A Walk Around Moscow’s Boulevard Ring
Text and photos Katrina Marie
On a steamy summer day, look for cooling beauty no further than the lush treelined Boulevard Ring. The pedestrian-only boulevards offer stunning period architecture, a translucent pond at Chistiye Prudi, and a walk through Moscow history.
The Boulevard Ring occupies what was once the medieval white wall that guarded the Bely Gorod (White City) until 1760. Beginning at the southwestern Gogolevskiy Boulevard and ending at the southeast Yauzsky Boulevard, the “ring” stops short of being a full circle. Plans to complete it have periodically been proposed, but it remains decidedly horse-shoe shaped. Most of the ring was completed in the 1820s, after the infamous fire of 1812 that gutted most of the surrounding buildings.
The following route covers highlights from Strastnoy to Pokrovsky boulevards, which can be walked in about an hour, including a stop for Moscow’s summer mainstay: ice cream.
One might never guess that this calm oasis was at one time a busy hay market by day and den of vicious highwaymen by night. Named after the Strastnoy Convent (destroyed by Stalin), it’s colloquially known as Shakmatny Bulvar (Chess Boulevard) as evidenced by the weekend chess champions absorbed in the fine art of strategy and domination, while the modern statue of Sergei Rachmaninoff looms above them. The great composer lived and worked at No. 5 from 1905-1917, which was then a women’s music school.
At 9, a rather unassuming house was the scene of a notorious murder mystery in the mid-1800s. Blood stains were allegedly found in the house after the body of its French housekeeper was discovered outside the city. The aristocrat and playwright owner was convicted and served several years in prison before later being acquitted.
At 15/29, the now crumbling mid-1800s palace with weeds growing from its gutters once belonged to the noble Gagarin family. It was used by the posh English Club, Napoleon’s Army, and was even featured in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Having suffered massive fire damage, it was restored in 1826 and then became the New Catherine Hospital, later the Moscow State University hospital, where Anton Chekhov trained early in his career. It was transferred to the city in 2009, but currently appears closed.
Adjacent to the house is a statue of the actor and anti-Soviet rock bard, Vladimir Vysotsky. Some consider it defiant, others a grotesque caricature of the artist, but it is rightly provoking.
Petrovskiy Boulevard and Trubnaya Square
The prime attraction is the immense Petrovsky Monastery, believed founded in the early 1300s by Saint Peter of Moscow, who transferred the centre of Russian orthodoxy from Vladimir to Moscow. The large cathedral on the site dates from the 1500s. In the 1600s, the Naryshkins (the powerful boyar family related to Peter the Great) added a family burial place, monastic cells, and a bell tower.
The boulevard leads into Trubnaya Square, where construction partially obscures the continuation of the Boulevard Ring. Dominated by a tall statue of St. George atop the Trubnaya metro station, the square is flanked by the large School of Modern Drama.
Trubnaya is the perfect stop for a perusal of Soviet art at the charming Shishkin Gallery at 29/14 Neglinnaya ulitsa (see Passport article, June 2010), or much-needed sustenance at Coffeemania just opposite, before embarking on the steep ascent up Rozhdestvensky Boulevard and convent.
Rozhdestvensky Convent, or Convent of the Nativity, founded in the late 1300s, is an active convent that resumed work in the 1990s. Historically, Russian women were often forced to take the veil instead of divorcing. One of the more famous residents here in the 1500s was the first wife of Prince Vasily III. In the 1900s, the convent was also home to an orphanage.
No 12 was once a secret meeting place for the Decembrists. In 1825, its owner was exiled to Siberia. Renovation in the late 1800s added 50 rooms to the estate, then owned by a wealthy tea merchant.
Though the shortest part of the Boulevard Ring, Stretesnky is not without drama. The ornate white 17th century church of the Assumption of the Mother of God in Pechatniky at the boulevard’s junction, was reportedly the inspiration for the famous painting, The Unequal Marriage, by Vasily Pukirev, after a scene the artist witnessed at the church: the marriage of a young bride to a much older wealthy man.
At the head of the boulevard is a gaunt figure of Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife. Krupskaya worked at the adjacent 6/1, previously the Commissariat for Public Education. Built in 1899-1902, this magnificent landmark once belonged to the Rossiya Insurance Company. The famous writer Mikhail Bulgakov worked in this building.
The grand dame of the Boulevard Ring must certainly be the arty Chistoprudny, with its manicured gardens, summer art exhibits, and sprawling pond. The pond once served as the dumping grounds for a nearby slaughterhouse before 18th century. Prince Menshikov demanded the ponds be cleaned, hence the name.
At 14 is the fabulously strange 19th century Figured House, covered in white images of what can only be described as the “beasties” of children’s lore. At 19a is the elegant and popular Sovremennik Theater, now occupying a former 1914 film cinema. At 23 the renown film director, Sergei Eisenstein, lived from 1920-1934.
A few short steps from Chistoprudny feel like another Moscow. Less show, more grit, literally, as the paved boulevard gives way to a sandy path.
¹ 1 was built in 1936 for employees of the NKVD, precursor to the KGB. 3/1, the boulevard’s primary attraction, is the Pokrovsky Barracks, formerly occupying this large pillared building. In the late 1790s, Tsar Paul promised the Pokrovsky residents that, in exchange for money to build the barracks, they would not be obligated to fulfill mandatory military conscription. The arrangement was short-lived, however, as Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. The subsequent fire destroyed much of the barracks, which were restored in the 1830s.