The Old Basmannaya SlobodaRussian: Staraya Basmannaya sloboda or Старая Басманная слобода can be likened to the Bermuda Triangle of Moscow. The three sides of the ‘Basmanny Triangle’—the Garden RingRussian: Sadovoe kol’tso or Садовое кольцо, New Basmannaya and Old Basmannaya streetsRussian: Novaya Basmannaya i Staraya Basmannaya ulitsy or Новая и Старая Басманная улицы. As you arrive, it feels like taking a step back into the past, into the world of magnificent estates and their high-ranking owners, a world of houses with mezzanines and shaded garden alleys. You will also see a parts of medieval chambers, baroque churches, merchants’ revenue houses and Soviet-era prefab tower blocks here. The Basmanny Triangle is associated with the names of Emperor Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725, poet Alexander Pushkin, painter Fyodor Rokotova distinguished Russian painter who specialized in portraits, as well as the names of the noble families of Golitsyn, Kurakin, Demidov, Perovsky and others which have often been spoken of throughout the history of Russia.
The history of this place dates back to the 17th century, when the Basmannaya Sloboda had grown there. The most popular etymological explanation for the name is that it was once home to craftsmen who performed ornamental patterns on leather— a process called ‘basmit’. Due to the terrible nature of their occupation, leatherworkers always lived outside Zemlyanoy GorodRussian: Zemlyanoy gorod or Земляной город (i.e. outside the Garden Ring). Syromyatnicheskaya SlobodaRussian: Syiromyatnicheskaya sloboda or Сыромятническая слобода, another district of leather craftsmen, was also situated close by.
KRASNYE VOROTA METRO STATION
It is the best to begin your stroll around the Basmanny Triangle at the Krasnye VorotaRussian: Krasnyie vorota or Красные ворота (Red Gate) metro station, exiting using the southern entrance hall, which resembles a portal. This is where the original Red Gate, a triumphal arch in the Moscow baroque stylethe fashionable architectural style of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, combining Muscovite traditions with Western decorative details and proportions, was built by architect Dmitry Ukhtomskythe chief architect of Moscow during the reign of Empress Elizabeth in 1753. It was disassembled in 1927, but the memory of it still lives in the name of the station and the form of its entrance hall.
New Basmannaya Street begins behind the Krasnye Vorota metro station. It used to be a state street in the times of Peter the Great, who used it to visit his favourite places: the Preobrazhenskoe rural settlementRussian: selo Preobrazhenskoe or село Преображенское and the German QuarterRussian: Nemetskaya sloboda or Немецкая слобода. There were no wooden mansions in this street, only palaces made of stone, built strictly along uniform red lines!
(Bld. 1, 4 New Basmannaya St)
Russian diplomat Boris Kurakin (1676–1727) saw the famous Les Invalides, constructed by Louis XIV, at various times on his ambassadorial visits to Paris. Kurakin got the idea to build a similar hospital and retirement home in Moscow. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to do it, so the building was constructed by his son Alexander Kurakin under his will. Muscovites dubbed the house ‘Kurakin’s (Kurakinskaya) poorhouseRussian: Kurakinskaya bogadel’nya or Куракинская богадельня’. This is a remarkable example of Moscow/Elizabethan baroque architecture of the 18th century, with its typical slightly concave flat architraves. The 20th century changed the look of the building and another storey was added as the central church was demolished. The original building is easy to distinguish from its vertical extension: the former is painted turquoise and the latter is beige. Today, the former poorhouse is home to the Moscow House of NationalitiesRussian: Moskovskiy dom natsional’nostey or Московский дом национальностей.
THE KURAKINS URBAN ESTATE
(Bld. 2, 4–6 New Basmannaya St).
The Duke Kurakins family urban estateRussian: Gorodskaya usad’ba Kurakinykh or Городская усадьба Куракиных is located immediately behind the poorhouse. It was built by Stepan Kurakin, the great-grandson of our acquaintance Boris Kurakin, in the 1790s. The Kurakins Urban Estate with its sculptured reliefs and hexastyle portico is a beautiful monument of Moscow classicism. It is also one of the few buildings in Moscow where the family crest of the Kurakins has been preserved.
