The Master of Malaya Bronnaya
“A round, dark object was propelled under the railing of Patriarch’s Ponds’ path onto the cobbled slope… it began bouncing over the cobblestones of Bronnaya Street. It was Berlioz’s severed head.”
Text and Photos by Katrina Marie
And with that image firmly implanted in the mind’s eye, readers of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita are introduced to this main vein of Moscow‘s pulsating heart. Malaya Bronnaya, enchantingly connects the Garden and Boulevard rings, and offers a stimulating stroll through Bulgakov’s literary genius, to the moody Patriarch’s Pond and titillating Tverskoi Bulvar.
This recommended outing begins at the near-by Bulgakov House Museum at 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya (nearest Metro: Mayakovskaya).
For Bulgakov fans, this is Mecca. Bulgakov used his own flat as the model for 302a Sadovaya Street, the location of Satan’s Grand Ball—though the ball itself was inspired by the notorious 1935 ball Bulgakov attended at the American Ambassador’s residence at Spaso House.
Entering the small courtyard off of Bolshaya Sadovaya, one is instantly greeted by the tourist trappings of Bulgakov Land. But don’t be fooled by imitation. The real house-museum is the second door-way on the left, up three flights of black-catgraffiti- lined stairwells—an ode to the indelible Behemoth of Master and Margarita.
Bulgakov lived at the top floor flat from 1921 to 1924. The airy apartment and the surrounding streets inspired so much of Bulgakov’s writing during this timeframe. A small but lovely collection of Bulgakov’s writing desk, family photos and memorabilia, as well as an original Master and Margarita manuscript, are on display.
Even for those who have not read the book, the museum is still worth a quick stop for the pretty period furnishings, charming apartment, and slice of an essential Russian classic. Entry fee is 50 rubles.
And speaking of slices, if nothing else, allow the intoxicating aroma of baking bread to pull you into the famous piroshki joint, Café Stolle, just next door. The fish and berry pies are unforgettable.
Continuing back onto Bolshaya Sadovaya, belly now happily satisfied, turn left at Malaya Bronnaya. The street provides instant eye candy. Garish modern and elegant Victorian buildings intertwine, high-end boutiques, galleries and restaurants beckon the passer-by to gaze dreamily, and Patriarch’s Pond (Patriarshiy Prudi) sparkles just steps away.
Malaya Bronnaya has a long history as Moscow’s centre for craftsmen and blacksmiths. During Ivan the Terrible’s reign, the area housed Moscow’s primary weapons producers, making chain-mail and armour (some of which is on display at the Moscow City Museum). Indeed, Bolshaya and Malaya Bronnaya owe their name to these craftsmen: “bronya” means armor.
In the 1800s, the area became known as Moscow’s “Latin Quarter”, attracting intellectuals, students and artisans. It still very much retains a creative vibe, as the plethora of galleries, nightclubs, and theaters attest.
Patriarch’s Pond, though by its very name, holds a deeper spiritual meaning in Moscow’s past and hence Bulgakov’s use of it in Master and Margarita as Satan’s playground.
Legend has it that this was the site of a haunted marsh, drained in the 14th century and planted with three small ponds maintained by monks as fish farms for the church. During the Soviet era, authorities tried to change the name of the ponds to Pionerskiye, but locals wouldn’t budge.
Today, only one pond remains. The demand for real estate in this prime location prompted sell-offs over the years. Nevertheless, the pond’s tree-lined paths and atypical statues continue to attract people. During winter, the pond serves as a popular iceskating rink; during summer, its café offers a bit of respite.
Back on Malaya Bronnaya, continue to take note of the street’s interesting architectural features: dazzling art nouveau, crumbling Victorian, and whimsical mosaic-studded modernism.
Approaching Bolshaya Bronnaya, at right is the carnationcovered statue dedicated to Sholem Aleichem, a popular Yiddish author who inspired Fiddler on the Roof.
At the intersection of Malaya and Bolshaya Bronnaya, take a look at the fascinating Lubavitch Synagogue (Agndas Chassideri Chabad) on Bolshaya Bronnaya. Built in 1863 following the emancipation of the Jews by Alexander II, its original walls are now encased in a gleaming glass exterior, adding an usual and modernist impression to the synagogue.
A decent Kosher restaurant is at the top, but be forewarned that the menu is hit-and-miss. Regulars seem to have learned how to navigate to the best choices. There are fabulous Israeli wines and tempting-looking lamb, but avoid the tasteless soups. If still in need of sustenance, the trendy Kafe Kafe back at the intersection of Malaya and Bolshaya Bronnaya, is a reliable choice.
Continuing on Malaya Bronnaya toward the Boulevard Ring, the glowing façade of the Theatre on Malaya Bronnaya offers a warm welcome. The building was once occupied by the State Yiddish Theatre, whose famous director Solomon Mikhoels was purportedly murdered on Stalin’s order by the NKVD. The theatre was subsequently closed.
The Theatre on Malaya Bronnaya opened in 1946. Its repertoire includes an impressive mix of Russian plays and Anglo-American classics, such as Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana.
Taking a left onto Tverskoi Bulvar, the charming Yermolova House-Museum at number 11 in honor of the renowned Maly Theatre actress is worth a visit, as is the modern art museum at numbre 9. In the court-yard at the left just before the popular Pushkin Drama Theatre is the small but beautiful 17th century Church of Ionna Bogoslova Na Bronnoi.
Now back onto Bolshaya Bronnaya, opposite an amusinglooking Fisheriya, a right turn takes you past a small outdoor market on weekends, with vendors selling everything from zucchini and tomatoes to Kazan honey, before arriving at Moscow’s first McDonalds (which opened to 5-hour queues in 1989).
But more importantly, the last stop is Pushkinskaya Metro station.