Moscow Boulevards: from Strastnoy to Sretensky

The stretch of the Boulevard Ring beyond the former Strastnoy Monastery is made up of four boulevards, with each ending before it had time to really begin. But all of them are champion boulevards in their own right. Strastnoy is the widest, Sretensky — the shortest, Rozhdestvensky has the most hills, and Petrovsky — the best shade. Thanks to their small size, these boulevards are generally walked by fewer people, and you can enjoy the rare moments of Moscow silence and admire excellent examples of antiquity.

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The four-storey building, occupied today by the Federal Agency for Print and Mass Media, was built in 1878 by architect Nikolay Tyutyunov for the First Girls' Gymnasium The school's music department was headed by composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, who had resided in one of the school's apartments between 1905 and 1917. A memorial plaque in his honour is hung on the building, and there is a monument to Rachmaninoff at the boulevard. The high school often staged amateur theatrical performances, and its most famous graduates were the actresses Olga Gzovskaya, Maria Germanova, and the great Alisa Koonen.

After the revolution of 1917, the building was given over to the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, whose students included the future president of Vietnam Hồ Chí Minh and the great Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet. During World War II, the building was transferred to the Radio Committee, and from here the famous voice of anchorman Yuri Levitan was broadcast all over the country.
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This beautiful building with a Neoclassical portico appeared in the aftermath of the terrible fire of Moscow in 1812. The Treasury, which had purchased the burned out manors of the Vlasov and Talyzin families, decided to build in their place the complex of printing offices for the Moscow University. The construction was fast. The building at Strastnoy Bulvar (Strastnoy Boulevard) designed by the young university architect Nikolay Sobolevsky emerged in the course of 1816. The building was given the name of "Editorial house," while the printing office itself was located around the corner, at Ulitsa Bolshaya Dmitrovka (Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street). For a century, from 1817 to 1917, the building at Strastnoy housed a number of editorial offices of newspapers and magazines, in particular the office of Moskovskiye Vedomosti newspaper and the apartment of its editor-in-chief. On the ground floor was the famous university bookshop of Alexander Shiryaev, "the best and richest in Moscow," and many of the 19th century's men of letters regularly visited it to buy books. It can be definitively claimed that this building was visited by all prominent writers and poets of the 19th century. Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov came here to buy books, while Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Leskov, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky often visited the editor of Moskovskiye Vedomosti and Russian Messenger newspaper Mikhail Katkov.

In the 1960s, the building was given over to the All-Russian Theatre Society, and has been beautifully preserved to this day. Today it is home to the Union of Theatre Workers of the Russian Federation .
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In 1900, the Desprez family of wine sellers commissioned architect Roman Klein to reconstruct their house at Petrovsky Bulvar (Petrovsky Boulevard). A prominent Moscow architect of the second half of the 19th century, Roman Klein dedicated 20 years of his career to the construction of his principle masterpiece, the Museum of Fine Arts at Volkhonka (now, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts), but at the same time he was one of the most sought-after and prolific architects of his time. Klein was especially popular with merchants and industrialists, and his creations, invariably dressed-up even without the abundance of superfluous details, reflected the spirit of the blooming Moscow, which strove for beauty without excess.

The house of Desprez is not Klein's best-known creation, but like his other works, it is distinguished by the Eclectic style, combining the features of Neoclassicism and Art Nouveau, and by the elaborate elegance of decoration. Back in the times of the Desprez family, the house was not so much known for its architecture as for the ground-floor store, which sold the famous French wines. Even in the Soviet times, the house continued to sweetly smell of wines, as it housed the warehouses of the nearby Samtrest Armenian winery and brandy distillery. The tradition continues, and since 2013, the former house of Desprez has been a home to the champagne bar.
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In the 1860s, chef Lucien Olivier, the creator of the famous Olivier salad and Moscow's best-known chef, bought a large piece of a waste lot, where Neglinnaya River used to flow before it was hidden in the underground tunnel, from merchant Yakov Pegov. Afonka's Tavern, which stood at the corner of Neglinnaya Ulitsa (Neglinnaya Street) and Petrovsky Bulvar (Petrovsky Boulevard), was famous for its busboys, who hid between the flowerpots and whistled in imitation of nightingales, and in the wastelands in front of the tavern "the frogs croaked at night, and the tavern's regulars yelled after being robbed." Olivier paved the square and the adjacent streets, and replaced the tavern with a restaurant, designed by architect Dmitry Chichagov.

