The ArbatRussian: Арбат is one of the main tourist venues of the capital, with its incredible history and unparalleled atmosphere. There are not many streets in the world where such an incredible collection of outstanding artists and cultural figures have lived and worked in such close proximity. The present state of the architecture of the Arbat is not as remarkable as it was a hundred years ago. It is a comfortable pedestrian street one and a half kilometres long with a large number of shops and restaurants. Nevertheless, a few buildings in the Art Nouveau and Avant-Garde styles are of particular interest to architecture connoisseurs. Some major museums are located here (in particular, the Pushkin Memorial HouseRussian: dom-muzey A.S. Pushkina or дом-музей А.С. Пушкина) as well as theatres and some small amusement rides. There are street buskers, artists and numerous souvenir shops where you can find anything – from matryoshkasa set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another and Russian ushankaa Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or fastened at the chin hats to antiques.
The street has become so significant to capital dwellers that the whole district around it has been named after it. The Old ArbatRussian: Stary Arbat or Старый Арбат runs from Arbatsky Gate SquareRussian: ploshchad Arbatskiye vorota or площадь Арбатские ворота to Smolenskaya SquareRussian: Smolenskaya ploshchad or Смоленская площадь. The side streets adjoining the Arbat have preserved the constructions of the 19th – early 20th centuries and abound in museums and historically significant city venues.
THE BREATHTAKING HISTORY OF THE OLD ARBAT
The name of the street dates back to ancient times. As far back as the 15th century, the Arbat was mentioned as a residential street. The direction it runs in has been a key routes for centuries. It was an important road from the west, and the Kremlin ran along it. For this reason, a lot of battles took place around the modern Arbat. Thanks to its advantageous location on the way to Europe and Russia’s well-developed western regions, from the 16th century the Arbat started gradually turning into a large settlement for wealthy people, called sloboda, where craftsmen serving the needs of the court lived. The names of many side streets have been preserved since that time, for example, Plotnikov, Serebryany, DenezhnyRussian: Плотников, Серебряный, Денежный. Royal craftsmen, archers, tsar’s grooms and silversmiths settled here (this place used to be called Konyushennaya slobodaRussian: Конюшенная слобода for some time).
By the 18th century, the district around the Arbat had become one of the most prestigious locations in the capital . The most eminent noble families settled here – the Dolgorukys, the Tolstoys, the Sheremetevs and others. One- and two-storey mansions with tower rooms and gardens replaced wooden huts (izby) and craftsmen’s workshops. The houses were located comfortably along the building line with gardens all around them.
The bourgeoisie and Moscow bohemian circles succeeded the impoverished Arbat aristocracy by the end of the 19th century. The street’s skyline changed significantly in the early 20th century. First, multi-storey tenement houses in the Art Nouveau style, which prevailed at the time, took over the small mansions which had been there before. Constructivist houses designed in line with the aesthetics of the new Soviet industrial era appeared in the street later. Extra storeys were added to many buildings, and extensions were built on as well. As a result, almost all of them were aligned with the same level roof eaves, thus creating a synchronous front line on the street.
In 1980, the Arbat became a pedestrian area. Large-scale reconstructions and restorations were carried out, new lighting was fitted and greenery was planted. Initially, the facades of the buildings were painted the same grey colour, according to the typical plan of the constructivist designers,the brothers Stenberg. Now, however, each building has re-acquired a unique character.
YOU CANNOT MISS IT
The Arbat is a place filled with life and history. Artists and sculptors, writers and poets, composers and musicians, and many others loved the Arbat. Numerous memorial plaques on the buildings tell their story. There are some unusual museums in the Arbat: the Museum of IllusionsRussian: Muzei Illyuzy or Музей Иллюзий, A Giant’s HouseRussian: Dom Velikana or Дом Великана, the museum of the history of corporal punishmentsRussian: muzey istorii telesnyih nakazaniy or музей истории телесных наказаний, a petting zooRussian: kontaktnyi zoopark or контактный зоопарк and a rope labyrinthRussian: lentochnyi labirint or ленточный лабиринт.
