Architectural Monuments of the 16th–17th Centuries

Architectural Monuments of the 16th–17th Centuries


  • Kremlin walls and cathedrals are the pearl of Russian architecture of the 16th century.
  • Kitaygorodskaya wall, from which only a fragment remained, was not only a unique engineering structure, but also kept a lot of secrets and legends.
  • Temples and churches of the 16th and 17th centuries amaze with astonishing beauty and architectural solutions that have no analogues in the world.
  • St. Basil's Cathedral - the most famous church of the 16th century, but the Archangel Cathedral and the tower "Ivan the Great" are no less impressive.
  • Secular architecture of the 17th century is presented in a number of residences (chambers) of families of large Russian merchants and industrialists.
  • Pomegranate yard, a monument of architecture of the 17th century opened a cultural center where exhibitions, concerts and performances take place.

The history of Moscow has seen evolution and hardships, wars and fires, which have brought numerous changes to the city’s look. The great fire of 1812, the aerial bombardments of World War II, and the civil engineering reconstruction of the Soviet and post-Soviet eras—so ruthless to history… Few buildings erected in the 17th century and earlier have survived, so now they have a special value as live witnesses of the past and priceless examples of ancient architecture. Such structures include Kremlin cathedrals, ancient monasteries and churches, stone chambers of boyars and merchants.


The Moscow Kremlin (Russian: Moskovskiy Kreml’ or Московский Кремль) (Kreml, Moscow)

At the beginning of the 16th century, the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan the Great started renovation of the Kremlin, which lasted for over a century. The new Kremlin was all made of stone and astonished friends and foes with its beauty and inapproachability: a triangle area was enclosed with a 2,270 m long and up to 5 m thick fortress wall, reaching 8–17 m in height. That’s how the Kremlin looks today, guarded by three corner towers and 18 towers with narrow arrowslits, six on each side of the triangle. Today, this historic fortress is home to the most popular museums of Moscow, including the Kremlin Armoury (Russian: Oruzheynaya palata or Оружейная палата) and the magnificent cathedral museums open to the public.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower (Russian: Kolokol’nya Ivan Velikiy or Колокольня Иван Великий) (Cathedral Square (Russian: Sobornaya ploshchad’ or Соборная площадь), Kremlin)

The construction of the architectural masterpiece of the 16th century—Ivan the Great Bell Tower, named after St. John Climacus—began in 1505. Around the same time, the Grand Prince Vasili III Ivanovich ordered the construction of the Cathedral of the Archangel (Russian: Arkhangel’skiy sobor or Архангельский собор) in the Moscow Kremlin. This creation of the legendary Italian architect Aloisio the New became not only a church but also a necropolis for grand princes and tsars of Russia. Today, Ivan the Great Bell Tower houses the museum of architecture of the Moscow Kremlin.

Kitay-gorod Wall (Russian: Kitaygorodskaya stena or Китайгородская стена) (Bld. 20, 17 Nikolskaya St (Russian: Nikol’skaya ulitsa or Никольская улица))

Another fortified area appeared in Moscow in 1538, when the Kitay-gorod wall was erected adjacent to the corner towers of the Kremlin. Only some fragments of that wall have survived (in the Revolution Square (Russian: ploshchad’ Revolyutsii or площадь Революции) and near the Kitay-gorod metro station) to remind of the formerly vibrant and loud Kitay-gorod, or the Great Possad (Russian: Velikiy Posad or Великий Посад). Walls that impeded city traffic were dismantled pitilessly in 1934. What is left, however, remains a wonderful monument of medieval Russian fortification architecture.

Chambers of the Romanov Boyars (Russian: Palaty boyar Romanovykh or Палаты бояр Романовых) (10 Varvarka St (Russian: ulitsa Varvarka or улица Варварка))

These chambers, constructed at the turn of the 16th century, were part of the majestic estate of the Romanov Boyars. The estate must have been built no later than in 1597, as it can be found on the oldest existing map of Moscow. Legend has it that Michael I, the first Tsar of Russia from the House of Romanov, was born there on 12 July 1596. The original building has been reconstructed a number of times over nearly six centuries, but the deep white-stone basement has been preserved exactly as it was under the first owners, and all the renovation has been carried out carefully and in compliance with the architectural traditions of the 16th century.