Up until the revolution of 1917, Hermitage Olivier (later simply known as the Hermitage) was the most famous restaurant in Moscow. Vladimir Gilyarovsky even dedicated a separate chapter of his Moscow and Muscovites book to this place, describing the decades of its fame with a certain degree of snobbery:

"The white column hall of Hermitage is magnificent, and organizing anniversary celebrations has become an established practice here. In 1899, during the Pushkin days, it held the Pushkin dinner, attended by all the famous writers of that time.
Usually, it was the location of the rich merchant weddings with hundreds of guests.
The "commoners" used their hands to eat the food laid out on Dresden china plates: the Roune ducks imported from France, the red-legged partridges from Switzerland, and the sole fish from the Mediterranean Sea…
Calville apples, each one of them with a coat of arms, costing five rubles a piece… And the merchant guests would hide the duchess pears and calville apples in the back pockets of their long frocks, to bring them back to Taganka, to their old-fashioned houses that smelled of lamp oil and sour crout…"

In truth, the restaurant was equally popular with merchants and Moscow intelligentsia: composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky celebrated his wedding here, formal dinners in honour of Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoyevsky were hosted in its halls, Maxim Gorky celebrated the premiere of his The Lower Depths play, regular "professorial dinners" were held, and each year the restaurant held a great celebration in honour of Tatiana's Day, the founding date of the Moscow University.

After the revolution of 1917, the building was turned into the House of Peasants, and in 1989 it was given to the School of Modern Drama Theatre. Unfortunately, there was a big fire in 2013, and today the building still awaits its restoration.
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Walking along the boulevards, we meet a lot of wonderful churches, but few of them have so much significance as the ones located at the Rozhdestvensky Bulvar (Rozhdestvensky Boulevard). The boulevard itself runs between the two monasteries, Rozhdestvensky in the beginning and Sretensky at the end. Once upon a time, the lands between the monasteries were occupied by the church ploughlands, and monastic folk settled here. But as soon as the walls of Bely Gorod were demolished, this space was filled with shops. Only the 1812 Fire of Moscow helped the Rozhdestvensky Bulvar to become what it is now. But even today, the boulevard retains its duality: a row of high tenement houses stands across from a row of antique estates holding the fort. Contemporaries had nothing but contempt for the tenement houses, but we cannot fail to see their Art Nouveau charm.
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The monastery in honour of the Nativity of Theotokos was established in Moscow in 1386, six years after the victory in the Battle of Kulikovo, which had happened on the day of Nativity of Theotokos, on September 8, 1380. Since then the monastery has seen a lot and has undergone numerous reconstructions, but its red walls along the boulevard have been unchanged since the 17th century. The monastery itself can hardly been seen from the boulevard – the only visible parts are the cupola of the Our Lady of Kazan Church, which was actually built in the early 20th century, and the buildings of the former monastic cells and asylum for the orphaned girls.
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"On the corner of Maly Kiselny Pereulok (Maly Kiselny Lane) and Rozhdestvensky Bulvar (Rozhdestvensky Boulevard), the horse tram car stops across the magnificent mansion, and two menacing lions, guarding the expensive carved doors finished in bronze, look at the passengers from the entrance." This was how this building was described in Vladimir Gilyarovsky's seminal work Moscow and Muscovites.

And here is a poem by Nikolay Nekrasov:

In happy Moscow, at Neglinnaya Ulitsa (Neglinnaya Street),
With lions and circular treillage,
An ancient and lonely house sits
Embellished with coats of arms.


The lions are long gone, but the old house still stands. Its most famous owner was Alexander Fonvizin, the father of Decembrists Mikhail and Ivan, who organized the meetings of the Union for Prosperity here. Mikhail's wife, Natalya Fonvizina, nee Apukhtina, was considered by Moscow society the prototype of Pushkin's Tatyana from Eugene Onegin. She really proved her loyalty to her husband, following him in exile to Siberia.