ST.PETER AND PAUL’S CHURCH IN NEW BASMANNAYA
(11 New Basmannaya St)
This is probably the most unusual Orthodox сhurch in Moscow. It has almost no traditional elements of Russian architecture; it is low-key and devoid of gaudy decoration, resembling a Protestant church much more than an Orthodox one. However, Peter the Great, who designed this church, preferred the less ornate style in buildings of workship. He also presented the icon of Saints Peter and PaulRussian: ikona svyatyih apostolov Petra i Pavla or икона святых апостолов Петра и Павла to the church, which was lost during the Soviet times but has since been found and restored.
Ukhtomsky added an ornate tiered bell tower to the church in the mid-18th century. St. Peter and Paul’s ChurchRussian: Tserkov’ Petra i Pavla na Novoy Basmannoy or Церковь Петра и Павла на Новой Басманной is an active place of worship nowadays. Its main shrines include a reliquary with particles of the veil of Our LadyRussian: pokrov Presvyatoy Bogoroditsy or покров Пресвятой Богородицы, John the Baptist’s camel-skin robeRussian: vlasyanitsa svyatogo Ionna Krestitelya or власяница святого Ионна Крестителя, Saint Joseph’s coatRussian: plasch svyatogo Iosifa Obruchnika or плащ святого Иосифа Обручника, and the relics of preeminent apostles Saints Peter and Paul and Saint Gregory the GreatRussian: moschi svyatyih pervoverhovnyih apostolov Petra i Pavla i svyatitelya Grigoriya Velikogo or мощи святых первоверховных апостолов Петра и Павла и святителя Григория Великого.
STAKHEEV URBAN ESTATERussian: gorodskaya usad’ba Stakheeva or городская усадьбаСтахеева
(Bld. 1, 14 New Basmannaya St)
Few people know that Kisa Vorobyaninov, the main character of The Twelve Chairsa classic satirical novel by Ilf and Petrovthe literary tandem of two Soviet prose authors of the 1920s and 1930s, was inspired by merchant Nikolay Dmitrievich Stakheev, who lived in New Basmannaya Street. Nikolay Stakheev was involved in the production of coal and petroleum, run a real estate business in Moscow, and was very rich. The socialist Revolution of 1917 found him in France. Eager to save his treasures, he decided to rescue them from the cache in his Moscow house and stash them away abroad. However, he was stopped by the Red Guardsparamilitary volunteer formations consisting mainly of factory workers, peasants, cossacks and partially of soldiers and sailors on his way back, and all of his valuables were seized and nationalised.
Stakheev’s luxurious mansion was built in 1898 in an eclectic style by architect Mikhail Bugrovsky. It has been home to the Central House for Railwaymen’s ChildrenRussian: Tsentral’ny dom detey zheleznodorozhnikov or Центральный дом детей железнодорожников since 1940.
THE PEROVSKYS HOUSERussian: dom Perovskikhor дом Перовских
(Bld. 1, 27 New Basmannaya St)
This is an old wooden estate with a five-window mezzanine, an elegant pilaster portico, and decorative moulding on the façade. It is nearly 200 years old—a respectable age for a wooden structure. The house was originally owned by the family of Count Alexei Razumovskyminister of education of the Russian Empire from 1806–1816 and Mariya Denisyeva. Because they never got married, their children were not entitled to their father’s name and were given the name Perovskys, derived from the Razumovskys’ PerovoRussian: Перово Estate (now Perovo District). Some well-known individuals descended from this family, such as writer Alexey Perovsky and revolutionary terrorist Sophia Perovskaya. Interestingly, Sophia helped to orchestrate the assassination of Alexander IIthe Emperor of Russia from 1855 until his assassination in 1881, for which she was executed by hanging, while the brother of her great-great-grandfather had been the favourite and supposed husband of Empress Elizabeth Petrovnathe Empress of Russia from 1741 until 1761. The building is used as a bank office today.
