East Central: Kitai Gorod
The sixth of a complete guide to the favourite residential areas
Text by Ross Hunter
Original art and photos by John Harrison
Kitai Gorod is the most central, oldest, most interesting, most varied and most confusing of all the popular residential areas of Moscow. ‘Kitai’ is China. But the name is a double entendre. It is not an ethnic zone, but as Moscow’s fi rst housing suburb, was protected by its own wall, also ‘kitai’. Or was. The original wall can be discovered in a number of places, running up the side of the old hotel Rossiya site and curving round towards Ploshhad Revolutsiya. But there are very few residential buildings within this area, having been replaced by retail and administrative functions. The lively and varied area called Kitai Gorod has edged eastwards and can be said to run from the double Metro station, across the Boulevard Ring and towards the Garden Ring by Kurskaya. The river Yauza defines the southern edge, and the area blends into the equally attractive Chisty Prudy to the north.
The view towards the Vse Svyati Khram, along Solyansky Proezd
The special bits:
The variety and buzz of the centre: lots of shops and entertainments full of life and right next door. Visit Slavyanskaya Ploschad.
View to the South West
from Goncharnaya Ulitsa
A stroll under the trees: Detsky or Milutinsky Park on Pokrovsky blv 10.
Historical and church architecture all in a walkable area.
All of Moscow on your doorstep from Red Square to GUM to Lubyanka to the Polytechnical Museum.
Buildings & statues, tick them off as you go: too many even to count, but look out for the monks Mefodiy and Cyril, of eponymous alphabet fame, the Crimean war memorial, the Old English Court museum, all the churches hidden in the civil service quarter, surviving bits of 1920s constructivist architecture which looks surprisingly fresh, and agreeable views of distant Stalin skyscrapers and Kremlin spires when they appear.
As a residential quarter, Kitai Gorod has mixed blessings, but is becoming more popular. As a place to see, a ‘Moscow in miniature’ it is without parallel. As befits the oldest part of town, the area is steeped in history, and the relatively steep and narrow lanes have helped it resist modernisation. Equally, any stroll along the various art markets at Ismailova or Krimsky Val will show that Kita Gorod is the most popular subject for painters, once the rather clichéd views of the Kremlin, Arbat (and Venice) have been taken out of the frame. Kitai Gorod invites exploration on foot, with sketchbook or camera at the ready.
Moscow’s museum of archaeology is easily missed, hidden beneath the under-renovation Moscow hotel, despite being within a few steps of Zhukov’s horse at the top end of Red Square. Among other exhibits, the museum has a splendid maquette of Moscow in the middle ages. The central street pattern of the Kremlin and surrounds is immediately apparent, and has changed remarkably little. All the buildings have been changed, but their layout has endured. Note that today’s busy Kitagorodsky street is built over a river and one time earth rampart.
The Junano-Predtechensky Monastery
What is staggering is the number of churches, of which a remarkable number are still extant. A Sunday stroll is to the tune of the many peals of bells rhythmically tinkling ‘tinkling’ - maybe bonging or mellowly resounding rather than tinkling? - from the towers. With white painted walls and gilded domes round seemingly every corner, interspersed with trees, dogleg lanes and slops, the whole area exudes rustic charm and tranquillity. Even the monastery is Trappist.
The Moscow side of our area, Stary Ploshhad, is a delightful boulevard, with ample paths and benches, frequently occupied by office workers having a snack or a chat, or students from the several colleges nearby. This, plus the radial roads Maroseyka/Pokrovka and Zabelina at top and bottom respectively are bustling with shops, restaurants and night life, but is short of daily bakers, grocers or chemists’ shops, for example. Without the pomp or the prices of the city centre, there is a superabundance of opportunities to eat, socialise and shop for fancy goods. This area is a recommended walk in almost every tourist guide to Moscow: do follow their advice.
All the more surprising, then, that getting away from the bustle is so easy. Sneak down any side street into blissful quiet. Deciding where to live is less simple. There are plenty of apartment buildings of all ages, and most qualities. However, they are tucked away in random locations without any obvious pattern or logic.
Kitai Gorod has more than its fair share of properties under redevelopment, or in often dire need of improvement. This might mean a building site all too near you, or the downside of undercared for buildings. On the other hand, rents are more flexible, and as buildings get completed, there are expanding selections of interesting properties. Views are not guaranteed, but with the hilly terrain, they can be delightful.
Boulevard park between Staraya Ploschad and Lubyansky Proezd
Choose among pre-revolutionary, art nouveau/style modern, constructivist or Stalin era (maybe we’ll not look too closely at the Khrushchev and Brezhnev era edifices, even while they are still standing), and you can find buildings done up or ready for the treatment. Lend me a million or two, and I’ll show you a couple of neglected treasures with awesome potential that I am restoring, in my dreams. Or settle yourself into one of the new or modernised buildings ready and waiting.
There are plenty to chose from, close to the Yausa, either side of the Boulevard ring or getting towards the Garden Ring. Avoid the last named itself, as the traffic is ghastly, and Kurskaya, like most major railway termini, is rather too much of a melting pot of humanity to feel comfortable in, especially at night. The area is noted for having a strong concentration of original Muscovites, but is short of young families.
Nearby? If you like this area but can’t find what you want, Chisty Prudy, Taganska and Zamoskvareche all have their own charms and attraction; and all are covered in this Passport series. See ‘thanks’ below for more contacts.
Top 10 +/-
The list of all that matters most
- Lively, compact, right in the heart of Moscow, crammed with individuality;
- Very short of green spaces or parks – maybe not ideal with a young family;
- Packed with historical memories, a sense of endurance, but constantly changing;
- A painter’s delight;
- Rather hilly, so not for the infi rm or immobile;
- Noisy round the edges, peaceful inside;
- Easy to escape to the green sites along the Yauza and Moscow’s eastern areas;
- Can be further to a Metro or a daily shop than it ought to be for such a central place;
- Moscow in miniature – a great way for an expat to feel at home;
- Unmissable: a cul-de-sac cloister, five minutes’ walk from the shops, and ten from Red Square itself.
I am most grateful to the following experts for their detailed knowledge:
firstname.lastname@example.org for real estate matters;
Harriet at www.childreninmoscow.ru for opportunities for children;
Anna at www.eolia-relocation.ru,
Elena and EIS parents www.englishedmoscow.com.