky Bulvar (Gogolevsky Boulevard) in the early 19th century. It had a number of owners, among them Kirill Naryshkin, the brother of Decembrist Mikhail Naryshkin. Here is a description of the house from the late 19th century memoir writer Dmitry Nikiforov: "The house is beautifully located on the higher bank of the Prechistensky Bulvar (Prechistensky Boulevard) and the Chertolye stream. It is a brief walk from the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and its garden, and the house's front windows look out to the sunny side. Back in the old days, when the Naryshkin family lived here, the grand staircase went into the courtyard, but today the entrance goes out to the street." Today, the house looks completely different after the global reconstruction, organized in 1899 by the famous architect of Moscow Art Nouveau Lev Kekushev. Kekushev transformed the house for its new owner, Alexander Catoire de Bioncourt, an amazing man and the heir of the famous Russian-French industrial dynasty. Alexander was an impassioned huntsman and weapon collector. The collection of guns and pistols, which he gifted to the State Historical Museum, took up 22 boxes and two large bales.
The right side of the boulevard is full of tenemenet houses that were built there in the early 20th century. The house with bas-reliefs depicting eagle-owls was built by the architect and ideologist of Moscow Art Nouveau Lev Kekushev in 1903. There are few Art Nouveau buildings left in the capital. It is believed that Kekushev completed all of his principal buildings in the first decade of the 20th century, and following that, the turbulent atmosphere of the times prevented the development of this grand style. The building has been a home to the Russian Committee of Veterans since 1968.
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This house with a garden, patterns and carved columns is not just unusual for modern-day Moscow, it was unusual for the city's architecture even when it was built. The house was built in 1852 by the prominent architect of the Eclecticism epoch Nikolay Kozlovsky. It is a rare design of a secular building among his many churches and the only one that survived to this day. The manor of State Counsellor Pyotr Sekretarev can be seen on a number of photos from the 1860s. Back then, it housed another prominent temple architect Konstantin Ton, who oversaw the construction of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour from this building. Ton was not the only famous resident of the house. In the 1920s, it was the residence of the film director Vsevolod Pugovkin, and rumour had it that Stalin's son Vasily lived here with his family in the 1940s. In the 1990s, the house underwent large-scale reconstruction that transformed its interiors, but left the facade intact.
Olgierd Piotrowicz was a prolific architect, and had built quite a few tenement houses in Moscow. But this specific building, with its Art Nouveau-like exteriors, stands out among his other works. The building is vertically divided by stucco frisos that tell some rather unusual stories. One of them depicts a naked woman floating among the waves and dolphins with a child. The other one portrays a woman with a little angel blowing a horn. The building belonged to Prince Nikolai Obolensky who rented it out, while living in his own mansion at Sivtsev Vrazhek. In recent years, the building's owners added several floors and rent them out as offices.
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Once upon a time, this was the location of the Church of the Rzhev Mother of God, one of Moscow's oldest landmarks erected in 1540. The only thing that remains of the church is the ground floor, which is built into the building's basement, and the ancient underground passage, which used to lead from the church to the priest's house. But the house that was built in its place is also a unique architectural monument. In the 1920s, the architects, inspired by the ideas of Le Corbusier, attempted to re-think the very idea of residential quarters. This gave birth to the Constructivist commune houses. The "cell" apartments were meant only as a bedroom, while the rest of the necessary spaces (originally, even the shower stalls) were communal. It was believed that the house's tenants would live in complete agreement, meeting together at terraced living rooms. The idea proved true, but that was primarily because the first residential commune was made up of the team of architects headed by Moisei Ginzburg. The house was built by Alexander Pasternak, brother of writer Boris Pasternak, and the architect later lived here as well. Later, two more floors were added to the house, while the rooftop terraces were demolished, but even today the two-storey cell apartments remain a desirable rental address for Moscow's intellectual elite.
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It was in this building that Colonel Mikhail Naryshkin, battalion commander of Tarutinsky Regiment, had organized in the 1820s the Moscow branch of the Alliance for Prosperity secret society. It was here that Kondraty Ryleyev read his Thoughts, and it was here that other well-known Decembrists met. After the Decembrist mutiny had failed, and the secret society was disbanded, the manor was bought by Moscow Appanage Office, which oversaw the property of the imperial family. But this was not the end of the house's glorious history. In 1860, a new manager Ivan Maslov settled there. He was a great lover and patron of the arts. Maslov organized a literary club of sorts, which was frequented by poets Afanasy Fet, Yakov Polonsky and Alexey Pleshcheyev, along with Maslov's best friend, writer Ivan Turgenev, who later used to say that he could not imagine Moscow without Maslov. Turgenev's best known portrait, exhibited at the State Tretyakov Gallery, was painted by Ilya Repin in this house. Beginning in 1969, it has been a home to the Artists' Union.
Alexander Zelikov / TASS
This notable mansion stands on Petrovka Ulitsa (Petrovka Street). It was built in 1793 by the great Russian architect Matvey Kazakov for Mikhail Gubin, a prominent industrialist from the Urals. The massive three-storey building, a stellar example of Moscow Neoclassical style, had suffered from the fires of 1812 along with the greater majority of city buildings, but it was carefully restored soon after the war.

After the restoration, Gubin's heirs rented the house out to different educational institutions. A beautiful garden was planted around the estate, and a long pond was dug.

In 1920, the Institute of Physical Therapy and Orthopedics had moved in here, and later the building was occupied by various hospital departments. The interior decorations had decayed, but in the late 20th century the building underwent a full restoration, and today some of the original interiors and ceiling paintings are visible once again. The mansion is now home to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and is open to the visitors.
The State Museum of Oriental Art
This is a serious collection of artifacts, which had never been under the same roof before 1918. On display and in its cellars, the museum boasts some 150,000 art objects from a hundred countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Transсaucasia, Middle East and Far East. The Museum of Oriental Art does more than merely showcase Oriental cultures and history: a Research Institute with three dozen researchers is attached to it. If you are about to visit the Museum, it is a good idea to decide what you want to see. The exposition is split between countries and epochs to make navigation easier amid the plethora of artifacts. Each room has its own treasures: silks and painted partitions in the Chinese Room, dolls and puppets, including the famous two-dimensional theatrical puppets, in the Indonesian Room, house replicas in the Japanese Room, but you will find silks, gold-plating, swords and daggers almost everywhere. The museum offers well-organized lectures and applied lessons for children. This is a good place for the whole family to visit. When the kids are tired, send them to an origami class while you check out samurai armour.