A good medieval city must have strong walls. Moscow used to have four walls: three stone ones – Kremlin, Kitay-Gorod and Bely Gorod, and one made of earth and timber – Zemlyanoy Gorod. All of them, except the Kremlin, protected Moscow’s trading quarters, i.e. neighbourhoods where merchants and craftsmen lived.
The oldest and most elite neighbourhood outside the Kremlin was Kitay-Gorod – a polygonal area to the east of the Kremlin bounded by Okhotny Ryad, Teatralny Drive, Novaya Square, Staraya Square, Kitaygorodsky Drive and Moskvoretskaya Embankment. This was a residential area for important, noble and wealthy people, and for foreign ambassadors. The square between the Kremlin and Kitay-Gorod (i.e. Red Square) was a place of brisk and ever-growing trade.
In the 16th century Moscow was disturbed by the Crimean Tatars – they raided and plundered it repeatedly, and burned the city suburbs. To protect Kitay-Gorod, Tsarina Elena Glinskaya ordered for a defensive wall to be built around it. She commissioned the construction of this wall to a Moscow-based Italian architect named Pietro Francesco Annibale, whom the Muscovites referred to as Petrok Maly. The new city wall was built using cutting-edge European fortification technology of the time and resembled its contemporary Italian fortifications.
Where the name ‘Kitay-Gorod’ came from is unknown. For a long time it was believed that ‘kita’ meant the long wooden poles used to reinforce timber-and-earth walls. But Kitay-Gorod is built of brick. The more likely assumption is that ‘kitay’ is derived from the Italian word ‘città’ (meaning ‘city’), since the wall was constructed by an Italian architect.
If the Russian history is a subject of your interest and you want to know, for example, what is the oldest church in Moscow, what are the famous monasteries around Moscow, which style of Moscow architecture you can see only in this town, you can read on our website pages about the Moscow Kremlin and “History and Architecture”.
Moscow’s Kitay-Gorod was an excellent fortress. Its walls were nearly twice lower than those of the Kremlin, but much thicker – prepared to confront the developing artillery. One could ride a two-horse cart along the top of it! The wall had three rows of gun slits for fighting at ground, mid-, and upper defense levels, which allowed to use both cannons and muskets. There were special underground tunnels leading to the other side of the wall –they were called ‘listening galleries’; the defending forces used them to find out whether or not the enemy was burrowing under the wall. 14 round, semi-circular and rectangular towers provided a strong and reliable locations for protecting the wall against enemy. But all of this was almost never used: the Kitay-Gorod wall was assaulted just once, and it was done in the 17th century by Russian rebels who liberated Kitay-Gorod and the Kremlin from the forces of a Polish king in the Time of Troubles.
In the 17th century the Crimean Tatars stopped invading Moscow. The wall no longer had any military purpose, and now this 16th century landmark stood in the way of transport and pedestrian traffic. The fate of the Kitay-Gorod wall was decided in 1934 when it was demolished as part of Stalin’s Moscow reconstruction plan. At present, only two pieces are left of the once mighty city wall: one is on Revolution Square behind the Metropol Hotel, the other – on Kitaygorodsky Drive. Many Moscow residents have no idea they exist. If on your tour of downtown Moscow you walk around the Metropol, a 16th century defensive wall will appear before you with the only remaining original semi-circular Ptichya (‘Bird’) Tower. Also, preserved inside the entrance hall of Kitay-gorod metro station is the white-stone foundation of the destroyed Varvarskaya Tower.© 2016-2023 moscovery.com