Not far from the ArbatskayaRussian: Арбатская metro station there the famous restaurant PragueRussian: Прага (2/1 Arbat str.). Prominent citizens visited it, and numerous interesting stories are connected with it. After the famous artist Iliya Repinthe most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century restored his painting “Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan”, he hosted a major banquet there. Anton Chekhov celebrated the first night of “The Seagull” there and Leo Tolstoi first recited his “Resurrection” to the public here as well.
This beautiful two-storey building with a rounded corner was built in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, a restaurant for wealthy citizens was opened in it, which was subsequently rebuilt in 1914 to architect Adolf Erichson’s design. In the Soviet times – in 1954, to be exact – the decision was made to reopen the famous restaurant after a hiatus. The revamped Prague became the place where diplomatic receptions were held. Today, only a pastry shop operates here, where you can sample the cake called ‘Prague’, which was famous in the Soviet Union, as well as other delicacies.
#9 on the odd side of the street is the Burghart-Gvozdetsky’s tenement houseRussian: dohodnyi dom Burgardta-Gvozdetskogo or доходный дом Бургардта-Гвоздецкого. The building itself is a landmark of the eclecticisms of the turn of the 19th – 20th centuries. It stands out in the street with its abundance of décor, mouldings, and various decorations. In the early 20th century, the Arbatsky PodvalRussian: Арбатский Подвал cafe was located here, frequented by poets Vladimir Mayakovsky, Andrei Bely, Alexander Blok, Sergei Yesenin and his spouse Isadora Duncan, and many others.
The Arbat is rich in eclecticist and Art Nouveau buildings. An excellent example of this is #23. Before the house was built, there had been a small wooden mansion there, where philosopher and Slavophil Alexei Khomyakov lived in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the workshop of famous sculptor Sergei Konenkov was situated in the next building. It was here, too, that artist Pavel Korin and his brothers worked.
#25 is notable because the Society of Russian DoctorsRussian: Obschestvo russkih vrachey or Общество русских врачей, where doctors received poor callers for a reasonable fee or free of charge, was located there. In 1900-1917 it housed landscape artist Konstantin Yuon’s school. He taught many leading avant-garde artists of the 20th century (R. Falk, V. Favorsky, V. Mukhina, the Vesnins, and others).
#31 and #33 show how cozy and smart-looking the Arbat used to be. In the backyard of #33, there is a monument to famous Russian philosopher Alexei Losev, who lived in this house for some time. Opposite these, # 24 houses the Vakhtangov’s theatreRussian: Teatr im. Vahtangova or Театр им. Вахтангова.
Adjoining on the left side is #35. It is called The House with the KnightsRussian: Dom s rytsaryami or Дом с рыцарями. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century in the Neo-Gothic style. The tallest building in the Arbat, it features laconic forms, as if cut across, sharp-cut surfaces, and hardly any decorations. Marble staircases with oak railings and huge flats are preserved inside. In Soviet times, the flats were distributed between the party leaders. On the opposite side, in the distance there is a school named in honour of artist Polenov. In fact, he lived in the Arbat and even painted pictures of it, but it is hard to recognise the street we know today in these paintings (see for example, “A Moscow Courtyard” or “Grandmother’s Garden”).
#37 is Bobrinsky’s estateRussian: usadba Bobrinskih or усадьба Бобринских built in the Empire style. It is a wonderful example of the architecture of Moscow, restored after the fires of the war of 1812the war between the Russian Empire and Napoleonic France on the territory of Russia in 1812. Allegedly, Alexei Bobrinsky was Empress Catherine IIEmpress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, the country's longest-ruling female leader and its most renowned and Grigory Orlovthe favorite of Empress Catherine the Great’s illegitimate son. Now, the wall of this house which faces the Krivoarbatsky side streetRussian: Krivoarbatsky pereulok or Кривоарбатский переулок is a monument to the famous Russian rock musician Viktor Tsoi. Further, behind #37, there is another major architectural landmark – the famous Avant-Garde architect Konstantin Melnikovone of the leaders of avant-garde style in Soviet architecture in 1923-1933’s private house he built for his family.
