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Micha Jelisavcic
John Sloan

The oldest part of Moscow is the Kitai Gorod (fortified city) that lay opposite Red Square where GUM, the Rossia Hotel and the buildings behind them are now. It is the region of Moscow immediately adjacent to the Kremlin's east side. There are several ideas about the origin of the name. The name comes from the Russian word for poles (kit) used to strengthen the walls. In medieval Rus this part of Moscow came to be the locale for craftsmen and tradesmen and was known as the Large Settlement. It was crossed by the Great Street. It was defended from early times by the fortified Nikol'skii and Bogoiavlenskii monasteries. In the late 14th century an earthen wall was constructed between the Moscow and Neglinnaia rivers to serve as its outer defense line. In 1534 by order of the regent, Yelena Glinskaya, widow of Tsar Vasilii III and mother of Ivan IV, a regular wooden palisade on earthen rampart behind a deep ditch was constructed along the line of the modern Square of the Revolution, Teatral'nii and Kitaiskii streets and the bank of the Moskva River. The entire population of Moscow less the nobility and court clerks was turned out to create this in a few month's time. Between 1535 and 1538 this was replaced by stone walls six meters thick and six meters high with 13 towers. The walls had three rows of firing ports and a parapet from which defenders could fire. Gradually the Kitai-gorod was occupied by the mansions of the wealthy boyars and by government buildings and the artisans moved out to the next suburb. This in turn was surrounded by yet another fortified city wall. The Kitai-gorod was burned by the Polish occupying forces in 1610 and again during the French occupation of 1812. The region became the commercial center of Moscow in the 18th century. A commercial market has occupied the site of the present GUM department store since at least 1786. Its wall and gates remained until well into the 20th century, but today only a very short section remains near Teatralnaya Square behind the Metropole Hotel and by Kitaiski Proezd at Varvarka Street. During their reconstruction of the older, run-down parts of Moscow, the Soviet rulers tore down practically all of the parts of the medieval city wall that remained after Catherine II tore down most of it.


Opposite the Kremlin and facing Red Square is a huge building, erected in 1890-1894 for the "Trade stalls" to replace the very old one which dated from 1595 and had become unsafe, though it had been restored the last time in 1815 by Bove (Beauvais). For centuries this area and the Red Square had been the main Moscow trade center, though this was often not to the liking of the grand dukes and tsars, whose main entrance to their Kremlin palaces was just opposite. One reason for building new "Stalls" under the roof was to eliminate the practice of trading at the square itself. The building is presently known as GUM, an abbreviation for Gosudarstvenii Universalnii Magazin (State department store), and it was designed by a professor of the Academy, A. N. Pomerantsev. He won a first prize for it, though he did not follow the conditions of the special commission, established to clean the area and take care of the construction, which demanded "Sparing construction expenditures and elegance in architectural forms." Nevertheless, Pomerantsev used marble and granite and decorated the exterior of the building with several old Russian elements, primarily borrowed from ancient Rostov architecture. A novelty was the great use of iron, reinforced concrete and glass, with which the roof of this huge building was covered. The latter work being that of an engineer, V. G. Shukhov. Go to

Church of the Trinity (Troitskaya Tserkov)

A red-and-white brick edifice that dates from the 17th century, when the Nikitkov merchant family financed its construction after the original wooden church burnt down. It's located in the Kitai Gorod. The church's beautiful frescoes, based on Old and New Testament stories, indicate that traditional Muscovite art had just encountered the humanist influence of the Western Renaissance, with its emphasis on perspective. The icon of St. Nikita, which the merchant Nikitkov is said to have saved from the destruction of the original church, remains in the church.

Nikolskoya Street

There are three streets through Kitai Gorod from Red Square to the old wall. On Nikolskoya is the Zaikovo-Spassky Monastery, founded by Boris Gudunov in 1600. Its cathedral was completed in 1661. The old Printer Yard, established in the early 16th century is also on this street.

Ilyinka Street

This is in the central postion between and parallel the other two. It remains a busy street today. A walk through this area shows the extensive construction and rehabilitation going on. And the high-class store windows are full of western merchandise.

Varvarka Street

The Varvarka (called Razin Street under the Communists) is an old Moscow street whose name has become that of an entire district. Its name derived from the peach-colored St. Barbara's Church that dominates the quarter. The church is located at the end of the street nearest to St Basil's. On the right side as one enters the street from that end, the scene is marred by the massive presence of the Rossia hotel. But tucked neatly under its looming facade are some of the most interesting medieval buildings in the city complete with golden cupolas, steeply pitched wooden roofs in the Old Russian style and belltowers. The narrow street is lined with old churches. First comes St Barbara for which the street is named, built by Aleviso Novi in 1514 and rebult in 1796. Then comes the English residence, given by Ivan IV in 1556 to the first group of English merchants who reached the city via Arkangelsk. Then one sees the Church of St Maxim the Greek, dating from 1698 with a bell tower from 1829. The House of the Romanov Boyars dates from 1565-67, when they were one of the several families vying for favor with Ivan IV. It is the birthplace of the future Tsar Mikhail Romanov. The property was restored by Alexander II and displays charming Old Russian furnishings and tiled stoves. Then there is the Monastery of the Apparition with its five-dome cathedral of the 17th century designed by Matvei Kazakov in 1789. St. George's Church dates from 1658. The Church of the Conception of St. Anne is from the 15th century. The Church of All Saints in Nogina square was built by Dmitri Donskoi in 1380 to celebrate his victory at Kulikovo.

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