A museum-crawl through the town introduces some of the city’s best-loved sights Begin: Tretyakovskaya metro
End: Alexandrovsky Sad metro
Distance: about 3km
As the days get longer and the snow begins to melt, a stroll through town begins to seem more appealing. This short walk takes in Moscow’s best museums and views, providing a perfect introduction to the city.
Come out of Tretyakovskaya metro and turn left across Ulitsa Bolshaya Ordynka. The road takes its name from the great “golden horde” (“orda”) of Mongol invaders, who lived on this road in medieval times. Take the lane straight ahead, past the ‘Church of the Virgin, Consolation of all Sorrows’ (1). This ochre building bears the stamp of two of Moscow’s most famous architects. Vasily Bazhenov, architect of mansions and palaces, originally built the church during the reign of Catherine the Great. The early classical bell tower is typical of the time. Osip Bové, who designed the Bolshoi Theatre, rebuilt the church (and much of the city) after the fire of 1812, adding a characteristic dome.
At the end of the lane, near the gold picture frames, turn right into Lavrushinsky Pereulok, admiring the 18th century mansion to the left with its ornate, wrought iron gates. The ‘engineers’ hall’ of the Tretyakov Gallery (2), which you pass first, has temporary exhibitions. Artist Viktor Vasnetsov designed the main building with the statue of founder, Pavel Tretyakov, outside. The decorative colourful tiles from the workshop at Abramtsevo and the arched gables are typical features of the late 19th century movement in architecture, which attempted to reinvent distinctively Russian forms and styles. The paintings inside this world-class gallery, including several by Vasnetsov like the epic ‘Three Bogatyrs’, illustrate the shifts in artistic style from the icon-like representations of 17th century Tsars through to the golden age of landscape painting in the 19th century and beyond.
Go on along Lavrushinsky Pereulok and cross the little footbridge (3) at the end, decorated with padlock-covered metal trees. The relatively recent tradition of fixing symbolic padlocks to railings, as a kind of engagement ritual, has become so popular that the city authorities have had to replace the metal trees on this bridge several times and ‘replant’ the old ones along the embankment. The statue on the far side shows the Russian painter, Ilya Repin, holding a palette and brush. The canal you have just crossed makes this area into a banana-shaped island.
The gardens here, known as Bolotnaya Ploschad (‘marshy square’), were a venue for protests in December 2011. Turn left through this park and then right across the busy road bridge over the Moscow River (4). Despite the noisy traffic, the views from this bridge, right towards the Kremlin, left towards the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, are among the best in Moscow.
Looking left at the far end of the bridge, you will see the magnificent Pashkov House (5), a white mansion with a green-topped belvedere, whose lawns once sloped down to the river rather than lanes of traffic.
From the end of the bridge, enter the Alexandrovsky Gardens and walk through them, parallel to the Kremlin walls. Osip Bové laid out these gardens in the 19th century, confining the flood-prone Neglinaya River in an underground pipe. The brick structure (6) ahead was once a bridge across the river and now serves as the main tourist entrance into the Kremlin complex.
Entry to the ‘Architectural Ensemble’ should come with a map in English that shows you the main sights. Walk through the 15th century Trinity tower, tallest of the 20 towers set in the Kremlin’s red brick wall. Once inside, the glass and concrete 1960s State Kremlin Palace is on your right and the white and yellow buildings of the Arsenal, flanked by cannons, on your left.
Turning right through an arch you enter Sobornaya Ploschad (“cathedral square”), which the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva described as an “incomparable circle of five cathedrals,/ ancient holy friend.” Starting straight ahead in the Archangel Cathedral (7), with its scallop shell gables, you can find the tombs of three centuries of Moscow’s rulers, lined up below the chandeliers and high, painted ceilings, with Ivan the Terrible and the son he murdered hidden behind the iconostasis. Tsvetaeva wrote that Moscow was where “…domes are burning,/ bells are ringing/ and tombs stand in rows./ In them Tsarinas are sleeping and Tsars.”