BASMANNAYA HOSPITALRussian: Basmannaya bol’nitsa or Басманная больница
(26/1, New Basmannaya St)
This is a majestic two-storey palace with two stone wings and original fencing, adorned with pilasters and fine decorative moulding. It was constructed at the end of the 18th century by Nikita Demidov, a descendent of the very rich and powerful Davydov family, which pioneered the Russian metallurgy. The palace was soon purchased by Mikhail Golitsyn, a famous collector who gave it the name ‘Moscow’s HermitageRussian: Moskovskiy Ermitazh or Московский Эрмитаж’. The host had plenty of things to amuse his guests with when they visited the palace: canvas paintings by Rubens, vases of Sèvres porcelain, a library of ancient books, etc. The house survived the fire of 1812during the war between the Russian Empire and Napoleonic France on the territory of Russia in 1812 and since that point it has been described as ‘unburnable’. Mikhail Golitsyn went bankrupt by the end of his life and had to sell both the house and the collection. At first, the building was a school for orphansRussian: Sirotskoe uchilische or Сиротское училище but in 1876, it became a hospital. This was the building’s role until 2015.
This must be the strangest square in Moscow. It does not feature on any city maps or street addresses, but there is a trolleybus stop named ‘Razgulyay SquareRussian: ploshchad’ Razgulyay or площадь Разгуляй’. The square got its name from the Razgulyay TavernRussian: traktir «Razgulyay» or трактир «Разгуляй». These city outskirts were frequented by alcoholics and carousers who didn’t want to be seen by their family or neighbours, from all over Moscow. The tavern was closed down in the mid-19th century, and the building was taken down in the 1970s. There is a public garden on this spot today.
The red building with white columns facing the square is Count Aleksei Musin-Pushkin’s EstateRussian: usadba grafa Alekseya Ivanovicha Musina-Pushkina or усадьба графа Алексея Ивановича Мусина-Пушкина (2/1 Spartakovskaya StRussian: Spartakovskaya ulitsa or Спартаковская улица). A renowned collector and antiquarian, Musin-Pushkin achieved eternal fame by discovering the authentic text of The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, the earliest secular work in old Russian literature. Unfortunately, Musin-Pushkin’s collection, including this authentic literary work, was almost completely destroyed in the fire of 1812. When the count died, his children sold the estate, which soon became home to the 2nd Moscow GymnasiumRussian: 2-aya Moskovskaya gimnaziya or 2-ая Московская гимназия. The third storey was added to the building during the Soviet era. Presently, the Moscow State University of Civil EngineeringRussian:Moskovskiy gosudarstvennyi stroitelnyi universitet or Московский государственный строительный университет is housed in the building.
Now, as we have walked along the whole of New Basmannaya Street—the first side of the ‘Basmanny Triangle’—and past one of its vertexes, which is Razgulyay Square, we find ourselves before the second side, Old Basmannaya Street.
You will probably have guessed from the names of these two streets which one is older. Old Basmannaya Street was part of the ancient Pokrovskaya RoadRussian: Pokrovskaya doroga or Покровская дорога, which led to the imperial countryside residences of Preobrazhenskoe and Pokrovskoe-RubtsovoRussian: Покровское-Рубцово.
VASILY PUSHKIN HOUSE MUSEUMRussian: Dom-muzey Vasiliya Lvovicha Pushkina or Дом-музей Василия Львовича Пушкина
A plain wooden house with a small central pediment, a wonderful wooden gate and a small garden in the back can be found at the end of Old Basmannaya Street. Such houses were seen commonly in Moscow after the fire of 1812, as affordable new housing had to be provided to people who had lost their homes.
The house was home to Vasily Pushkin, the uncle of famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Vasily Lvovich was a renowned poet too, and a member of the Arzamas SocietyRussian: obschestvo «Arzamas» or общество «Арзамас». His legendary nephew visited Vasily Pushkin uncle quite often and was thus able to interact with Vasily Zhukovskythe foremost Russian poet of the 1810s and a leading figure in Russian literature in the first half of the 19th century, Konstantin Batyushkova Russian poet, essayist and translator of the Romantic era and other prominent creative people of that time from a young age, thanks to his uncle’s connections. Interestingly, Batyushkov lived very close to Vasily Pushkin in 1816, in the Muravyevs-Apostols HouseRussian: dom Muravyevykh-Apostolovor дом Муравьевых-Апостолов in Old Basmannaya Street.
