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From Dust to Dust: The Back Streets of Zamoskvorechye
Text by Katrina Marie
Photos by Julia Nozdracheva

Nearly every visitor becomes acquainted with Moscow’s Zamoskvorechye district, home to the Tretyakov Gallery. But this area’s lesser known back streets are equally remarkable for what they have preserved: the merchant class, the grand estates, the street names marking the Mongol-Tatar occupation… even the dust feels original.

For centuries, Zamoskvorechye (translated as “beyond the Moskva river”) was a poor working-class district ignored by Moscow’s elite, largely due to the area’s swampy environs and frequent flooding. The infamous Bolotnaya Square, where thousands gathered this past December, literally means “swamp”. First settled in the 14th century by craftsmen, Zamoskvorechye was occupied by the Golden Horde up until the 15th century, and by Ivan the Terrible’s Streltsy until the early 1700s, when mass executions under Peter the Great destroyed the force.

Tretyakov Gallery

Novokuznetskaya Metro

As the new capital in St. Petersburg demanded every sort of craftsman, Zamoskvorechye in the 18th and 19th centuries changed from being an artisan to a merchant area. Drainage improvements and the war of 1812 (which destroyed much of Moscow) led wealthy merchants and industrialists to increasingly choose Zamoskvorechye for its cheap and available land. The area remained a mix of working-class slums peppered with factories and grand estates through to the 20th century.

This walk begins at the historic Novokuznetskaya Metro station and meanders southwards to Paveletsky train station.

Novokuznetskaya Metro, a radiant little gem, opened in 1943. The station’s décor thus mirrors this poignant period: emotive World War II motifs dominate the station’s bas-reliefs. The ceiling mosaics, with their glowing scenes of a bountiful Soviet ideal, appear at first glance to be a sharp departure. But even here, the war had an impact. Prominent artist Vladimir Frolov remarkably created these scenes while himself a prisoner of the Leningrad blockade. At 70, he fought starvation as he delicately pieced together visions of the Soviet dream. Frolov died before the blockade ended.

The station’s benches, made of Siberian white marble, were ostensibly seized from the original Christ the Savior before its demolition in 1931.

Exit the station and turn right onto Pyatnitskaya street, a faded yet charming exhibition of 18th and 19th century Moscow handiwork. Pyatnitskaya draws its name from the Church of St. Paraskeva (“Paraskeva” in Greek means “Friday”) which once stood where Novokuznetskaya station now is. Pyatnitskaya dates back to the 14th century as a main route to Tula and Ryazan, and has been used by many Russian artists, including the playwright Ostrovsky, the poet Lermontov, and the famous bard Okudzhava for the 1978 film, “The Inn at Pyatnitskaya“ about a gang of NEP-era “enemies of the people”.

Bolotnaya square

Paveletsky train station

It also temporarily housed great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Proceed to #12, one of Moscow’s multiple museums dedicated to Tolstoy. It’s uncertain whether Tolstoy actually lived at #12, #14, or #16, having only briefly alluding to his stay at a home on Pyatnitskaya belonging to V.V. Vargin (the largest supplier of Russian army uniforms during the war of 1812). Vargin owned all three homes. As Tolstoy was recovering from injuries suffered during the Crimean War, perhaps we can forgive his vagueness. We do know that while here from 1857-1858, he wrote the novel “Cossacks”. More information about the museum and its exhibitions may be found at:

Retrace your steps, passing Novokuznetskaya Metro station once again, until you reach Klimentovsky lane. Look up: the towering and colorful five-domed church of St. Clement dominates the view. This baroque beauty was built between 1762 and 1769 and occupies the site of the original 1600s stone church. Although the external view is impressive, the public area is rather small and dim.

Continue south on Pyatnitskaya away from the glistening Kremlin domes in the distance. At #31/2 is the 18th century urban estate of wealthy entrepreneur, Matveyev, currently home to the political party Yabloko. At #33 is the fancifully eclectic Korobkova House, built in the 1890s and now the Embassy of Tanzania. With trim like white icing, and romantically scrolled windows, this is certainly one of Moscow’s hidden treasures. In the 1930s, it was briefly inhabited by the Academy of Sciences.

Pyatnitskaya street

“Yabloko” headquarters

Turn left on Stary Tolmachevsky lane, which takes its names from the settlement of royal translators who were used by the Kremlin in dealings with the Golden Horde.