# 43 is not very distinctive architecturally, yet it was here that famous Soviet poet Bulat Okudzhava lived. A monument to him has been installed around the corner of the house in the Plotnikov side streetRussian: Plotnikov pereulok or Плотников переулoк.Classical architects of the 20th century Shchuko and Gelfreikh lived there as well as the notorious Nikolai Yezhov, the main organiser of the mass reprisals of Stalin’s epoch in the 1930s, who himself became one of the victims, lived in the next house #45.
In the distance you find #44 – the main house of Turgenev’s estate. Ivan Turgeneva Russian novelist, short story writer, and playwright’s great-great-grandfather used to own the estate. Later, it passed to the grandmother of the famous poet of the Golden Agethe term referred to the Russian literature of the first half of the 19th century remarkable for an unprecedented upsurge of creativity Fyodor Tyutchev. Alexander Pushkin often visited it. In Soviet times, writer Krzhizhanovskya Russian and Soviet short-story writer lived in the house.
Just opposite, Panyushev’s tenement houseRussian: dohodnyi dom Panyusheva or доходный дом Панюшева, #51, actually consists of three buildings. The house became the main character of the novel “Children of the Arbat”, one of the first resounding literary works about the epoch of Stalin’s reprisals. This is where poet Alexander Blok (the most prominent Russian Symbolist poet, a classic of the 20th century Russian poetry) stayed when he last visited Moscow. It is an example of the functional Art Nouveau style which some researchers believe to have laid the foundation of Russian Avant-Garde.
One of the key houses in the Arbat is Khitrovo’s houseRussian: dom Hitrovo or дом Хитрово #53. It was here that Alexander Pushkin and his wife Natalia lived after their wedding. Today, the mansion houses the poet’s memorial flat. The sculpture “Pushkin and Natalia” was installed on the other side of the Arbat in 2000.
Near the house where Pushkin lived is #55. Its foundation is an 18th century building. Professors of Moscow State UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy gosudarstvennyi universitet or Московский государственный университет as well as Andrei Bely, a famous 20th century Symbolist poet, lived here in the 19th century. A. Bely’s memorial flat is located in this house today.
The last building on the odd side of the street is a hotel built by architects Gelfreikh and Minkus in the late constructivist style. Later, it was turned into a wing of the Foreign Affairs MinistryRussian: Ministerstvo inostrannyh del or Министерство иностранных дел. As you come to the street end, you will be able to see one of Stalin’s famous high-rise buildings – the Russian Foreign Office. The last house on the even side is the Torgsin grocery store, which was famous in its time. In the 1930s it was possible to pay with hard currency and jewellery there.
THE ARBAT AS A LITERARY LANDMARK
Many Russian poets and writers grew up around the Arbat; later, they dedicated their works to the street of their childhood and pencilled their characters into the unparalleled atmosphere of the Arbat and its side streets. The famous Russian thinker of the 19th century, Alexander Gertsen, in his novel “The Past and the Reflexions”, fills the Arbat with his characters. The writer and composer Bulat Okudzhava dedicated a lot of poems to his favourite street. Anatoly Rybakov wrote a novel, unusual in the Soviet society, called “Children of the Arbat”. The street is often mentioned in the works of the most famous poets of the 20th century, for example Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Agniya Barto, Vladimir Vysotsky and many others. In the pages of Leo Tolstoi’s novel “War and Peace” Pierre Bezukhov would walk along the Arbat. Having turned into a witch, Margarita, the main character of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita”, flew over here. Ippolit Vorobyaninov – a character of a satire novel “The Twelve Chairs” by Ilf and Petrov – took Liza to a diner which occupied the building of the former respectable restaurant Prague.
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