Church of the Conception of St. Anna in the Corner on the Moat (Russian: Tserkov’ zachatiya Anny, chto v Uglu or Церковь Зачатия Анны, что в Углу) (3 Moskvoretskaya Embankment (Russian: Moskvoretskaya naberezhnaya or Москворецкая набережная))

This active church, one of the oldest in Moscow, has existed in its present condition since the 16th century. It owes its look to the mastery of architect Lev David, who renovated this church after the Great Patriotic War. Historical records first mention the Church of the Conception of St. Anna when describing the fire of 1493, which had no mercy on the wooden structure. It is believed that the stone church on this spot might have been erected in 1547, but there was no formal mention of it until the Census Book of 1626. The church was rebuilt a number of times in the 18th–19th centuries, acquiring as a result its southern and northern side chapels consecrated to martyrs Saint Minas and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The church was closed by Bolsheviks in 1920 to be used as office premises and was only regained by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1994.

Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye (Russian: Tserkov’ Vozneseniya v Kolomenskom or Церковь Вознесения в Коломенском) (39/1 Andropova Ave (Russian: prospekt Andropova or проспект Андропова))

The impressive building of the church, constructed under the order of the Grand Prince Vasili III Ivanovich, is associated with the name of Italian architect Aloisio the New. A non-apsidal church rose high into the sky in 1532; it had parvises, a few porches, snow-white walls, and a tented roof—a sheer masterpiece! Being part of the Kolomenskoye Museum and Reserve Complex, the Church of the Ascension is open to the public today. No worship services are conducted, but the podklet (basement) hosts a permanent exhibition called Secrets of the Ascension Church.

St Basil’s (Pokrovsky) Cathedral (Russian: Khram Vasiliya Blazhennogo (Pokrovskiy sobor) or Храм Василия Блаженного (Покровский собор)) (2 Red Sq (Krasnaya ploshchad’ or Красная площадь))

The Pokrovsky Cathedral erected in Red Square to commemorate the capture of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible has a more famous yet more recent name—the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, or St Basil’s Cathedral. The construction took six years, and a cathedral of unparalleled beauty appeared by the Moscow Kremlin walls in 1560. This is an ensemble of nine churches and a bell tower on the common platform. The cathedral is famous around the world for its multicoloured domes and tents, intertwining arches and vaults, and astoundingly fine mural art. This symbol of the Russian capital is especially popular among tourists. The cathedral holds services on Sundays and on the second day of the Easter Week, being open to the public as a museum during the rest of the time.

Cathedral of the Archangel (Russian: Arkhangel’skiy sobor or Архангельский собор) (Cathedral Square, Kremlin)

The magnificent cathedral constructed in 1505–1508 by Italian architect Aloisio the New is located exactly where the wooden Cathedral of the Archangel had stood since the 13th century. This is one of the most sublime architectural and historical monuments in Russia. Motifs of Italian Renaissance and old Russian church architecture intertwist in the five-domed cathedral decorated with white stone. This austere and lofty site of pilgrimage for tourists and religious people is also a necropolis for some grand princes and tsars of Russia, from Ivan I Daniilovich Kalita (died in 1340) to Emperor Peter II (died in 1730). The Cathedral of the Archangel is open to the public as a museum and holds services on Radonitsa (the day of commemoration of the departed) and on the Patron Saint’s Day.

St. Peter Metropolitan Cathedral (Russian: Sobor Petra Mitropolita or Собор Петра Митрополита) (28 Petrovka St (Russian: ulitsa Petrovka or улица Петровка))

Another piece of architecture by Aloisio the New is the first stone church of the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery (Russian: Vysoko-Petrovskiy monastyr’ or Высоко-Петровский монастырь), erected in 1514–1517. Nobody had built churches like that before Aloisio in Russia: the lower tier with its eight “petals” is topped by an octagonal tower with a helmet-like dome. The St. Peter Metropolitan Cathedral transformed the architectural look of the monastery, whose history had begun almost two centuries earlier. Nowadays, the cathedral is an active church.


