Discover Moscow’s secrets – A Walking Tour of Moscow
A walk through the lanes and boulevards near the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow Hotel
Phoebe Taplin has been exploring Moscow’s and its surroundings for more than five years. She used to write about a different area of the city, or about the towns, villages and countryside nearby, for the “Moscow News”, and she shared her enthusiasm for wandering around Moscow, on a stroll around the streets near the Ararat Park Hyatt.
The Ararat Park Hyatt hotel is perfectly located to enjoy Moscow’s most famous sights. The Kremlin, Red Square and the old city, Kitai Gorod, are all just a few minutes away on foot. This self-guided city walking tour takes you to some beautiful, but less well-known places nearby, finding out about writers, architects, sculptors, businessmen and musicians who called Moscow home.
To begin the tour, come out of the hotel and turn right, past the elaborately-decorated windows of TsUM. This grey, neo-gothic department store was originally founded by two Scottish entrepreneurs, Muir and Mirrielees. Archibald Mirrielees moved the shop from St. Petersburg in the 1880s because he was impressed with Moscow’s expat community; “a more hospitable set I never met with,” he wrote. TsUM became playwright, Anton Chekhov’s, favorite shop. Chekhov even called two of his pet dogs after the store’s owners.
Seagulls and skeletons
Turn left around TsUM and cross Ulitsa Petrovka into Kuznetsky Most, walking between a tall house, with a tiled mural of a falcon, and a children’s branch of the Dom Knigi book shop, boasting chandeliers and paintings of famous Russian authors. Cross again into pedestrianized Kamergersky Pereulok, with more book stores, including an old-fashioned medical bookshop with antique surgical tools and a skeleton. The shop has been there for 70 years and has an album under the counter bulging with letters and postcards from grateful students around the world.
‘Peter and the Wolf’ composer, Sergei Prokofiev lived on this lane at number 6, but it is best known for the Chekhov Arts’ Theatre (MKhAT), where many of Chekhov’s most famous plays premiered. The art nouveau architect, Fyodor Shekhtel, redesigned the building with a revolving stage in 1902 and created the stylized seagull logo that is still the company’s trademark. There is a marvelous museum, upstairs through the door with the sculpted decoration, displaying original set designs, costumes and playbills. The nonchalant, bronze memorial to Chekhov at the end of the lane was unveiled to mark the theatre’s centenary.
Cross under busy Tverskaya, turn right along the far side of the road and then left through the huge, Stalin era archway into Bryusov Pereulok. The house immediately on the left, now a museum, was the home of the experimental director, Vsevolod Meyerhold. The picturesque Resurrection church was one of the few that were not closed down in Soviet times and has managed to keep the old, gold-plated screens and some icons that date back to the 17th century when it was built. The yellow building with the treble clef sign is the House of Composers. Numerous composers, musicians and dancers from the Bolshoi lived nearby at number 7; there are almost more plaques than wall.
Matryoshka dolls and method acting
At the end of the road, you reach the Conservatory, heart of many of Moscow’s musical traditions. Tchaikovsky taught here from 1866 and wrote Swan Lake while he worked here; the seated statue of him is by Vera Mukhina, who is famous for the huge stainless steel “Worker and Peasant Girl” sculpture near the VDNKh exhibition grounds in northern Moscow. Notes from six of Tchaikovsky’s works have been wrought into the surrounding fence.
Turn right up Bolshaya Nikitskaya. The red brick Mayakovsky Theatre at number 13 is another of Shekhtel’s buildings, showing off his mastery of the ornate, late 19th century ‘neo-Russian’ style, before he moved on to art nouveau. Leontyevsky Pereulok, just beyond on the right, was home to the famous actor-director and exponent of “method acting,” Konstantin Stanislavsky; his house at number 6 is now a museum and is worth seeing if only for its painted ceilings. There is a small, free museum opposite, in the house with bulbous pillars, dedicated to the symbolically Russian matryoshka dolls. Anatoly Mamontov, whose workshop created and sold folk toys here more than a century ago, created the first ever matryoshka. The gift shop is a treasure trove of wooden toys, patchwork quilts and painted decorations.
The huge ITAR-TASS building on the corner, whose televisionshaped windows display the latest news photos, was built for the Soviet News Agency, in 1976. Cross the boulevard near the Tass building, past the granite memorial to botanist, Kliment Timiryazev. The domed, yellow church on the far side is the Grand Ascension, where the poet Alexander Pushkin married the beautiful Natalya Goncharova in 1831. According to legend, the poet was disturbed by “bad omens”, like dropped wedding rings and smoking candles; his marriage lasted six years before he was killed in a duel over his wife’s honor. There is a little gold statue of the happy couple under the rotunda in front of the church.