The house's next owner, the friend of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, baroness Nadezhda von Meck, had reconstructed the building, connecting it to the free-standing annex, embellishing it with stucco work and a Neoclassical portico – and the modest nobleman estate had acquired the look that was more appropriate for its historical importance. Today the building houses the State Fisheries Committee of the Russian Federation.
The building of the ancient Moscow manor that was built before the 1812 Fire of Moscow amazes passers-by to this day, even though it is believed that it was greatly damaged by the alterations of its later owners. But its claim to fame extends beyond the architectural merits: in 1933-43, poet Demyan Bedny lived here along with his magnificent library. Today both the poet's apartment, and his library are a part of the State Literary Museum located in the building.
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The house of Prince Bebutov family was built in 1908-09 by architect Gustav Gulrich. Today it is one of the best monuments to Moscow Art Nouveau style, harmonious in all of its elements. The rose-coloured stones of the lower floors match with the biege tiles of the upper ones, while the conciseness of these tiles perfectly matches the stucco elements, the figures of a young man and a woman on the top floor of the central bay window, and the wrought-iron balconies. Today it is a residential house, and before the war it was a tenement one. The apartments were rented out to the consulates, and one of the residents was the famous mystic philosopher George Gurdjieff, the founder of the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.
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Petrovsky Bulvar (Petrovsky Boulevard) suffered greatly from the 1812 Fire of Moscow, which burned down both buildings and trees. Following the renovation efforts, it never managed to achieve the same aristocratic status as the neighbouring Strastnoy Bulvar (Strastnoy Boulevard) or the famous Tverskoy Bulvar (Tverskoy Boulevard). It was mostly inhabited by the middle class, merchants and intelligentsia. It is definitely not the grandest of Moscow's boulevards: narrow tenement houses huddle along the small alley, and its principal attraction is the view of the Petrovsky Monastery. At the same time, this boulevard has left its mark on the history of Russian culture. Composer Reinhold Glière, who resided in the city manor located at house No. 5, wrote the first Soviet ballet The Red Poppy, while living here. House No. 19 belonged to physician Pikulin, and a small circle of Moscow writers regularly gathered here, among them Afanasy Fet and Yury Grigorovich. In addition, the Hermitage restaurant was famous throughout Moscow.
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A small church on the corner with Ulitsa Sretenka (Sretenka Street) is one of Moscow's oldest, originally mentioned in the Forty Forties list of Moscow churches in the early 17th century. During Napoleon's invasion, the church was fully burned out on the inside, and it was not until 1901-1902 that it was covered with new frescos by the best painters of that time. It is quite possible that it was those frescos that helped the church to survive the Soviet times, when it housed the USSR Navy exhibition. Today the church belongs to the Sretensky Monastery commune, and is once again opened for services. Two remarkable legends are told about this temple. According to one, witnessing a church wedding between an old and infirm man and a young girl inspired painter Vasili Pukirev to produce his famous work The Unequal Marriage. According to the other, the church's treasury contains one of the thirty pieces of silver that Judas received for betraying Jesus.
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This building, best viewed from the Milyutinsky Pereulok (Milyutinsky Lane), is a delightful example of Moscow antiquity. At the end of the 1830s, Court Counsellor Ivan Loris-Melikov invited the prominent architect Mihail Bykovsky to reconstruct the 18th-century stone merchant chambers on the corner of Sretenvsky Bulvar (Sretenvsky Boulevard) and Milyutinsky Pereulok. Today the house is somewhat hidden behind a residential six-storey building, the legacy of the 1920s Constructivism, and architectural epochs on the boulevard seem to exist in layers.

Bykovsky had built a house in the style of Russian Neoclassicism, uncluttered in its decoration. The ground floor with its low square windows, finished with rock-face stones, creates a sense of solidity, while the high windows of the second, dressed-up, floor with their framed architraves create a sense of elegance. But the real beauty could be found inside: there were the caryatides above the entrance staircase, big halls decorated in different styles, lots of stucco work and columns made of artificial marble…