Standing opposite, with nine polished golden domes, is the Annunciation Cathedral (8), the imperial wedding chapel with its precious stone floor, carved doorways, bejewelled iconostasis and ancient icons. Next to it the “Palace of Facets” is the oldest secular building in modern Moscow. These and the magnificent Assumption Cathedral (9), facing you across the square with a fresco of the Virgin Mary above the door, were all part of Ivan III’s ambitious late 15th century rebuilding project, using Italian architects to copy Russian forms. Inside the Assumption, where Tsars were crowned, is the wooden “Throne of Monomakh,” carved for Ivan the Terrible.
Don’t miss the wood carvings in the “Church of the Deposition of the Robe” hidden next to the Assumption cathedral (through an unmarked wooden door), or the 17th century Patriarch’s Palace with its ovens for making holy oil from 50 herbs. Leave yourself some energy to enjoy the exhibitions in the Ivan the Great belfry (10). Behind the bell tower, you will find the Ozymandian “Tsar Cannon” and the world’s largest bell, cracked by contact with water while it was still cooling in the foundry. The gardens themselves are also well worth exploring and boast the city’s earliest cherry blossom.
Coming out into the Alexandrovsky Gardens again, turn right and right again to reach Red Square
Food and Drink
The ‘Collection’ café in the basement of the Tretyakov is a handy and reasonably-priced, self-service hangout where you can sit on gold chairs and have a bowl of soup. It’s open, whenever the museum is, daily until 6pm. The ‘Classic’ Restaurant upstairs with a summer terrace on the lane opens noon to midnight and serves a typical Moscow fusion of cuisines. It can get crowded and smoky, but if you can find a table, the business lunch – until 4pm – is good value.
There are still no refreshments inside the Kremlin, but there is a row of cafes by the Alexandrovsky gardens, part of the Okhotny Ryad shopping centre, which features the usual suspects: Planet Sushi, Sbarro, and McDonald’s.
The Tretyakov Gallery is a treasure house of Russian art with several brilliant branches. This walk passes the ‘old’ Tretyakov on Lavrushinsky Pereulok, open Tues-Sun, 10.00am-6.30pm. Tickets are 230/450 rubles for Russians/foreigners (although this disparity is supposed to be abolished soon). Audio tours are available and a trip round the museum is like a crash course in Russian history and culture. You can see Ilya Repin’s ‘Ivan the Terrible’, crazed with grief and remorse over the body of the son he murdered, or Ivan Kramskoy’s earnest portrait of Tolstoy, or Vasily Perov’s haggard Dostoevsky, another iconic image. More information on the excellently comprehensive website http://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/
The incredible Kremlin Museums could take many days to explore fully. This walk simply introduces the main architectural ensemble, open every day except Thursday from 9.30am to 4.30pm. Tickets are 350 rubles. This also gives you access to any temporary exhibitions in the bell tower or the ‘one pillar chamber’. For an extra 150 roubles you can visit a small historical museum and climb the 137 steps up the tall bell tower. To see the Armoury you will need to pay more. There’s plenty of information in English on the helpful, interactive website at http://kreml.ru/en/ .
Two major museums in one walk might be a lot for small children (or adults!), but the route between them is fun, short and full of variety. The giant bell and canon are highlights in the Kremlin grounds, but there’s plenty here to interest young visitors, like the giant, painted church candles or the life-like silver chess pieces in the patriarch’s palace. There are fairy tale fountains by the king of kitsch, Zurab Tsereteli, outside the Okhotny Ryad mall and when it snows, you can slide down the slopes outside the Kremlin wall
The Ivan the Great Bell-Tower, now an exhibition centre, was begun in 1505 by an Italian architect. It reached 81 metres a hundred years later when an extra layer was added. The Assumption Belfry next to it started as a church in 1532 and was reworked in the 17th century. Napoleon blew it up in 1812, while he was retreating from Moscow, but the tall tower survived and the restored ensemble holds 24 ancient bells. The exhibitions in the Assumption belfry are small, but spectacular and have included – in recent years - imperial treasures, jewellery and porcelain from around the world.