Dragons and devils
The fantastical mansion with the orchid frieze and waveform fence, to the right of the church, is the Gorky house-museum. In the servants’ buildings behind the Gorky house, there is a much less visited museum commemorating the writer of historical novels, Alexei Tolstoy (distant relative of Leo). The crumbling rooms and strange furnishings are quite atmospheric, including lion-armed chairs to help create the era of Peter the Great, and prayer wheels standing on toads’ backs.
Following this side-road (right from the church), between the whitewashed seventeenth century Granatny Palace and the relatively new ‘House of Icons’, past a statue of the poet Alexander Blok, take the right fork along Ulitsa Spiridonovka and follow it until you come to the neo-gothic castle of the Morozov mansion at number 17, another early Shekhtel masterpiece with turrets and dragon gargoyles. Take the next turning on the right to reach the Patriarch’s Pond.
In medieval times, before Patriarch Job created fishponds here, this area was said to be haunted. Now it’s a pleasant place to stroll or (in winter) to skate. At the left hand end is a statue of Ivan Krylov, the Russian Aesop, and bronze panels illustrating his fables. The famous opening scenes of Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita,” where the devil appears and the critic Berlioz is decapitated by a tram, take place around here.
Bards and ballerinas
To continue the tour, walk straight ahead along Bolshoi Patriarshy Pereulok, take the next right, second left and then right again to re-emerge on the boulevard near the Church of St John. During the Soviet era, this church acted as rehearsal space for the Pushkin theatre next door. The statue nearby in the park commemorates Sergei Yesenin, a romantic poet who married five times and died at 30. His short, tempestuous life was played out on the boulevards of Moscow; he described himself as “a mischievous Moscow idler”.
Turn left along the leafy boulevard, cross under the busy junction at the far end (there is an underpass just beyond McDonalds) and walk on past the famous monument to Puskin. Beyond the fountain and the massive cinema, the boulevard continues with a statue to Sergei Rachmaninov, who lived nearby. Rachmaninov wrote: “If I have been at all successful in making bells vibrate with human emotion in my works, it is largely due to the fact that most of my life was lived amid the vibrations of the bells of Moscow.” At the end of the boulevard, the man looking upwards, with his guitar strapped on his back, is Soviet singer, poet and actor Vladimir Vysotsky, whose intense songs won him many fans.
The lovely, theatre-filled Hermitage Gardens are just a short detour left from this junction. Otherwise, turn right down Petrovka, passing the fabulous Vysoko-Petrovsky monastery which has stood here since the 14th century. The courtyard opposite belongs to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and is filled with unusual sculptures and mosaics by Zurab Tsereteli, who was also responsible for the Peter the Great in the Moscow River. At the far end of Petrovka in the courtyard at number 16, the Gulag Museum offers a glimpse of the darker side of Russian history. When you get to TsUM, skirt round it again to return to the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow hotel.
Museum-studio of Sergei Konenkov
At the end of Tverskoi Bulvar, there is also the memorial museum-studio of sculptor Sergei Konenkov, one of those hidden Moscow gems. Thousands of people walk past the door every day without realizing that the workshop of the “Russian Rodin” is inside No. 17, Tversaya Ulitsa. The entrance is on Tverskoi Bulvar, just before Cafe Pushkin. Konenkov’s sculptures, in a variety of media, are wonderfully organic and tactile. Konenkov, who lived much of his life in America until he was recalled by Stalin in 1945, was a great innovator in the early 20th century. You can see expressive plaster heads of Einstein and Dostoyevsky, a huge wooden Christ, writhing tree stump chairs, a bronze Tolstoy or a marble Bach.
The Gorky House
The incredible interior is haunted by three distinct presences: the architect, Shekhtel again, designed many details of the underwater-scape ground floor, with the sculpted staircase leading up to a jellyfish lamp and pillar topped by writhing silver lizards. Stepan Ryabushinsky, merchant, art collector and chair of the stock exchange, who commissioned the house, was member of the breakaway ‘old believers’ sect and had a secret chapel built in the attic which you can access via a separate staircase. Finally, the writer, Maxim Gorky, who lived (reluctantly) in the house during his last six years, is an unhappy ghost here. His place is marked at the dining room table with a teacup, his glasses still lie on the desk and the display upstairs includes his final note, written in blue pencil while he was dying.
Stuff for the kids along the walking tour
The intersections between boulevards can be a bit nightmarish, but the actual parks between the lanes of cars are a surprisingly good place to walk with children. Fenced off from the traffic and dotted with playgrounds (not to mention trees and monuments to climb on!), they provide a respite from the city center. My junior walk testers, aged six to 12, were particularly enthusiastic about the Gorky House.