The capital reconstruction of 1928 destroyed the greater part of the trimmings. In late 1980s, the house was given to the managing board of the All-Russian Cultural Foundation, and was carefully restored, but after that the building fell into the state of neglect. Another attempt at restoration was made by its temporary tenants, the team of the FreeLabs creative estate. Despite its difficult history, a lot of things had been preserved in the house, and not just the interiors. The carved wooden frames of the second-floor windows, facing the Sretensky Bulvar, had survived through the centuries.
The building's facade, generously embellished with stucco, is the result of this old mansion's reconstruction, which took place in the 1870s, when its famous owners, the Pavlov family, had already left the building. But what is interesting about this building is not its facade, decorated with garlands and ciphers, but the story of this place in the days of Pushkin. Back then, it was a home to Karolina Jänisch, the daughter of professor Karl Jänisch and one of the best educated women of that age. She was admired by scientist Alexander Humboldt and highly esteemed by the literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, while the poet Adam Mickiewicz, her tutor in Polish, fell in love and wanted to marry her. But Karolina's parents did not agree to this marriage, and in 1836 she was married off to the man of letters Nikolai Pavlov. The Pavlov family held regular literary soirees on Thursdays, and those were attended by every notable writer and poet — Baratynsky, Gogol, Fet, Herzen, Ogarev, Chaadaev… In 1840, poet Mikhail Lermontov departed for his last exile from this place. "He left saddened. The night was damp. We said our goodbyes on the steps," later remembered participants of that meeting.
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Just 100 years ago, instead of the expansive Pushkinskaya Ploschad (Pushkinskaya Square), this was a small patch of the Strastnaya Ploschad (Strastnaya Square), where the cabmen huddled together, and there was trading in hay and firewood. The greater part of the square was occupied by the Strastnoy Monastery. In 1931, the monastery was demolished, and a square garden was planted in its stead along with an open stage for concerts and movie screenings. In 1961, the open stage was replaced with the Rossiya movie theatre. Back in the early 19th century, beyond the monastery stood the Sennaya Ploschaad (Sennaya Square) that was in bad repute with contemporaries, as the passers-by were regularly robbed here at night.

In 1871, Elizaveta Naryshkina used her own money to plant a large square garden in place of the square, and the garden received the name of Naryshkinskaya in her honour. Vladimir Gilyarovsky in his seminal book "Moscow and Muscovites," called Naryshkinskaya Ploschad (Naryshkinskaya Square) "the best of Moscow's boulevards." To this day, the short Strastnoy Bulvar remains Moscow's widest and one of its quietest.
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The palace of the Gagarin family, adorned with a bold 12-column portico, is one of the last works of architect Joseph Bové, dated 1826. This Italian-born architect played a very important role in reconstructing Moscow after the fire in 1812. He designed the Alexander Garden, the Moscow Manege, the Teatralnaya Ploschad (Teatralnaya Square) next to the Bolshoi Theatre, and the Triumphal Arch, which back then stood near Tverskaya Zastava Ploschad (Tverskaya Zastava Square). Looking at this array of important stately buildings, one sees clearly the great importance of this palace for the overall look of the 19th century Moscow. The proud history of this building began even before it was reconstructed by Bové. Back in the 17th century, there were stone chambers here, and in 1775, the great Russian architect Matvey Kazakov had built a new palace in their stead. The palace was particularly famous for the English Club that settled there. Tolstoy's War and Peace novel describes the formal dinner organized at the club in 1806 in honour of General Bagration, the hero of the Battle of Schöngrabern: "On March 3 all the rooms in the English Club were filled with a hum of conversation, like the hum of bees swarming in springtime. The members and guests of the Club wandered hither and thither, sat, stood, met, and separated, some in uniform and some in evening dress, and a few here and there with powdered hair and in Russian caftans."

A completely different eyewitness account was left by the French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, better known as Stendhal, who, in 1812, observed the officers of Napoleon's army emptying out the Prince's wine cellars: "The club is decorated in French style, and it looks majestic and smutty." After the fire in 1812 and the building's reconstruction, the English Club was not restored in the same place, the palace was bought by the Treasury, which opened the Novo-Yekaterininsky Hospital here. Later, it became the First Clinical Hospital of the Moscow University. This was where writer Anton Chekhov, a student of medicine, had practiced, and where his famous professors had worked. Under the Soviets, the hospital was renamed the 24th City Hospital and remained here until 2008. Following the restoration, the building was given over to the municipal parliament, the Moscow Duma.
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The historic manor at Bulvar Petrvosky (Petrvosky Boulevard) was built in the 1780s for Rostislav Tatishchev, the grandson of the famous Russian historian, and the residential buildings on both sides of the house used to be its annexes. The original manor building was the creation of the great architect and the patriarch of Moscow Neoclassical style Matvey Kazakov. Legend has it that Tatishchev received Emperor Paul I here, in the hall furnished with mirrors, which seemed like an amazing wonder back then.