Turn right onto Novokuznetskaya street—a reference to the blacksmiths who settled here. With each passing building, one immediately feels the past returning. Instead of the well-known chainstores, here one finds small, independently owned kiosks labeled simply “khleb” or “moloko”, and frequented by kerchiefed grandmothers dragging along bundled up toddlers.

At # 1 is the attractive 20th century estate now belonging to the Embassy of Mali. Across the street at #12/14 is the Embassy of Indonesia, which occupies two former private residences built in the early 20th century. The first is the early 1900s Protopopov-Tatischev House, which was built by Russian-born architect, Vladimir Sherwood Jr., whose father designed the State Historical Museum on Red Square. The second residence is the Urusova House, built in 1912 to the design of Ivan Rerberg, who also worked on the Kievsky rail terminal and the Central Telegraph Office.

The apartment building with supermarket on the left at #17/19 was featured in the popular Soviet-era comedy “Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession”.

Сhurch of St. Clement

Novokuznetskaya street

Remnants of the Tatar influence are still evident in this area. To the left is a statue dedicated to renowned Tatar poet, Gabdulla Tukay (1886-1913), located near the Tatar Cultural Centre. The new memorial was unveiled in April 2011 in conjunction with the 125th anniversary celebration of Tukay’s birth. Though his life was shortened by tuberculosis, Tukay’s influence on the modern Tatar language and dedication to social issues of the time make him a legend in modern Tatar culture.

At the corner of Novokuznetskaya and Vishnaykovsky lane is the early 19th century Church of St.. Nicholas in the Kuznetsk settlement. The earliest church on the site was purportedly built in the 15th century. The latest was completely rebuilt in 1805 and was one of the few churches to remain open after the Revolution.

Proceed along Vishnyakovsky lane and turn left on Bolshaya Tatarskaya street. Tucked back at #28 is one of Moscow’s oldest mosques, founded in 1823. While the mosque never had an easy relationship with Moscow’s authorities, it spiraled quickly downward under Soviet rule. The Imam was arrested and shot in 1936 and the mosque was subsequently closed. In 1993, it re-opened after much reconstruction and is one of Moscow’s four active mosques.

Church of St.. Nicholas in the Kuznetsk settlement

A.A. Bakhrushin Theatre Museum 

Retrace your steps to Vishnyakovsky lane and turn left onto Bakhrushina street, named after the wealthy Bakhrushin merchant family, well known for their philanthropic works. Most of the street is lined with estate homes from the 18th and 19th centuries, including the Bakhrushin‘s own neo-gothic estate at #29 and 31/12, which houses the still active A.A. Bakhrushin Theatre Museum.

The son, Aleksey Bakhrushin (1865-1929), held a particular penchant for the theatre and collected items in earnest. Indeed, his ever-growing collection became a real obsession, as Bakhrushin became mocked for regularly turning up at funerals to press the deceased’s family for objects of interest. A joke even circulated that “Bakhrushin comes hot on the heels of grave-diggers.”

But his obsession developed into Russia’s largest collection of theatre-related memorabilia. Bakhrushin founded the museum in 1894, which now possesses 1.5 million items, including costumes, stage sets, photographs, scripts, letters, and so on. More information about the museum may be found at:

Continue south toward the gargantuan Paveletsky train station, whose view is currently blocked by construction. Paveletsky services routes south and the Aeroexpress to Domodedovo airport. Notable for its size (one of Moscow’s largest), this 1900 station was also the temporary home of Lenin’s body following the arrival of his funeral train from his estate in Gorky in 1924.

Bolshaya Tatarskaya street

Paveletskaya Metro station

Paveletsky is still home to Lenin’s funeral train, which is now housed at the newly opened Russian Railway Museum inside the station. Prior to this, the train had been contained in a special air-conditioned pavilion. The museum is open Monday - Friday, 10:00-18:00.

Paveletskaya Metro station is also located here. It opened at the same time as Novokuznetskaya, in 1943. With its white marble and Soviet décor, Paveletskaya is noticeably more austere than the previous stop up the line. Perhpas that is a more fitting tribute to its history.

At this point, one can continue on toward the train station, or return along Novokuznetskaya street via tram 3 or on foot for further enjoyment of Zamoskvorchye’s under-appreciated architectural delights.

For another walk in Zamoskvorechye, see the June 2010 PASSPORT article Bolshaya Ordinka: Street of the Golden Horde and Golden Domes at

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