The Vysokopetrovsky Monastery brethren’s cells (28 Petrovka St, Moscow)

The Vysokopetrovsky Monastery was first mentioned in historical records in 1317. Its stone brethren’s cells were built much later and reveal a telling impact of the secular architecture of the late 17th century. There are no other monastery cells of this kind in Moscow. Their secular appearance probably has to do with the fact that the monastery was under the patronage of the Naryshkin boyar family, from which Peter the Great’s mother descended. Kirill Naryshkin, grandfather of the future tsar, was exiled to this monastery after the Moscow uprising of 1682. It gave rise to a belief that the building with the monastery cells was constructed using his family’s funds to make imprisonment more comfortable for the noble inmate. The brethren’s cells today are part of the active Vysokopetrovsky Monastery, being used for their intended purpose.

Refectory of the Aptekarsky Prikaz (Russian: Trapeznaya Aptekarskogo prikaza or Трапезная Аптекарского приказа) (25 Starovagankovsky Lane (Russian: Starovagan’kovskiy pereulok or Староваганьковский переулок))

Of all the facilities housing the Aptekarsky Prikaz, organised in the 17th century, only the refectory has survived to this day. The original chamber was reconstructed with time (an upper storey was added), but the early history of the refectory is clearly visible in the fragments of exterior decorations, including the façade window casings. The refectory building has been home to a branch of the Shchusev Museum of Architecture (Russian: Muzey arkhitektury imeni A. V. Schuseva or Музей архитектуры имени А. В. Щусева) since the mid-20th century.

Grenade Yard (Russian: Granatny dvor or Гранатный двор) (3/5 Spiridonovka St (Russian: ulitsa Spiridonovka or улица Спиридоновка, Moscow))

The Grenade Yard, which used to produce artillery projectiles for the tsar’s army, has a checkered past. First built near the Nikitsky Gate in the 16th century, the Grenade Yard moved to Simonov Monastery surroundings in the next century and fell prey to the fire of 1712. Later on, the yard was rebuilt on Vasilyevsky Meadow near the Kremlin and then moved back to the Simonov Monastery area. Traces of the earliest Grenade Yard were discovered close to Spiridonovka Street, and the fairly well-preserved structure was renovated. Today, this building houses the Association of Interior Designers.

Chambers of Averky Kirillov (Russian: Palaty Averkiya Kirillova or Палаты Аверкия Кириллова) (20 Bersenevskaya Embankment (Russian: Bersenevskaya naberezhnaya or Берсеневская набережная))

A unique private house—chambers of Averky Kirillov, a clerk of the Boyars’ Council—has adorned what is now the Red October Factory peninsula since the 17th century. Averky Stefanovich, a rich merchant and a major statesman, met an ill fate when he was cruelly murdered during the Streltsy Uprising of 1682 as a member of the persecuted Naryshkin Boyars’ entourage. The new owner of the chambers was Alexey Kurbatov, an Armoury clerk, who reconstructed the building in accordance with the style of Peter the Great’s era in 1703–1711. The chambers were home to Russian Institute of Culturology between 1941 and 2014.

Guest Chambers of the Sverchkovs (Russian: Palaty gostey Sverchkovykh or Палаты гостей Сверчковых) (Bld. 3, 8 Sverchkov Lane (Russian: Sverchkov pereulok or Сверчков переулок))

These splendid chambers were built at the cusp of the 16th century and underwent some minor improvements in the 17th century. They were owned by a wealthy merchant Ivan Sverchkov, who made his name by making a generous contribution to the construction of the Church of Ascension in Pokrovka. This church was mercilessly demolished in 1936, but the chambers survived; moreover, they have even preserved the layout of those distant years. Ponderosity, solidity, and authentic decorations make the beauty of this architectural monument. Today, the building houses the State Russian House of Folk Art.

Simon Ushakov’s Chambers (Russian: Palaty Simona Ushakova or Палаты Симона Ушакова) (Bld. 1, 12 Ipatyevsky Lane (Russian: Ipat’yevskiy pereulok or Ипатьевский переулок))

These chambers are barely visible today because of the surrounding buildings. However, their historic value has not been lost, as they used to be home to the famous icon painter Simon Ushakov. The chambers were built by merchant I. Chulkov in the 1650s–1670s. Ushakov was granted this building in 1673 to set up an icon painting workshop.

The two-storey stone building, constructed along the frontage line, has preserved its original layout with a spacious entryway (seni), a basement (podklet), and authentic vaults. Nowadays, this is home to the Russian Federal Treasury Support Centre.