From the Tatishchev family the manor was passed to the Vyazemsky family, but its most famous owners were the eccentric Catoire family, merchants from France, who sold tea, wines, and silks. In the 1860s, they bought the house and commissioned its reconstruction from architect Alexander Kaminsky, a prominent representative of the Moscow Eclecticism style. Between 1897 and 1904, the building housed the editorial offices of the Courier newspaper, which united left-wing men of letters. In the course of its short existence, the Courier published Maxim Gorky, Anton Chekhov, Ivan Bunin, and many other well-known writers. Leonid Andreyev, who served as the paper's court reporter, woke up famous one day, after the Courier published his short story "Bargamot and Garaska."
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The house of hereditary honorary citizen Yelagina was built in the late 19th century by architect Alexander Dranitsyn. In the 1920s, it was settled by Zhurgaz magazine and newspaper association and the editorial offices of the Ogoniok magazine. In the summers, the restaurant of the Theatre Workers' Club would move here, and Moscow's fashionable society would feast to the music of Alexander Tsfasman's jazz orchestra. It is believed that the echoes of that orchestra can be heard in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel Master and Margarita. The writer himself, a great fan of fashionable life, often visited this house. The contemporaries could easily recognize the director of the real-life restaurant Yakov Rosenthal in the book's character Archibald Archibaldovich, the director of the infamous Griboyedov House restaurant. Still, unlike the restaurant from Bulgakov's novel, the House of Yelagina did not burn down. Moreover, its unique interiors, including the doors, decorated ceilings and hearths, had been preserved almost completely. The house is considered an architectural landmark, now it is home to office spaces.
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Another tenement house at Rozhdestvensky Bulvar (Rozhdestvensky Boulevard) was built in 1902 by architect Pavel Zarutsky. The house is remarkable for its Art Nouveau elements, such as the decorative stucco work, wrought-iron balconies, a corner bay window with a turret, and the large female masks under the cupolas of the facade. There is a beautiful legend told about this house. In the 1910s and 1920s, one of its tenants was ballerina Yekaterina Geltzer, who was visited by an admirer, Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, the future field marshal of Finland. The legend claims that in 1924, the Baron stealthily returned to Soviet Russia in order to marry Geltzer and bring her to Finland, but the ballerina fell ill and remained in Moscow. This sounds more like a beautiful fairy-tale rather than a historical fact, but the magical house of Zarutsky fits well with this legend.
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This tenement building made up of two monumental parts was designed by architect Nikolai Proskurin and constructed in 1902. The eclectic complex with some Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau elements was completely autonomous: it had its own power station, ventilation system with air humidifying, confined well, sewage, and heating. One of Moscow's first elevators was installed in the building, and there was a basement laundry connected with the residential quarters by special cargo elevator. One hundred and fifty apartments that were mostly inhabited by prominent scientists, lawyers, and doctors, were divided into working and living zones, and all of the flats had expensive parquet floors, fireplaces and stucco molding.

In Soviet times, the buildings housed the Main Artillery Administration of the Red Army, the Literature Department of the People's Commissariat of Education, and the editorial offices of the Gudok newspaper. In the 1920s, one of the paper's employees was the famous Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov. The prominent French architect Le Corbusier, who suggested that the Soviet authorities demolish half of Moscow in order to raise hundreds of Constructivist buildings, considered this house one of the capital's most beautiful structures. The huge wrought iron gates are an important detail of the Rossiya building, and people sometimes call it the "house with gates."
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The Sretensky Bulvar (Sretensky Boulevard) is just 214 metres (702 feet) long. It begins at the Sretensky Gates Ploschad (Sretensky Gates Square), which gave the boulevard its name, and ends at the Turgenevskaya Ploschad (Turgenevskaya Square). The Sretensky Gates Square was famously the place where, in the 14th century, the Muscovites met the miracle-working Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, brought to the capital from Vladimir in order to protect the country from Tamerlan's invasion. After the unveiling of the icon, the conqueror had abruptly turned away from Moscow, and the location was given a name to commemorate the miraculous meeting. "Meeting" in Church Slavonic is sretenye, hence the Sretensky Gates name. In the 17th century, this was where the tradesmen and craftsmen lived. Later, the district became more fashionable, and the neighbouring Myasnitskaya Ulitsa (Myasnitskaya Street) became a home to rich merchants. The boulevard was planted in 1830, and became a meeting place for the students of Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, located nearby. Vladimir Makovsky's painting "At the boulevard," painted in 1887, gives an idea of other types of people who frequented this place. The main protagonists of the painting are the young factory hand, a former peasant who came to Moscow to earn money, and his wife.

In the 20th century, the boulevard was reconstructed twice, with planting of new trees and replacement of benches. The monument to Nadezhda Krupskaya, the wife of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, appeared at the end of 1970s. In 2008, a monument to the great inventor Vladimir Shukhov was installed at the other end of the walkway.