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Promenade


15  July  2016

A walk along the Arbat

 There is a famous street in the heart of Moscow, which name is known to all the citizens and visitors of the capital – the Arbat. Sergey Esenin, Andrey Bely and Alexander Blok used to walk along its pavement, and Alexander Pushkin lived in one of its ancient manors with his beautiful wife Natalia Goncharova. There is a monument to this famous couple in the Old Arbat. Over several decades the modern metropolis “absorbed” the major part of Moscow antiquity – manors, merchants’ mansions, ancient churches. However, a small but a historically important layer of history was miraculously preserved in the Arbat. A unique creative spirit wanders here, and one of the “residents” of this place is Bulgakov’s famous Margarita.        

When you walk along the Old and the New Arbat do not be surprised that ancient mansions are “diluted” here with buildings of the Soviet epoch. This contract is almost unperceivable if you remember the historical past of Russia and understand how hard it was during the Soviet times to save the great architectural heritage of the Russian Empire. For example, Khudozhestvenny cinema is the oldest cinema in Moscow. In 1909 it was visited by Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy. In 1925 after viewing “The Battleship Potemkin” film it was announced to the viewers on the death of poet Sergey Esenin. The first sound motion picture was also shown here. The church of Boris and Gleb erected in the XIVth century used to rise near the building of the cinema. In the Soviet times it was devastated and a city market was opened here. Today a modest chapel of princes-passion bearers Boris and Gleb in the Arbat Gates Square witnesses of the holiness of this place.  The building of “Prague” restaurant is preserved at the opposite side of the square. It is a former tavern for cab drivers, which was won in billiards by merchant Tararykin and rebuilt by best Moscow architects. That is how one of the most expensive and the poshest restaurants appeared in Russia and later in the USSR. The parking area is now located in the place, which was earlier occupied by coachmen’s carriages. A walk along the Old Arbat starts from this place. What is this place famous for?     

The Old Arbat comprises tenement buildings of both architectural and historical value located along the entire promenade. Almost every building has its history, famous men of their epoch were guests and tenants of Arbat apartments. City mansions of noble Russian families are another landmark of the street. A unique example of Moscow wooden architectures is Porokhovschikov’s house, which is surprisingly preserved among the stone buildings of the Arbat. The architects, who designed the house in the spirit of the Russian izba (hut), were awarded with a prize at the International exhibition in Paris for “best catching peculiar features of the Russian style in architecture”.   

The memorial apartment of Pushkin is a purlieu of Pushkinists and a special historical space. The poet lived with his wife for only several months here, unfortunately, original room interiors of the Pushkin family are not preserved, but the museum stores original personal items of the poet and his wife and household items of that period. In the Middle Ages the track to Smolensk passed through the Arbat. Back in the day the street was renamed into Smolenskaya but the name did not catch on and remained only in the name of Smolenskaya Square and later in the name of metro station – “Smolenskaya” located nearby.       

In the 30s of the XXth century a considerable part of the historical buildings in the Arbat was destroyed by the governmental order: spacious city mansions turned into confined shared apartments, the churches were robbed and closed, many of them were destroyed.  In this period a project on building of a new traffic artery – “the New Arbat” was accepted. However, the beginning of the Second World War put a crimp in implementation of the plan, and only thirty years later, in the middle of the 60s, the project was brought to life. The project initiators were awarded with Grand Prix in Paris “for important contribution to the urban development structure”.   

Today the New Arbat is a busy traffic artery with buildings in the Soviet post-modernism style located alongside. Many of them were erected in lieu of unique historical buildings, which are preserved today only on rare pre-revolutionary photos or in archive historical documents. Today there are a lot of cafes and restaurants, malls and business centers here. Only the St. Simeon the Stylite Church stands out aside from the uniform ensemble in Povarskaya street. It miraculously survived during construction of Kalininskaya traffic artery. Today the cinteriors of the white-stone church are completely lost, only an ancient iсon of St. Simeon the Stylite dated back to the XVIth century is preserved. Famous Russian writer Nikolay Vasilievich Gogol, who lived in Nikitsky Bulvar, often went to this church in Povarskaya street.       

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