Titov’s Chambers in Kadashevskaya Settlement (Russian: Palaty Titova v Kadashevskoy slobode or Палаты Титова в Кадашёвской слободе) (Bld. 2, 10 Pervy Kadashevsky Lane (Russian: Kadashevskiy pereulok or Кадашёвский переулок))

The possad-style building adorning Kadashevskaya Settlement owes its existence to Semen Titov, a clerk of the Boyars’ Council. For his merits, Tsar Alexis I rewarded him with a court of his own in Zamoskvorechye. The mansion was built in the second half of the 17th century and underwent numerous renovations, the final one in 1760. At the beginning of the 20th century, the chambers changed their function and became a ten-apartment revenue house. Restoration works began in 1975, and Titov’s Chambers look today like a typical mid-18th-century mansion. The building now serves as home to business offices.

Chambers of Governorate Finance Inspector Araslanov (Russian: Palaty provintsial-fiskala Araslanova or Палаты провинциал-фискала Арасланова) (1 Bryusov Lane (Russian: Bryusov pereulok or Брюсов переулок))

The Chambers of Grigory Araslanov, built in the 17th century, were later reconstructed: a new building facing Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street was added at the beginning of the 19th century. The chambers lost most of their original decorations in 1860, only arches of the ground floor reminding of bygone times. Many years from then, in 1990, repairers discovered pediments of the ancient chambers under layers of plaster. This became a motivation for architects to renovate the building completely. The façade has been fully restored by now and looks exactly as its 17th-century owners enjoyed it. The chambers constitute a national monument of architecture.

Chambers of the Shuisky Princes (Russian: Palaty knyazey Shuyskikh or Палаты князей Шуйских) (5/2 Podkopayevsky Lane (Russian: Podkopayevskiy pereulok or Подкопаевский переулок))

This mansion with chambers dating back to the 17th century reminds us of typical residential buildings of the no-more existent Bely Gorod (White City). As legend has it, the building was owned by the famous Shuisky Boyars at the turn of the 16th century and passed into possession of Prince Baryatinsky in the 17th century.

The architect chose a good place for constructing the chambers—they can be easily seen from afar even today. Besides, the chambers occupy almost all of the pavement, going beyond the frontage line of Podkopayevsky Lane, which makes them look even more impressive. The building was constructed in several stages at different years. Its foundation, the oldest element, was mounted perpendicular to the lane and consists of two basements and two vaulted chambers above them. An adjacent structure was added in the 17th century, and even more extensions appeared in the 1770s, giving the building a rectangular shape. The 19th century added some novelty, too: the first floor and mezzanine now feature furnishings typical of the noble mansions of that time.

A great deal of what has been restored dates back to the 1650s–1670s: steel window grates, casing decorations, and other details are a tribute to antiquity. A fragment of enclosure in the yard and the ancient gate will take you back to the 16th century, when the Shuiskys’ Chambers first adorned Podkopayevsky Lane. The building is occupied by various businesses today.

Chambers of the Protopopov-Miloslavskys (Russian: Palaty Protopopovykh-Miloslavskikh or Палаты Протопоповых-Милославских) (Blds. 1 and 1A, 3–5 Armyansky Lane (Russian: Armyanskiy pereulok or Армянский переулок))

Experts in the history of Moscow suggest that the plot occupied by the Protopopovs’ Chambers once belonged to the famous Miloslavsky Boyars. While the role of the Miloslavskys in the history of this site might be questionable, it is known for sure that the chambers were owned by I. Protopopov, a stolnik (palace servant) to the Romanov House, in 1701. This two-storey stone building hidden deep in an old yard is today recognised unarguably is a valuable specimen of architecture of the lost Bely Gorod and as a typical civil engineering structure of the 17th-century Moscow.

The lower basement storey of the chambers with white-stone walls and brick floors consists of four utility rooms. The first storey could be accessed from two porches, one wooden and one made of stone. It was in this suite of luxurious rooms that the wealthy owners used to live. The chambers were modernised in the 18th–19th centuries, so now they combine architectural styles of three centuries and delight fans of antiquity with their unique appearance. The building belongs to the Moscow Lights Museum today.

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