Today, the old house in Old Basmannaya Street is a museum where you can learn about Vasily Pushkin and life in Moscow in the early 19th century. You will plunge into a world of balls, banquets and literary soirees held there 200 years ago. The hall at the mezzanine level is dedicated to Alexander Pushkin, who is said to have stayed in those rooms.
(Bld. 1, 23/9 Old Basmannaya St).
This ancient noble mansion is also made of wood. Believe it or not, the layer of plaster conceals beams which are over 200 years old, having survived the Moscow fire of 1812.
This is perhaps the finest monument of Moscow classicism. The architect had the challenging task of building a mansion of a regular shape, as the tastes of the time required, in a corner of the Old Basmannaya Street which was not square and thus did not lend itself easily to the task. This mansion is now on Aleksandra Lukyanova StreetRussian: ulitsa Aleksandra Lukyanova or улица Александра Лукьянова. The solution the architect found was to install a semicircular rotunda which would smooth the irregular corner. The sculptural bas-reliefs and the portico with six Corinthian orders lend a peculiar charm to the house.
The house was inhabited by the family of senator Ilya Muravyev-Apostol: he, the father, his wife and their three sons Sergey, Ippolit and Matvey. All three took part in the Decembrist Revolt of 1825an unsuccessful revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. As the uprising was suppressed, Sergey was executed by hanging, Matvey was transported, and Ippolit committed suicide by shooting himself. However, the line of the Muravyevs-Apostols was not interrupted, and today the house is rented by Kristofer Muravyev-Apostol, a descendent of its previous owners. He refurbished the building and transformed it into a cultural centre.
CHURCH OF THE GREAT MARTYR NIKITARussian: Khram velikomuchenika Nikity or Храм великомученика Никиты
(16 Old Basmannaya St)
This church is majestic, the centrepiece of Old Basmannaya Street. It is adorned with round dormer windows, decorative moulding and porticos and is a beautiful example of Elizabethan baroque architecture of the 18th century. Its present-day appearance was designed by Dmitry Ukhtomsky (Moscow’s chief architect of the time, the designer of the Red Gate and the bell tower of St. Peter and Paul’s ChurchRussian: kolokolnya tserkvi Petra i Pavla or колокольня церкви Петра и Павла in New Basmannaya Street). Similar to many Russian churches, this one has a “ship design”, meaning that the refectory and the bell tower are joined to the church by galleries. This is an active Orthodox church today.
GOLITSYNS ESTATERussian: usad’ba Golitsynykh or усадьба Голицыных
(Bld. 3, 15 Old Basmannaya St).
A small stone house with a protruding central part is the oldest surviving mansion in Old Basmannaya Street, constructed in the 1740s. It was once owned by Mikhail Golitsyn, who we mentioned earlier. However, the history of the house can be traced back to even earlier than the 1740s. Sixteenth-century masonwork as well as vaults on the ground and first floors were discovered by renovators at the beginning of the 21st century. It has since been hypothesized that these could be the remains of Grand Prince Vasili IIIthe Grand Prince of Moscow from 1505 to 1533 of Russia. It could have been a palace intended for short stopovers on this ancient imperial road. In any case, these are the earliest surviving medieval chambers in Moscow.
There is a park in the Golitsyns Estate. It has become part of the cosy and picturesque Bauman garden, Muscovites’ favourite resort, where you can listen to a jazz concert, learn basic moves in a few different dance styles or try yoga in the warm season and ice-skating in winter.
Old Basmannaya Street ends at the Garden Ring, the third ‘side’ of the ‘Basmanny Triangle’. From here, you can go to the right to reach the Red Gate metro station or turn left, in the direction of Kursky Railway TerminalRussian: Kurskiy vokzal or Курский вокзал and the KurskayaRussian: Курская metro station. The most interesting road, however, is the central one, along the ancient streets of PokrovkaRussian: Покровка and MaroseykaRussian: Маросейка, surrounded by innumerable sights and various cafés and restaurants.
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